Clutching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Polling published this week from YouGov and IPSOS showed seemingly contradictory insights into the trajectory of Scottish politics. According to new YouGov polling, if a general election held tomorrow the SNP could fall back to 27 seats in Scotland, with Labour gaining 23 from their nationalist rivals to bring their seat tally up to 24, while the Tories and Lib Dems would take four apiece.

Patrick English, YouGov’s Associate Director has said: “The results suggest that repeated recent bad news stories for the SNP and its new leader, Humza Yousaf, including accusations of party mismanagement and potential criminal cases being brought against senior officials, have taken a serious toll on both the party’s popular support and its prospects of defending many of the 48 seats it won at the 2019 general election.”

Yet on the same day IPSOS Mori for STV issued a poll showing support for Yes resurgent at 53% in favour with 47% against.

So what’s going on?

Certainly the linkage between the SNP’s reputation and support – and the cause of independence is not what it was. The party can take a tremendous reputational hit (it remains to be seen whether its terminal and instant or partial and gradual) and this does not seem to have massively impacted on support for independence. The notion that ‘the movement is bigger than any party’ seems clearer than ever, if little else does.

Support for the SNP at Westminster is down ten per cent in six months. If this polling is right they face a wipe-out at the next election. yet they would remain the dominant party in Scotland and retain a number of MPS at Westminster once thought incredible. The SNP may be beleaguered on all sides but their historic Westminster lead allows them to take a massive electoral hit and still be the dominant party.

Emily Gray, Managing Director of Ipsos in Scotland, commented: Labour will be hoping that the indication in this poll of a weakening relationship between past independence support and voting for the SNP becomes a trend on which they can capitalise.”

But is this perhaps wishful thinking?

When the Labour vote collapsed in Scotland voters were faced with an alternative that had behind it a big cause: independence, as well as a not-too-distant set of political principles. In other words the jump from the social democracy of Labour to the social democracy of the SNP wasn’t an obstacle for voters. But even in the context of SNP collapse the offer, or the alternative from Labour is dubious. Starmer’s party is relentlessly, studiously conservative. He says so. It will be, as he said “New Labour on steroids”. Each week he painstakingly spells out why he won’t overturn this or that Tory policy, on police powers, on repression of civil rights, on the environment, on public sector pay, or whatever it might be.

As Katherine Sangster, National Manger for the Scottish Fabians has observed: “Slugging it out with the Tories to be the “no compromise” pro-UK party is an electoral dead end … The path for Labour is clear. It must avoid the “no compromise” unionism versus independence stances that the SNP and Tories – bereft of other ideas – are locked into.”

Despite her optimistic tone, there is no sign, none whatsoever, that this will happen. Labour are absolutely committed to ‘Slugging it out with the Tories to be the “no compromise” pro-UK party’, and in doing so will come up against three simple realities that will impact their ascendancy. The first is the remarkable resilience of support for independence, now seemingly divorced from the reputation of the political ;party most associated with it. The second is the reality of the failed Brexit experiment and Scottish peoples deep hostility both to it, and the manner in which it was inflicted on us. The third is the ongoing experience of widespread social failure. The cost of living crisis hasn’t gone away anywhere and Starmer’s solutions seem thin on the ground. We are, once again, in the territory of ‘anyone but the Tories’ and the simplistic and proven-failure of relying on ‘just get the Tories out’ as a political mantra.

The problem is not just an absence of coherent policy, or even mimicking the Tories, the problem for Labour is a lack of narrative. As the writer John Harris has noted: “Starmer and Labour’s senior shadow ministers still mostly speak in a deadening political argot full of abstract nouns and concepts that have little resonance in people’s everyday lives. A year ago, his pitch to the public was all about “security”, “prosperity” and “respect”; now, he and his team want to “build a better Britain” that will supposedly push ahead in the “global race”. Insurgency requires energy, pace and emotional intelligence, but he seems slow, leaden and strangely cold. His key weakness is much the same as it has always been – the absence of a story about who he is, the condition of the country he wants to govern, and how Britain needs to change.”

