Until recently, I tended to go along with the conventional wisdom that the balance of probability points to a Conservative defeat at the next UK general election - not because Labour have in any sense got their act together, but simply because the Tories are starting from such a low base and have the electoral system loaded against them. That didn't mean we couldn't make the argument that a vote for independence is a vote against Tory rule, but it did mean we would probably have to get across the slightly more sophisticated point that the Tories are the natural party of government in the UK, and that Labour's spells in office only come about when they tack to the right and adopt Tory policies.
But my view of the likely general election outcome is evolving rapidly. Just take a look at the latest GB-wide ComRes poll -
Liberal Democrats 9%
Given the almost-inevitable unpopularity of Westminster governments in mid-term, a mere six-point Labour lead at this stage has "Tory victory in 2015" written all over it. But in fact Labour's position is even weaker than it appears, and the reason is that a large chunk of the UKIP vote will drift back to the mainstream parties by the time of the general election. Some of it will drift back to Labour, but the lion's share will naturally be going to the Tories. To get at the true underlying state of play, what we really need is a polling question that excludes UKIP from the equation, and YouGov helpfully provided one last week -
If you had to choose, which of the following options would be best for Britain?
A majority Conservative government 29%
A majority Labour government 29%
A coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats 13%
A coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats 9%
Even if those figures are combined, a Labour-led government of some description is only favoured by a wafer-thin margin of 42% to 38%. That is an utterly hopeless position for Labour to be in at this stage of the electoral cycle. You won't be surprised to hear that the figures in Scotland are radically different - we prefer a Labour-led government to a Tory-led government by an overwhelming margin of 57% to 21%. Well, we can prefer that to our little hearts' content, but it won't make a blind bit of difference unless we take control of our own destiny at the independence referendum.
I'd suggest the real challenge for the Yes campaign will be to convey to voters just how weak Labour's true position is, if the party's poor showing in the polls continues to be disguised by the UKIP surge.
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Many thanks to the 155 people who voted for this blog in last week's WoS poll. Scot Goes Pop finished eighth on the "which is your favourite Scottish political site?" question, and tenth on the "which Scottish political sites do you visit at least once a week?" question. It wasn't that far away from being better still on the latter question, because just fourteen votes separated sixth and tenth place. But I'm more than happy to finish in the top ten on both questions, mainly because it gives me a long-overdue excuse to update the tagline in the masthead! The previous wording of "voted one of the UK's top 100 political blogs" referred to the most recent Total Politics Awards, which took place way back in September 2011.
You might remember that I ran a similar poll last year, and RevStu has provided some analysis of the changes in voting patterns since that poll. It's worth pointing out that the comparison isn't an exact one - my poll was restricted to blogs (hence the exclusion of Newsnet Scotland, which is a news website like the Scotsman rather than a blog), but on the other hand included a smattering of non-Scottish sites. It also had a smaller 'electorate', which may well explain the apparent contraction in the number of sites that are read by over 50% of voters - it could be that last year's voters were more likely to be among the hard core who read a large number of blogs. I'm also slightly sceptical about the apparent sharp drop in popularity of both Better Nation and A Burdz Eye View - again, that could simply reflect the profile of the Wings readership. Admittedly, there doesn't seem to be the same buzz about Better Nation that there once was, but A Burdz Eye View appears to be going as strong as ever.
Last but not least, warm congratulations to this blog's oldest friend Tris, who had an absolutely fantastic result - Munguin's Republic finished fifth on the 'overall favourite' question, and eighth on the 'most-read' question.
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If you happen to have a few pounds burning a hole in your pocket, why not make a donation to the National Collective fundraising drive? It has just four more days to run, and they're getting tantalisingly close to their target figure (reaching that figure will save them hundreds of pounds in fees).