SCOTTISH Labour leader Jim Murphy came out fighting last night after the latest Ashcroft poll predicted huge gains for the SNP.
Mr Murphy believes polls will close late in Scotland and that the leaders’ debates will prompt a swing in Labour’s direction.
A detailed survey of Scottish constituencies suggested Labour’s general election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran and Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander would lose their seats.
The poll conducted for the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft also indicated Alex Salmond would take the Gordon seat from the Lib Dems and suggested the surge to the SNP would put David Cameron back in Downing Street.
However, Mr Murphy said: “I think polls will close late. I don’t think we’ll close 6-10 per cent in a week, it will be a determined effort on polling day.
“These [unfavourable polls] will change – these numbers will switch during the campaign when they see the contrast between the two candidates.
“These TV debates, although they’re crowded now and seem more like an episode of Fifteen to One than they do a debate among the characters who are going to be PM . . . but when they go head-to-head in these debates people will see the authenticity of Ed Miliband, the changes he wants to make vs the smooth but superficial thing that David Cameron offers.”
More than 16,007 people were questioned for the research, with the interviews carried out between 5 and 30 January.
On the possibility of a Labour coalition with the SNP, Mr Murphy said that it is not something he wants or is contemplating. “I don’t think we’ll need a coalition. And the SNP and us are so far apart on policies like fiscal autonomy it would be so hard to reconcile. I’m determined that it won’t come up.” He did not, however, completely rule it out.
Mr Murphy warned voting for the SNP may result in a Conservative government in Westminster.
“I’m confident we’ll win, but any seat we lose to the SNP reduces the size of the Labour Party, increases the chances of David Cameron leading the biggest party in the House of Commons. I think Glaswegians, they want change. They don’t love any politicians but they sure as hell don’t like the Tories and the last thing they want is David Cameron re-elected and by accident they may end up with David Cameron being re-elected.”
SNP general election campaign director Angus Robertson MP said: “These polls include some of Labour’s safest seats in the UK as well as Scotland, and they are clearly excellent for the SNP –but we are taking nothing for granted and will work hard for every vote and seat in May.”
John Curtice: New survey confirms the elephant in the room is real and trumpeting loudly
Most opinion polls that make waves tell us something new. They signal a big swing to one party, or a change in who is ahead.
The set of constituency polls released by Lord Ashcroft yesterday generated a lot of excitement.
But not because they tell us anything new.
Rather, they matter because they spell out the implications of what more or less every Scotland-wide opinion poll of the last three months has been reporting – implications that hitherto have been met with widespread incredulity.
Scotland-wide-polls have suggested the SNP are some 20 points or so ahead of Labour, a complete reversal of the outcome in 2010.
When extrapolated into a possible outcome in seats, these polls have pointed to the SNP capturing the vast majority of the 41 seats Labour currently holds.
At which point people have looked at the size of Labour’s majorities in many a seat in Scotland and said: “Impossible. That couldn’t happen.”
What Lord Ashcroft’s set of 16 polls, 14 of them in Labour-held seats, indicates is that in fact it could.
We discover that the swing from Labour to the SNP in these seats is, at 25 per cent, every bit as big as the 21 point swing found on average in the most recent Scotland-wide polls.
Moreover, the swing is close to that 25 per cent figure in every single seat.
And we see that really does mean that the Nationalists are ahead in seemingly safe seats such as Airdrie & Shotts (35 point Lab majority), Glasgow East (37 points) or West Dunbartonshire (41 points).
Only Glasgow North East, Labour’s safest in Scotland, looks as if it could prove capable of withstanding the SNP tide.
However, Lord Ashcroft’s polling also suggests that the SNP lead in many seats is not a large one. In seven of the 14 seats the SNP lead is less than ten points.
A relatively small swing back to Labour could yet help the party save a significant number of seats.
Meanwhile, most of Lord Ashcroft’s polling was conducted where Yes won in September.
Labour might hope the swing is lower elsewhere.
However, Lord Ashcroft also polled in Liberal Democrat Inverness and Gordon, where Yes did not do particularly well last year. And the SNP tide is just as strong there, and more than enough for the Nationalists to win locally.
It seems that at present there is nowhere that the unionists can safely hide from the Nationalist tsunami.
• John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University