Just in time for us to head into the summer recess, the ongoing partnership between Savanta ComRes (link to tables) and the Scotsman (link to original writeup) has come out with another poll. There are a few interesting things in this one, as they’ve added some more voting intention questions and asked a question that might burst some political commentator bubbles.
It feels like forever since we’ve had one of these regular polls, but actually it hasn’t even quite been two months. Perhaps the time-consuming nature of my LE22 data collation project is doing weird things to my perception of time. The previous ComRes covered the 26th of April to 3rd of May 2021. Changes are shown as (vs that poll / vs last election).
Not a lot of movement here, and as we’ll see in some of the other questions, it’s mostly within rather than between constitutional camps. The SNP recover from their worst figure of the term thus far, but that’s balanced by the Greens and Alba dipping a point each from their (joint) best shares so far. Approaching a year in government for the first time, the Greens are nonetheless likely to be chuffed to continue to poll at this level.
Speaking of people who should be chuffed, this is Labour’s best regional vote share of the term so far. Given the nature of AMS and the SNP’s constituency dominance, this is exactly the vote Labour most need to be making gains in (absent any real prospect of them overtaking in the Constituency vote, anyway). That little bump, and a couple of points gain for still weakened Conservatives, seems to have come at the Lib Dems’ expense versus the last poll, though note that it’s still all pretty close to margin of error movement.
Almost no movement at all on the Constituency side of things, with only the Lib Dems showing a single digit gain that looks more like rounding than anything else. That leaves the SNP slightly and the Conservatives substantially worse off compared to last year’s election, whilst Labour are up a decent amount.
Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:
Given Labour were noted to be on their best regional vote share so far, no surprise that translates to a joint-best seat projection too. The fact AMS is straining under the pressure of the SNP’s overhang and the tight margins in many places are particularly evidenced by the Greens dropping 3 seats compared to the previous projection despite only slipping 1%. Although the Conservatives are up a couple of seats too, this would see the current SNP-Green government comfortably re-elected.
Excitingly, this is the first ComRes/Scotsman poll to have Westminster VI in it, giving us another pollster in that mix. Since this is their first poll of the term the Labour and Conservative swings look pretty dramatic, but they are relatively par for the course at the moment. Effectively, the SNP remain where they were in 2019, but the pro-Union vote has leeched from Conservative to Labour.
We had a big statement on Independence this week, but note that the overwhelming majority of the fieldwork in this poll preceded it. If it has made any impact, we won’t know from this poll, which I’m afraid remains rather boring. The only change is each of the sides losing a point to the uncertain voters. That means the same thing I’ve been saying for months here: the Union maintains a lead, but it’s too close to call and all within margins of error.
As an aside, can you imagine telling someone fifteen or so years ago that the question of Independence being on a knife-edge would be boring? Yet it absolutely is, in the current political context. Scottish politics is a strange place to inhabit!
Timing of a Referendum
Note that the full tables for this poll aren’t available at time of publication – ComRes appear to have published an initial batch containing only the voting intention. That’s enough for me to publish in a timely manner, but it means for this section I’m reliant on what was reported in the Scotsman.
Compared to previous ComRes polls which offered a range of timescales, a pre-trailing of the Scottish Government’s intention to hold a referendum in October 2023 meant respondents were directly asked whether they supported that.
A clear majority of voters said that they were opposed to that plan. However, this does suggest that firming up a proposed date has brought some more voters on board with the timescale. The previous ComRes had found only 33% of people saying there should be such a vote within the next two years, versus 62% who said there shouldn’t. The public as a whole is a fickle and malleable beast!
Impact of a Labour UK Government
This poll also asked a question that has been floating around the political bubble at the moment – what difference would a Labour government at UK level make? One particular argument made by the Pro-Independence side is that whilst the Conservatives haven’t won an election in Scotland for nearly 70 years, the UK frequently (and currently) has a Conservative government. The counter-theory goes that if there was a Labour government in place at Westminster, voters in Scotland would be far less likely to back Independence. So, what difference would a Labour government make?
“Sod all” is the answer. It’d make roughly as many people more favourable to Independence as it would less. Now, it’s worth noting that this kind of hypothetical polling has a poor track record. Previous findings that Scots would be more likely to back Independence if the Conservatives won a majority in 2015 (they did) or if the UK left the EU (it has) weren’t borne out. But it does feed into a general sense that the only thing that’s going to shift the constitutional question is what happens here in Scotland, and how compelling the arguments advanced are. Relying on UK-wide events to swing it either way is a non-starter. So why has this theory been such a talking point?
Well at this point, I have to apologise in advance, because the folk in question might feel a little wounded by this statement. This notion was mostly being put forward by political commentators and journalists of, shall we say, a certain vintage, who had cut their teeth in a particular political era, and who moved in just the right social circles to think it was a very clever and obvious political reality. I’m afraid that as someone just that little bit younger, shaped by a different political era, I found the whole theory a touch bemusing.
The past decade of SNP dominance has not been driven solely, or perhaps even very much, by a backlash against Conservative-led UK governments. When the SNP first won an election back in 2007, Tony Blair was still Prime Minister – albeit only for a few more weeks. When their support really ballooned, it did so by cannibalising Labour’s vote across the Central Belt in particular. Long-standing Labour voters have deliberately, purposefully, and (semi-)permanently shifted their political allegiance to the SNP, and a large portion of the younger voter base have never supported Labour at all.
Although not quite as severe, the shattering defeat for Scottish Labour in the 2015 election was very similar to the Scottish Conservative’s wipeout in 1997. It took two decades, and very special circumstances, for the Conservatives to recover from that, and even then they’ve yet to match their pre-collapse peak. Scottish Labour have stabilised over the past two elections, but they’ve got a long way to go. The vast majority of folk who support Independence aren’t going to be swung either way by a Labour government quite simply because they don’t support Labour as a party, and they don’t have any inclination to do so.
The reasons for all of that are far outwith the BBS remit. It’s not for me to muse on why Labour lost so much support, or why it has gone to the SNP. All I’m doing is pointing out that it has, and that it’s clearly not so shallow a change as to evaporate just because the UK Government changes colour. Anyone around my age could probably have given this same analysis frankly, regardless of their own partisan leanings, because this is the political reality that has shaped our early adulthood!
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.
As I so often say with this particular model, although it may be more proportional than the current system, it is still AMS. That means it still comes out as a reasonably comfortable majority for the SNP-Green government…
… Whereas this one, which does away with the non-proportional FPTP element entirely, would see an almost as comfortable majority for the pro-Union parties, accurately reflecting the distribution of votes.
Scandinavian Style Westminster
It’s similar over on the Westminster equivalent of the model, more correctly handing the SNP a minority of Scottish MPs. Relative to 2019 under this model it’s actually a slight increase, with numbers falling just the right way for Labour and Conservatives to switch positions, giving the SNP a net gain from the Lib Dems.
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