More Excitement than Movement? On the Impact of the Campaign So Far.

Labour have not had the easiest of times in the Scottish Parliament election campaign to date. It seemingly changed its mind on whether those on lower incomes should be compensated for its proposed 1p increase in the basic rate of income tax. Then an interview with its leader, Kezia Dugdale, was published in which she said it was ‘not inconceivable’ that she might back independence should the UK vote to leave the EU. Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives leapt on the latter admission to repeat their claim that they are the only true defenders of the Union.

But while such apparent ‘gaffes’ and ‘U-turns’ excite many a political journalist, they can often pass the public by. The same is true of leader debates on television, of which there were two on either side of the Easter weekend at the start of the campaign. And, while far from providing us with definitive evidence on the issue, a poll that slipped out relatively quietly at the back end of last week suggests that the initial excitement of the campaign may have made relatively little difference to the state of the election race.

The poll, by Survation for Unison Scotland, was conducted (online) over a relatively long period of interviewing, beginning on 23 March, the day before the first of the TV debates, through to 3 April, a couple of days after the publication of Kezia Dugdale’s ‘not inconceivable’ comment. So it may well not fully reflect any impact that the headlines and broadcasts in the early part of the campaign may have had. But it is to date the only poll to have been conducted since the campaign began, and thus it is the only evidence available so far on which we can make a judgement.

The poll shows no change in the popularity of any of the parties that might not have simply be occasioned by the chance variation to which all polls are subject. Thus, for example, Labour are credited with 21% of the constituency vote and 19% of the list, both up just a point on Survation’s previous poll conducted in the middle of March. The Conservatives, meanwhile, remain at 16% on the constituency vote while on the list vote they ease back just a couple of points, leaving the party on 16% on that vote too. There is certainly no immediate sign here of the Conservatives profiting from Labour’s apparent difficulties.

Both parties still trail the SNP by a long chalk. With 52% of the constituency vote (down two points) and 44% of the list vote (up two points), the nationalists show little sign of losing out from what according to some of their opponents in the TV debates is its ‘timidity’ on tax. (Indeed the Survation poll found no less than 70% of voters are in favour of a 50p top rate of tax ‘which could be used to help fund public services such as schools and hospitals’, though of course whether or not a hike in the top rate of tax would achieve that objective is in part what the debate is about.)

Meanwhile, neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Greens see their support change by more than a point on either vote, though that does mean the Greens (on 9% of the list vote) are apparently still challenging the Liberal Democrats (7%) for fourth place. So far at least, ‘Who will come fourth?’ is about as much unpredictability as this contest seems set to offer.

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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.