Poll Analysis: Savanta 28th – 31st of March 2023

I’m not sure why I decided I would try and take a break the week after a new First Minister was put in place, as if all the polls wouldn’t break then, but I did and therefore haven’t actually gotten a break. First to publish but second (just) in fieldwork dates, this entry from the ongoing partnership between Savanta (link to tables) and the Scotsman (link to original writeup) is another juicy, dramatic bit of polling.

Note that this was published the day before a Panelbase/Sunday Times poll that had run until the 30th. There are a lot of similarities between those polls and, on the assumption not everyone seeing this analysis piece will have seen the other, a lot of the commentary is going to be a direct copy-and-paste between the two pieces. If you are such an avid BBS follower that you do read both, I’m not repeating myself as such, just covering my bases!

The previous Savanta covered the 15th  – 17th of February. Changes are shown as (vs that poll / vs last election).

Regional Vote

Although the SNP are up a point here, a pretty significant increase for Labour has the gap between the two parties at its narrowest not only of the term, but of any poll and between the SNP and any opposition since just before the 2014 referendum. Similarly, this is the best regional vote figure for any opposition party since then. 

With the Conservatives up a bit too, it appears to be the smaller parties who are losing out. Both the Greens and Lib Dems are down a fair bit, and for the Greens this is the lowest they’ve been with Savanta this term. Savanta have been the most consistent highball pollster for the party, whereas this is in line with recent averages. Given the Panelbase also found both of these parties sliding, I wonder if there’s a little bit of voters going for the relative comfort of larger parties at times of upheaval?

Constituency Vote

The constituency side of things is pretty rough for the SNP, and is likewise the best for Labour in a very long time. This narrowing gap has a lot of consequences given the imperfect nature of proportionality under AMS, which in recent months has allowed the SNP to maintain a very strong position even as their list vote has slumped. At this point, that advantage starts to erode significantly. Note too the slight bounceback for Conservatives from what had been pretty weak polling lately.

Seat Projection

Projecting that into seats might give us something like this:

Please see this page for how projections work and important caveats.

Look at all that red! Some recent polls had little Labour forays into projected constituency gains – a wee nibble on Clydebank and Milngavie here, a lick of Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse there. This goes significantly further, even slightly exceeding the 17 constituencies Labour were projected to get in the Panelbase. It says a lot about how dominant the SNP have been lately that it actually felt very peculiar filling in list seat bubbles in Central, Glasgow and West with yellow! Interestingly, enough constituencies tip here that this is almost perfectly proportional relative to how AMS should ideally work – the only net overhang is to the Lib Dems’ advantage!

This also becomes only the third ordinary poll of the term, after the recent Redfield & Wilton and the similarly timed Panelbase, to suggest the co-operative government between the SNP and Greens would lose their combined majority. In fact this is the first poll where their combined tally falls below 60, effectively reversing the balance between the blocs we saw in 2021. Bear in mind however that at this point in the previous term, there had been six such polls (in Sept, Oct, Nov and Dec 2017, plus two in Jan 2018) suggesting such an outcome.

At this point, I need to reel off a bunch of things that might upset people who like to draw neat, partisan conclusions from polling. Firstly, it’s absolutely the case that Humza Yousaf’s Glasgow Pollok seat projects to a Labour victory here. Whilst that would doubtless be extremely painful for him, he does not “lose his seat”, because the SNP win a Glasgow list seat. Given Sturgeon topped their Glasgow list when she was in charge, you’d expect Yousaf would too.

He would therefore join, assuming everyone contested the same seats as in 2021, Anas Sarwar, Douglas Ross, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater in being leader from a list seat. Indeed, of the Holyrood parties, only the Lib Dems’ Alex Cole-Hamilton would hold a constituency, a comedic artefact reflecting the (currently) smallest party’s dominance of their small clutch of seats. Crucially, there is nothing better or worse about which kind of seat you represent – I merely point this out because I know people obsess over constituencies.

Next, I’d like to upset people who are absolutely convinced that if Kate Forbes had won polls would have looked a lot better. I simply don’t think that’s likely at this early stage. What we saw during the leadership contest was a steady slide for the SNP in the polls, as what was a bitter and at times frankly farcical campaign severely damaged the party. Let me emphasise: damaged the party, not simply the candidates.

A Yousaf win has led to the messy stuff around not including Forbes or many of her backers in Cabinet, which likely adds to the feeling of chaos. A Forbes win would undoubtedly have seen a large majority of the Sturgeon cabinet handing over their resignations in the most scathing terms, given her own starkly critical assessment of her government’s record, giving similar feelings of chaos. The SNP are polling (relatively) poorly because the SNP brand has been tarnished, and that’d have been the case regardless of winner. At best any differences would be firmly within margin of error.

In the longer term, of course, a different choice of leader would almost certainly result in different outcomes from what we will see. But we don’t know what kind of different. To go back to the points I made in my piece about what’s next for the SNP after the contest, we really are in the eye of a political storm right now. This is where my final bit of upsetting comes in, because for the folk working on the basis that “line go up” for Labour and “line go down” for the SNP, we need to recognise there has been a sharp and sudden shift in polling over the past three months.

