Are the SNP already out of sight in Labour heartland seats?

_45740668_kennedy_pa_766James Kelly explores the polls and the positions in the aftermath of the leaders debate.

This is, unfortunately for me, just about the most dangerous possible moment to sit down and try to summarise the state of play in the opinion polls. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the UK general election campaign five years ago, and also from last year’s referendum campaign, it’s that all bets are off as soon as the first big debate is out of the way. The suddenness of the Cleggasm, taking the Liberal Democrats from nowhere into the outright lead, has become part of political folklore. But what we might be in danger of editing from our memories is the fact that Alistair Darling’s “victory” in the first referendum debate was counter-intuitively followed by a boost for Yes in the polls.

That may just have been coincidence – the fruits of the ground campaign randomly becoming apparent at an improbable moment. But I suspect there was actually a causal link. Darling may have technically “won” in the sense that viewers could see he had the punchier attack lines, but he won in the wrong way, with an over-reliance on his “Doctor Death” repertoire. The debate proved merely to be the starting point for a wider conversation among millions of individuals – one that had been framed by Darling in a manner that was distinctly unfavourable for the No campaign.

There’s a warning-sign here for the SNP. Everything in the garden may look rosy right now, with Nicola Sturgeon having achieved the impossible by actually topping one of the four Britain-wide post-debate polls. But it’ll take a little while to discover whether the narrative she established in the debate will render her own triumph as pyrrhic as Darling’s was. The strategy she employed could almost be described as the Britishing of the SNP – when she talked about “this country”, as she repeatedly did, it seemed clear that she was talking about the UK and not Scotland. The standard post-referendum considerations were parked for the evening, with the case for more powers for Holyrood – which could easily have been linked to almost any of the topics that were raised – left completely unmade.

It’s not hard to understand what the thinking was. Leanne Wood took the entirely opposite approach, and as a result was left looking parochial, even when she made points that would have come across as entirely reasonable in a Wales-specific debate. Sturgeon avoided that fate, but the danger is that a voter invited by the SNP to view the election through a British lens might eventually draw the logical conclusion and vote for a British party. In that regard, the schedule for the remaining leaders’ specials works against the SNP’s best interests. Sturgeon will make her final appearance in a set-piece UK-wide programme next week, and thereafter the Westminster parties will have three full weeks to re-establish a sense of “business as usual”.

I wouldn’t want to overstate the risk. Labour are very unlikely to turn things around sufficiently to win the popular vote in Scotland – that horse has already bolted. But we mustn’t forget that we’re dealing with an electoral system that is quite, quite mad. For a party like the SNP with very evenly-spread support, a relatively modest drop in support over the closing weeks of the campaign could cost a large number of seats, transforming a potential clean sweep into a much more nuanced victory. The Ashcroft constituency polls that we’ve seen so far had the SNP ahead almost everywhere, but there were a fair number of seats where the lead was far from secure. To illustrate the potential problem, let’s look at four seats with (relatively) big-name incumbents, and see whether a small swing could conceivably tip the balance.

CBnpd6fWMAAAT4DInverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (held by Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury) : This is a nice, stress-free one to start with. Alexander is toast. Ashcroft had him 29 points behind the SNP, and the type of swingback that would be required to get him back into the game just isn’t going to happen. The Liberal Democrats are apparently comforting themselves with private polling that suggests they have higher support when the local candidates are specifically named, but are we really expected to believe that the champion of austerity is so wildly popular in the Yes city of Inverness that simply mentioning his name is enough to substantially bridge a 29-point gap? It seems unlikely somehow.

Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (held by Tom Clarke, former Shadow Scottish Secretary) : OK, Clarke ceased to be a “celebrity” twenty years ago, but this constituency is interesting because it’s one of the safest seats in the UK, and Labour were shocked to the core when Ashcroft put the SNP ahead there. It was the perfect illustration that the number of people who voted Yes is a better predictor of Labour’s plight in any given constituency than the number of people who voted SNP in 2010, or even in 2011. Unsurprisingly, though, the SNP’s lead in the constituency poll was a wafer-thin 3%, meaning their hopes could be dashed if there is even the smallest of recoveries by Labour.

