February has (almost) come and gone and there is still no sign of Labour making any significant inroad into the SNP’s lead in voting intentions for May’s Westminster election – which is now little more than two months away. In their latest monthly poll published today, TNS BMRB actually put the SNP up 5 points on 46%, though in truth the company’s previous estimate of 41% nationalist support was somewhat on the low side, at least as compared with other contemporaneous polls. Labour, meanwhile, are on 30%, down a statistically insignificant one point.
If the changes in party support since 2010 implied by this poll were to be replicated in every constituency, then the SNP would win 46 seats, Labour 12 and the Liberal Democrats 1. Everyone else, including the Conservatives, would come away empty handed.
The only ray of possible sunshine that Labour can bring to these findings is that the fieldwork for the poll was done over an extended three week period beginning at the end of January. Consequently, if the party has made any very recent progress it may not be fully reflected in this poll’s figures. But then parties are programmed to look on the bright side, whatever a poll says. The truth is we are still looking for any solid evidence that, despite his best efforts, Jim Murphy has in fact made any progress in turning his party’s fortunes around.
However, paradoxically the effect of this latest poll is to see SNP support ease down slightly from 47% to 45% in our poll of polls. Not much should be made of this. The publication of today’s poll means that the last Ipsos MORI poll, which put the SNP at an unusually high 52% is removed from the calculation while in fact the relatively low 41% in the previous TNS BMRB poll is still included. Such apparent inconsistencies represent one of the risks of this kind of exercise.
Today’s poll also asked its respondents what issues were important to them in deciding how to vote in the general election. The NHS came top, with 68% naming it as one of the issues that they are taking into consideration. But that does not necessarily mean that it will prove important in determining the outcome. After all, voters are most likely to name the issue as important irrespective of the party they support.
What divides voters is the importance they attach to the constitutional question. Amongst SNP supporters 53% mention independence and 48% the devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament. In contrast the equivalent figures amongst those backing Labour are just 11% and 16% respectively. That suggests Labour’s (enhanced) promises of more devolution are cutting little ice amongst those for whom the issue matters – and that the party is unlikely to make much progress for so long as that remains the case.