How solid is the SNP polling rise and [what] does it mean for a future minority Labour government?

Polls are polls, ie just snapshots in time. If they indicate anything reliable it’s in the trends they show over time.

So over time Ashcroft’s latest marginal in Jim Murphy’s East Renfrewshire indicates the Scottish Labour leader may be inching towards political destruction:

If we take the polling at face value then Labour appears to be facing its own 1997 in Scotland, with bells on. Their compensation is their abiding presence in the Scottish Parliament.

If Labour does lose even close to the scale being suggested we have a pre IndyRef Scotland, and a post IndyRef Scotland where all is changed and changed utterly.

As noted here on Slugger at the time, the debate over the Currency Union killed the SNP’s (premature?) bid for independence, but politically the IndyRef campaign has transformed the SNP’s political fortunes. This has the feel of long term change too.

A bit like the Gonzales government in post coup Spain it betokens a great deal more than anyone will ever reasonably expect it to deliver. Because it not as though the SNP has not had problems.

The decision to centralise the country’s various police forces into one Police Scotland has not been popular. Yet nor has it been politically damaging.

Like the former insurgent political parties in Northern Ireland, the SNP’s experience of unpopularity and marginalisation has taught it tough lessons the larger UK parties have not had the recent benefit of.

One lesson perhaps is that it is not simply enough to be critical of your opponents or to be reactive in your responses to them, but to look to set the agenda with your own thinking.

The possible loss of Murphy, Blairite and machine politician par excellence, not to mention Dougie Alexander, may be the price Labour (and not just in Scotland) has to pay before it starts learning some of those fundamental lessons all over again.

Here’s the thing that ought to be exercising Labour. Murphy’s firmly middle class East Refrewshire constituency returned a solid No last September. Ditto both parts of his neighbour Douglas Alexander’s Paisley and South Renfrewshire:

The swings indicated here, far from the working class heartlands of the Glasgow big Yes constituencies, are phenomenal (and possibly hard to believe).

There appears to be a fire sale on Labour seats in Scotland. Although it is true that there also indicate a slipping back towards Labour in Edinburgh.

And in 2010 we saw a significant discrepancy in the polling during the campaign as against the actual results. Many of the seats predicted to shift in marginal polling stayed exactly where they were, whilst others moved. [Perhaps this is why Ashcroft is not working for the Tories this time round]

Indeed as Kieran Pedley argues on Political Betting we could be facing into another 1992 when the pollsters took a beating for not controlling for the shy Tory effect.

He notes that the scale of the importance of the smaller parties in this election is unprecedented and accordingly the pollsters are by definition in very new territory. In Scotland he suggests that:

A rarely considered factor in this election is whether there are actually a few ‘shy Labour Scots’ north of the border. I admit that this is largely speculation but, such is the frenzy that has gripped Scottish politics since the independence referendum, this is at least possible.

This does not mean that Labour are suddenly going to beat the SNP in Scotland but that the scale of the defeat might not be as bad as expected – with significant implications regarding seats won by the SNP.

He also notes that there has been an 18% rise in the electorate from last time out, but that it is unclear how many of these will be enthused enough to vote in a Westminster General Election as opposed to a referendum on the future of Scotland.

Here’s the irony that Brian was pointing to over the weekend. Regardless of happens to Scotland, on a UK basis real competition for Number Ten remains between Labour and Conservative. As the Head of Legal blog points out:

If it becomes clear after May 7th that David Cameron no longer commands a majority and cannot continue in office, then in accordance with convention he’ll resign; and all precedent, all expert opinion and the Cabinet manual itself tell us the leader of the largest opposition party will be appointed Prime Minister. Miliband won’t first need to ask Sturgeon to go looking in her handbag.

And to return to those dodgy polls again, initially at least the SNP leader does not have a lot of choice in the matter since this is exactly what the vast majority of her newly expanded electorate want her to do.

NOTE: This will be the feature of today’s #SluggerDaily Report on the UK General Election on the Periscope app. Redux version for everyone else at Slugger’s Audioboom: You can pick them up LIVE every weekday at 10am.

, , ,

  • Barneyt

    The political landscape has changed remarkably since the referendum. If a referendum were to be repeated in Sept 15, I would expect a confident Yes, in the order of 55% to 60% in favour, due to both the Nicola effect and the England only recoil from the Tories. Nicola S. has impressed on both sides of the border.

