A bit like buses, after a dearth of polling for a few weeks, not just one, but two Scottish polls were released yesterday. Following on from Ipsos MORI’s poll for STV released yesterday lunchtime, last night a YouGov poll for The Times was published. Although its results are not as dramatic as those of Ipsos MORI’s poll, this second poll confirms the broad impression that the SNP have pulled well ahead of Labour in the race to win votes in the Westminster election next May.
YouGov’s poll puts the SNP on 43%, 16 points ahead of Labour on 27% (while the Conservatives are on 15%, rather higher than the 10% figure in Ipsos MORI’s poll, and the Liberal Democrats are on a rock bottom 4%). This is much less than the lead reported by Ipsos MORI, who put the SNP 26 points ahead. It is, however, well in line with the figures in the Scottish subsamples of YouGov’s recent British polls. Last week, for example., those subsamples put the SNP on 43%, Labour on 26% (though see yesterday’s blog on the limitations of such subsamples). One implication of this similarity is that the latest poll figures, which are based on fieldwork conducted between Monday and Thursday of this week, cannot simply be dismissed as a potentially temporary reaction to the storm created by Johann Lamont’s resignation last Friday. Rather, it looks more like further evidence that voters’ reaction to the referendum has cost Labour dear.
Indeed, YouGov’s poll helps cast some light on why that appears to have happened. One of the long-standing features of voting behaviour in Scotland ever since the advent of devolution has been that voters have been more prepared to vote for the SNP – and less likely to vote Labour – in a Holyrood election than in a Westminster one. Thus, for example, in the polls they conducted during the summer, Survation put the SNP as much as 11 points ahead of Labour on average in voting intentions (on the constituency vote) for the Scottish Parliament, but only 5 points ahead in the race for Westminster. Faced with the question, ‘Who can best govern Scotland?’ voters have been inclined to answer SNP to a greater extent than they were when considering who could best govern Britain as a whole
However, even though the SNP have extended the lead in Holyrood voting intentions that they enjoyed shortly before the referendum (it was eight points in the last YouGov poll before polling day) the figures for Westminster and Holyrood voting in today’s poll are very similar. In voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament constituency vote the SNP are on 46%, 18 points ahead of Labour on 28%. It may well be the case that the domestic focus created by the referendum has encouraged voters to focus primarily on what they think is best for Scotland even when it comes to what they might do next May – and according to YouGov only 31% think Scottish Labour ‘represents the views and interests of Scotland today’. Moreover, we know from polling conducted on or around 18 September that those who voted Labour at the last Westminster election were more likely to vote Yes than those who voted for the party in the last Holyrood contest. So perhaps the referendum has helped to detach this softer end of Labour’s Westminster support in particular.
Either way, any such development suggests that Labour faces a more formidable battle to retain its Westminster seats than it has faced at any time since the advent of devolution. Even on these rather less dramatic figures than those produced by Ipsos MORI, Labour’s Scottish representation at Westminster could fall to just 10 seats, while the SNP might have 47. To avoid such a fate it looks as though the party will badly need to persuade voters that it puts Scotland first (and at the moment only 24% trust the favourite to be Labour’s next Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, in the debate about Scotland’s future, half as many as trust the SNP’s new leader in waiting, Nicola Sturgeon). At the same time it may well also need to regain its mantle as the party of social justice, a mantle that may well have been tarnished by having been part of a referendum campaign that appealed more effectively to middle class than working class supporters.
About the author
John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', and Chief Commentator on the What Scotland Thinks website.