Paisley and Renfrewshire South (held by Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary) : This would arguably be the sweetest moment of election night – Labour’s Sultan of Smugness being humbled by a 20-year-old SNP candidate who has been demonised in the unionist press. But before we all get too excited, the snag is that Ashcroft had Mhairi Black ahead by just 8%. The swing required for Alexander to hold on would be equivalent to the SNP’s lead of 20 points or so in the national YouGov polls being cut to around 12 points.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber (held by Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats) : Many people reeled in disbelief to see Kennedy trailing the SNP in Ashcroft’s poll, but the team behind the Election Forecast website reacted in precisely the opposite way. For weeks they had been predicting that the constituency was one of the SNP’s most certain gains, but as soon as the poll was released they reinstalled the Lib Dems as the likely winners. Most probably, this was because they judged that Kennedy’s incumbency bonus would be sufficient to overcome the SNP’s small 5% advantage. It certainly looks as if the SNP can’t afford any slippage at all if they are to claim a very big scalp.

All of these worries may be completely unfounded, though. When polls come out showing the SNP doing better than anyone had previously thought possible, there’s an obvious temptation to search for reasons why the true position may be less impressive. But, if anything, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. The SNP were downweighted across the board in the Ashcroft polls due to the decision to weight by 2010 recalled vote, which is known to be unreliable. Without that adjustment, the SNP would have been almost out of sight in all four of the above-mentioned constituencies.

If complacency is the enemy, perhaps we owe Lord Ashcroft and his dubious methodology a large dram.

Comments (42)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. emilytom67 says:

    I think you are correct in your caution,there are so many voters out there unwilling to look beyond the I have always voted and am not going to change now,they live in la la land clinging to the dream that Labour do really represent the working class.

    1. maxi kerr says:

      So correct Emilytom,i come across these kind of people all the time and the”they know not what they do”line does not work for me. You just wish you could shake some sense into them.


    2. Frank M says:

      Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time is the definition of insanity.

  2. If my local SNP branch is anything to go by, (Cumbernauld), there is no complacency. The branch and our PPC, are working flat out. I think not only were eyes opened about so many issues last year, but we also learned not to trust polls.

    On Nicolas performance last night, given all the jock bashing by the MSM down south, she played the debate flawlessly. We remain part of the UK, and we want to see all thrive, that’s the right stance. The audience was different, so the message has to be different, I would not have wanted her to bang on about Scotland, except to hint, why don’t you have free education- a powerful message.

    I wasn’t surprised at her performance, she is a great speaker. I just hope attitudes south of the Border recalibrate.

    1. We need to fight for every vote,and i am certain your PPC and Jamie Hepburn will make sure Cumbernauld SNP will fight to the finish.

  3. Alex Wright says:

    Thanks for that James. I’m trying to keep my feet firmly planted as I still feel a bit apprehensive regarding the polls. My worry is, anything less than what is being projected can be used as a stick against us.

  4. Brian Powell says:

    !800+ new members for the SNP. Don’t know if that is significant as far as judging the effect of the debate.

  5. AWW says:

    As an SNP activist of very ripe years, can I say I am taking nothing for granted. I am ignoring the polls and working as hard as I have always done. I can say that on the street I find that more people are declaring for SNP than I have ever found in the past. However, as an elderly lady I am amused to find I am also subjected to bad language usually from young men who seem to think abuse equals discussion. They often can’t or won’t tell me who their present MP is. What encourages me is the willingness of people of all ages, shapes and sizes to actually talk about their views on politics as it affects them. I am really hopeful that the people of Scotland have woken up and will not go to sleep again, thus blindly handing one party control of their lives just because “I’ve always voted ******* and I always will.”

    1. Alec Oattes says:

      All good comment, we must not take anything for granted, there are many forces out their working against us, like the Daily Record and other Unionist press club members, who are quite happy with the comfortable status quo. Our Team in Ayr Carrick and Cumnock are working flat out, with Women for Independence,C.N.D. and the Common Weal Group, to oust the British Labour Party incumbent Sandra Osborne.

    2. Frank M says:

      Excellent comment AWW. I love your phrase “blindly handing one party control of their lives”. When you think carefully about this, it is hard to comprehend how utterly stupid some people can be by giving their vote to Labour without any rational thought. Labour has long ago abandoned the ordinary people. I have given my definition of insanity above.

  6. Jim Bennett says:

    Very sensible article.

    The 6% lead in the STV polls for the SNP in Scottish Labour seats is clearly within the 3% margins of error. So, an assumption should be made that SNP and Labour are polling at similar levels.

    If the Labour Party poll 35% and the SNP 40%, Labour could still have the largest number of MPs in Scotland.

    I am genuinely looking forward to the Labour Party being destroyed but counting no chickens.

    To paraphrase MacDiarmid, Scotland will only be free when the last Labour MP is strangled with the last copy of the Daily Record!

    1. andygm1 says:

      Wasn’t it Tom Nairn who said that Scotland would only be free when the last minister was strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post?

