A lot has been going on in UK politics, hasn’t it? That’s put the Conservative vote in freefall with a corresponding Labour rise, and provoked an outright revolt from Scottish Conservatives calling for the Prime Minister to resign. In that context, the absence of Scotland-specific polling was getting increasingly frustrating. Fortunately, the ongoing partnership of Savanta ComRes and the Scotsman finally plugged that gap (albeit tables took a while). What exciting, earth shattering shifts could this poll show?
The previous ComRes covered the 22nd – 28th of October. Changes are shown as (vs that poll / vs last election).
That’s probably not what you expected, is it? Whereas Labour have been soaring in GB-wide polls for Westminster, here they haven’t budged either way since the last poll in October. Nor have the SNP, though that’s still a couple of points down on the election, whilst Labour are a couple of points up. The Conservatives find themselves in third here, but that’s entirely due to their own fall rather than being actively overtaken by Labour.
They are down a weighty 4% to record their worst poll of the term thus far – this is the only figure outwith margin of error in the poll, so we can be confident there is some clear loss of support here. This too might look like a less severe drop than they’ve had at GB level. However, remember their Scottish Parliament vote share was about half their GB-wide UK Parliament share, so it’s about on a par in relative terms. But since Labour and the SNP haven’t moved, this means the parties actually making gains here are the smaller ones.
Compared to last poll the Greens are up slightly, which would put them substantially above their election result. It’s a similar tale for the Lib Dems, though their poll-on-poll gain is larger. This paints them as the main beneficiaries of the Conservatives’ decline with their best share yet this term. Alba are also up, but this is margin of error oscillation as they continue to circle perilously round the electoral drain.
It’s even less dramatic over on the constituency vote. Labour are completely and utterly static here, making no advance or loss compared to either the last poll or the election. The Conservatives are on a joint-worst share of the term here, whilst the SNP and Lib Dems have equal-yet-opposite shifts of just a single point by both measures.
Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:
Obviously this is another big SNP lead, but the Labour and Conservative tie in seats adds to the general sense of Scotland being wildly out of kilter with movement in England and Wales. It’s worth noting that the overhang is starting to go pretty wild here, which is part of why Labour aren’t ahead in seats the way they are votes – as badly as the Conservatives are doing, they still project to winning more constituencies, which shields them from some of that overhang.
As with the vote figures, the gains here are mostly for the Greens and Lib Dems. Although you can’t see it on the maps, there were some knife-edge results on the list, with just 0.01% of the vote being enough in my model to flip the second Green seat in Mid & Fife the Lib Dems’ way, which would have given all five parties double-digit seats. Again though this is an issue of overhang, which you can see precisely down in the hypotheticals section.
ComRes polls unfortunately don’t come with Westminster VI – though we did at least have one of these back in December from an Opinium that lacked Holyrood. That’s a shame as it would have been interesting to see if there was any discernible difference – whether Scots were separating out events at Westminster from their Holyrood considerations.
Fans of indecision will once again love the constitutional side of the poll, which shows an absolute dead heat between the two sides. That’s up slightly for Independence and down for the Union versus the last poll, but overall it has me making the same point I’ve been making for ages – people on either side of the debate reading this poll as a stunningly good news for them must be inhabiting a different reality to the rest of us. There’s no room for complacency here, whether you support the Union or Independence.
Timing of a Referendum
In terms of timing, ComRes continue to offer quite a range of potential timescales. Compared to the previous poll, this shows a little bit more support both for a referendum on the faster end of the scale and for never having another one. A total of 51% of respondents would like to see a referendum within the next 5 years, though now we’re into 2022 that’s not quite “within this term of parliament” anymore. However, only 34% support holding one within the Scottish Government’s timescale of by the end of 2023.
This is perhaps a good example of where how you ask a question matters. Another simple “do you think there should be a referendum?” question in this poll found 47% saying there shouldn’t and 46% saying there should. Framing the question that simply perhaps allowed voters to put their own interpretation on it, and the most likely explanation is some in the “within 5 years” category in particular parsed it as “right now” and thus came out as opposed. Polling can be sticky, tricky stuff!
This poll also took a look at something that’s been in the news a bit recently – the concept of Devo Max. The idea of including some kind of “further devolution” option in any future referendum isn’t new, but it’s having another moment in the spotlight. In this case, Devo Max was defined as being equivalent to Full Fiscal Autonomy, which is to say giving Holyrood control over basically everything but defence and foreign policy.
Starting by asking whether it should be on the ballot paper in the first place:
The answer is, overwhelmingly, that people would prefer to run a binary referendum once again. That said, this is more closely run than a similar question from Panelbase a year ago that I mentioned in the annual review of constitutional polling. That found a 71% to 20% split in favour of binary or multi-option poll.
That desire for a binary referendum – if one was held, “if” being the key word – aside, what do people feel about Devo Max (as defined) in and of itself?
Not particularly convinced, it has to be said. Just over a quarter say they favour it at all, and only a handful strongly so. Although there aren’t that many more opponents, they are much stronger in their opposition. The biggest individual bloc of voters though are those who just… don’t have an opinion on Devo Max either way. I’ve perhaps said this previously, but based on this evidence if there was ever a time when Devo Max was a unifying proposition, it has almost certainly passed.
There’s also a question about whether it would be a good (32%) or a bad (39%) compromise, and the folk at Savanta ComRes offered some thoughts on that in the Scotland on Sunday article about this part of the poll. I don’t want this piece to get over-long, so I’ll just say I think this raises an interesting question about how voters perceive further devolution. If a majority see it as a stepping stone to Independence – whether that’s positive or negative in their eyes – rather than a sustainable end-point, it may simply shift the constitutional debate onto new territory rather than end it.
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.
Tweaking AMS to be more proportional unblocks the jam in the AMS as-is projection, correctly handing Labour a lead for their advantage in vote share. Again though the real gains here would be for the Greens and Lib Dems. This would also widen the lead for SNP-Green cooperative government compared to what this model would have given them at the election.
As ever, this fully-proportional model would slash the SNP’s representation to everyone else’s advantage. Most of the movement here would be from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems, but the combined bloc of pro-Union parties would still be in the minority, with 63 seats to the 66 for the pro-Independence parties.
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