Limbo Land

The consensus was building, the SNP’s collapse would be slow and then very rapid, with an imminent trigger point being the upcoming Rutherglen byelection (5 October). Scottish Labour’s Praetorian Guard in the media were faithfully predicting Starmer’s ascendancy and with him the return of Jack McConnell, Douglas Alexander and other luminaries.

But the self-penned narrative appears to be under strain, almost as if it contained a large helping of wishful thinking. Three sets of polling out this month shows the SNP to be having a Mark Twain moment, and that ‘rumours of their death have been greatly exaggerated.’

New polling from YouGov suggests poll suggests that the SNP/Greens would keep power in Holyrood with 69 seats (a majority of 9). But also surging to a 11 point lead (+7) at a Westminster election predicting a landslide of 41 seats to 10 for Labour. This would make solemn reading for those in the same week when Humza Yousaf (re) declared that a Westminster majority would be the trigger to start negotiations with Westminster on independence. The tactic may be hotly disputed, and the polling may be an outlier, but who knows?





The Times, re-treading a tired old trope reported that: “Sir Keir Starmer’s chances of forming a majority government have been dealt a blow, according to a poll that reveals support for Labour in Scotland is drifting back to the SNP.”

We know that’s simply not true. If England vote Labour Britain will get Labour, If England vote Conservative Britain will get Conservative. We know this but it’s worth repeating in the face of the constant lies about it. The Times continued:

“In a reversal of a trend showing Labour almost neck and neck with the nationalists, research for YouGov put clear water between the parties, giving the SNP an 11-point advantage. The survey is a welcome boost for Humza Yousaf, the first minister, before the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election, his first major electoral test since replacing Nicola Sturgeon in March.”

The trend may not be enough for the SNP to salvage Rutherglen and defeat there may hasten their political downfall, but what has stopped Labour’s assumed ascendancy?

I suppose unlike in England it’s not enough for the government to be incompetent. Labour, north and south, has been distinctly uninspiring with Scottish labour having to relentlessly mimic and parrot the Starmer line.

The polling represents the lowest Labour Westminster vote % in a poll since an Ipsos poll in December 2022; lowest in an online panel poll since a Panelbase poll in August 2022, and the lowest in a YouGov poll since May 2022.

Labour has to face the challenge of fighting two fronts simultaneously, and maintain that they are both separate and autonomous and equally seamless and coherent throughout the UK. This is a difficult dance.

But it’s a dance that they have to perform within Scotland as well as across the UK. As John Curtice points out: “It needs to be remembered that Labour is fighting on two flanks — with the Conservatives for unionist voters and with the SNP for Yes supporters — and maintaining that balancing act could well prove far from straightforward as the UK election approaches.”

But some of Labour’s problems are self-inflicted. Starmer has just organised his last big reshuffle before the next general election, and they’ve moved relentlessly further to the right. This is regurgitated Blairism, and as Neal Lawson of the Compass group notes: “Not the early, vibrant and more plural form of New Labour, but the dryer narrower end of that era.”

The faltering of Labour’s advance in Scotland – despite the surround-sound of negativity around the SNP and the Scottish government – is in this sense not surprising. Faced with own-goal after own-goal Labour have shot themselves in the foot. Who knew that abandoning progressive promise after progressive promise would go down badly? Who knew that capitulating to Middle England’s tabloid-culture would look weak and unprincipled? Who knew that promoting the return of Labour’s Old Guard of politicians wouldn’t set the heather on fire?

Everyone did.

Alongside this, in their passion for the return to the default position of Scottish politics – Labour’s cheerleaders have missed one thing. Despite the calamitous state of the SNP and the bitterly divided state of the wider Yes movement, the independence vote and movement hasn’t collapsed. This is because as Lindsay Paterson has pointed out “The SNP is not the independence movement.”

“Opinion polls since the spring also show something almost no-one expected” he wrote “Support for independence remained strong, on average 3.3 points higher than the 44.7% achieved in the referendum of 2014.”

This reality slays one or two of the key myths of the commentariat.

The first is that Scotland (and wider Britain) will ‘bounce back’ to its old self with the return of Labour. We can (somehow) magically forget Blairism’s disastrous endings; the Iraq War, the botched constitutional change; the independence moment, Brexit and its shambolic disgraceful aftermath. It’s the sort of wistfully hopeful journalism that would imagines you could live through a car-crash then pretend it never happened.

The second is that the independence movement is just the SNP, just like the crowd at Hampden is the SNP in the fevered imagination of Ally McCoist. It’s all an aberration, foisted, somehow, onto Scotland. It’s not really real. It can’t be. From this myth comes the assumption that by slaying the SNP you will ‘shoot the nationalist Fox’ (again). There seems to be a slow learning curve here.

But such realities shouldn’t be cause for complacency. The halting of Labour’s seemingly inevitable rise may be at their own hands, but it is not some magical endorsement of an alternative rising force elsewhere. Both Scottish Labour and the SNP may consider the vote in Rutherglen to be a crucial test, and a titanic struggle, many residents may be displaying ‘voter fatigue’, ennui, and a creeping disillusionment with all politicians.

The recently announced Programme of Government contained some positive policies (‘working with COSLA to prepare for the expansion of universal free school meal provision for all pupils in primaries six and seven’ and ‘investing £5.3 billion in 2023-24 through devolved benefits, including more than £400 million in the Scottish Child Payment (currently worth £25 per child per week) to help more than 300,000 children across the country’) foremost amongst them.

