The Scottish Yes parties are the political winners from the referendum, and other lessons from last week's polls

Polls last week show how damaged the Better Together parties have been by their negative campaigns in Scotland, while an English UKIP Euro victory could boost the yes campaign.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
17 March 2014
The Scottish Parliament, where the SNP are on course to win an historic third term (wikimedia)

The Scottish Parliament - Wikimedia

The weekend's UK wide ComRes poll and last week's Scottish Survation poll tell us a few interesting things about what's going on, and might go on, in Scotland over the next six months.

1) The SNP are (still) on course to storm Westminster.

It is only a sub-sample, and should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the ComRes poll is of 2000 or so, rather than the usual 1000 or so people, so the Scottish portion is a bit more accurate, and it's not the first poll to tell us this. The figures confirm what we've seen since Ed Balls lined up with George Osborne on currency – the Scots are not at all happy with Labour in Westminster. I wrote about the general trend last summer, when I listed 5 reasons to believe the SNP would win more than their current 6 seats in 2015. So Balls certainly can't take all the blame, but now it seems that we need to add another reason to our list: the negativity of the unionist parties might win them the referendum, but cost them future elections.

By my sums, according to yesterday's poll, on a universal swing, the SNP would get 22 MPs were the Westminster General election tomorrow. They currently have 6. This isn't an outlier – when I crunched the numbers on the Westminster voting intention question of the Survation poll on 20 Feb, immediately after the currency storm, the SNP came out with 23 MPs. Of course, Scots are much worse at distinguishing between Holyrood and Westminster voting intentions when asked by a pollster than they are in the polling booth, and the election is more than a year away, but the fact that there's been a big change in the last month or two should give Labour something to worry about – it's not just that people are confused about which vote is what. It seems that the Westminster parties standing shoulder to shoulder may not have moved the referendum polls much, but it has turned people off Labour – which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

From a UK perspective, Westminster pundits are focussing on the chances of a minority Labour administration. But consider this: Mori's founder Bob Worcester is predicting the Lib Dems will get 24 MPs next year. The current polls give the SNP + Plaid more than that. Whilst I suspect Lib Dems will do better than that, and the national parties not quite so well, Labour might still have some more complex negotiations to think about. Likewise, while we're playing the speculation game, it's worth pondering for a second what such a parliamentary balance would mean for the post-referendum conversations whether it's a yes or a no vote...

2) Scottish Labour could be looking at a disastrous election, but are trapped with a failing leader.

Labour currently have 2 Scottish MEPs. ComRes give them 19% of the European vote in Scotland - a slightly worse result than 2009, UK Labour's worst election since 1910. This puts them losing one of their two MEPs (just). The small sample size means maybe we can't predict to that degree of accuracy, but we certainly can say that of Scotland's 6 MEPs, the only ones who are remotely safe are the 2 SNP candidates, and the top Labour candidate. The fact that Labour 2 is even close is remarkable.

If there was an obvious contender to topple Johann Lamont, then a result of 19% and the loss of an MEP would be enough to pose serious questions of her leadership, surely. But in a parliamentary group full of new MSPs, it seems unlikely that anyone would challenge yet, and certainly, no one will want to rock the boat before the referendum – meaning Scottish Labour could well be trapped with a leader who is clearly failing.

3) UKIP are on course to come first across the UK – but we shouldn't be so surprised.

ComRes' headline figure certainly has produced headlines: “UKIP and Nigel Farage on course for remarkable victory in European elections”. The poll says, when you consider likelihood to vote, the UK Independence Party, Britain's Tea Party, are on course to come first across Britain. What people often forget to mention is that UKIP came second in 2009, and a good third in 2004, so we maybe shouldn't be so surprised. That Labour are up from 15.7% to 28%, is almost as big a leap as UKIP being up from 16.5% to 30%. It is quite a swing, but a relatively sophisticated electorate has always drawn distinctions between Westminster and European votes. 

4) The Scots aren't charmed by Mr Farage

UKIP's 30% UK wide support is not at all evenly spread. They are on 33% across England and Wales. But in Scotland, they're on 6%. Where their lead candidates can expect to come first in every English region but the North (where they are second), David Coburn, their London based lead candidate in Scotland is standing around 15th in line for the six seats representing Scotland in Brussels (by my rough calculations).

5) ...and the result could push them towards a yes vote

Talk to campaigners for Scottish independence over the last few months, and this result has long been anticipated. 6% of no voters say they would switch to yes if they believe the Tories will win in Westminster in 2015 – enough to swing the result by some polls (though 2% say they would switch the other way). What will this group think of being in a union with a country which chooses as its representatives in the continental theatre a cluster of isolationists who think the Tories don't go far enough? UKIP topping the poll won't be enough to swing the referendum to a yes vote, but it will certainly make it easier. Vince Cable said earlier this month that UKIP supporters could push Scotland out of the union. He's not wrong.

6) The Greens are up in Scotland

The poll put the Greens on 6% across the UK, but 8% in Scotland. This would probably mean just about hanging onto their two current MEPs in England. The result isn't quite enough to elect Scottish top candidate Maggie Chapman, but a small swing would be, and on a sub-sample of this size, the main thing it can tell us is that she's certainly one of the contenders for a seat. The 8% is the same figure, though, as Greens picked up in a Holyrood voting intention poll earlier this week, which is enough to put them on 10 MSPs, with almost all of the new votes coming from the SNP. This second poll with the same result will steady the nerves of those Greens who worried that campaigning for a yes vote would split their base and alienate some potential voters. Instead it seems that the increased political engagement from the referendum has been good for Greens, and solid support for independence has allowed some of the more radical SNP supporters to switch parties.

7) (and of course, the SNP are still on course to remain as the Scottish government) 

The latest Holyrood voting intention poll put the SNP back into government in 2016. Of course, that's a long way away, but as a government in the middle of its second term, to be showing an eleven point lead over their nearest rivals is remarkable.

8) The Yes supporting parties are doing better out of the referendum than the No side

For all of the bleating about the referendum 'putting Scotland on hold for three years', the SNP are on course for an historic third term and to almost quadruple their MP numbers, and the other Yes supporting party, the Greens, are looking at quintupling their number of MSPs and might just scrape their first MEP. People might not vote yes, but the referendum is looking to have been very good for the pro-independence parties. Or perhaps, more accurately, it's been very bad for the Better Together coalition.

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