    However, if she does form a government with Labour, and Ed cannot be available for QT, will she skype in? She cant attend in any other way 🙂 On a serious point, does this not represent an erosion of Westminster politics in that potential deputy will not attend or participate in any Westminster debate?

  • runepig

    Both the SNP and Labour have ruled out a formal coalition and SNP positions in WM government. Even if, hypothetically, this were the case, it would be SNP MPs appointed, e.g. WM group leader Angus Robertson, Deputy Leader Stuart Hosie

  • Dedalus

    The Westminster party will be led by an elected MP. At the moment, the SNP leader in the House of Commons is Angus Robertson so it might be him taking to the despatch box. Alternartively, a certain Alex Salmond is standing in the Gordon constituency…

  • banana man

    originally i was delighted to see the rise of the Anti status-quo SNP and was hoping for a YES in the #IndyRef. But now im scared s**tless of another Tory government and what it means for us here in the North, at least the people of Scotland will have a strong voice to stand up for them in Westminster, who will we have? Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell who will impose god knows what so long as they can march past themuns in Ardoyne with Theresa Villiers backing. and If the Tories keep punishing the working and lower classes that’s just gonna feed the SNP even more and there will be another referendum soon enough. I really fear for the future it doesn’t look pretty either way

  • Rockman Rock

    It’s the beginning of the end for the UK.

  • GUBU

    Whatever you may think of them, Mr Campbell and Mr Dodds will have a mandate to make their voices heard.

    If all those parties who contest this election chose to take their seats, other voices might be heard, but those who choose not to act on their mandate (and by implication, those who vote for them) consciously relinquish at least part of their influence on what happens next.

    You can’t blame the Tories for that.

  • NMS

    There was a very good piece in The Guardian on planned UK expenditure. The graphic included showed how grim the future is for Northern Ireland in that the options are the UK with Govt. expenditure to be slashed to 38% GDP or Ireland with spending going to 33% GDP. A nightmare for a handout dependent region!

  • 23×7

    The success of the SNP has been overplayed as some sort of electoral tsunami for Labour. The simple fact is that the Yes voters have only one party to vote for. No voters can vote for Lab, Lib, Tory and others.

    In addition the SNP and their leaders have had almost two years of constant publicity. Strip out the constitutional issue and trident and politically there’s not much difference between the SNP and Labour.

  • Dan

    A strong voice to kid the electorate that there are orchards of magic money trees growing everywhere.

  • 23×7

    Actually I think that only a Labour govt will hold the UK together. Two reasons. A successful Labour SNP partnership will diminish the desire for Scottish independance that has been encouraged by Tory rule. Secondly the offer of the Tories to hold an EU referen-dumb will push the pro euro Scots towards the door.

  • 23×7

    With the Oil price at $50-$60 and a Labour SNP partnership I think it’s still unlikely that a YES vote would win.

  • Barneyt

    ah yes. Forgot about that. Nicola and Alex…the new Gerry and Martin of Britain 🙂

  • Robin Keogh

    In fact The North is now the poorest region in these Islands and it looks set to get worse if London’s austerity programme continues.

  • Robin Keogh

    I would have agreed with you a number of years ago but to be honest, I think the growing hunger for Scottish Independence has taken on a life of its own regardless of Labour/Tory political habits and culture.

  • Robin Keogh

    Its a win win for the SNP especially if we accept that their most pressing concern is the separation of Scotland. If the tories do win the SNP can spend the next four years pointing at the dastardly London Gov and use it to syphon more support for the nationalist cause. If Labour have to govern with support from the SNP, Sturgeon can play with Ed for about 18 months, invent a crises or exaggerate a real one, collapse the government and claim that London simply cant meet the needs of Scots anymore.

  • Amongst the majority of people I am talking to on a daily basis, independence isnt being talked about. If it is, it is people telling me that they actually voted yes, but wouldnt do so again. A lot of people are getting pretty fed up and want to move on.
    People always make the mistake (a la Gordon Brown) that when the numbers are improving, this is the new normal. The truth is that 2014 was probably the high water mark for independence. The stars aligned and this may not happen again.

  • mickfealty

    With these mammoth swings it’s gotta be Alex..

  • 23×7

    Why would the SNP bring down a Labour govt and risk the Tories getting back in? I’m afraid that you are listening to the right wing press. It’ll be in both the SNP and Labour’s interest to make the partnership work.

