Exclusive:New poll shows Labour returning as dominant force in Scottish politics as SNP and John Swinney facing ‘major uphill battle’

Scottish Labour is on course to dramatically increase its haul of MPs from two to 28

John Swinney faces a “major uphill battle” as the new leader of the SNP as a poll for The Scotsman showed his party shedding seats while Labour returns as the dominant force in Scottish politics both in Westminster and in Holyrood.

The poll by Savanta found the SNP set to lose 25 MPs in the upcoming general election, leaving the party on just 18, while Scottish Labour would dramatically increase its haul from two to 28.

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It comes in the wake of Humza Yousaf’s resignation as First Minister, with John Swinney confirmed as his successor at the start of this week. He has promised a "new chapter" after admitting the SNP has been through a “rough time”.

Savanta pollSavanta poll
Savanta poll

However, the new poll – the first to be conducted since it became clear Mr Swinney was likely to become the next SNP leader and First Minister unopposed – underlines the sheer scale of the challenge he faces.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said: “This is the first time ever that Savanta’s research has shown a Labour lead over the SNP for Westminster voting intention. Our findings really do underline the major uphill task that John Swinney faces as the new First Minister.

“While our research suggests that the SNP continues to have a solid base, they’re likely to fall quite far from the 43 seats they currently hold at the next general election – as things stand. Even if Swinney can begin to turn things around, the spectre of Sturgeon and everything her time in power is now associated with will continue to hang over the party and hamper any recovery."

Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said it was the third poll in a row to put Scottish Labour ahead at Westminster, “the first time that has happened since their revival”.

John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesJohn Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Mr Swinney, a party veteran who was previously Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy, may take comfort from some of the findings. The poll found more Scots (38 per cent) believed he would make a good First Minister than a bad one (31 per cent, while 31 per cent did not know).

More (37 per cent) also believed he would make a better First Minister and SNP leader than his one-time rival Kate Forbes (32 per cent). Ms Forbes was appointed his deputy after announcing she would not run in the SNP leadership contest.

Support for independence remains split, with 52 per cent in favour of remaining in the UK and 48 per cent backing separation.

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Savanta interviewed 1,080 Scottish adults aged 16+ online between 3-8 May. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of Scottish adults by age, gender, region and past voting behaviour.

According to the new poll, Labour would attract 37 per cent of the vote if a general election was held tomorrow, which is an increase of two points since the last Savanta poll in Scotland in October.

The SNP, meanwhile, are on 33 per cent – a fall of two points. The Conservatives are on 17 per cent (-2), the Liberal Democrats on 7 per cent (+1), and ‘other’ is on 6 per cent (+2).

Prof Curtice said this would see the SNP return 18 MPs – a significant drop on their current crop of 43. Labour, meanwhile, would dramatically increase its number of MPs from two to 28. The Conservatives would win six seats and the Liberal Democrats five.

Voting intentions at Holyrood show the SNP on 35 per cent (-2) for the constituency vote, neck-and-neck with Labour, which is also on 35 per cent (+2). The Conservatives are on 18 per cent (the same as in October), while the Liberal Democrats are on 8 per cent (+2) and ‘other’ is on 5 per cent.

On the more proportional regional list vote, Labour has opened up a six-point lead over the SNP. The party is on 32 per cent (+3) while the SNP is on 26 per cent (-2). The Conservatives are on 18 per cent (-2), the Greens on 11 per cent (-2) and the Liberal Democrats on 10 per cent (+2). ‘Other’ is on 4 per cent (+2).

Under analysis by Prof Curtice, this would make Labour comfortably the largest party in Holyrood, with 47 MSPs compared to the SNP’s 35. The Conservatives would have 24 MSPs, the Liberal Democrats 12 and the Greens 11.

There has been speculation over a possible coalition deal or agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats after the next Holyrood election. However, this poll would still leave the two parties six seats short of a majority. Nevertheless, the existing pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament would be overturned.

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Prof Curtice said: “I think the most interesting question to ask at this point is whether the installation of Swinney has proven an immediate remedy for the SNP's difficulties or perhaps it has done little more than stem the rot that has been occurring under Yousaf. Looks more like the latter.”

He said the SNP’s overall poll numbers “have gone down a little further on the already relatively low level they were at before”.

Mr Swinney has promised to provide “fresh leadership” following the dramatic downfall of Mr Yousaf. The latter resigned after his decision to end the co-operation agreement between the SNP and the Greens backfired spectacularly. He struggled to get on the front foot throughout his time in charge.

The poll shows 59 per cent of Scots considered Mr Yousaf’s tenure as First Minister to be either somewhat of a failure (25 per cent) or an overwhelming failure (34 per cent). Just 3 per cent considered it to be an overwhelming success, while 11 per cent thought it was somewhat a success. A total of 22 per cent said it was neither a success nor a failure, while 6 per cent did not know.



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