Ever since 18 September, Labour have been fretting about the impact the referendum campaign may have had on their prospects north of the border in next May’s Westminster election. Although the party was on the winning side in the referendum, the Yes vote was relatively high in the less affluent and thus more Labour parts of Scotland. Meanwhile the polls suggest that as many as one in three of those who voted for the party at the last Scottish Parliament election voted Yes, thereby raising concerns that maybe the party could no longer rely on their support in future. And that was all before the party’s Scottish leader, Johann Lamont, resigned on Friday night, after claiming that her authority had been undermined by insensitive party colleagues at Westminster.
Hitherto, however, there has been little evidence from specifically Scottish polls that Labour was in serious electoral trouble, at least so far as its prospects for next May were concerned. True, the most recent poll, conducted by Panelbase for the SNP, put the nationalists two points ahead of Labour in Scotland-wide vote intentions. But given that there are only three Westminster seats where the SNP start off less than 20 points behind Labour, that would not be enough to generate more than a handful of Labour losses.
However, there has been more troubling news for Labour lurking in the detail of many a recent Britain-wide poll. Individually these polls interview too few people to produce a reliable estimate of opinion in Scotland alone. But if we combine a number of such polls then, subject to the caveat that the samples have not been weighted with a view to ensuring that they are representative of Scotland, we can ascertain estimates that are based on reasonable sample sizes. And as the SNP themselves have not been slow to point out, the Scottish subsamples the almost daily British polls published by YouGov, have recently been putting the SNP well ahead in Westminster vote intentions. In the most recent such compilation, based on YouGov’s polls conducted in the week up to last Friday, the SNP were on no less than 43% and Labour on just 26% – representing almost a 20 point swing from Labour to the SNP since 2010. Such an outcome could be enough to see Labour’s tally of Scottish seats fall from 41 to just 10, while the SNP might win as many as 45.
Now any doubts that Labour does indeed face a real threat to its Scottish representation are dispelled by a new Scotland only poll of Westminster voting intentions released this afternoon. Conducted by Ipsos MORI for STV, it suggests that Labour are now down to 23% while the SNP are on a record high 52%. According to STV the estimated 25% swing from Labour to SNP would leave Labour with just four seats and give the SNP 54. If we were to assume there was a 25% swing everywhere, the Labour figure could in fact be just one, with the SNP on 57. Either way, anything approaching such an outcome could destroy Ed Miliband’s hopes of becoming Prime Minister.
There is though perhaps, reason for being a little cautious about the poll. Conducted as it was between last Wednesday and yesterday, many of the interviews will have been conducted just as the storm created by Johann Lamont’s resignation was at its height, thereby perhaps particularly depressing Labour support. Meanwhile it is not immediately obvious why Conservative support should have slumped to 10%, when all other recent polling evidence (including that from YouGov’s British polls) puts the party on or around the 17% it won in 2010. But even if the SNP surge is not on quite the scale that this poll suggests, there can now be little doubt that that Labour are at risk of suffering serious losses north of the border next May. Little wonder there was no immediate rush of volunteers to be the party’s next leader!