With three years to go until the next Holyrood election, there’s twelve more sets of three month periods to fit similar dramatic swings into. This is undoubtedly a bad poll for the SNP and for Humza Yousaf and it could get… worse or better! We don’t know yet! I know I’m one of very few political commentators not nailing my colours to the mast on whether I think this is a mere blip or a fatal inflection point, but I’m doing that for very good reason. The SNP have spent their time in government slumping in the middle of their term and surging at the election. In recent years, Conservative governments have had cripplingly bad polls then recovered and gone on to victory. In short, it’s not over until the Scottish Electorate sings, and it hasn’t actually done so yet. 

The Westminster vote looks pretty similar to the Holyrood constituency, right down to it being Labour’s best of the term, though jointly with a poll earlier this month. In recent months I’ve found myself talking about a gap of less than 10% between SNP and Labour being a “danger zone” for the former in terms of it tipping lots of seats, but as I don’t do Westminster projections (as explained here) that’s not really been visualised on BBS.

However, as I do Holyrood projections (in part because the existence of the list seats allows for greater confidence in overall seat numbers), now votes there have entered the same general split we can just look at the Holyrood map to see what I’ve been talking about. You can see lots of Central Belt seats tipping into Labour’s column, as the concentration of their vote there overpowers the more widely spread SNP.

Over on the constitutional question there’s as good as no change here. There’s some shuffling of 1% gain for both sides including Don’t Knows, which becomes a 1% gain for the Union when excluding them. That’s so within margin of error it’s worth viewing this as basically no change on the last poll, albeit it means sitting on the dreaded 52-48 that we now know not only as the Brexit numbers but also the SNP Leadership election numbers. We’re increasingly haunted by that split!

The fact that Independence is holding up relatively steady, albeit on the minority side of the divide, whilst the SNP and Greens are on a bit of a slide could suggest one of two things. On the one hand, it could be the start of a trend whereby support for Independence runs ahead of the parties that support it. On the other, it could be that after the political drama cools slightly, this could be the level those parties rebound to. Like so much else in this piece, this is a big question mark we’ll need a few more months to really get a better sense of.

Other Interesting Bits

Savanta’s polls are always incredibly comprehensive, to a degree that I rarely make full use of. I have been intending for a while in capturing elsewhere on this website some of the questions they ask every time as a matter of interest, but haven’t got round to it. However, I thought it would be interesting to pull some stuff out from this one into the analysis. 

Success of Nicola Sturgeon

Asked how they’d rate Sturgeon’s tenure as First Minister, a clear majority of 51% versus 32% reckoned she was a success. It’s long been known Sturgeon was broadly the most popular figure in Scottish politics, so it makes sense people would generally have a positive view of her time in office – and that underscores the challenge for her successor.

Choice of Humza Yousaf as FM

That’s further emphasised by the fact that by 43% to 32%, voters feel the SNP have made the wrong choice by opting for Humza Yousaf. However, this isn’t fatal for Yousaf just yet, as a quarter of voters haven’t made up their minds, and negative feeling is driven most intensely by Conservative voters – the folk least likely to vote for him, his party, or Independence anyway. There is room here for him to grow, though whether that’s more or less popular, time will tell.

View on the SNP following the Leadership Election

The point I made earlier about the Leadership Election having damaged the SNP as a party rather than just their candidates seems to be backed up by this question. 42% of people now have a worse view of the SNP than they did before the election, including 34% of respondents identified as SNP voters in 2021. Only 10% have, somehow, decided they have a better view of the party. That does leave half the population with an unchanged or unsure view, however.

View on Greens continuing in Government

Whether the Greens would continue in government was one of the big questions of the SNP Leadership Election, with it seeming highly likely that they’d have chosen to leave (or been forced out, depending on your view) if Kate Forbes won. Given it was such a topic of debate during the race, what do the public thing? By 44% to 35%, they think it’s a good thing for the Greens to continue in government.

What’s interesting about these figures is that they really aren’t very different to how people felt about Greens going into government in the first place (see Savanta’s September 2021 poll) – back then it was 44% vs 36%. So although the Greens have taken a bit of a hit alongside the SNP in the voting intention, there doesn’t seem to be any less satisfaction in them being part of the government.


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.

Given actually-existing AMS results in a Pro-Union majority, obviously a more proportional version of the system would do likewise.

I noted earlier the AMS figures were actually nearly spot on relative to how AMS should work. That they were highly proportional is evidenced by the fact that this fully proportional model gives the same balance, 73 to 56 in favour of the Pro-Union parties, as AMS does, merely with some redistribution within blocs.

Scandinavian Style Westminster

Finally, we should all know the story about imagining PR at Westminster – it, correctly and fairly, cuts down the SNP’s representation and instead boosts the tallies for Labour and the Conservatives. That said, we’re probably not far off where Labour would be under FPTP by this point!

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