Even as voters face crushing bills and inflation, housing crisis and deprivation – Starmer’s Labour party has little to say – and here we are again working on the assumption that just ousting an unpopular government will be a remedy to our multiple problems. This is the playbook that Britain repeats: mounting anger at dysfunctional and plainly corrupt Tory government eventually runs out of steam despite being kept on a life-support machine by a pliant corporate press. It is replaced by an ineffectual and scared Labour party on a wave of misplaced optimism and inherits all of the systemic problems created by the Conservatives. It has neither the guts nor the guile nor the political heft or deeper social support to actually effect change. It will implement some modest improvements (being better than the Conservatives is a low bar) before collapsing under the contradictions of its own inadequacies.

We face a massive accumulation of problems, mostly dire socio-ecological ones, but also issues of health (mental and physical) as well as new and emergent ones of technology and climate breakdown that take us into unchartered waters. In the face of this – and looking at the political parties lack of leadership ideas or credibility, there is much to be despondent about. The British political system seems designed to lurch between Conservative and Labour in an inexorable pattern of managed decline. But hope springs eternal. Even facing SNP collapse, with a barrage of negativity from the Scottish media about almost everything the Scottish Government does, even with the unholy alliance that now denounces even the most modest changes of policy at Holyrood, even with all these conditions in place, support for independence is rising. Few are misdirected by the whipped-up hysteria about migration, fewer still believe the relentless propaganda about how Scotland is, and ever will be useless and uniquely incapable. The reality is that living in Britain is like living in a broken state, and few of the solutions we are being presented with seem remotely credible, and that, paradoxically, is a good thing.



Comments (14)

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  1. Michael Picken says:

    It’s also two differrent polling methodologies.

    The YouGov poll showing Labour winning 24 seats is based on a large scale Multiple Regression and Post Stratification (MRP) poll where results are transposed onto the demographics of each constituency to try to predict individual contests. This is a relatively new methodology and while it has can claim some past successes in predicting real voting, there are some significant technical uncertainties including how it is used as a proportional rather than uniform swing methodology. Also the demographic factors used for each constituency don’t take account of population shifts since the last Scottish census in 2011 – potentially getting wrong the location of some of the more mobile younger population in the electorate. They may be less likely to vote, but some will have voted in 2022 local elections and 2021 Scottish Parliament election (as 16/17 year olds) but not yet had a vote in a UK general election – so we don’t really know their volatility. It’s also unclear what effect the suppression tactics of the Tories in needing voter ID for a UK General Election will have specifically on potential Labour voters in Scotland, bearing in mind that almost all young people up to 21 in Scotland already have “acceptable” voter ID in the form of their National Entitlement Card for free bus travel that they carry with them at all times (unlike in the England, where voter ID was used for the first time in the recent local elections) – many 60+ voters also have an NEC, but that may benefit the Tories more than Labour as the Tories clearly intend. It’s hard to believe that Labour’s current policy offer especially on indyref2, Brexit, migration and GRR will have much purchase on young people in Scotland – the 18-21 population may be a small part of the electorate across the board but could make a key difference in closely contested seats that MRP might not predict very well.

    The other IPSOS/MORI used standard methodology with a 3% error margin across the entire country, and clearly indicates that despite the travails of the SNP the fundamental fact that a significant population of around 50% continue to support independence representing a continuing challenge for the democratic legitimacy of the failed UK state.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    Starmerism increasingly appears like Nosferatu’s shadow:
    I quite agree that we “face a massive accumulation of problems, mostly dire socio-ecological ones”, but our undead political system needs to be nailed into its coffin and replaced by a living one.

