Panelbase on Labour and Independence

A new poll from Panelbase has now been released by the Wings over Scotland website, which broke new ground during the referendum campaign by crowdsource funding three polls. Conducted during the week ending on Wednesday, the site’s latest poll provides further insight into the state of the race for next year’s Westminster election and on the extent to which there has been a swing in favour of independence since the referendum, while giving us a first indication of the popularity of the candidates in the Scottish Labour leadership contest.

Panelbase’s poll confirms that the SNP have pulled well ahead of Labour in the battle for the next Westminster election, albeit with figures much closer to the less spectacular ones provided recently by YouGov than those published by Ipsos MORI. It puts the SNP on 45%, Labour on 28% and the Conservatives on 15%, while the Liberal Democrats, on just 3%, are trailing UKIP (as they are in the current British polls) on 7%. If the changes in party support implied by this poll were to be repeated in every constituency, the SNP would scoop up 47 seats, while Labour would be left with just 10.

However, whereas in the case of both Ipsos MORI and YouGov their recent estimates of Westminster voting intention were the first they had published for between two and three years, this Panelbase poll is the company’s second reading since the referendum. In its previous poll, taken for the SNP at the end of September, the company put the SNP only two points ahead of Labour – by 34% to 32% – a lead that would likely only be sufficient to see a handful of seats switch from Labour to the nationalists. This means that according to Panelbase, the post-referendum swing to the SNP in Westminster vote intentions (which as well as a four point drop in Labour support since the previous poll is also accompanied by a three point fall in Conservative support and a two point reduction in the Liberal Democrat tally) has grown during the course of recent weeks, and was not in full spate immediately after the referendum.

We should though note that this poll asked a somewhat different question from its predecessor – ‘Which party do you currently think you will vote for in the 2015 election’, rather than, ‘If a UK parliamentary election were held tomorrow…who would you vote for?’ – and, as we might anticipate, asking people what they think they will do next year has evinced a somewhat higher proportion of Don’t Knows (14% versus 7%). But if we are willing to accept that the different question formulation has probably not made a significant difference to the distribution of responses amongst those who did name a party, then the poll does provide us with evidence of SNP progress in recent weeks.

Not only that, this poll also confirms the message of the recent YouGov poll that there has been a swing in favour of independence since September 18th. After excluding 8% who said Don’t Know or Wouldn’t Vote, slightly more (51%) said that they would vote Yes in response to the question, ’Knowing what you know now, if the referendum was tomorrow how would you vote’, than said they would vote No (49%). Crucially, in contrast to the YouGov poll, which also found a majority (52%) saying they would now vote Yes, this poll was weighted (heavily) so that how people said they voted in September reflected the real result. Thus in contrast to the YouGov poll, the net movement from No to Yes registered in this poll would, if it were reflected in the population as a whole, (just) be enough to produce a Yes majority. Indeed, this poll also uncovered a rather greater overall level of volatility than the YouGov poll did, with as many as 14% of No voters now saying they would vote Yes, while 9% say they have made the journey in the opposite direction. One reservation, however, is that the introduction, ‘Knowing what you know now’, might have encouraged voters to indicate that they have changed their minds.

Still, the evidence that support for independence has grown since polling day will do nothing to diminish speculation about when another referendum might be held. Much of that speculation has focused on what might happen should Scotland vote in any future referendum to stay in the EU, while the UK as a whole votes to leave. However, this poll suggests that such speculation should not be pushed too far. First, it finds only a narrow majority in favour of staying in the EU (by 41% to 38%), a result not wholly dissimilar to that of many a recent UK-wide poll of European voting intentions – and a reminder that Scotland is only somewhat more Europhile than the UK as a whole. Meanwhile, only a narrow majority (by 45% to 41%) agree that ‘a second referendum would be justified, so that Scotland is not forced out of the EU against its will’. Any proposal to hold a second referendum soon would, in truth, most likely prove a contentious issue in the court of public opinion.

Meanwhile the Wings poll provides us with the first evidence on where the public stand on the Scottish Labour leadership contest. Rather than confining itself to the three candidates who in the event have put their names forward (the full list of whom was not known when questioning started) the poll offered respondents a list of 10 names, but including the three who are now standing.

Two points emerge. First, both Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack have relatively little public support. In both cases only 2% chose them as their preferred candidate. Moreover, neither is any more popular amongst those who actually voted Labour in 2011. Both will need to use the public exposure their candidacy will give them to demonstrate that they can in fact attract voters’ interest and enthusiasm.

Second while Jim Murphy has a much bigger public appeal, it is still quite limited. Amongst all voters 18% think he would be best, a figure that increases to 28% amongst 2011 Labour voters. But amongst both groups he scores no more highly than the man who refused to take the crown, Gordon Brown, while as many as 45% of all voters and even 28% of 2011 Labour voters are unable to say who they think would be best. Mr Murphy has yet to seal the deal so far as the public is concerned.

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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.