As the frenzy around the SNP Leadership Election (BBS coverage here) continues, it makes sense we’d get a poll or two emerging in the middle of it all. Excitingly, it’s from a relative newcomer, in the form of Redfield & Wilton (link to tables). This is the first time they’ve done a “full” Scottish poll, and according to their Twitter they intend on doing so monthly. They’ve been doing trackers for the Red Wall and Blue Wall (I hate the “Wall” patter, but that’s another topic) for a while, so it’s nice for Scotland to actually get a dedicated tracker now. That’s long overdue, as whilst the Scotsman-Savanta partnership in particular does good work, it’s still relatively infrequent.
As this is the first time Redfield & Wilton have done Holyrood voting intention, it’s also the first time they’ve had an analysis piece. However, they did run Westminster and Independence figures on the 26th – 27th of November 2022 (link to tables for that one), but despite their graphic claiming it’d have Holyrood, those never materialise. Changes are shown as (vs that poll / vs last election).
What’s clear right away: this is a dire poll for the SNP. This is hands-down their worst list vote figure of the term, giving them the narrowest lead (just 3%) over an opposition party since the 2021 election, and the first time they’ve fallen either into the 20’s or the same band as a competitor. They haven’t polled lower than this since before the 2011 election, and only equalled it in one 2014 poll. The only mercy from the SNP’s perspective is that back then that meant second place, whereas here they at least retain an edge, for all the good that would do them.
It’s good news of varying degrees for everyone else at Holyrood then. Labour are just shy of their recent record polling, which is still a massive recovery for them. Speaking of recoveries, this is the best figure for the Conservatives since August last year, and the best for the Lib Dems of the term so far. The Greens have a more modest increase, but still breaking into double digits, which means it’s only the second poll this term where that’s true for all five major parties.
There are some specific cautions I want to throw out there for this part of the poll however – and as ever, this isn’t to say “the poll is bad”, but instead “the nature of polling sometimes means you get odd blips!” Firstly, that Lib Dem figure stretches credibility a bit. Whilst a little bit of a difference between their List and Constituency vote is usual, it’s averaged out at 0.5% over the term thus far. The 4% gap here is far beyond that, and I don’t see any reason or evidence the Lib Dems would be on 11% in the current climate – with no disrespect meant to the party!
The other bit I think is likely slightly out are the combined SNP and Green figures. I absolutely buy 29% for the SNP at the current moment, and 10% for the Greens is very much in line with other pollsters. I am however not convinced by those figures occurring in one poll. That’d give a combined total of 39%, and I can’t see that being the case in a poll where Independence support is 42%.
Both of these are, just to re-iterate, likely down to the imperfect nature of polling – especially given this is Redfield & Wilton’s first ever Holyrood poll. Throw in the generally chaotic situation at the moment, and odd looking polls are to be expected. As ever, don’t read too much into one poll, and instead wait and see what happens over a run of different polls.
However, over on the constituency vote the SNP’s lead remains much larger. It’s still the narrowest it’s been this term so far, but 11% is much less threatening, and would still likely see them holding a clear majority of constituency seats. Similar to the list vote, Labour are only a smidge off their best share since the election, and for the Conservatives it’s the first foray into the 20’s since March 2022 on this vote. Note however the Lib Dems are unmoved since the election – hence my raised eyebrow at the notion they’d have more than doubled their share on the list side of things.
Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:
This is the first poll of the term to see the SNP and Greens lose their combined majority, and is easily the SNP’s worst projected seat tally yet. What stands out most here from the detail is how the Conservatives end up with more projected constituency seats than Labour, despite Labour having a 9% advantage. That’s basically down to the fact the rural seats where the Conservatives were challenging the SNP were much closer than the urban seats where Labour were in second place.
List vote success for the Lib Dems even gives them a projected seat in Central, which should for anyone familiar with recent elections really ram home the point about how 11% just seems too high for them at present. They’re not winning a seat in the region with North Lanarkshire at its core, they just aren’t! Again I don’t mean that with any degree of malice towards the party, this just is not where day-to-day Scottish politics is right now.
