Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wales warms to self-government

I (slightly wearily) had a look at the ICM website tonight on the off-chance that the detailed breakdown of their latest poll might have been made available a bit earlier than usual. No luck, needless to say. But I'm glad I looked, because what I did find instead was the details of a survey that was carried out a couple of weeks ago for BBC Wales on the subject of the future of the devolution settlement. Remarkably - and it has to be said, somewhat misguidedly - there are twice as many people in Wales who feel that the Welsh Assembly has the most influence over their country as those who (more realistically) think that Westminster still calls the most important shots. But perhaps more to the point, when asked which tier of government should hold the most influence, 64% said the Assembly and only 19% opted for Westminster. So much for the Welsh being more reluctant devolutionists than the Scots.

And when questioned about specifically how much power the Assembly should hold, 58% wanted more powers than there are at present - including no fewer than 15% who favoured outright independence.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Identifiably encouraging

David Maddox had a blog post on the Steamie earlier about party identification in Scotland, suggesting it was good news for Labour that they still led the SNP by 32% to 'just' 25% on this measure. His argument is based on the fact that this a healthier position than Labour currently enjoys on Holyrood voting intention. Although Maddox has a reputation for being an occasionally over-zealous Nat-basher, I don't think he was necessarily in propaganda mode here. However, given that the party identification figures don't change according to which tier of government people happen to be voting for at any given moment, it's hard to understand why he only applies this logic to Holyrood elections. With the SNP starting from a 21-point deficit at the last Westminster election, the fact that they are now only 7% behind Labour on party identification is hugely encouraging for the general election next year. And to be fair, Maddox helps prove this point in a later post linking to a chart that demonstrates the changing face of party identification in Scotland over the last few years - and confirms a significant closing of the gap between Labour and the SNP since June 2005.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SNP up eight points in Ipsos-Mori 'northern region' sub-sample

It seems slightly beside the point to return to discussing sub-samples of UK polls when we've just had a rare full-scale Scottish survey, but for the sake of completeness, here are the latest numbers from Ipsos-Mori. As it happens, they're unusually favourable for the SNP. The figures are based on all those certain to vote (I've excluded undecideds which for some reason isn't done in the published table) and is for the 'northern region', covering the whole of Scotland and northern England.

Conservatives 35% (-3)
Labour 35% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 13% (-4)
SNP 13% (+8)
Others 4% (-1)

Intriguingly the UK-wide figures show Labour narrowing the gap on the Tories markedly. That could perhaps offer a partial explanation of Labour's unexpected upswing in the YouGov Scottish poll at the weekend. Brown Bounce III?

The dream has died. Time to face facts - the SNP must now disband.

Until quite recently there was a feeling among many nationalists that this really was their moment. The Scottish government appeared to be very popular, Alex Salmond in particular being massively preferred as First Minister to all the varied potential alternatives. And, while it was far from clear whether an independence referendum bill could pass through parliament in this session, the SNP's seemingly commanding position made a second term in office all but inevitable, offering them another bite at the referendum cherry. By which time, the conventional wisdom went, the SNP would have built up their credibility still further, thus increasing the likelihood of a 'Yes' vote.

A cruel illusion.

On Sunday 15th March, a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times put an end to these childish fantasies forever. The numbers for the SNP were utterly devastating, leaving no realistic chance whatsoever of recovery even in the distant future. The collapse had occurred in every single aspect of voting preference - for the Scottish Parliament constituency ballot, support for the party had slumped from 33% at the 2007 Holyrood election to a dismal 35% today. On the list vote, support had similarly fallen from 31% to 32%. On the Westminster vote, support for the SNP had nosedived from 18% at the last election to a pathetic 27%. While for the European Parliament vote, support had plummeted from 20% in the last election to a frankly laughable 29% now.

Of course, there seems to be something in the nationalist mindset that leads us to clutch at straws, even in the face of such overwhelming evidence that the party is facing certain meltdown. A few misguided people pointed to the irrelevant detail that the SNP are still ahead on the constituency ballot, and only two points behind on the list. Some weirdly tried to suggest that the above figures showed an increase rather than a decrease in the SNP's support (shows you the desperate state of education in an SNP-run Scotland). Some resorted to the tired old argument that you can't draw too many conclusions from a single poll, especially not one that is - due to the standard margin of error of 3% - what the Americans would call a statistical tie on both ballots.

But thankfully we have Scotland's second most virile Alpha Male (affectionately known throughout the land as AM2 to distinguish him from the nation's undisputed leading Alpha Male Frank McAvennie) to force us to confront the cold, hard truth. This opinion poll is quite simply game over. In our heart of hearts, we all know it. Alex Salmond might as well just enjoy the dregs of his fleeting spell in office, for the return to power of the dream team of Iain Gray and Tavish Scott on a wave of public euphoria is now, quite simply, a scientifically proven certainty.

Facing such a hopeless future, Alex Salmond would be well-advised to take a leaf out of David Owen's book - and in so doing show some maturity by finally acknowledging the glorious unionist future Scotland is about to embark on - by simply proposing the party's immediate dissolution. What is there to gain by fighting on?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just when I wasn't looking...

Oh dear. There was me busily speculating last night about what a full-scale Scottish poll might show, and I had rather spectacularly failed to notice that one had just been published under my nose! I suppose in one sense my instinct was right, as Labour remains ahead in Westminster voting intention (the gap is a little larger than I might have thought but not enormous) while the SNP retains a lead in the Holyrood constituency vote (albeit a narrow one). The surprise - and what the Sunday Times are delightedly, not to say utterly hysterically, crowing about - is Labour's lead in the list vote, which rather unusually places Labour ahead in the (always utterly meaningless) seat 'projection'.

There really is nothing for the SNP to panic about here - the party's raw percentages remain very high. As Alex Salmond pointed out this morning, on this poll their support has increased since the 2007 Holyrood election, and indeed they've led many recent opinion polls on lower percentages than this. So what we're left with is the mystery of an apparent massive Labour surge in Scotland at the expense of the Tories, at a time when the precise reverse is happening everywhere else in the UK. I'm not going to fall into the AM2 trap of saying that because the numbers seem implausible to me they must be wrong, but it will be intriguing to see if the next poll (if we're lucky enough to get one inside the next few months) corroborates these rather startling findings. Or to put it another way - I'm not convinced, but I stand ready to be proved wrong.

On one point I'm more confident, though - the European election figures from the poll (suggesting a Labour lead of seven points) can be discounted as fairly meaningless at this stage. The turnout for the European poll is typically so low that almost anything could happen - and that could be to the benefit of Labour (as in 2004) or to the SNP (as in 1999 and 1994).

YouGov sub-sample : Labour regains lead

In the Scottish sub-sample of the latest YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, Labour have returned to a seven-point lead over the SNP. However the SNP themselves have slipped only one point, with much of Labour's advance coming at the expense of the Conservatives, who are down six points to 15%. Here are the full figures -

Labour 39% (+7)
SNP 32% (-1)
Conservatives 15% (-6)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
Others 5% (-1)

The general conclusion I draw from the recent sub-samples (with their inherent huge margin of error) is that a full-scale Scottish poll would probably show quite a close race between Labour and the SNP, hence the continual swapping between the two for first place. My hunch is that Labour would still have the slight edge - but remember we're talking solely about Westminster voting intentions here. On past form, it seems highly likely that the SNP retain a comfortable lead in the Holyrood voting intention.