  • mickfealty

    Agree, but that is, kind of, the point though. The IndyRef has successfully (in the short term at least) re-jigged the political faultlines of Scotland’s arguments.

    This is pretty good on what Labour’s lost, and how it might just roster one last throw of the dice:

    The one card they have left is a ‘stop the Conservatives being the largest party’ gambit (

    This is possibly why this morning at the SNP’s manifesto ( launch Nicola was more or less saying ‘you can have our support for free…’

    Ma favourite Scottish writer bar almost none (it’s a crowded and competitive quality field) is Gerry Hassan. He wrote this for the Scottish Review last October (

    This is a Scotland in transition in lots of ways. Two years ago ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’, which I wrote with Eric Shaw, was published. The first talk I did on the book was at the vibrant SOLAS Festival in the middle of the countryside and when I concluded speaking, the writer and campaigner Andy Wightman intervened and commented, saying something to the effect that the demise of ‘Labour Scotland’ was a powerful thesis, and that my next book should be on the subject of ‘The Strange Death of Nationalist Scotland’.

    This might have seemed counter-intuitive, as we were talking in 2012, just over one year from the SNP’s famous landslide victory, but there was a point in this then and now. At any political apex, there are the beginnings of descent, of over-reach, arrogance and hubris. This is close to an iron law of politics. Take the examples of Thatcher in 1987 after her third term victory, or Blair as early as post-1997 and his soaring 93% approval ratings. For both, the only way was downwards.

    The Scotland of the post-referendum is a place of much fluidity and paradoxes. There has been a huge, almost elemental democratic explosion and impulse, which is blowing through public life like a wave or tsunami. Many of the old institutions which gave meaning and reference points to the public realm have withered, or even blown up and never recovered their importance.

    It’s worth reading on, but suffice to say there is going to be no going back to the status quo ante, I suspect. As much as I suspect the same for Irish politics in the south.

  • mickfealty

    Yep, thinking it’s going to be a similar arrangement to 2007. There’s no advantage to muddy the waters with a formal coalition.

  • eireanne

    someone else agrees with you! Well worth a read. The entire issue of the end of the Union as we have always known it is explored here

  • 23×7

    Alternatively the IndyRef has led to a short term spike for the SNP and not a long term realignment of the Scottish political system.

    There’s little doubt that the rise in pro-independence in Scotland was mostly due to direct rule by the Tories. A successful Lab SNP govt will as a result diminish the Yes vote. There seems to be a view that Nicola holds all the cards in this election when its actually not the case. Forming a partnership with Labour could be the worst thing to do from a Scottish independence point of view.

  • eireanne

    “it is beyond reason that SNP a reasonable political party are being so abused by the British Establishment” to the extent that democratically elected SNP MPs are being threatened with side-lining in Westminster – 2nd class citizens anyone? .
    How does Mr cameron imagine that will play with Scottish voters?
    You can watch mr cameron’s video and see how the issue is explored in

  • Robin Keogh

    You cannot say with any degree of certainty that an SNP Labour alliance will diminish the gra for Scottish independence, at best that’s merely assumption with no analytical back-up.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am not listening to any press on the subject, I am simply exploring the tactical options for the SNP if they are still hungry to push for independence which they clearly are.

  • Gingray

    Yes yes, both have been MPs since 2001 – other than the hope they have some sway in a hung parliment, can you name one thing either has actually achieved at Westminster? Without looking it up of course 🙂

  • banana man

    my point about the DUP is that they are clearly out to look after their voters by putting marching as a dealbreaker for coalition talks

  • 23×7

    Then why was there not a Indy referendum during the last labour govt? Removing the Tories diminishes the need for independence.

  • Barneyt

    You would expect the SNP to secure some strong advantage for Scotland by putting Ed into no 10. That will surely draw Scotland closer to effective independence, but with the union retained (devo max perhaps). This arrangement can only be maintained whilst the union exists due to Labours dependence on Scottish seats? So perhaps 23×7 is not far off the mark when they says a successful SNP Labour coalition will diminish the Yes vote…as it may reduce the need?

    A Tory government perhaps stands a better chance of creating the conditions for the independence ‘want’ than labour does?

