We have had many a Scotland-wide poll that has suggested that Labour are in deep trouble north of the border. We have also had 19 polls conducted in individual Labour-held constituencies by Lord Ashcroft, in 17 of which Labour were reported to be behind. Now we have a third kind of poll that conveys much the same message. Conducted by ComRes for ITV News, this is a poll of a thousand people living in one of the seats currently held by Labour in Scotland (with the rest of the country left to one side).
Back in 2010 Labour averaged 51% of the vote in these seats, while the SNP scored 19%. Now the SNP are estimated to be on 43%, six points ahead of Labour on 37%. This means the SNP vote is up by 24 points on 2010, while Labour’s is down by 14 points. These movements are little different from the equivalent figures of 26 and 15 points respectively in our current poll of polls, which is based on polls conducted across Scotland as a whole.
Assuming that the movement from Labour to the SNP is same in every Labour seat, ComRes themselves estimate that Labour would lose 28 of their current seats on the basis of their poll. (ComRes’ tally – and the poll – excluded Falkirk where the MP, Eric Joyce, was suspended and subsequently resigned from the Labour Party in 2012 following an alleged altercation in the House of Commons.) However, the detailed tables for the poll also provide a breakdown of vote intentions by how big Labour’s lead over the SNP was in a constituency in 2010. This reveals a pattern similar to that previously uncovered by ICM, viz. that the swing to the SNP is highest in Labour’s safest seats.
In those seats where the Labour lead over the SNP was less than 30 points in 2010, Labour’s vote is down by ten points, while the SNP’s tally is up by 23 – a swing to the SNP of 16.5 points. In seats where Labour were between 30 and 40 points ahead, the swing is 17.5 points, while in those constituencies where Labour were more than 40 points the figure is no less than 26 points.
Based as they are on relatively small sample sizes, these figures do have to be treated with some caution. But the fact that they are consistent with previous polling gives the pattern to which they point a degree of credibility. In any event if we take account of ComRes’ breakdown it implies the SNP would capture no less than 36 of the seats Labour won in 2010 (including Falkirk), leaving Labour itself with just five.
It has, of course, been evident for some time that the reason why the SNP are doing so well in the polls is that many a voter is inclined to follow up their Yes vote last September with a vote for the SNP in May (and conversely that few No voters now wish to vote for the SNP). The reasons given by voters in this poll for the choice they are proposing to make confirm how the constitutional issue has become the central dividing line of this election. Both 56% of SNP supporters and 56% of those backing other parties say that the independence question is one of the main reasons for their choice.
But in addition to that finding, this poll provides a further clue as why Labour finds itself in such a predicament; 35% of all SNP voters and no less than 48% of those who have switched to the party from backing Labour in 2010 say that ‘Labour no longer represents people like me’. Labour’s inability during the referendum to offer a distinctive vision of Scotland’s future to match that provided by the SNP is seemingly also costing it dear.
ComRes’ poll also reports that in these seats at least (and in contrast to some previous Scotland wide polling), more people would prefer Ed Miiband to David Cameron as Prime Minister. In particular this is true (by 48% to 19%) of SNP supporters. But the poll does not go on to explore whether this might be regarded by some SNP voters as a reason to switch to voting Labour. In an election where voters seem inclined to spread their votes across more parties than ever before, we cannot presume that voters accept that the election contest is a binary choice between two principal competitors for the keys to 10 Downing St. Indeed it is the fact that so many of them apparently do not that is one of the key reasons why this election is proving to be so interesting!
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.