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Iain Gray., politics. SNP. Holyrood. Scottish Parliament. election. opinion poll. YouGov. Ipsos Mori. Alex Salmond. SNP

Even the SNP don’t believe their polling numbers.

     Opinion polls don’t get much more sensational than today’s  YouGov poll in Scotland on Sunday.  It suggests that the SNP’s lead over Labour has bumped from 2% to 13% in the constituency vote in only a week.  This is quite astonishing, and indicates that the Ipsos/Mori poll last week. which showed Alex Salmond’s party surging ahead by 11% over Labour,  was no rogue.  On the regional list vote, the SNP lead has also rocketed from 2% to 10% according to YouGov.   These really are epic numbers.  I can’t think of any British election in modern times where there has been such a dramatic turnaround in the course of an election campaign, let alone in only ten days.  Labour had been ten points ahead of the SNP in the poll of polls for most of the last year.  

   Perhaps, indeed, it is too good to be true.  Scotland on Sunday seemed to be a little wary of its own poll and rather downplayed the story, confining it to a brief side bar on page one.   There has been a stunned silence from most of the political parties, and even the SNP are advising caution.  The Nationalists believe that their actual lead is much less than the recent polls have been indicating, and they are starting to worry about complacency among party worker ten days before polling day.

     Certainly, all polls are subject to sampling peculiarities and can often exaggerate small movements in opinion.  Just think back to the general election in May 2010 when the Liberal Democrats forged ahead of Labour after Nick Clegg’s TV outing.  Polls should always be taken, but not inhaled.  But I think there’s every indication that the polls on voting intentions are simply reflecting the long held view of the Scottish voters that Alex Salmond is the best choice as First Minister.  His personal ratings have hardly changed in four years.  Iain Gray was never a runner in the leadership race, and since there is very little in terms of policy to differentiate the two parties, it is hardly surprising that the national polls  are now swinging to the SNP.  Certainly,   Labour have offered no compelling reason why Scots should change horses in Bute House.   This is one of the most sophisticated electorates in the world, long experienced in the arts of tactical voting.  Scottish voters have no difficulty, splitting their ticket, and  voting Labour in Westminster while backing the SNP in Holyrood.

   Of course, it isn’t over till the votes are counted on May 6th. and a lot can still happen.  This campaign is going into cold storage while the nation enjoys a run of bank holidays and celebrates, if that’s the right word, the royal wedding. After May Day, we will have a reprise – a shortened version of the campaign we’ve just had. Iain Gray has a second chance to get it right.  However, I  doubt if the result is going to be very different. Labour’s attempt to present this as a campaign against the Conservatives – “the Tories are back” –  has failed. After pinching so many of the SNP’s policies –  on tuition fees, council tax, accident and emergency closures -Labour  had difficulty defining what is distinctive about their own agenda, sometimes sounding like the Knife Crime Party.   Unable to engage on policy, Labour were left fighting a personality battle which, against Alex Salmond, Iain Gray was always bound to lose.  

    So, enough of Labour. What of the SNP? Well, if they manage to hold things together until polling day, it really will be a historic moment,  and not just for Scotland but for the UK.   We can start pencilling in likely dates for that independence referendum for a start.   There has been much speculation that Alex Salmond will opt to carry on alone as a minority administration, and not seek a coalition with another party. It worked well enough after 2007.   But if he is serious about holding that independence referendum, it seems to me that Salmond has little choice but to look for a partnership, otherwise he won’t get the referendum bill through the parliament.   Fanciful talk of the SNP getting an overall majority – ie sixty five seats or more –  is just that: fantasy.  Holyrood is a parliament of minorities, and the only way to guarantee that a legislative programme is implemented in its entirety is to strike a deal with another party or parties.

    Salmond’s first port of call has to be the Scottish Liberal Democrats,  despite their unfortunate association with the Tories in Westminster.  The LibDems share many policies with the SNP, like free higher education, opposition to nuclear power, local income tax, fiscal autonomy.   In 2007, they refused to discuss coalition with the SNP unless Alex Salmond dropped the referendum, but the Liberal Democrat leader, Tavish Scott has now removed this roadblock.   Desperate for a return to power, the Liberal Democrats will not demand much in return.  And I believe the SNP will be able to do a deal on Scott’s flagship policy, de-mutualisation of Scottish Water. Glasgow University’s Centre For Public Policy in the Regions gave this policy the thumbs up last week in their assessment of the financial viability of the respective parties’ manifesto commitments.  Being ‘forced’ to accept £1.5bn from selling off Scottish Water might not be too difficult for John Swinney, who has a lot of expensive manifestos to pay for at a time of unprecedented cuts in his budget. 