But anti-poverty campaigners remained dismayed at the POG. David Reilly, the director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “The actions don’t yet match the ambition of government’s rhetoric,” pointing out that ministers were not on track to meet their own statutory child poverty targets, which include bringing child poverty levels below 10% by 2030.

Mike Robinson, Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS) said:

“While the First Minister’s general commitments to show ‘climate leadership’ and address the crisis were welcome, the Programme for Government offered few, if any, new measures to deliver emissions’ reductions. In the context of Scotland missing annual targets in eight of the past twelve years, and the Committee on Climate Change advising that “the integrity of the Scottish climate framework is now at risk”, this is deeply disappointing and a missed opportunity to set out concrete measures to reduce emissions.”

It feels like we are in limbo, unable to leave and unable to deliver. The inability to deliver feeds the inability to leave. Somethings got to give.

Comments (11)

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  1. norm says:

    One issue is, that the Climate Change Committee can rightly point out that “the integrity of the Scottish climate framework is now at risk”, but… it is one of the cases of treating a devolved government as if it was already independent.

    There’s no limit on devolved ambition. But what a devolved Scottish Government can deliver is limited by the UK Government moving at a different pace (or often a different direction).

    1. Joe K says:

      Hope everyone will realise that very good point, soon, Norm. ScotGov doing their best for us, still trying to fend off Tory aggression with few tools to work with. Thanks

  2. Jacob Bonnari says:


    The words of David Reilly are key:
    “The actions don’t yet match the ambition of government’s rhetoric”.

    The voters can see the clear gap in rhetoric and reality for all three parties.

    Right now it seems as though this poll is a bit of an outlier. When we’ve seen to further polls all saying more or less the same as this one then we can be confident that the SNP has halted Labour’s advance.

    To effect a recovery the SNP will ha ve to be seen to be (1) realigning reality with their rhetoric and (2) delivering on the basics.

    The first is easy, the second requires competence, and the SNP under Humza Yousaf or indeed Nicola Sturgeon just hasn’t demonstrated that yet. It needs to stop blaming Westminster for 100% of the problem and take its own share of the blame. If the SNP believes that the SG is 50% responsible for a political area then it needs to deliver that 50% and then point the finger at Westminster for the remainder.

    1. BSA says:

      A rather glib conclusion and demand there considering that Westminster is 100% responsible for the impossible context in which the SG has to operate and that is without even mentioning the media context. I can’t say I’m delighted with progress on several fronts but this is a situation where, for example, a tuppenny ha’penny broadcaster could actually propose closing down the First Minister’s essential public health briefings during a national emergency. This is not a normal country and expectations should take account of that.

  3. Whoever says:

    Personally, I would like the £26/week + £15/week + £15/week etc. for the number of kids you have means-tested and redistributed to those that need it. It’s a bourgouise vote-bribe atm and the Scottish gov specialise in them.

  4. Norman Phipps says:

    Yes independence is the goal and I believe that the SNP should morph into the SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE PARTY thus with one aim for one and all to see I am very uneasy about the worh “natnional or nationalist” in any party

    1. 230918 says:

      But the word ‘nationalist’ in the title does serve to indicate that the goal is ‘national’ independence (even if that ‘national’ independence is aimed at by nationalism’s running dogs only as a means to their own other, ‘higher’ ends).

      1. James Robertson says:

        The word ‘nationalist’ is not in the title, despite the efforts of Boris Johnson and others to insert it at every opportunity.

        1. 230918 says:

          But the word ‘national’ in the title does serve to indicate that the goal is ‘national’ independence (even if that ‘national’ independence is aimed at by nationalism’s running dogs only as a means to their own other, ‘higher’ ends).

    2. Gordon Benton says:

      It all sounds so wonderful – joining all Independence parties into one bundle for the next few steps we have to take before we get over the line. But whether it is because we are just Scots, or there are too many different views (and ecos) on how to get there, or the SNP lot are just holding onto power, it is just idle, and potentially fatal dreaming to believe that we can now, as we have two elections soon, jump ship and find another grouping that will take us to Independence. If all Indy believers now voted for SNP – just to win Independence – we, i believe, would win in 2-3 years. SNP has the organisation, the funding capability, the ‘presence’; no other organisation has any of the three.
      Despite the Establishment, the media and corporate huge investment in destroying the SNP in particular and our independence ambitions in the overall, we are doing well. What can i say – “For Scotland – don’t knock it now, when we are so close.”
      After we get shot of the Union, we can set up any other parties we want, and the SNP can disappear into history. It will then be entirely our choice.

      1. 230920 says:

        Yep, a kind of ‘Popular Front for the Liberation of Scotland’ does sound like Che Guevara poster type fantasising.

        The problem with the ‘if all true believers set aside their difference and voted for the SNP, we’d have independence tomorrow’ is that independence isn’t the only issue on which the Scottish electorate votes in elections. That’s the problem for single issue parties like the SNP; to win elections to our various assemblies in Newton St Boswells, Edinburgh, and London, they have to appeal to the various electorates of those assemblies on a range of issues that’s wider than the one for which they exist.

        And why do we need to be shot of the Union before we can set up any other parties we want? There’s nothing to prevent any of us from coming together as communities of interest and campaigning for the things we want within Scotland or the UK as things stand.

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