Today brings word of our first full-scale Scottish poll since the UK general election last month. It's from TNS, with their unique face-to-face data collection method, and it understandably shifts attention wholesale to next year's Scottish Parliament election...
Scottish Parliament constituency ballot :
SNP 60% (+13)
Labour 19% (-11)
Conservatives 15% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 3% (n/c)
Scottish Parliament regional list ballot :
SNP 50% (+6)
Labour 19% (-7)
Conservatives 14% (+1)
Greens 10% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (n/c)
UKIP 2% (n/a)
(Percentage chances are from the last Holyrood poll from TNS, at the start of the year.)
As is always the case with TNS polls, the fieldwork is already somewhat out-of-date by the time of publication - it was conducted between the 13th and 31st of May. That means it wholly predates the despicable attempts by Alex Massie, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and even a few Liberal Democrats to exploit the tragic death of Charles Kennedy in an attempt to damage Alex Salmond and the SNP more generally. I'm not saying those attempts will necessarily have had any impact on the numbers, but the possibility can't be entirely ruled out. And at least part of the fieldwork was conducted during the initial glow of the SNP landslide, so we'd certainly expect some kind of honeymoon bonus. To get a rough idea of just how strong the honeymoon effect can be in the first few weeks after a general election triumph, have a look at the scale of the Tories' victory in the 1979 European Parliament election, or in the 1992 English local elections - both held roughly one month after a general election.
So I don't think there's much to be read into the SNP's 60% share on the constituency vote - that figure is almost bound to fall back, unless something very weird happens. What's troubling about this poll is the 10% gap between the SNP's showing on the constituency vote and the all-important list vote - there's no reason to automatically suppose that gap will narrow even if the SNP's vote drops, and that's the factor that most puts at risk the chances of the SNP winning a second overall majority. Needless to say, there would be a clear majority if today's figures turned out to be the final result - the Scotland Votes calculator projects seats totals of SNP 73, Labour 25, Conservatives 17, Greens 10, Liberal Democrats 4. A few regular commenters might want to note that, even on a thoroughly improbable 60% of the constituency vote, the SNP are still projected to take three seats on the list - thus spectacularly undermining the idea that we could ever reach the point of certainty that SNP votes on the list will be "wasted".
There's another way of looking at the problem, though. Polling for the regional list has tended to be less accurate than polling for the constituency vote, perhaps because of the difficulty of replicating the experience of actually casting two distinct votes in a polling station. In both 2007 and 2011, the Greens were predicted to do much better than they did, and we were also expecting that there would be a significant gap between the SNP's performance on the constituency and list ballots, which didn't materialise. So it could be that a really determined effort by the SNP to stress the importance of the list ballot will once again resolve the problem, even if the polls aren't showing any evidence of that at quite a late stage.
A very peculiar shortcoming of this poll is that only the SNP, Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats were given as options for the constituency vote. There wasn't even a two-stage process which allowed people to express a more specific preference after saying they would vote for "other party or candidate". That perhaps wouldn't make a huge amount of difference, but it's certainly not ideal.
If TNS were following Ipsos-Mori's practice of headlining the results among respondents who say they are certain to vote, the SNP's lead would be even bigger. Nicola Sturgeon's party would have an advantage of 61% to 18% over Labour on the constituency vote, and 51% to 17% on the list.