      1. Jim Bennett says:

        Thanks Andy. I took a guess! It sounds like something Shug would’ve said!

  7. gerry parker says:

    Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.

    Aye, I’m leafleting this area at the moment. The SNP branch went from around 250 now standing at 1,100.

    Lots of x Labour party supporters (and members) are coming into the branch.

    Tom Clarke’s supporters are trying to distance him from the austerity and Trident policies of the Labour party.
    When it comes down to it, Tom follows the Labour Whip.

    If he is so good as a local man, he should stand as an independent candidate.

    1. Gordon says:

      #gerry parker. I would say the same thing about Katy Clark in North Ayrshire and Arran .She has always been a good MP, but is a creature of her party.

  8. Laura Dunbar says:

    Take nothing for granted – nothing! Polls don’t win elections – we must use every day from now til close of voting to get our message over and get the SNP box ticked on the day. I can’t trust anything in the msm and they haven’t even begun to crank up the dirty tricks,fear and smear, and all the other nasty little tools ( No I don’t just mean Mr Murphy) in their box. We can do this!

  9. Donald McGregor says:

    I’m loving way in which the transfer of leadership to NS is allowing the putting out of the message ‘don’t fret about all that previous stuff about us needing rUK, just look how we can help you’
    Save your country , vote SNP. Applies throughout the UK. Could make a big difference to undecideds here.

  10. Anne Duncan says:

    The upcoming elections are for the whole of the UK. Therefore when Nicola Sturgeon was talking about ‘this country’ she was rightly referring to the whole of the UK. As well as support in Scotland, there is a lot of support in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for a new style of more inclusive politics and government. This is not a radical idea of course, although it frequently seems to be reported as one.

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      When you compare the SNP’s way of doing things to the mire of selfishness, corruption, unnecessary military misadventures and general moral decay of Wastemonster, maybe it does look radically different.

  11. Dennis Smith says:

    For people who frequent Scottish political blogs there’s a danger of concentrating too exclusively on the Scottish perspective. As a thought experiment it’s worth trying to put yourself, once in a while, in the shoes of a London Labour strategist. If you assume that Labour and Tories are still running neck and neck on May 7, both well short of an over-all majority, which of the following scenarios should you rationally prefer in Scotland – SNP 30 seats + Labour 20 or SNP 50 + Labour 5? If it’s the former, there will be a bloc of 20 Labour MPs viscerally hostile to the SNP and the chances of fruitful Labour-SNP cooperation will be low. If it’s the latter, there will surely be a temptation for London Labour to write Scotland off as a lost cause, sever links with their Scottish branch office and cosy up to the SNP.

    From this perspective, Jim Murphy might appear more of a liability than an asset to London Labour. Ed Miliband is often portrayed as a weak leader. Might there be an opportunity here for him to demonstrate his ruthlessness?

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      Yes, good points. Do you actually think they would take this approach?

      1. Dennis Smith says:

        I don’t have a crystal ball but I’d be surprised if Labour don’t have a team of strategists analysing every possible scenario and triangulating like mad. Like everyone else, they probably won’t know till May 8 which scenarios are relevant and which aren’t. But if you think of a gradient running from SNP 25 + Labour 25 to SNP 59 + Labour 0 there is clearly a tipping point somewhere where it becomes rational to concede defeat (for the moment at least) and start talking to the SNP.

      2. I think you are right about scenarios being devised as we speak, and especially after last night. I have often thought Murphy was a make or break appointment, entirely expendable to London Labour. We knew he was a gift to the SNP. London Labour had nothing to lose – either he would rally support, or not, so they now know the result of that experiment.

        I think they are already culling their support to Scottish seats they calculate they will lose, and that is a busiiness decision, because they need that money in England. What does it tell you when you have 4 SLab leaflets printed in England, and delivered by Royal Mail?

        The strategists will say to Ed, ditch the baggage, and work with SNP, who now have support both sides of the Border, because previous polls have also shown a preference for a Labour/SNP alliance.

  12. benmadigan says:

    “I’ve always voted ******* and I always will.”

    This problem is even more marked in Northern ireland where the fundamentalist DUP is convinced they are going to be kingmakers in a hung parliament without even factoring in the SNP vote. Talk about deluded!

