Survation Add To Labour’s Woes

Findings from the first post-referendum poll to be conducted by Survation for the Daily Record have been released during the course of the last couple of days. There are two key findings. First, the poll confirms that there has been a major shift of Westminster voting intentions from Labour to the SNP since the referendum. Second, however, it suggests that the post-referendum swing in favour of independence may not be sufficient to support the claim that a majority would vote Yes if the ballot were to be held now.

Support for the SNP in next May’s Westminster election is put at 46%, while Labour are at 24%, the Conservatves on 17% and the Liberal Democrats at 6% (just ahead of UKIP on 5%). This estimate of SNP is closer to the recent estimates of YouGov (43%) and Panelbase (45%) than that of Ipsos MORI (52%), but this is cold comfort for Labour given that its support in this poll is even lower than in any of these three previous polls, all of which put the party on between 26% and 28%. As a result, this poll too points to a potential decimation of Labour’s representation at Westminster – it could be left with just 5 seats – should the movements since 2010 implied by this poll be reflected in each and every constituency.

Moreover, like Panelbase, Survation did not identify anything like so strong a swing from Labour to the SNP when it first asked about Westminster voting intentions after polling day. In a poll conducted on 18th and 19th September Survation suggested that Labour were four points ahead of the SNP, which was actually a rather better position for Labour than in most of Survation’s polls of Westminster vote intention during the referendum campaign. Evidently the haemorrhaging of the party’s Westminster support has been something of a delayed reaction to the referendum campaign and outcome.

Nevertheless, some of the detail in this poll strongly suggests that Labour’s loss of support has occurred disproportionately amongst those who voted Yes on 18 September. Some 30% of those who voted Labour in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election say that they voted Yes, while no less than 35% of those who claim to have voted Labour at the last Westminster election in 2010 report being a Yes voter. Both figures are very much in line with the various readings taken just before or on polling day. However, amongst those who currently intend to vote Labour next May, just 24% declare themselves to be Yes supporters. Evidently Yes voters have been disproportionately likely to leave the Labour fold.

Recovering from this reverse will, it seem, require more than a new Scottish Labour leader. Asked by Survation what might make them more likely to vote Labour, as many as 49% back ‘better policies in Scotland’. In contrast only 37% reckon the sight of a new Scottish leader will do the trick, while just 34% are concerned about the Scottish party being more independent of Westminster. Labour’s arguments about internal process matter much less to voters than whether the party can develop a policy platform for Scotland that begins to generate enthusiasm and interest.

Meanwhile Survation’s poll concurs with previous polls by YouGov and Panelbase that support for independence has increased somewhat since 18 September. After weighting their sample so that the proportion who say they voted Yes and No is in line with the actual result (and overall the poll’s weighting reduces the reported Yes vote by three points), the poll finds that, once a small number of don’t knows (7%) are left to one side, 48% say they would now vote Yes. That of course is three points higher than the Yes tally in September, but it is also still somewhat short of the 50% mark, contrary to the impression created by the YouGov and Panelbase polls. All that we can safely say is that if the referendum were to be rerun now, the result would likely be too close for comfort for both sides.

The SNP’s electoral advance, together with the continued high level of support for independence, has inevitably meant that there is continued speculation about if and when a second referendum might be held. Survation offered their respondents a variety of possible options. The result the company obtained was capable of being presented in two ways. On the one hand only just over one in three (35%) think there should be another referendum within the next five years. On the other hand nearly half (49%) reckoned a second ballot should be held within 10 years, while only 28% said there should never be another referendum at all.

In truth the answers to the question largely reflected people’s views about independence itself. As many as 73% of those who voted Yes in September want another referendum within five years while exactly the same proportion of No voters would not want one held until at least ten years had elapsed. This suggests that there will not be a strong demand for a second referendum unless and until there is a clear and sustained majority in favour of independence.

Whatever happens next May, the party’s ultimate ambition will be fulfilled not by capturing Labour seats at Westminster, but rather by persuading voters that the case for independence is a good one after all.

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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.