  • GUBU

    Parties looking after their voters? These people clearly have no shame…

    Your point simply seems to be that the DUP and the Tories are horrible. Many others might find the idea of Sinn Fein exercising influence on a minority Labour administration equally perturbing.

    My point remains that if you vote for a party which won’t use its mandate to make your voice heard and exercise whatever leverage it may have, then you only have yourself to blame.

  • GUBU

    The referendum came about because the SNP won an outright majority at Holyrood in 2011 on the basis of a manifesto which included a commitment to a referendum on independence.

    Would Labour have denied a referendum if they had been in power?

    Your assertions only work if you ignore the changing politcal dynamic in Scotland – and conveniently forget that the SNP have no long term interest in sustaining any Westminster government in power, whatever short term political considerations might be in play.

  • 23×7

    SNP won an outright majority after the Tories came into power in 2010. One quite obviously led to the other. The SNP know their best chance of a Yes vote is if the Tories are in power.

    This general election is only for the next 5 years during which there will not be another referendum. The referendum question has now been parked for at least 7 years giving time for the pro union parties to make the case for Scotland to stay part of the union.

    I “conveniently forget that the SNP have no long term interest in sustaining a Westminster government in power” because this is simply not true. The SNP have repeatedly stated they are prepared to work with Labour over the next parliament and to work in the best interests of their constituents. The longer term plans of the SNP regarding independence are not relevant in this election.

  • NMS

    Robin, Looking at the current UK polls, the Conservatives, UKIP & Liberal Democrats have between 54-57% of the vote. As such, the majority of the UK population supports a smaller State. They are not “London’s” austerity programme, rather that supported by the majority of UKs.

    In Ireland, Public Expenditure is currently at around 37% of GDP, the majority of the population want taxes reduced and the OECD suggests it will fall to around 33% by 2019.

    The alternative might be for Northern Ireland to produce more……..

  • GUBU

    You underestimate the commitment of the majority of those who support independence and misunderstand the motives behind that support. Whilst there may well be some anti Tory animus in there somewhere, to reduce the independence position – or just the recent increase in support for that position – to that and that alone is absurd, as even a cursory examination of the two year independence debate would tell you. A Labour led administration is not going to put that genie back in the bottle.

    The longer term, overarching goal of the SNP – eventual independence – is entirely relevant because it will inform their approach to the next parliament. I think you misunderstand the SNP’s commitment to independence and understimate the agility of its leadership in pursuing that objective. A few years ago the SNP based its offer to many voters on the assertion that you could vote for the party without explicitly endorsing independence: now that offer is very different, because that is what gives it electoral traction. The SNP were also happy to run a minority administration with Tory support from 2007 to 2011. None of this has done the party any harm at all.

    Just as adeptly, the SNP will use the next parliament to present itself as the only real guarantor of Scotland’s interests at Westminster (not a bit part actor in the Miliband administration) and will claim credit for anything vaguely more ‘progressive’ emanating from Westminster whilst seeking further devolution in key areas. It will also use any arrangement with Labour to deny electoral oxygen to a potential Labour revival in Scotland. It strikes me that all of these things potentially help shape the political landscape in favour of independence – which is, you need to remember, the party’s raison d’etre.

    The idea that a Labour government in and of itself somehow resets the position in favour of the union is optimistic. Only a game changing offer – a fully federal UK – could change the terms of debate. What incentive will there be for Mr Miliband – or the SNP – to meaningfully explore that option if they have the prospect of power in front of them?

  • 23×7

    I have no doubt that the majority of SNP voters are committed nationalists. Fact is they still lost the referendum and didn’t convince enough floaters to join them. It will surely be more difficult to convince the floaters if they have a govt that properly represents them in Westminster.

    >>deny electoral oxygen to a potential labour revival in Scotland<<
    I love the way that this debate is being portrayed as the clever, tactical SNP versus the bumbling idiots within Labour. As I said elsewhere they've had 2 years free publicity and have no opposition on the Yes side of the debate. Lets see how well the SNP perform when they are in Westminster and on a bigger stage.

    No one can be sure how this will play out. One thing is for sure. The union has a better chance with Labour in power than the Tories.

  • GUBU

    I don’t support the SNP but I can give credit where credit is due – the political weather changed in Scotland as a result of the referendum
    last September, but before that Mr Salmond et al had already proven more adept and agile than their political opponents. I don’t expect that to change – and bear in mind that, ironically, Mr Salmond is, by his own admission, a House of Commons man.

