November 1, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
The political world is agog at Thursday’s poll numbers from Scotland. Commentators are trying to assess whether they are a true reflection of actual voting intentions at the next General Election or merely a sign of discontent with the current political reality of Nationalist fervour and Labour chaos. It is worth looking closely at what they could mean, because if they do carry through to next May, then there is even more chance of a complete reshaping of our political landscape.
First, the numbers: There were two polls released. One was a YouGov poll for the Times – that put the SNP on 43 per cent, up from 20 per cent in 2010, and Labour on 27 per cent. That suggests Labour could lose 30 of its 40 MPs. If that is fed through to May, the SNP will have 47 seats, Labour 10, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems 1.
But of more significance was the Ipsos/Mori poll – that put the SNP on 52%, with Labour on just 23%, the Scottish Conservatives on 10%, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens both on 6%, Ukip on 2% and others on 1%. If this is true – the following could happen – the number of Labour MPs in Scotland from 40 to just four, with the SNP increasing its number of seats at Westminster from six to 54, the Conservatives would have no seats, and the Lib Dems 1 seat – that of Alistair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetlands.
The issues that arise from these polls are many – but I will try to distill them to four main ones
1) Since the Scottish Assembly started, political commentators have attempted to separate the voting for that from the voting for Westminster seats. This made sense, given that a year after only polling 20% at the General election in 2010 the SNP polled over 45% in the Scottish Assembly seats. It seems that separation could be no more. After the independence referendum, the Scottish people may have cottoned onto the fact that only way to have a pro-Scotland voice at Westminster is to vote SNP MPs in. They were specifically asked about May 2015 voting intentions NOT 2016 Scottish assembly ones
2) If these numbers are actually true, then Labour will simply not be able to win a majority in the 2015 election. They may not even be able to win the most seats. More importantly, the Lib Dems would not be able to have enough seats to be a viable coalition partner. The SNP, with their possibly 54 seats, WOULD be a viable coalition partner, and the price they would extract for that would, I imagine, be enormous. Can you see the SNP governing on behalf of the citizens of Hampshire? No, neither can I.
3) The numbers also indicate that the referendum campaign and the current leadership issues in Scotland have suggested to Scottish voters that there is just far less reason to vote for Labour there. In June they had a 39% to 31% lead in voting intentions for the 2015 General election, and now this. That means that in four months, during which Scottish Labour were firmly on the side of the “No” campaign, and in which the SNP burnished their credentials as a serious party of the left (let’s brush their corporation tax policies under the carpet here shall we?), much of the Scottish electorate have realised that if they are for social justice, and if they want their concerns taken seriously – a vote for the SNP is more likely to achieve that, particularly in light of the further devolution that is going to have to take place given the rash promises made by Westminster leaders towards the end of the Referendum campaign.
4) However, some political commentators doubt that those numbers are actually going to be reflected next year. Labour MPs are pretty well “dug in” in their constituencies, with some quite massive majorities, and this poll wasn’t done on a constituency basis. Commentators also can’t get their head around how the Lib Dems could go from 10 seats to just 1 when most of their seats are in constituencies that voted heavily for a “No” in the referendum. Liberal Democrat MPs are renowned for being excellent representatives of their constituents, taking that job very seriously, and the only real explanation for what has happened to them in these polls is that being in coalition has put them, in Scotland’s eyes, properly “in bed with the Tories”.
5) As for the Tories, Labour have already responded by saying to the Scottish people that a vote for the SNP is a vote for a Tory government. Some in Conservative Central HQ might therefore be cheering these numbers. But they should be careful what they wish for. To actually form a government, the Conservatives would have to gather together an extremely broad coalition – including Northern Irish MPs, and possibly UKIP ones too, as well as any Lib Dems left, and that will not be easy to hold together. Furthermore, a large rump of SNP MPs in Westminster would be quite a robust opposition.
6) But the real thinking here has to be done by the Scottish Labour Party. They are picking a leader, the process for which allows them to have what will hopefully be a grown up discussion about the direction they want to take the party. I will talk about this in another blog, but with the SNP parking the tanks on their left-wing lawn, they can either choose to do battle on the left there, or decide that a better place would be to offer a social democratic centre-left alternative, which could pick up a lot more votes, particularly from those who have voted Conservative in Scotland but now realise it might be a waste of time.
The ultimate outcome from this goes back to what I have said about UKIP’s emergence – that there could end up being three major parties – a right-wing one of UKIP and right-wing Tories, a centrist parties of centre-right Conservatives, centre-left Labour and Orange book Lib Dems, and a left-wing party of left-wing Labour, left-wing Lib Dems, and possibly some SNP and Plaid Cymru politicians. We shall see.