This month's full-scale Scottish poll from Survation has just been released...
Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Survation, 12th-17th February) :
SNP 45% (-1)
Labour 28% (+2)
Conservatives 15% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)
Greens 3% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-1)
The SNP lead is actually much closer to 18% than to 17%, but is reported as 17% due to a quirk in the rounding. On the unrounded figures, the SNP have 45.3% of the vote, and Labour are on 27.5%.
If you look at this month's poll and last month's in isolation, you'd conclude that there's no reason to suppose that the SNP's colossal lead has contracted even marginally, because the small percentage changes are consistent with margin-of-error noise. However, we do have to bear in mind that - incredibly - last month's 20% gap was the lowest SNP lead Survation had recorded since the referendum (unless you count the September 19th telephone poll). So a further small narrowing does open up the possibility that Labour have made some paltry inroads over the last two months - but it certainly doesn't prove that beyond all doubt. It's still conceivable that there's been a steady SNP lead of roughly 20 points since October, and that the variation between 18 and 24 points that Survation have recorded has been caused by the margin of error. One reason for thinking that might be the case is that the last poll from the firm saw a drastic upweighting of a very small SNP-heavy sample of under-25s, and that sort of thing can increase the chances of volatility from one poll to the next.
The other important point to make is that the evidence for the SNP's vote having dipped is significantly weaker than the evidence for Labour's vote having recovered slightly. Survation's first post-referendum poll for the Record put Labour on 24%, so a 4% increase since then might just be statistically significant. But the SNP were on 46% in the same poll, and the 1% drop since then is utterly meaningless. Nicola Sturgeon's party have been hovering at 45% or 46% in three of the four polls in the Record series to date, with their 48% showing a couple of months ago looking like the obvious outlier. So on the face of it, what we're seeing is the SNP's support remaining more or less untouched, while Labour hoover up a few soft votes from the smaller parties - perhaps from people who are impressed by Jim Murphy's Tory Lite credentials.
If there's any truth in that, it means there's a big danger for Labour - because even assuming a small recovery has occurred at all, it may have occurred in the wrong geographical areas. The potential for "Murphy Tories" or "Murphy Kippers" to turn things around for Labour in Glasgow or North Lanarkshire is obviously pretty limited.
The ticking of the clock was of course the Yes campaign's greatest enemy during much of the referendum campaign, but it's become a bosom friend for the SNP now. If the recent polls from Survation, YouGov, ICM and Ipsos-Mori have been accurate, then the odd 2% trimming of the lead here and there isn't going to be anything like enough for Labour with only two-and-a-half months to go until polling day. The unholy trinity of Murphy, McTernan and McDougall are going to have to hope that one of two things prove to be true - either a) the intensity of the official campaign period will offer an opportunity for a game-changer that has so far eluded them, or b) the two Labour-friendly pollsters (Panelbase and TNS-BMRB) are right and all the other firms are wrong. If Labour were only 10 points behind in January rather than 20, then obviously a 2% narrowing of the gap would be more significant, especially given the way the electoral system works in Labour's favour when the popular vote is relatively tight. The next Panelbase poll will be fascinating - if it shows a single-figure SNP lead, perhaps Labour can justifiably feel that there is a small glimmer of hope. But in truth, we all know that the last Panelbase poll used a very dubious methodology, and as long as there's no repeat of that, a very plausible case can be made for thinking the SNP's lead will actually increase markedly.
As usual, the Survation poll also contains voting intention numbers for next year's Scottish Parliament election...
Constituency ballot :
SNP 48% (-2)
Labour 28% (+2)
Conservatives 13% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
Greens 4% (+1)
UKIP 2% (-1)
Regional list ballot :
SNP 39% (n/c)
Labour 22% (-1)
Greens 13% (+3)
Conservatives 12% (-2)
UKIP 6% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
I was about to say that this is the entirely familiar pattern of the SNP being threatened most by defections to the Greens on the list, but in fact there is something unusual here - it's been rare of late to see Labour falling back so sharply on the list.
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Political Betting are running a general election prediction competition - amazingly, my entry was accepted, although doubtless it's only a matter of time before I'm disqualified for being too left-wing, or for having too many Irish ancestors, or for the inappropriateness of my eyebrows, or something. But the interesting thing is that everyone's entry is publicly viewable, and Gerry Hassan (assuming it's the real Gerry Hassan) has made the following prediction -
Labour 291, Conservatives 275, Liberal Democrats 38, SNP 25, UKIP 3, Greens 1
That means he's expecting the SNP to drop back significantly between now and May, and Labour to retain their familiar place as Scotland's largest party in terms of seats (albeit possibly not in terms of votes). I think he's probably wrong about that, but it does help to put in context some of the bewildering Ian Smart-esque commentary that Gerry has produced since voting Yes in the referendum.
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I can't claim to be on the best of terms with the supremo of Better Nation, but as far as I can recall I've never had a cross word with the blog's other regular writer Dom. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure who he is, but he's undoubtedly an excellent writer. Just to prove that point, his very funny valedictory post has effortlessly pulled off the supreme feat of insulting virtually every single person in the Scottish political blogosphere, including (indirectly) James Mackenzie himself -
"A few years ago I was invited to become a regular part of Better Nation, at a time when it was the only blog in Scottish politics that did not exist entirely to massage one person’s ego or to cheer-lead religiously for a particular political party...Scotland is a much more complex place than anyone would really care to admit, and what needs to happen now in reflecting that cannot come in the form of a blog, however well intentioned its authors might be. I have never been the kind of person to salivate over polls or write insight pieces just to cultivate my own sense of performative hackery...There are still things to be written, not least over at the Scottish Review and The Conversation, but not here any more."
We love you too, Dom!