For the very first poll of 2024 in what I’m now referring to as the BBS Standard Series of polls, we had to wait right up until the end of January for this effort from Norstat (link to tables) on behalf of regular partner the Sunday Times (link to original writeup.) The name here may be unfamiliar at first glance, but this is actually an already well-established pollster. What used to be known as Panelbase was bought over by Norstat last year, and this is the first Scottish poll out under the new branding. As we’re most of the way through this Holyrood term, I’m going to keep putting these under the Panelbase tag just as a matter of site admin simplicity.
The previous Panelbase covered the 2nd – 5th of October 2023. Changes are shown as (vs that poll / vs last election).
The previous Panelbase had been one of just a handful of polls so far to put Labour ahead of the SNP on this vote – the one I find most important, bearing in mind the proportional vote is the more “meaningful” in terms of the overall shape of Holyrood. This time around however some margin of error shuffling has reversed the figures, putting the SNP back in the lead whilst maintaining a statistical dead-heat.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems likewise have a point up, point down dichotomy, leaving the Greens as the only party with a significant change, down 3%. Historically that’s been a pretty normal place for the Greens to have been with Panelbase, with 12% in the past two polls being significantly above that. Whether this is a reversion to the house norm, a temporary blip, or a clear indicator will need some other polls to determine.
Alba meanwhile continue not to really register much above their 2021 baseline, despite the glut of SNP votes up for grabs. Panelbase were typically their most favourable pollster as well, so contextually this really isn’t particularly great for them. Note too that Reform UK were specifically prompted for this time, but demonstrating very limited support indeed.
As ever the story on the constituency vote isn’t very much different, again showing a 1% swing from Labour to the SNP. That does give the SNP a much more substantial lead on this vote, though 5% is absolutely nothing compared to the 26% lead they held back at the 2021 election. No movement for either the Conservatives or Lib Dems, and the Greens down a bit again, though this remains one of their higher constituency estimates.
Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:
Whereas the previous poll had a straight tie between the SNP and Labour, this time around the SNP are able to squeeze out a lead by a handful of seats. Although there’s a net loss in regional vote for the current SNP-Green government thanks to the latter dipping a bit, the SNP’s slightly wider constituency lead gives that bloc an extra seat versus the last poll. It’s still a 56 to 73 minority however.
I’ve noted on quite a few occasions that forming a government on current polling might not be as simple as constitutional blocs, given that Labour remain very hostile to the Conservatives at a UK level. This poll doesn’t have the numbers for the alternative traffic light arrangement, at only 58 to the 71 for the SNP and Conservatives, and it in fact leaves the Conservatives as near-kingmakers overall.
Barring the SNP and Labour working together, there is no other arrangement (either of the top two with the Greens and Lib Dems) that can get to a majority of seats without Conservative backing, and in fact at 66 to 63 there’s a Labour + Conservative majority without any need for the Lib Dems. Although this is just one projection from one poll and the next election is over two years away, it might give some folk reason to be a bit worried about this possible outcome materialising – in effect, neither the Greens nor Lib Dems would have any real parliamentary clout whatsoever in this scenario.
As befits the election that’s actually happening this year, the Westminster side of things is the most interesting and dramatic side of the poll. Although Labour have polled higher than this and/or ahead of the SNP with the separately tracked Scoop and banished from BBS Redfield & Wilton, this is both the strongest Labour figure and first lead over the SNP within my standard series. As I have regularly noted, Labour getting to within a couple of percentage points of the SNP likely gives them a lead in seats, just due to how each party’s vote is spread. When that extends to an actual Labour lead, that’ll further contribute to a significant seat advantage.
Note that like the Holyrood list vote they’ve added Reform UK to their prompts this time, which may account for part of the Conservative decrease. Oddly, and frustratingly, they’ve still not included the Greens here. As ever, a bit of consistency from pollsters on this front would be welcome – either ask about the Greens on both the Holyrood constituency and Westminster questions, or on neither. Don’t pick’n’mix in the same poll!
The constitutional question continues to diverge somewhat from partisan polling, which is a useful reminder to us all that playing the game of tallying up votes per party and attributing them to that constitutional camp is a mug’s game. Here, headline support for Independence is running 5% ahead of the net support for the Pro-Independence parties, with the 2% growth here the mirror-image of the -2% decrease on the regional vote for the relevant parties. Once you exclude Don’t Knows, of which there are notably few here, this actually comes out at a dead heat between the two sides. If you saw my Twitter reporting of this you’ll have seen me give it as 51:49; that was based off of what the What Scotland Thinks page says, but having now seen the tables it was 50:50. The wonders of rounding!
Of course what that means is that there is still a very slender lead for the Union in this poll, but it’s so firmly within margin of error as to be statistically meaningless. Again, a point I’ve made and will likely continue to make a lot: this question hasn’t yet gone anywhere, and those assuming the SNP losing an election or two will automatically end the constitutional debate could find themselves disappointed.
As ever, the last little bit of analysis concerns those hypothetical and more proportional voting systems that BBS likes to play about with. The use of pure FPTP at Westminster 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.
Scandinavian Style Westminster
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