By a Newsnet reporter
The Guardian newspaper’s monthly ICM poll makes grim reading for the Liberal Democrats, fresh from their annual conference. Party leader Nick Clegg’s recent apology for the Lib Dem U-turn on student tuition fees appears not to have convinced the public to give the party another chance.
On the face of it, a poll whose regional breakdown shows the Lib Dems on 6%, just 1 percentage point behind the SNP on 7% would seem like stunningly good news for the Lib Dems and anti-independence strategists, and provoke a crisis within the SNP leadership.
Unfortunately however, the regional breakdown of the Guardian poll puts the SNP in front of the Lib Dems by 1% – in the North of England. When don’t knows are excluded the SNP attract the support of 12% of Northern England voters, with the Lib Dems on just 11%. This is despite the fact that the SNP does not field candidates in England.
The polling result would appear to suggest that more people in the North of England would prefer to throw in their lot with an independent Scotland than trust the Lib Dems. Although it cannot be stressed enough that regional subsamples in UK wide polls are not reliable, the figures make eye-popping reading for the Lib Dems.
Scotland is traditionally a bastion of Lib Dem support, returning a significant number of the party’s Westminster contingent. However according to this poll Lib Dem support in Scotland has shrunk to a miniscule 2%, lower even than the 3% of Scottish vote share given to UKIP.
48% of Scottish residents polled said that they intended to vote SNP at the next Westminster General Election. 35% declared for Labour (although polling was carried out before Johann Lamont’s speech this week), with 12% supporting the Conservatives.
The Guardian poll also revealed that across the UK, only 20% of respondents said Mr Clegg’s apology had made them more likely to listen to him in future compared to 69% who said that it made them less likely to listen to him. Scottish respondents are apparently even less forgiving, with 74% saying they were now less likely to listen to Nick Clegg and only 16% more likely.
Writing in Prospect magazine in August, Peter Kellner of polling company YouGov predicted that on current polls, the Lib Dems face a near wipe-out at the next Westminster General Election, and could see their 57 MPs reduced to a rump of 10.
The beleaguered Lib Dem leader’s keynote speech to the party conference in Brighton this week, in which he promised to abolish universal benefits like free bus passes, the pensioners Winter Fuel Allowance and TV Licences for the over-75s, does not seem to have turned the party’s fortunes around. Mr Clegg’s speech and his apology was poorly received by many Lib Dems.
Tony Greaves, a Lib Dem member of the House of Lords, told the Guardian:
“Nick Clegg’s was almost the worst leader’s speech I have heard in nearly 50 years of listening to Liberal and Liberal Democrat leaders. He has signed his own political death warrant. It may take some time before he has to go, but what is now frightening is his apparent determination to take the rest of us down with him. To call Jo Grimond in evidence was a disgrace. Clegg’s gunfire is turned on his party.”