It’s that day-to-day I want to wrap the Holyrood section up on, because it’s really important at this point to bear in mind we are not in an ordinary period – or at least, ordinary for Scotland, given how extraordinary things have been overall for the past decade! The curse of running a project like BBS is that I have to both report on and analyse individual polls, as well as consider longer term trends. In so doing the latter, I end up pushing against an audience (both general and journalistic) pre-occupied entirely with the now, and with an understandable desire and incentive to put forward, and to believe wholeheartedly, theories for how the 2026 election has already been decided.
That is, obviously, not the case and such approaches have often in the past proven extremely foolish in hindsight. You only need to look back to the summer of 2019 (link to Wikipedia page), when Brexit was at fever-pitch, to find examples of how chaotic polling can be. Remember, we had the Brexit Party almost pushing the Conservatives into third place, whilst the Lib Dems recovered almost to their pre-coalition levels of support. That all amounted to the sum and total of sod all a few months later when there was an actual election.
With Sturgeon about to leave office and the SNP embroiled in their first leadership election in two decades, things are incredibly unsettled, and polling is going to reflect that. That is absolutely not to say this couldn’t be the beginning of the end for the SNP’s time in Government – it certainly could be! Nor is it to say that, for example, the Lib Dems won’t mount a stronger recovery, that begins to make figures like their list one here seem more believable. Instead, I’m just reminding everyone not to get carried away with one poll, and to give it about six months or so to see how it looks once the dust has fully settled. The picture could be much better, or much worse, for the SNP – but anybody telling you they’re confident of what’s going to happen is a charlatan of the highest order.
The Westminster figures unsurprisingly look a lot like the Holyrood constituency ones, but with the added advantage of a comparison with a prior poll here. That makes the Conservatives’ 22% especially notable, as it’s a massive recovery since November – and at the expense not just of the SNP, but Labour and the Lib Dems too. Again, it’s the first time they’ve broken into the 20’s in a while, going back to August for this vote.
Although the SNP have a solid lead over Labour still, I’ve written previously how 10% is the beginning of what I’ve termed the “danger zone” for the SNP. At that point they’d still see off Labour challenges in most of their constituencies, but it’s where the latter begin to start seriously picking up seats, with a rapid acceleration as the gap further narrows.
In line with the generally dramatic feel of this poll overall, the figures on Independence represent a huge swing versus their November poll. Back then, they were first out of the gates following the Supreme Court decision on an Independence Referendum, giving a lead for Yes. Here, things have been thrown so far into reverse that it’s back at the 2014 55:45 split. That’s the widest gap so far this Holyrood term, and certainly suggests a significant weakening of support for Independence in the aftermath of Sturgeon’s resignation.
We’re now very clearly back to a consistent lead for the Union after the brief bump in Independence support at the end of last year. Overall however, this is a question that remains quite swingy, and as with Holyrood polling, it may be wise to see how things shake out after the SNP’s leadership election concludes. I know that sounds like a cop-out, and I know folk want to just be able to declare the side of the debate they’re on the clear and final victors, but we’re not there yet! No declaring victory or even the beginnings thereof until one side takes at least a 20% lead, please!
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.
Obviously if the SNP and Greens lose their majority under real AMS, they’re even further adrift in a more proportional version of the system. It’s still AMS though, so even a Labour-Lib Dem coalition still falls short of the SNP’s total, even if we can reasonably assume they’d be seen into office with Conservative support regardless.
Over on the more fully proportional Scandinavian model, it’s much more comfortable for a prospective Lab-Lib pact, placing far ahead of the SNP. However, the combined total for SNP and Greens still edges them out, meaning there’d probably need to be an active vote in that coalition’s favour from the Conservatives again, rather than being able to abstain.
Scandinavian Style Westminster
This side of things actually feels somewhat boring given everything else going on in the poll, as it boils entirely down to what is always the case for this model: “wow, if only we had PR like a proper democracy, elections would be fairer and more representative and the SNP wouldn’t be be the runaway winners amongst Scotland’s Westminster contingent!”
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