   Of course, the way things are going, it’s possible that the Scottish  Liberal Democrats may lose so many seats that they cannot deliver a stable majority when combined with the SNP.  Then it might then come down to a rainbow coalition involving the Greens, who of course already support a referendum on independence.  They seem to have moderated their “red line” on any coalition talks.  Previously, the Green leader, Patrick Harvie, had appeared rule out a coalition unless the SNP  (or Labour) agreed to use the Tartan Tax, the Scottish Parliament’s existing powers to raise the standard rate of income tax by 3p.  But last week, Mr Harvie said he would only refuse to enter a coalition that “makes cuts to Scottish services that worsen inequality”.   The Greens’ other red lines – opposition to nuclear power and rejection of university tuition fees are already SNP policy.  Of course, the SNP had a sort of coalition with the Greens after the 2007 election, on a “confidence and supply” basis, meaning that they agreed not vote Alex Salmond out of office.  That came to grief two years later when the Greens provoked a political crisis by withdrawing support from the SNP budget at the last minute. 

    The SNP leader, Alex Salmond, has only ruled out coalition with one party: the Scottish Tories. There’s a certain irony in this, since, had it not been for the Tories, Salmond would not have been installed as First Minister in the first place. Annabel Goldie saw a chance to have an impact on Scottish politics and agreed to abstain in the May 2007 vote that allowed Salmond to enter Bute House.  She would be after a better deal this time, but with fewer seats, her bargaining power is likely to be diminished. 

   There is one final possibility. Labour could offer to join with the SNP in a grand coalition against the “Condem cuts”. According to an Ipsos/Mori poll last week, 60% of Labour voters would accept a coalition with the SNP.  They’ve adopted most of the Nationalist policies already, so it wouldn’t be very difficult to agree a common agenda.  But that would require Iain Gray putting its money where its mouth is and agreeing to  a referendum on independence. Since the SNP would almost certainly lose, this might seem a risk worth taking, in exchange for  Gray becoming deputy First Minister.  But such is the tribal animosity between the two parties, this coalition seems about as likely as Rangers adopting the Irish tricolour. 

    And for their part, the SNP might decide that, when all things are considered,  they don’t really need that referendum after all. 

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


25 thoughts on “Even the SNP don’t believe their polling numbers.

  1. "starting to worry about complacency among party worker"Absolutely unknown phenomenon in the SNP – been beaten too often."there is very little in terms of policy to differentiate the two parties"Hate these things in a post, but in this case the only possible comment is ROTFL!

    Posted by Vronsky | April 24, 2011, 5:32 pm
  2. Hi Iain, there are a couple of errors there – Greens never made a Confidence and Supply agreement with the SNP. We agreed to vote for the installation of their Ministers right at the start, that's all. Also, we didn't withdraw support for the Budget – we were negotiating about it with Ministers, then it got taken over by Salmond and fell apart because he didn't understand what we were asking for.

    Posted by James Mackenzie | April 24, 2011, 5:45 pm
  3. Are you not comparing the wrong polls Iain? YouGov last week gave a rise of 11%constituency 10%list and this week's YouGov a 13%constituency 10%list.Unionists think everyone thinks as they do, sorry to disappoint as the SNP don't follow the flawed British standard.

    Posted by cynicalHighlander | April 24, 2011, 8:02 pm
  4. while i am heartened by the polls, i will still wait and see the results on 6th may before i start cracking open a bottle of milk. no counting chickens here.

    Posted by Megz | April 24, 2011, 8:32 pm
  5. I don't trust the polls either. Nor should the SNP. The Scottish press will also be trying to persuade them to go the complacency route for obvious reasons. Salmond won't fall for it. The vote on the day itself is what will count. I say ignore the polls.

    Posted by Jo G | April 24, 2011, 8:49 pm
  6. Oh and Iain, the SNP are on record that Scottish Water is NOT for sale. That would be the LABOUR PARTY, along with the Lib-Dems and the Tories who want to do that. A significant part of Scotland made it clear to Thatcher that our water wasn't up for privatisation some time ago in the Strathclyde referendum on the issue. Salmond stated publicly last year that Scottish Water will NOT go out of public ownership.

    Posted by Jo G | April 24, 2011, 8:54 pm
  7. "There is one final possibility. Labour could offer to join with the SNP in a grand coalition against the “Condem cuts”."Iain, have you been out in the sun? This would be the Labour Party who utterly rejected the possibility of a rainbow coalition at Westminster which would involve the same SNP? You personally condemned them for it. You said Labour had gone with the visceral hatred they harboured towards the Nationalists instead of looking for ways to avoid a Tory Government. Please rest over the Bank Holiday. We need you at your best over the next ten days or so.

