By Russell Bruce
There is no question the size of the poll and the work done to calculate what the 2019 results would have been on the new boundaries are broadly indicative of where voting intentions of those most likely to vote are at this moment in time. The indications as of January are the Labour party could well help the Conservatives hold on to their six Scottish seats and there is little, if any understanding, that this has dawned on the SNP.
All polls have a margin of error and in speaking to YouGov I did not get an answer to what they thought the margin of error was on this poll. They claim a high degree of accuracy for their MRP polls and instance the correct prediction of last year’s general election in Spain. This MRP poll however is only indicative of likely sentiment at a point in time when there is not even a date for the next UK general. What YouGov and I did agree on is many Scottish results, come the actual election, would be close – perhaps even closer than previously.
On the basis of this poll YouGov are predicting the Tories will hold 4 of their present seats in Scotland with the SNP picking up two – Aberdeenshire North Kincardine and Dumfries and Galloway. The SNP is currently in second place in the other four Tory seats and seems the best placed party to beat the Conservative incumbents. In his monthly Post Office delivered newsletters John Lamont MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (BRS) makes the point over and over again that he is the only one who can beat the SNP .
In case constituents didn’t get the front page graph message with his 2019 result, it is repeated on page 3 with two-thirds of the back page devoted to the SNP plan for the general election to be a ‘de facto’ referendum and how only John Lamont can beat the SNP. Lamont is entitled to present his views in communications to voters. He does make some brief points about what he supports locally but nowhere does he indicate his support for Sunak and the Westminster government. This is strange when he is Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Scotland Office. No mention of Sunak’s 5 pledges such as stopping small boats or cutting inflation. Strange for someone on Sunak’s payroll to concentrate on local issues as if it was the Council he will be standing for.
All the UK wide polls show Labour in the lead but not all by the same size margin as YouGov polls. Most commentators are inclined to the view that Labour is heading for government. Sunak and most of his MPs are claiming to be working to win the next election. Not all his party think that and his far-far right want to replace him. That is not going to happen but underlines the open demented factionalism within the Westminster Conservative party that has not gone unnoticed North of the Border.
Are the SNP strong enough to make a major breakthrough is these Tory seats?
Lamont is reliant on promoting his past electoral performance but perhaps the SNP is also guilty of assuming past strong performance will carry them through even in the 2 seats YouGov have narrowly indicated the SNP as predicted winner. The size of the Reform vote at 11-13 % means they would be very likely to stand in these seats when they would safely hold their deposit. Having said that Reform average 7% across all Scottish Westminster seats. They have indicated their intention to stand in all UK seats. The Greens are only expected to contest around 10 seats in Scotland.
John Lamont had 48.4% in 2019. YouGov predict 30% – a loss of 18.8%. 13 % of this appears destined to end up with Reform. The Lib Dems are not seeing a boost, down 3% on 2019. The beneficiary is Labour up 12% on 2019. This is clearly a problem for the SNP too, down from 38.8% in 2019 to a prediction of 27% in this poll.
The strength of the Labour vote is a problem for the SNP especially in urban areas of recent SNP dominance but is also having an impact in more rural areas. In Dumfriesshire, Clyde, Tweeddale the SNP is on 25% – 3% behind David Mundell but Labour is only 1% behind the SNP on 24%. This far out who could be sure who was first and who second in this slightly amended constituency taking in 4.6% of Lanark and Hamilton East. Notable today that the Tory infighting continues with David Mundell openly criticising new Foreign Secretary David Cameron for appointing Michelle Mone to the Lords.
John Lamont is relying on his past performance to pull him through and he might just make it. The SNP does not have the resources Lamont has to pay for his monthly Post Office door drops. The Labour party are well behind in BRS but the move to get the Sunak government out everywhere can still make things more difficult for the SNP and actually help John Lamont.
The SNP candidate in BRS is the energetic David Wilson, the only other candidate to Lamont so far declared. I sent my table of Scottish Tory seat analysis from the YouGov poll to both David Wilson and John Lamont and asked for their comments.
In his reply David Wilson said: “It’s clear from the polling that in the six seats the Tories won in Scotland in 2019 that only SNP candidates can beat them in these constituencies. I can’t speak for colleagues but to me, at the very start of my campaign, I see the very narrow gap as a positive. To be 3% off a sitting MP at the very start shows we can gain the necessary ground in the Borders. I look forward to a positive campaign for a prosperous and progressive future for the Borders and for Scotland and will take this case to everyone I speak to.”
So far there has been no reply from John Lamont. If one does arrive it will be published as an addition to this article as promised. Lamont’s vote dropped by -5.5% at the 2019 election when Johnson won with a 80 seat majority. Boris Johnson was always hugely unpopular in Scotland and so far Sunak is not doing any better. Calum Kerr won the seat for the SNP in 2015 with 36.6% of the vote. On the data we have at present the SNP need to target at least the low 30s to win.
The SNP has a bigger problem in all of Scotland. There is no clear national strategy for the first time this century. ‘For Scotland’ doesn’t cut it. Unlike all the unionist parties the SNP is pro EU and in favour of rejoining post independence. This is a distinctive position that is only shared with the Scottish Greens.
Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems are all backing Brexit with claims to make it magically better when Brexit has proved very damaging to the economy and especially for Scottish exports. Quite simply the SNP need a clearer strategy that can be rolled out over the months until the actual election. The Labour party would not lose any sleep if the rise in their vote resulted in the Conservatives returning some of their MPs from Scotland and would simply argue with some justification that the SNP had failed.
If the SNP can win all or most of the present Tory seats that would add greatly to demand for independence by increasing those potential 25 Westminster seats to up to 30. That would be a very credible result. Independence isn’t coming in 2024 but the campaign needs to be fought at every election if Scotland is to become an EU member state with full powers over its economy.
There is fairly wide expectation the general election will be on Thursday 14th November but Sunak is keeping a spring/early summer option open by stalling on agreeing a date for a pan Europe meeting.
YouGov are not the only polling company to carry out MRP polls so we will keep an eye out for others. In the meantime Sunak has at least a couple of awkward by-elections in February and local elections in England in May to weather. Later in the year is more probable for the general election with expected interest rate cuts and a give-away budget on 6 March with time for the 2024 autumn statement before Sunak makes a visit to Buck House.
Electoral Calculus has some better predictions for the SNP suggesting they will win 28 seats to 21 for Labour, 3 for the LibDems and the Tories winning 5 in Scotland, albeit based on a much smaller poll last November. If you want to check how Scottish seats have changed for the coming Westminster election go to this link on Electoral Calculus, There is no change to some including BRS.