Scotsman leader: Who will grab second place at Holyrood? | Andy Murray's form and fatherhood

WHEN opinion polls in February suggested the Scottish Conservatives and Labour were running neck and neck in the Holyrood election and that Labour could be pushed into third place, many dismissed it as a rogue poll.

Andy Murray during the Monte-Carlo ATP Masters Series Tournament semi final match on Saturday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Public scepticism over poll findings in general also encouraged such a response. Labour in all likelihood would claw back support as its campaign under new leader Kezia Dugdale got underway.

Fast forward two months with the poll date less than three weeks away, and a new PanelBase survey shows the Scottish Conservatives and Labour still neck and neck in the race for second place. Indeed, it suggests Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives could overtake Kezia Dugdale’s Labour on 5 May .

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It puts support for Labour in the constituency vote at 19 per cent, slightly ahead of the Tories on 18 per cent. The SNP still enjoys an awesome lead, with backing at 51 per cent.

However, on the regional list vote, the Conservatives edge ahead with a 19 per cent showing, with Labour at 18 per cent. Support for the Greens is at eight per cent – twice that for the LibDems. The poll also shows Ms Davidson to be a more popular leader than Ms Dugdale, with both, however, dwarfed by support readings for Nicola Sturgeon.

Given the closeness of the readings between Conservatives and Labour, the caveats that come with opinion polls need to be heavily underlined in this instance. But the battle for second place is becoming the most talked- about feature of the campaign.

For the Conservatives to clinch second place would be a stunning result.

What might explain this? Ms Dugdale cannot be faulted for effort, energy and want of trying. Almost every day has brought new policy commitments – for example her latest proposals for a new agency for employment and skills, though not all that long ago such an agency existed. It was called Scottish Enterprise until shorn of these responsibilities.

Ms Davidson has proved a feisty campaigner but it could hardly be said she is riding the crest of a populist bandwagon. What may be at work is a return of natural Tory voters to the party fold after years of tactical voting for the SNP to keep Labour out. That rationale has now fallen away dramatically. The Conservatives may be drawing support from those who wish to see a more effective and challenging scrutiny of the SNP hegemony at Holyrood.

Of particular interest is Labour’s proposals to raise income tax to improve Scottish schools – considered a key policy that would help woo back traditional supporters. It is unlikely to appeal to aspirant middle-class voters. However, tactical voting by SNP supporters on the regional list vote may help Left wing independence-supporting outliers such as the Greens and the campaign group RISE.

Much is at stake. Even if Labour secures second place, an outcome as close as polls suggest would be a humiliation. It would confirm the view that political alignment in Scotland has experienced a fundamental shift – and one from which the party may not recover for a generation.

Break point for Murray’s daughter

Dads across the land will feel sympathy for tennis supremo Andy Murray over claims that he has lost form since becoming a father in February.

He has failed to progress past the third round of a tournament since the birth of baby Sophia. On Easter Monday he was played off the court in three sets in the Miami Open.

But friend and Davis Cup captain Leon Smith insists that while “it’s family first now” and that the priorities of the tennis ace have changed since becoming a father it doesn’t mean that he has lost form because of this.

“It will change him but it is too early to know how much it changes someone. Clearly he has different priorities now. From now on, it is family first for him.”

There’s barely a father in the land who has not suffered from disturbed nights, the baby feed rota and the nocturnal crying.

Not for Andy the easy resort to months of parental leave to which fathers are now entitled. The highly competitive world of professional tennis has a gruelling timetable.

However some males try to minimise the impact of the arrival of a baby, it is a profoundly life-changing event, bringing extra concerns and family responsibilities.

The good news for him is that before too long baby Sophia will sleep through – and at the same time Andy will be able to plan his schedules with greater ease.

The bad news is that such relief could prove only temporary. Just wait till Sophia is a teenager with her own sharp line in back-handed ripostes, ferocious meal-time volleys and angry disputations with her umpire Dad.

At this dangerous stage, loss of form while keeping Sophia on court may prove the least of Andy’s worries.