    Posted by Jo G | April 24, 2011, 9:05 pm
  8. "there is very little in terms of policy to differentiate the two parties"This has somehow become the conventional wisdom of the campaign, but it simply isn't true:http://wosblog.podgamer.com/2011/04/18/who-are-the-tartan-tories/

    Posted by RevStu | April 24, 2011, 10:27 pm
  9. And the Sunday Herald is trying to help out with banner headlines today declaring "SALMOND BACKS GAY MARRIAGE" Gray is quoted in the same article as not objecting to the idea but the Herald didn't seem to find that controversial enough to put into a similar headline. Desperate times indeed.

    Posted by Jo G | April 24, 2011, 10:40 pm
  10. I'm a bit concerned by your implication there that backing gay marriage would be a vote-loser for Salmond. I see that Herald story as a very welcome one, because I don't think the Scottish people are as homophobic as you're implying.

    Posted by RevStu | April 25, 2011, 8:37 am
  11. Revstu, go carefully, I implied nothing of the sort. Your question should be to the Herald Group. THEY are the ones implying it is a huge issue and a potential vote loser. They include also a quote from Gray in the same article stating that he does not object to gay marriages. So how come only Salmond got the headlines? Again tread warily before you throw the homophobic word around. Thank you.

    Posted by Jo G | April 25, 2011, 1:00 pm
  12. "ALEX Salmond has declared his personal support for gay marriage for the first time, in a move which risks alienating religious voters ahead of the election."There you are Revstu. Straight from the Sunday Herald. Not my words.

    Posted by Jo G | April 25, 2011, 1:04 pm
  13. That's a perfectly true and legitimate thing for the Herald to say – the policy DOES risk alienating some religious voters. Religious groups are enormously at the forefront of opposing gay rights – it was the sole subject of the Scottish Christian Party election broadcast I saw.You, however, stated that the Herald was saying that in order to try to help out Labour, which is a completely unsubstantiated suggestion and therefore IMPLIES – not states – that you believe the policy to be a net vote loser. If you don't, you'd be delighted at the Herald highlighting it regardless of any spin they might put on it.

    Posted by RevStu | April 25, 2011, 3:01 pm
  14. The Herald further notes:"A 2009 poll found around two-thirds of Scots were in favour of gay marriage.Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, said: “We very much welcome Alex Salmond’s personal position on the issue. Whoever wins the election, we look forward to a consultation and then legislation.”Labour leader Iain Gray said he “didn’t object” to gay marriage, but would not go beyond that."That seems very much to me to suggest that the policy would be a vote winner, and that the Herald should be commended for publicising Salmond's position. (Speaking as someone who wants the SNP to win.)

    Posted by RevStu | April 25, 2011, 3:03 pm
  15. Mr McWhirter you wrote:"Scotland on Sunday seemed to be a little wary of its own poll and RATHER DOWNPLAYED THE STORY [my emphasis], confining it to a brief side bar on page one. "NO SoS gave the poll results quite a bit of coverage. I get Scotland on Sunday and not only was the story on Page 1 but there was a very FULL breakdown of the poll results on Page 13.Stop basing your articles on a cursory reading of the front page of newspapers on your trip to the supermarket.As to the 'little difference' in their policies that 'little difference only came about after Labour made a series of U-turns that make the circuit at Brand's Hatch look like a straight line between two points.There is also a whole world of difference in quality that Iain Gray et al will never bridge – even if they get PFI funding.

    Posted by CWH | April 25, 2011, 3:31 pm
  16. RevStuYou said,"I don't think the Scottish people are as homophobic as you're implying."I have now shown you that I said no such thing. I also did NOT state, or imply, that it was a vote-loser. The Herald, even in the headline, implied Salmond alone was risking alienating some voters by expressing a view. They did not do the same to his Labour opposite number. Why did they not state in the headline that Salmond AND Gray were in agreement on the issue? Why did they make the big deal out of Salmond alone saying it?I would repeat, I did NOT state or imply that it was a vote-loser and I would warn you again against throwing around reckless allegations on a site like this particularly when you introduce the homophobia word into the debate.

    Posted by Jo G | April 25, 2011, 11:43 pm
  17. Re that Herald headline, I'm a bit between the Rev and Jo G. I don't think the SNP policy is a vote loser but it looked to me as if the Herald rather hoped that it was, hence the big bold headline. Recall that the Herald has always seen itself as serving a very conservative community (I was around when they supported the Tories). I think they calculated that their headline might frighten a few horses.However they'll be back to sectarianism soon (not much else left) and when they do that we can all agree on their motives.

