Constituency polling in Scotland has this week shown that the SNP can expect substantial gains from Labour and the Liberal Democrats in May’s General Election.
The polls show 15 of all 16 seats polled as being likely SNP gains, with only want seat polled, Glasgow North East, set to be held by its Labour incumbent, Willie Bain MP. Lord Ashcroft’s polls saw 16,007 Scots from key SNP target seats in Scotland were interviewed by telephone between 5 and 30 January with results weighted by vote at the last election and likelihood to turnout at the next.
The 14 constituencies currently held by Labour MPs reported an average 20% fall in Labour support from the 2010 result, with only one seat, Glasgow North, showing a swing of less than 15%.
The polls follow increasing uncertainty as to recently elected Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy’s ability to stem the decline of Scottish Labour. In response to the news, Murphy commented: “These [unfavourable polls] will change - these numbers will switch during the campaign when they see the contrast between the two candidates”.
He added: “any seat we lose to the SNP reduces the size of the Labour Party, increases the chances of David Cameron leading the biggest party in the House of Commons.”
Meanwhile, the SNP’s general election campaign director said: “These polls include some of Labour’s safest seats in the UK as well as Scotland, and they are clearly excellent for the SNP –but we are taking nothing for granted and will work hard for every vote and seat in May.”
Despite being a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and a current Tory peer, Ashcroft’s polls are generally regarded as objective and accurate. Much of the SNP support Ashcroft highlights may be down to economic pessimism.
He writes that “Labour-SNP switchers were markedly less optimistic than most about the economy. Just 41% expected things to go well for the country as a whole over the next year, and 49% for themselves and their families, compared to 59% and 67% of those sticking with Labour.”
The polls have highlighted prominent Labour and Lib Dem MPs as amongst those in danger of losing their seats. If the results were repeated on election day, Douglas Alexander, Labour's campaign manager and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, would lose his Paisley & Renfrewshire South seat with a swing to the SNP of 25%.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, would lose his Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to a 31% increase in support for the SNP.
Following the release of Ashcroft’s polls, the New Statesman’s May2015 mini-site predicts the SNP taking 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats, with 95% of all seats held by one party.
Nationally, the results have significantly tightened the fight to be the largest party in the Commons, with some pundits’ predictions giving Labour leads as small as a single seat.
In response to extensive press coverage of the polling, Lord Ashcroft tweeted: “overlooked in the SNP surge in Scotland is that in the 14 Labour held seats where SNP are now ahead LibDems averaged under 2%. #lostdeposits”, though he was careful to highlight that “political journalists who should know better still regard a constituency poll as a ‘prediction’’, adding: “A poll is a snapshot not a prediction”.
Ashcroft’s polls are not the only ones to make waves this week. A poll conducted by Survation on behalf of Unite interviewed constituents in Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency at the end of January, and showed Labour leading voting intentions by 10%.
Support for Clegg in the constituency is down 30% from 2010, whilst support for Labour is up 17%, support for the Greens 10%, and support for UKIP up by 7%. Speaking on his weekly ‘Call Clegg’ show for LBC, however, Clegg hit back at the poll, describing it as “utter bilge”. He continued: “surprise, surprise, the trade union paymasters of the Labour Party come out with a poll that shows the Labour Party’s ahead”.
As the New Statesman’s political editor wrote this week: “This is what a political earthquake looks like.”