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    [YouGov was founded in the UK in May 2000 by Stephan Shakespeare and future UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi.]
    [n June 2022, former employee Chris Curtis, who at this time worked for competitor Opinium,[16] said that during the 2017 United Kingdom general election, a YouGov poll was suppressed by the company because it was “too positive about Labour”, under pressure from the Conservative co-founder of YouGov Nadhim Zahawi.]

    ipsos polls are the only ones worth their salt.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Tom Ultuous, the role of polling organisations is not neutral, and typically either partisan and/or servicing interests (commercially or otherwise). Their function is specifically to create an often public sense of mass alignment to pre-determined positions. Perhaps in the sense of manufacturing consent or suppressing dissent. As you say, omission is a powerful tool of political lying. Aside from that, their biases (question formulation, response gathering, post-response weighting, analysis) are often unchecked and non-transparent, and maybe even unconscious. Even if they aren’t actually faking results. False centralism, which Bella rightly rails against, is as much their goal as false dichotomy. They have their uses and abuses. Yet historically, pollsters have been repeatedly wrong in the direction of supporting the status quo, and failing to predict strength and direction of actionable political inclination.

    2. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

      And, there is also the concept of ‘push polling’ where questions are phrased in ways that ‘push’ particpants to choose options desirable to the funder of the poll.

  4. Fit Like says:

    You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

    Brexit is a seriously middle-class preoccupation. Mostly a bourgousie vs. working class subject, to the point of people saying a vote was won because the majority are stupid. The referendum was held by a pro-EU Tory government because Ukip won an EU election (and the Brexit Party came second in Scotland).

  5. John says:

    Mike – looking at the 2 polls from an SNP perspective it looks more like snatching defeat from jaws of victory.
    Interesting comments from Mark Drakeford today – what a difference from Scottish Labour. I think this is because having been FM MD actually cares ad much about welfare of Welsh people than welfare of Labour Party.

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      Mark Drakeford’s comments are made as part of a new, exciting different UK, one where all the nations are equally represented (stop sniggering.)
      Along with Gordon Brown (I said stop sniggering!) they plan to abolish the House of Lords and……… no, I can’t go on.

      1. John says:

        Derek – I do support independence but what I am trying to highlight is the difference in approach from MD and Labour in Wales as opposed to approach of Labour in Scotland.
        In Wales – Labour in coalition with PC – they do not see them as deadly enemies.
        Labour fight against Internal Market and Westminster interference- contrast Labour in Scotland.
        MD actually worked with NS and Scottish government on a range of issues.
        MD is on record stating that Holyrood has right to hold another independence referendum.
        MD is stating that constitutional reform has to go much further and not be overturned by Westminster.
        Contrast to Labour in Scotland who see their role as implementing UK Labour policy in Scotland and whose proposed changes to constitution is mere window dressing.
        I have lived in both Wales & Scotland in last 10 years and witnessed the difference at first hand.

        1. Derek Thomson says:

          I quite agree John. I was just pointing out the context in which he made the latest comments – dinosaur footprints (Broon) and HOL abolition – aye, that’s a good one, never heard that one before. The difference between Labour in Wales and in Scotland is, as you point out, marked.

        2. Iain MacLean says:

          Drakeford comes across as a decent guy, to be honest, so did Corbyn.

          But, these guys were or are in temporary possession of posts, where the power that lies behind those posts, are dyed in the wool unionists who won’t budge an inch.

          Drakeford can promise the world, so for that matter can Brown, but deep down we know they will err on the side of unionism.

          A new britain, a new union of equals, a new start, we have heard all this nonsense before, it’s unionism hoping to pull wool over our eyes, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Let’s not get fooled again!

    2. Yes – imagine Scottish Labour having someone of Drakefords quality?

      1. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

        I can’t. Can you?

  6. Alastair McIver says:

    The gap between support for the SNP and support for Independence means a number of things, but I think it mostly means that we who support Independence are no longer convinced that the SNP are gonnae dae it. Since the UK courts decided to abolish democracy, we have to become a bit more creative when it comes to the how.

    The SNP must commit to using its seats in the UK Parliament following the next election to disrupt the business of Westminster. Don’t let them get a day’s work done. Grab the mace. Call liars liars and refuse to retract. Start making animal noises every time someone tries to speak. Be such a big pain in the bahookie that they will be pleased to get rid of us – that’s the only way a UK PM will ever agree to a S30.

    We, the people of Scotland, have the right to decide our own future. The SNP need to let Westminster know that we are done asking nicely.

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