Labour Still in Deep Trouble

The stream of disturbing polls for Labour from north of the border continues in full flood. Today sees the publication of another poll – by YouGov for The Times –  that puts the SNP sufficiently far ahead for it to take all but a handful of Labour’s current seats. The SNP are credited with 48%, up one point on YouGov’s previous (record high) figure in its last poll conducted in mid-December (just before Jim Murphy became Labour’s Scottish leader), while at 27% Labour’s vote is unchanged. While noone could claim that Jim Murphy has been anything other than an active and visible leader, it seems that so far his various initiatives have failed to make any impression on the nationalists’ overwhelming lead. Our latest poll of polls sees the SNP lead creep up from 19 points to 20.

As many a previous poll has shown, the foundations of that lead rest on the fact that support for independence is undiminished and that most of those who voted Yes in September propose to follow that vote up by casting a vote for the SNP in May. As many as 84% of those who voted Yes in September are now backing the SNP (while conversely only 9% of No supporters are doing so). Meanwhile, even though 44% (including 31% of Yes supporters) believe that the recent fall in the price of oil has been bad for Scotland, support for independence continues to be a little higher than it was in September. According to this poll, 52% would now vote Yes, and only 48% No (excluding don’t knows, unchanged from December). However, as with previous YouGov polls, it should be borne in mind that they are not weighted such that how people said they voted in September matches the actual result. In this case, 48% said they voted Yes in September, three points above the actual figure. Once an allowance is made for that discrepancy it seems that the outcome if an independence referendum held now would simply be too close to call – but that still gives the SNP a very rich seam to mine.

Labour’s latest initiative in its efforts to try and prise support away from the SNP has been to suggest that the devolution of welfare could go further than the proposals of the Smith Commission as subsequently turned into a draft bill. What is certainly true is that neither the publication of Smith nor that of the draft bill has done anything to convince Scots that more powers will actually be delivered by the unionist parties. Just 39% think it likely that will happen, down two points on YouGov’s last reading in late October, that is before Smith was published. Meanwhile, 54% reckon it is unlikely to happen (unchanged). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, much of the scepticism comes from SNP supporters, no less than 86% of who think it unlikely. With no less than 64% of all Scots believing that the SNP would be most effective at securing more powers for the Scottish Parliament after the general election, it looks as though Labour have an awful lot of persuading to do if its pursuit of the ‘vow plus’ is to enable it to chip away more effectively at the SNP’s lead than it has done so far.

There is, though, one consolation for Mr Murphy. He is much less unpopular than his UK counterpart, Ed Miliband. In today’s poll YouGov ask how well or badly Mr Murphy and the SNP leader, Ms Sturgeon, are doing. YouGov also ask this question every week about the main UK-wide party leaders in its GB-wide polls. In the most recent such poll, just 22% thought Mr Miliband was doing well, while 68% believed he was doing badly, figures that have been typical for the UK leader for many weeks and months. In contrast, as many as 33% of people in Scotland believe that Mr Murphy is doing well. True, that still falls short of the 43% who reckon he is doing badly, but his resulting net score, -10, more or less puts him on a par with the current GB-wide rating enjoyed by the Prime Minister.

Trouble is, Mr Murphy, still trails way behind Ms Sturgeon in the popularity stakes. As many as 64% believe she is doing well, while only 22% reckon she is performing badly – figures for which all of the current crop of UK-wide leaders would die for. Even amongst the much diminished band of Labour supporters, almost as many believe the First Minister is doing well (39%) as feel she is performing badly (43%).

However, there are perhaps signs of potential trouble ahead for the SNP should it indeed find itself in a powerful bargaining position in the next UK parliament. Only 40% of SNP supporters back the party’s line that it should only be willing to negotiate with Labour. As many as 21% reckon the party should be willing to support whichever of Conservative or Labour offers the better deal. At the same time, no less than 30% believe the party should not do any kind of deal at all. Riding all these horses at once could well prove a bumpy experience.

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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.