A modest increase in Scottish Labour’s Westminster support is a double-edged sword, writes MORAY MACDONALD

 

The latest Angus Reid opinion poll provides some comfort for Scottish Labour with an increase in share of the vote and the potential of gaining an extra MP at Westminster.

Now, before I start I must clarify a couple of issues. Yes, for Scotland this is small sub-sample of 178 from a UK wide poll of 2,002 people. So these results should be treated with a little caution. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t of interest – especially given the lack of detailed Scotland specific polls. Secondly, my seat calculations are on the current boundaries which will change before the election in 2015. We don’t have anything else to calculate the figures against, so these are as good as anything to show roughly what might happen or at least the general direction of travel.

The poll results broken down for Scotland showed Labour on 44 per cent (+2), SNP on 35 (+15), Conservatives on 13 (-3) and Lib Dems on just 3 (-15).

There are three key findings from the overall share of the vote in Scotland as suggested by this poll:

Firstly, Labour is holding its share of the vote from the last Westminster election with 44 per cent.  This is actually up two per cent, but given the sample size lets just say they are going steady. This is a great result for Labour given that their vote in 2010 was up three per cent from 2005 and even up slightly (one per cent) from 2001.

Secondly, the SNP continues to do well on the back of their Scottish Parliament results, up 15 per cent from the last Westminster election. Their increase in the share of the vote is similar to the increase they saw at the Scottish Parliament election in May. So it is fair to say they are still in their honeymoon period.

Thirdly, the Lib Dems appear to be in terminal decline dropping to just three per cent – losing some 15 per cent, which we can only imagine has gone straight to the SNP with a little to Labour. Charles Kennedy and Alistair Carmichael would be the only two Lib Dem MPs left in Scotland according to Weber Shandwick’s ScotlandVotes seat predictor.

The ScotlandVotes seat predictor for Westminster suggests we would see a dramatic change in the make up of MPs in Scotland, but Labour would still have a majority.  The results would see Labour with 42 MPs (+1), SNP 13 (+7), Conservative 2 (+1) and Lib Dems 2 (-9).

Although this poll is encouraging news for Labour it should also be ringing alarm bells and helping to focus the collective mind of the party on what it needs to do to regain its position in Scottish politics – particularly for Scottish Parliament elections.

It should be of great concern to Labour that the Lib Dem vote in Scotland appears to be moving wholesale to the SNP. I doubt very much if the 15 per cent share of the vote gained by the SNP are people who believe in independence. I suspect that on the whole these are voters who can no longer vote Lib Dem due to their coalition with the Tories but for some reason can’t bring themselves to vote Labour – despite the fact that at the Scottish elections you could barely spot the difference between the SNP and Labour manifestos.

The disparity between voting intentions for Westminster and what happened just a few months ago at the Scottish Parliament elections is going to be a difficult one for Labour to fix. The party is seen by voters as relevant for Westminster, but much less relevant when it comes to Holyrood.

In some ways it would be more encouraging if this poll had shown a decline in Labour’s support at Westminster more in line with what happened at the Scottish elections in May. At least that way it would be a clear issue of sorting out overall popularity and dealing with structural and grassroot issues.  The continued, and perhaps increasing, disparity in voting intentions between the parliaments is a much more difficult issue to fix.

Just how will the party rise to the challenge of a dominant SNP at Holyrood and be able to demonstrate that it is relevant in Scotland where the Tories aren’t the main threat?  Next year’s local authority elections might even make Labour’s job more difficult if the SNP continue to hoover up discarded Lib Dem votes.

You can view Weber Shandwick’s Westminster seat calculator here.

Moray Macdonald is managing director of Weber Shandwick in Scotland. He set up scotlandvotes.com prior to the 2007 Holyrood election and it is now the leading online election information portal and seat calculator in Scotland. In a previous life he was director and head of research for the Scottish Conservatives. Moray Tweets as @MorayMacdonald.