As I’m now most of the way through my Wards Worth Watching series, I was really beginning to lament the lack of Scotland-specific polling. A lot of my predictions hinge on the current state of play. and that was becoming less clear with time. Enter a partly-surprise Savanta ComRes poll for the Economist. I say partly surprise in that I’d seen the article with some Independence poll figures. However, it didn’t have don’t knows and no mention was made of any other vote intention findings, so I’d left it as a lazily checking for tables every other day situation.
Then yesterday, surprise! It had Holyrood too! Given the dearth of recent polling it’s good to see any pollster making an appearance, but slightly disappointing it’s the same as the next most recent poll. I’ll (hopefully, it’s in progress at the moment) be adding the first ever BBS commissioned poll to the mix in the coming weeks, but for now, at least we’ve got something I guess.
The previous Savanta ComRess poll covered the 14th – 18th of January. Changes are shown as (vs that poll / vs last election).
There are, I think, three figures that should jump out at you in this poll. Firstly, the SNP. This is the lowest they’ve polled on the regional vote since last year’s election. Given that, contrary to popular belief, tactical voting on the list isn’t a particularly substantial phenomenon, that may be cause for discomfort as we look towards May’s local elections. Their result is likely to look more like their list support than it is their FPTP-inflated constituency figure, and this is a comparatively weak albeit still leading performance.
On the other hand, the Conservatives have bounced back a bit from their worst poll of the term in mid-January. We’ve seen a substantial easing of the Lockdown Parties pressure recently, probably given the horrors of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been understandably weighing on people’s minds – this poll was conducted right as troops were first marching in for their repulsive war of aggression. This is still lower than last year’s election result however, and similar to the SNP may be telegraphing a result in May below what the party themselves will be hoping for. Labour’s static on last poll but up on last May figure, by contrast, is possibly cause for mild – very mild – relief. They might have worried any Conservative recovery wouldn’t just knock them back into third, but actually reduce their vote share too.
The third notable figure then is what is by Green standards a whopping share of 14%. That’s the highest the party have ever polled in their history. As you’ll have to get used to me saying over the coming years, the Greens do typically poll better between elections than they do at them, but this will nonetheless be extremely heartening polling for them. Meanwhile Lib Dem moods might be dampened after the high of last poll, but it would still be a decent recovery.
There was enough happening on the list vote to get three paragraphs out of it, but I’ll be lucky to get three sentences out of the constituency vote. It’s almost identical to the previous poll, but with the Conservatives gaining a couple of percent, coming from “Others”. Labour remain a narrow second here, but this is the not the vote they need to be second in.
Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:
Put that through the projection sausage machine, and the Conservatives narrowly return to second place ahead of Labour, whilst the Greens would naturally make further gains. After the decade they’ve had the Lib Dems would certainly welcome a cool half-dozen seats, but it’s substantially down on the last poll’s projection – they’ve been done in by Conservative recovery and Green growth here. The SNP’s overall lead remains unshakeable thanks to constituency dominance, and the current government with the Greens would thus likely continue.
As ever, no Westminster in ComRes polls. That means we went through January’s peak of Lockdown Party drama, then the whole of February too, without a single taking of the Westminster temperature in Scotland. I’m going to actually be quite cross and say that’s, frankly, completely and utterly pathetic. We had 29 UK or GB-wide polls in January, and then another 23 in February, and not a single poll of Scottish Westminster VI.
The entire Holyrood wing of the Scottish Conservative party was, however briefly, in open revolt against the Prime Minister. Historically hegemonic Labour, relegated to third party for six years now, could have been surging back into second place. Yet not one person in the UK media with the power and funds to commission public polling thought it was worth seeing what was going on up here, even though the Scottish Conservative leader is an MP. Twenty years into devolution, seven years since old Westminster certainties were torn to shreds in Scotland, this frankly isn’t good enough. Do better.
Very little movement on the big constitutional question you say? Groundbreaking. There’s a barely perceptible shift away from Yes here, so small that rounding doesn’t even give the dropped point to either No or Don’t Know, which narrowly tips the straight contest in the Union’s favour.
If you’re a frequent follower of BBS you know what I’m going to say next, so skip to the next chart. If you’re new here, my usual spiel is that things being so tight leaves no room for complacency on either side of the constitutional divide. This is better than 2014 for Independence supporters – but not enough for you to win. This is still a lead for Union supporters – but not enough to be sure you won’t lose.
Timing of a Referendum
The usual wide variety of timescales for a referendum demonstrates a shift to the longer term. In total, 47% of respondents would prefer either at a point beyond a five-year horizon or never at all, versus 46% who want one within those five years. As with the question of Independence itself, there’s a very tight split here between the “somewhat sooner rather than later” camp and the “now is not the time” grouping. Less than a third however would like to see one within the Scottish Government’s preferred timescale – 2023 is looking like a hard sell for most voters.
As ever, the last little bit of analysis concerns those hypothetical and more proportional voting systems that I have a bee in my bonnet about here at BBS. The fact Westminster uses pure FPTP is an affront to democracy, and though Holyrood fares far better, AMS is still deeply imperfect. The examples here simply transpose the poll findings onto more proportional voting systems – the reality is that different systems would of course result in different voter behaviour.
For the moment, although the maps are useful for illustrative purposes, I’m opting just to show these hypotheticals as charts. It’s very time consuming making maps, and for these pure hypotheticals, it’s possibly a bit overkill.
A more proportional tilt to AMS always helps level out some of the SNP’s over-representation, but it’s still quite significant here given how massive the gap is between their two votes in this poll. Either way, a smaller than expected boost for the Greens on this measure too would still see the cooperative government re-elected.
Go a step beyond the above into as fully proportional a system as is really practical, and it’s a somewhat different story. This would see the SNP down a whole 10 seats versus the same model for last May’s election, whilst the Greens are up 8. The net effect is that they’d come short of a majority with 64 seats, with the narrow vote lead across the three pro-Union parties accurately reflected here with a similarly narrow 65 seat majority.
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