Oh So Slow Progress By Labour?

The latest monthly poll by Survation for the Daily Record is published today. So far as Westminster vote intentions are concerned, it still leaves Labour, on 28%, trailing the SNP, on 45%, by as much as 17 points – enough to see Labour lose three-quarters of the seats that it currently holds north of the border. Given the current state of the Britain-wide opinion polls (a narrow Labour lead over the Conservatives) such an outcome could be enough to make the difference between Ed Miliband being within hailing distance of a majority (if not quite there) and having little choice but to come to some arrangement with the Liberal Democrats and/or the SNP.

Still there are perhaps a few crumbs of comfort for Labour. The party’s rating is four points up on what it was in Survation’s polls in November and December. The SNP share is lower than it has been in any previous post-referendum poll conducted by Survation – though only by an insignificant one point. Labour might have clawed back a little of the damage occasioned by the fallout from the independence referendum.

Even so it has apparently taken Labour three months to knock just five points off the SNP’s lead (and in our poll of polls the lead is only down by two points over the same period). Now there are only three months left to polling day. If the party were to manage to knock another five points off during that time, it would still be facing the prospect of losing half of its seats north of the border.

In short, Labour needs a game changer. But so far at least there is little sign that voters are minded to play by a different set of rules than the ones they have been following since September. Most Yes voters are still determined to vote SNP – at 84% the proportion that are minded to do so is almost exactly the same as it was both in November (83%) and December (85%). The progress that Labour have made since then seems to have been amongst No voters in September (up from 37% in November to 43% now).  There is little sign that Labour are managing to woo back any of that large group of former supporters who voted Yes in September.

To change the game voters are playing, Labour needs them to be willing to leave aside the debate about Scotland’s constitutional future. That requires persuading them that the prospect of a government led by Ed Miliband is something to which they can look forward with a degree if enthusiasm. Of that, however, there is little sign.

Amongst voters as a whole fewer people think Mr Miliband (19%) would be the best Prime Minister than grant that accolade to David Cameron (23%). Amongst SNP supporters in particular he is no more popular than the current incumbent, both being preferred by just 16%. Meanwhile, even amongst those who are currently backing the party, only 56% say they actually want a majority Labour government. (In contrast, no less than 70% of Conservative supporters are hoping for a Conservative majority.)

Time it seems for Labour to carve out a more persuasive message – but time is the one thing that is beginning to run out

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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.