Given the internal difficulties the SNP have been experiencing recently (some of them, let's face it, pointlessly self-inflicted by the leadership), I've been a bit nervous that the next poll might break the long sequence of consecutive pro-independence majorities, which stretch all the way back to a Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll conducted last June. It's a relief, then, that the poll released today was conducted by Ipsos-Mori, which has been one of the most Yes-friendly firms in recent years.
Should Scotland be an independent country? (Ipsos-Mori / STV, 15th-21st February 2021)
Yes 52% (-4)
No 48% (+4)
Have we been living a charmed life recently? All of the last three polls were conducted by firms that have been on the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum, and all of them showed Yes remaining in the lead while dropping a few percentage points. It's perfectly possible, then, that the next poll from a less Yes-friendly firm (for example YouGov or Survation) may break the sequence by showing either a narrow No lead or a 50-50 split. But we shouldn't automatically assume that'll be the case - sometimes pollsters just converge with each other, so another possibility is that Yes may just be settling in at around the 51-53 range across all firms. We'll have to wait and see.
The concern must be, though, that any fall in Yes support has occurred while the Sturgeon-Salmond controversy has been largely a 'bubble issue', so the impact of that story may not be fully factored in yet. There's a broad consensus that the resignations of both Peter Murrell and Liz Lloyd are nigh-on inevitable, which means the SNP will at the very least be facing a day or two of very painful media coverage. That could conceivably have a knock-on effect on support for independence, but the hope must be that we'll all move on relatively quickly. I know some people honestly believe that Nicola Sturgeon will be brought down - I disagree with that, but if by any chance I'm wrong the impact on Yes support could be severe. My guess is that the Yes surge over recent months has been tightly bound up with the popularity of Ms Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic.
There's some remarkably good news for supporters of 'Plan B' in one of the poll's supplementary questions. Even before Don't Knows are excluded, an absolute majority of respondents (52%) think that, if a Section 30 order is refused, the Scottish Government should either simply press ahead with a referendum without Westminster's consent, or "take the UK Government to court to try and establish a legal basis for holding a referendum". (The latter option isn't ideally worded, because of course what would actually happen is that the Scottish Government would legislate for a referendum and then wait to see if the UK Government launches a legal challenge as provided for by the Scotland Act.) Better still are the results among Yes supporters: a massive 87% (!) are in favour of one of the Plan B options, and only 9% are opposed. As many as 33% of Yes voters think that the Scottish Government shouldn't even bother with the courts, and should just get on with a referendum.
Oh, and you know how the Tories always say that nobody cares about independence and nobody wants a referendum? Isn't it odd, then, that this poll shows that a) the majority of people want independence, b) the majority of people intend to vote for pro-independence parties, c) independence is the top issue that people say will decide their votes (it's listed as a major factor by 44% of respondents, compared to 32% for education and 25% for health), and d) a comfortable majority think that a referendum should be held if the SNP win the election. It must be that people don't know their own minds, eh, Douglas? I can't think of any other explanation.
Nicola Sturgeon's net approval rating has dropped by sixteen points since the Ipsos-Mori poll in October. That can perhaps be explained by the Salmond inquiry and the score-settling against Joanna Cherry and others. However, she remains way ahead of all the other politicians that were asked about. The ratings for both Douglas Ross and Willie Rennie have improved a touch (Rennie now even has a net positive rating), but there's bad news for Sir Keir Starmer - he's dropped from +16 in October to +3 now. It can't be a great sign if people like him less the more they see of him.
Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions:
SNP 52% (-3)
Conservatives 23% (+1)
Labour 15% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
Greens 3% (+2)
Scottish Parliament regional list voting intentions:
SNP 47% (-)
Conservatives 22% (-)
Labour 14% (-2)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)
Seats projection (with changes from 2016 election): SNP 72 (+9), Conservatives 26 (-5), Labour 17 (-7), Greens 9 (+3), Liberal Democrats 5 (-)
SNP: 72 seats (55.8%)
All other parties: 57 seats (44.2%)
SNP OVERALL MAJORITY OF 15 SEATS
Pro-independence parties: 81 seats (62.8%)
Anti-independence parties: 48 seats (37.2%)
PRO-INDEPENDENCE MAJORITY OF 33 SEATS
That would be the Greens' best result ever in a Holyrood election, exceeding the 7 seats they won in the 'rainbow parliament' of 2003. I'd suggest it gives a more realistic impression of their prospects than recent polls that have suggested they might win as many as 11 seats - those polls used a question that was less than ideal and might have given some respondents the false impression that the list vote is a second preference vote.
Fans of the fringe 'pop-up list parties' will be beside themselves with excitement at the news that one of them gets a mention in a major poll for the first time ever - 1% of respondents who indicate that they may change their minds about how to vote on the regional list ballot say that Action for Independence, the nominally 'umbrella' party set up by former MSP Dave Thompson, would be their most likely choice if they do change their minds. It's unclear whether AFI were included as a 'prompted option' in the poll or whether respondents mentioned them spontaneously (my guess would be the latter).
There's mixed news for the SNP on the same question - prospective 'mind-changers' are slightly more likely to switch to the SNP than to the Tories, but the biggest potential beneficiaries are Labour. That's probably because Labour are inoffensive to many unionist voters, and also to a minority of independence supporters.
Ipsos MORI asked for views on the Scottish Labour leadership candidates, and it turns out that Monica Lennon isn't far behind Anas Sarwar - she trails him by 28% to 25% among all voters, and by 40% to 35% among Labour voters. I haven't been keeping a close eye on the gossip about the vote, so I'm reluctant to give out a betting tip that might prove to be a complete dud. However, I'd just note the disparity between the above numbers and the betting odds, which have Sarwar as an absolutely overwhelming favourite. On the face of it, then, Monica Lennon might conceivably be a value bet.
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I'm going to give a plug to various SNP crowdfunders as the campaign proper approaches. Today I'd like to point you in the direction of Angus Robertson's bid to oust the Tories in Ruth Davidson's seat of Edinburgh Central - you can make a donation HERE.