    I have never claimed that Labour’s leadership were bumbling idiots – but what plausible explanation would you offer for the sclerotic state of the party in Scotland, its poor performance at Holyrood in both government and opposition, and its lacklustre campaign in this election? All this, and the unintended consequences of the cackhanded devolution settlement Labour concocted, are in no small part why the SNP have done so well. None of this can be laid at the door of the Tories.

    With all due respect, you have simply assigned the SNP a pre-ordained role as an adjunct to the Miliband administration you so obviously want. All I would say is don’t assume that they will conform to your – or Mr Miliband’s – expectations, or that the long term consequences of their association will work in favour of the Labour Party, or the union.

    I would re-arrange your last sentence – of the two main parties, Labour Party is the one which, in the long term, most needs the union to remain in place to have any long term prospect of power at Westminster. Will the SNP support constitutional change in this Parliament which, in their view, strengthens the union in the long term? Answers on a postcard…

  • 23×7

    I haven’t assigned the SNP a role as an adjunct to Labour, they’ve done it and are asking for it themselves.

    There are a variety of reasons why labour are in such a poor state in Scotland. Complacency for sure. Alignment with the No campaign obviously and for which they had no choice. But hey this looks to be as bad as it’s going to be for them. The only way is up after this election. As I explained elsewhere the proximity to the referendum has given the SNP a significant advantage at this election.

    Despite all this according to the polls labour are are neck and neck with the Tories. The Tories haven’t won an election since 92. I think Labour will be fine long term it’s the tories and neoliberalism that’s had its day.

    What constitutional changes are planned in the next term?

  • Scots Anorak

    A Labour party source has itself described the impact of the coming election as a tsunami.

    But you are of course correct that any wipeout would be the result of the first-past-the-post system and a split Unionist camp. The SNP vote may be only slightly higher than it was in the last Scottish Parliament elections (which produced a much more modest SNP majority under a form of PR).

    Not sure if one could claim that there is not much difference between the SNP and Labour, though. Under Sturgeon in particular, the SNP is clearly the more left-wing party (she even prefers Foot to Kinnock). The vista of Labour supporting real-terms Con-Dem cuts to benefits frozen since 1980 was not a pretty one (London Labour also reportedly banned Johann Lamont from campaigning against the bedroom tax while Ed vacillated). Neither is the continuing attempt to triangulate on immigration, an issue that many Scots simply couldn’t get excited about.

    There are, however, many people in the Labour Party more in tune with Nicola Sturgeon’s politics than those of Ed Miliband, and we may be about to see a realignment of influence within Labour as a result.

  • barnshee

    Best thing ever for England -provided they strengthen their boundaries and keep the leeches out

  • barnshee

    Not to mention the growing hunger in England for the scots to bugger off

  • barnshee

    Great then the spongers can get off their backsides

  • GUBU

    You’re still pressing that reset button in the belief that everything will fall into line exactly with your own preconceptions.

    Good luck with that one…

  • 23×7

    Which simply does not exist outside maybe a few tories and UKIP voters.

  • 23×7

    Anyone else you’d like to blame? Immigrants?

  • barnshee

    Exactly why should the North get subsidised by others

  • 23×7

    Why should Hull, Sunderland, Bradford, Newport and every struggling part of the UK get subsidised by others?

  • 23×7

    Good try but the Lib dems would prefer a labour coalition. The majority of the UK are clearly against further austerity.

  • 23×7

    Where are you getting the idea that the majority of the population want taxes reduced? That’s like saying the majority of the population would like free ice cream.

  • NMS

    The Lib Dems have defended their support of reductions and if the majority of their MPs returned end up supporting the Labour Party, it will be around so called social issues and not economic issues. They remain classically liberal from an economic perspective, seeing no role for State intervention other than a regulator.

  • NMS

    23X7, anytime the polling companies have asked the question, Irish people have responded favouring tax reductions over increased expenditure on services.

  • mickfealty
  • barnshee

    Because a large portion in the North don`t support the concept of “the north” (quite fond of the old subvention tho)
    Let them raise their own taxes (beg next door if its not enough) and treat them as foreign national if they turn up in GB In short foxtrot oscar and pay your own bills

  • Rockman Rock

    It should keep the beasts from England out of Scotland. Your Saviles, Brittons etc.