We now have the first full-scale Scottish poll since the SNP leadership made the idiotic unforced error of sacking their most popular frontbencher just weeks before a crucial election, and we can at least breathe a sigh of relief that Yes still has a lead, and indeed a bit of a cushion.
Should Scotland be an independent country? (Savanta ComRes, 4th-9th February 2021)
Yes 53% (-4)
No 47% (+4)
Depending on your point of view, this is either the twentieth or the twenty-first consecutive poll to show a pro-independence majority - a long unbroken sequence stretching all the way back to the Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll of last June
. (It's the twenty-first in a row if you include a Progress Scotland / Survation poll that used a non-standard format. Personally I think we should be saying it's twenty, but there's such a consensus among Yessers for including the Progress Scotland poll that I've almost given up on trying to make that case.)
When I said that I was worried that the factional behaviour of the leadership in recent days might cost both Yes and the SNP dearly in the polls, what I was really concerned about was that No might return to the lead. That hasn't happened, but of course the snag here is that Savanta ComRes has recently been one of the most Yes-friendly pollsters. If, for the sake of argument, YouGov, Survation or even Panelbase were to replicate the four-point drop in Yes support that ComRes are reporting, that would be enough to tip the balance and put No into the lead with those firms. So the big question is whether ComRes are picking up something real, or whether they're just 'returning to the pack' after a couple of unusually good polls for Yes. It shouldn't be forgotten that before those two polls, ComRes were reporting very similar figures to other firms - 53% in October (exactly the same as today) and 54% in August. It doesn't automatically follow, therefore, that other firms will show any drop in Yes support at all - we'll just have to wait and see.
If there has been a genuine swing against Yes, I can think of a number of possible reasons -
1) The sacking of Joanna Cherry. If it's mainly that, the effect should fade over time, so long as the leadership don't continue to pander to the zealots (for example with further sackings, suspensions or expulsions).
2) The ongoing fallout from the rift between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.
3) The media's determined efforts to portray the vaccine rollout as a success story for the UK Government. I'd suggest that's the least likely possibility, because the public perception that the UK Government have handled the crisis badly, and that the Scottish Government have handled it well, seems to be pretty much set in stone.
Scottish Parliament constituency ballot voting intentions:
SNP 54% (+1)
Conservatives 23% (+4)
Labour 16% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)
Scottish Parliament regional list ballot voting intentions:
SNP 43% (-1)
Conservatives 21% (+5)
Labour 18% (-)
Greens 10% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)
Seats projection (with changes from the 2016 election): SNP 71 (+8), Conservatives 24 (-7), Labour 19 (-5), Greens 11 (+5), Liberal Democrats 4 (-1)
SNP: 71 seats
All other parties combined: 58 seats
SNP OVERALL MAJORITY OF 13 SEATS
Pro-independence parties: 82 seats
Anti-independence parties: 47 seats
PRO-INDEPENDENCE MAJORITY OF 35 SEATS
So the story of the Holyrood numbers is not one of SNP collapse (because there simply hasn't been one), but of an unexpected Tory recovery - which may have been at the expense of Labour on the constituency vote, but seemingly not on the list. Why that would have happened isn't entirely clear, because the Tories have been taking a hammering in Scottish polls of late. I'm wondering if it might turn out to be a freakish finding caused by sampling variation.
I'm slightly bemused by the Scotsman summarising Labour's results as "comfortably around the 18 per cent on both lists". They're on exactly 18% on one ballot, but they're on 16% on the other. I'm not sure what person in their right mind would describe 16% as being "around 18%", but each to their own I suppose.
The zealots within the SNP will doubtless seize upon a finding from one of the poll's supplementary questions that 32% of SNP voters back Joanna Cherry's sacking and 13% oppose it - but of course that misses the point entirely. You'd always expect most of a party's own support base to say they support the decisions of that party's leader, but it's the minority who don't support those decisions you have to worry about. The SNP simply can't afford to lose, say, one-tenth of their voters just before an election. Nor can they afford a growing perception that the party is divided - and this poll shows that the proportion of respondents saying the SNP is divided has increased from 39% to 45%. It's difficult to escape the conclusion that the sacking must be partly responsible for that.
The poll also finds support for GRA reform by a margin of 40% to 26%, which is in stark contrast to other polling in the last couple of years which found overwhelming opposition. It's highly unlikely that public opinion has turned on its head - the more probable explanation is that this is one of those issues where the answers people give are very much dependent on the way the question is worded.
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I became slightly concerned yesterday that my Somerset Stalker hadn't written his 18,573rd obsessional blogpost about me yet - but thankfully that was rectified before the night was out. Close one.