There is slightly better news for Labour in a poll of voting intentions published by TNS BMRB this morning. It puts the party on 31% (amongst those certain to vote), just ten points behind the SNP on 41%. In contrast the three previous Scotland wide polls to be published put the SNP lead at between 21 and 28 points.
However, before we become lured into making the suggestion that maybe Labour have finally turned the corner, there are two points to note. First, this is the first poll of Westminster voting intentions in Scotland that TNS have conducted since shortly before the last general election. There is therefore no previous measure against which to compare this poll. Second, its results are in fact almost identical (and are exactly so for Labour and the SNP) to those of a Panelbase poll conducted in the middle of January. So, the poll’s estimate of the current lead is not a record low (by recent standards).
Indeed, because today’s poll replaced that Panelbase poll our poll of polls (which is still dated 2 February as that is the last day on which TNS interviewed) is almost wholly unchanged and still shows a 20 point SNP lead.
Nevertheless, the performance of the polls is beginning to have a familiar ring to it. Just as for much of the referendum all the pollsters agreed that No were well ahead but could not agree on by exactly how much, so in recent weeks all the polls put the SNP well ahead but by quite different amounts. The differences between them really matter under first past-the-post. If the SNP are 20 points ahead,, Labour could be down to a rump of six seats, and the SNP triumphant with 52. But if the ten point lead in today’s poll were to be what transpired in the ballot boxes in May, Labour could hope to hang on to half of its seats (20), while the SNP would secure a rather more modest 35. At the moment we cannot be sure whether Labour are facing the prospect of a near wipeout or just a severe beating.
Even so, even the latter could do significant damage to Labour’s chances of winning an overall majority. Meanwhile, anyone looking beyond this May to the next Holyrood election in May 2016 will note that the voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament in today’s poll are very close to the outcome of the last election in 2011 – and thus would see the SNP secure another overall majority.
TNS BMRB themselves note that today’s poll shows that only 64% say they are certain to vote in May, well down on the 85% who voted in the referendum in September (and the 84% who said they were certain to vote in TNS’s last poll before the referendum). In truth, I am not sure anyone anticipates a repeat of the referendum turnout in May. What some previous polling has suggested is that the turnout will be higher than at other recent general elections – and indeed south of the border.
At first glance, today’s poll casts doubt on that proposition too. When TNS polled just before the 2010 election, 67% said that they were certain to vote, three points above today’s figure. However, that poll was conducted as the 2010 election campaign was beginning to draw to a close, and interest in the election reaching its height. Scotland’s politicians still have plenty of opportunity to persuade Scots that this election will be worth their trouble too.
About the author
John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', and Chief Commentator on the What Scotland Thinks website.