This month’s Survation poll for the Daily Record was released earlier today. It fails to provide any relief for Labour. The SNP are estimated to be on 47% of the vote, 21 points ahead of Labour on 26%. That actually represents a two point swing from Labour to the SNP since Survation’s poll last month, though such a swing could represent no more than the random variation to which all polls are subject. Indeed the effect of the publication of today’s poll (and that of a somewhat earlier Survation poll for Unison that only appeared late on Thursday and which reported much the same result) is to leave our poll of polls unchanged. But Labour cannot possibly be sanguine about another poll suggesting that the party is heading for disaster in Scotland in May – in this instance pointing to a 21 point swing since 2010 that, if replicated everywhere would see Labour left with just 5 Scottish seats, while the SNP would have 53.
However, Labour are not the only party apparently heading for disaster. For the Liberal Democrats, who are in conference in Aberdeen this weekend, today’s poll is yet another piece of deeply disturbing news. It puts the Liberal Democrat vote at just 4%, which is also the figure at which the party’s vote stands in our poll of polls. Such an outcome suggests the party would at best hold its remote stronghold in Orkney and Shetland, but that its remaining 10 seats would all be lost.
Doubtless we will hear much this weekend from Liberal Democrat spokespersons about how their vote is holding up better where their vote is stronger, and that they are convinced they will (once again) defy the polls. Yet the outcome of the 2011 Scottish Parliament election gives us little reason to invest much faith in these assurances.
It is true that Liberal Democrat MSPs who attempted to defend their seats harnessed a substantial personal vote in 2011 – on average they won as much as 13% more of the vote than their party did on the list vote in their constituency. Even so, that still meant that only the two Holyrood seats in Orkney and Shetland were defended successfully. Meanwhile, polls conducted between mid-April and polling day in 2011 on average put the Liberal Democrats on 7% on the constituency vote and 6% on the list vote – little different from the 8% and the 5% that eventually transpired in the ballot box.
South of the border, many of those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 are now backing Labour, although it appears to have been the Greens that have made the biggest inroads more recently. In Scotland, however, it should not surprise us to learn that much of the party’s vote has switched to the SNP. According to today’s poll as many as one in three of those who backed the Liberal Democrats have made that journey, while only one in five are now backing Labour. (True, these estimates are based on relatively small numbers of respondents, but the pattern is not dissimilar in most other recent polls.) In short it is not just Labour that are at risk of being run over by the SNP juggernaut; the Liberal Democrats are just as vulnerable too.
In its coverage of today’s poll the Record itself makes much of the fact that the poll finds that slightly more people would now vote Yes than No to independence (enough to produce a 51% to 49% lead for the Yes side once Don’t Knows are excluded). This, though is not the first poll to secure such a finding. Indeed, even Survation themselves put the two camps on 48% each back in December. The swing to Yes evident in today’s poll could also represent no more than the effect of random variation. Still, it is evident that neither the falling price of oil nor the offers of more devolution for Scotland (currently being heavily promoted by the Scotland Office) have as yet done anything to diminish the demand for independence. Whoever thought that the No vote in last September’s referendum would settle the issue for a generation must surely be deeply disappointed.
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.