    Posted by Vronsky | April 26, 2011, 8:24 am
  18. "The Herald, even in the headline, implied Salmond alone was risking alienating some voters by expressing a view."They didn't IMPLY that he risked alienating some voters, they just plain came out and said it."Why did they not state in the headline that Salmond AND Gray were in agreement on the issue? "Because they're not. Gray's position is a weak non-committal mealy-mouthed fudge, which the Herald rightly drew attention to. He's taking that position precisely because – unlike Salmond – he IS afraid of alienating bigots.And I'm afraid that by suggesting that the Herald was attempting to score Labour some points in publishing the feature, you absolutely DID imply that it was a vote-loser. By definition. I haven't accused YOU of being homophobic in the slightest.

    Posted by RevStu | April 26, 2011, 6:05 pm
  19. Revstu: You can't retract what you've typed. Your posts queried Jo G's motivation for the mention of the gay marriage story, which was answered but you still chose to query it despite it being answered in full.You have lost the debate- deal with it.

    Posted by Anonymous | April 26, 2011, 8:38 pm
  20. Thank you Vronsky. I don't think it is a vote loser either nor did I personally imply that it was. What I objected to was the Herald using it in the way it did. The Herald clearly intended to suggest otherwise. They quoted Gray in the same article expressing his agreement to the policy yet his name wasn't in the huge headline, nor was it seen as a "risk" for him as it was for Salmond. In any case (although this was not a direct quote) the Herald also said "The First Minister told the Sunday Herald he was in favour of same-sex couples being allowed to wed in church, but opposed denominations being forced to allow such ceremonies."That quote suggests to me that Salmond did not wish to "alienate" anyone by saying he opposed anyone being forced to allow such ceremonies. In short, much ado about nothing. But structured to create an impression which simply wasn't there.

    Posted by Jo G | April 26, 2011, 8:41 pm
  21. "You can't retract what you've typed."I'm not retracting a single word."Your posts queried Jo G's motivation"They did absolutely no such thing. Quote me any part that queried her motivation. What Jo said was:"the Sunday Herald is trying to help [Labour] out with banner headlines today declaring "SALMOND BACKS GAY MARRIAGE" Either of you – explain to me why the Herald publicising that story would help Labour out UNLESS you believed backing gay rights was a vote-loser for the SNP.If you don't believe the Scottish public are homophobic, that story can't possibly be any help to Labour. Therefore, if you say the Herald covering it DOES help Labour, you're saying that you believe the Scottish public is homophobic.I have not said ONE WORD to the effect that I think Jo G is homophobic, because I have no reason to believe that he/she is. What I've said is that he/she clearly appears to believe *the Scottish public* is. There is no other explanation for believing that the Herald running that story is an attempt at helping Labour.

    Posted by RevStu | April 27, 2011, 8:07 am
  22. "They quoted Gray in the same article expressing his agreement to the policy"Sigh. No they didn't. They quoted him as saying he "didn't object" to something, which is NOT the same as saying you support it. I don't object to Partick Thistle or St Mirren, but I don't support either of them. I don't object to the Green party, but I don't vote for them.But once again: if the headline HAD been "Gray Backs Gay Marriage", would that then be a pro-SNP story? By your logic it would. But why?

    Posted by RevStu | April 27, 2011, 8:12 am
  23. iain,I am not so sure an independence referendum would be lost. I know all polls show a majority against it> But I this just shows that the majority is reasonably comfortable with the current settlement. And in the same way that the Scottish parliament polls shifted when voters started to give more thought to that election, I think we could well see polls on independence move – because voters might comfortable with the current settlement but when actually given the options and thinking about them, they might feel even more comfortable with independence.Also do not underestimate the capability of any NO campaign to make big mistakes (especially if it is Scottish Labour-led {and if it is Tory or Lib Dem-led, that would already be the big mistake already …}).For example, how would a NO campaign react to all those false / arrogant statement about Scotland that constantly appear in the UK media already? Oppose, ignore, agree – each of these options opens a can of worms / would be very difficult to explain.

    Posted by Christian Schmidt | May 2, 2011, 8:01 pm
  24. "What I've said is that he/she clearly appears to believe *the Scottish public* is."And you'd be wrong AGAIN!

    Posted by Jo G | May 7, 2011, 10:09 pm
  25. Then why don't you answer my question and clear it up for me?

    Posted by RevStu | May 9, 2011, 4:48 pm

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