    Unlike the men in the debate who seemed rehearsed and media-groomed to the max, all the ladies came across as sincere politicians.
    Natalie Bennett appealed least to me . She didn’t manage to get her case over well at all
    Leanne Wood seemed to be a lovely,Wales-centred caring person
    Nicola Sturgeon did phenomenally well in a very difficult environment, given the growing anti-SNP hysteria in the media at the moment.She was streets ahead of the other two, pegging with the English leaders. Scotland should be very proud of its First Minister –

    Apart from the polls (or maybe because of them), I agree it needs to be “all hands to the pump” for the next few weeks to ensure the SNP members maximise the turnout and get those votes in the bag.
    I really hope each and every one of them is utterly convinced this is not the time for slacking.

  13. Steve Bowers says:

    I’ll stick with being nervous and keep delivering leaflets.

  14. Connor Mcewen says:

    On voting percentages.Wings over Scotland pointed out Grant Schapps on “we are the 99.982 % “.

    In other words in certain constituencies 0.018 % of votes counted to ensure victory for Tory candidates

  15. My Cocaine says:

    Agree with the article on some points, but it overlooks the fact that the wider audience Sturgeon was pitching too wasn’t the UK, but the left-leaning elements in the Labour party (admittedly not a lot remain) who are probably saying to themselves that we can do business with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament.

  16. Frederick Robinson says:

    Is Bella Caledonia a genuine forum for discussion – or the Scottish (seems to mean SNP) equivalent of ‘Pravda’ in Soviet Russia? It goes from boring to more boring in its predictability (even though this particular one, in its nervousness, is uncharacteristically almost balanced).

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      We are open to submissions and non-party political

    2. Kenny says:

      You’re here. What do you want to talk about? To be fair though, you’re not going to find many people here who don’t support the SNP and independence pretty strongly, just like you won’t find many folk commenting on the Daily Mail website who aren’t rabidly right wing.

    3. hossmackintosh says:

      I now tend to think of the BBC as the equivalent of ‘Pravda’ in the UK.

      It has become a foreign broadcaster in Scotland out of touch with its own people.

    4. rabthecab says:

      Do you think that last night’s debate shouldn’t be discussed? If so, I’d love to know why.

    5. douglas clark says:

      I think it is.

      I think it was Mike Small himself that took enormous exception to me elsewhere.

      We are talking about something close to his soul. He really believes that men in the SNP are ‘against’ women. I do not believe that to be true.

      Indeed, he allowed me to publish to the contrary, and in no uncertain terms and after a feeble response from him, he did not remove my frankly dissmissive response to him. That is not retriction of feedom of spech. It is the exact opposite.

      The man is honourable even when he is completely wrong…..

      1. Jim Bennett says:

        Douglas, I think that was a compliment to Mike?!

  17. gonzalo1 says:

    Would you rather it was blindly obedient to the unionist establishment like most of the boring, predictable press?

  18. DB says:

    “the danger is that a voter invited by the SNP to view the election through a British lens might eventually draw the logical conclusion and vote for a British party”

    That’s a good point.
    I think her approach was correct for the occasion though. But for Scottish campaigning it needs to be made clear that an SNP vote is about giving Scotland power and influence, not just ‘keeping the Labour party honest’

    Moving the Labour party a bit to the left, doesn’t seem as strong an argument as more powers for Scotland.

    I think the SNP has done as much as possible to attract Labour voters – now they need to keep the 45% of independence voters, and attract the many No voters who want further devolution.

  19. douglas clark says:

    Maybe *restriction and maybe *freedom , but who cares. You all knew Frederick Robinson might come from an extremely right wing perspective. Someone should insist that he spells that out fo us?

  20. David Allan says:

    My opinion is that the Polls are all set up to grossly inflate the popularity of voting SNP, anything like 40 seats is unrealistic.I am confident that we will however make a breakthough hopefully high teens. The strategy behind the polls is to make what would be a great achievement seem somehow disappointing .

    The MSM Post Election Spin will likely be that Labour and Murphy have stopped our momemtum! Not how well the SNP achieved!

    Regrettably the First past the Post system doesnt deliver ” list MP’s” !

  21. Political Tourist says:

    Let’s go with the SNP having the present 6 MPs plus say taking 9 of the 11 LibDems seats, that’s 17, so to get a majority of Scottish seats the SNP need another 13 seats.
    If a three quarters of the 1.6 million YES camp vote SNP then every seat is up for grabs because of the split in the unionist vote.

  22. Colin says:

    “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” (Joseph Stalin)

  23. Gordon Macrae says:

    YES .. Joseph Stalin is correct ( Especially as regards the ” Referendum ” ), It WAS the people who counted the votes !

  24. Gordon Macrae says:

    C’mon the ” S.N.P. ” get into power , and if only we could get Nicola for Prime Minister then what a huge difference she would make to the whole of Britain.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.