Electoral Calculus and the New Gold Dream: 50, 51, 52…

I cannot deny that yesterday was amusing. Jim Murphy announced his candidacy for Scottish Labour leader outside the BBC’s Pacific Quay in the morning in typical swaggering style, and STV released their IPSOS-MORI poll at lunchtime, when Labour MPs were starting to arrive in Glasgow for a gala dinner that evening. The poll surveyed Westminster voting intentions in Scotland, the SNP soaring from its 2010 figure of 19.9% to 52% of the vote, with Labour falling from 42% to 23% of the support of the electorate.

The comedy gold was to be found when those levels of support were translated (using some arcane and eldritch package called ‘Electoral Calculus’) into Westminster seats. The Labour MPs from Scotland collapsed from 41 to 4 MPs – and Big Jim was not one of them. Gordon Brown (Kirkcaldy), Ian Davidson (Glasgow SW), Willie Bain (Glasgow NE, he of the Bain Principle) and Tom Clarke (Coatbridge) were th projected survivors – as one Westminster wag put it on STV last night, ‘that would make a very interesting Labour parliamentary group’… In that context, the decision of the odious Anas Sarwar to step down as Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour on December 13th, announced at that same gala dinner last night, could be viewed as a means of clearing the way for another candidate to stand with Big Jim, perhaps to take the edge off his pro-war, pro-Trident credentials. But it could also be read as a pragmatic decision to be far from the poisoned chalice of being Deputy Leader of a political group looking at annihilation in just over 6 months.

With an almost audible ‘harumph’, the BBC – perhaps predictably – all but ignored STV’s lead news story, brushing over it in a passing end comment to their coverage of Ed speaking in Glasgow, Brian Taylor being far more interested in talking about Jim Murphy’s (less than surprising or particularly newsworthy) announcement of his candidacy. Indeed, the burden of messenger fell more to one Laura Bicker (who was looking more than a little startled at people protesting outside the Labour Gala Dinner describing them as ‘Red Tories’) to refer more pointedly to the poll and how everyone there was talking about it.

One STV pundit described the poll as being as seismic in its impact as the 1992 ITN poll that showed over 50% supported Scottish independence, and the September 2014 Sunday Times poll that indicated support for ‘Yes’ was on 51%. You may recall that I referred to the 1992 poll before (I remember it being on the front page of the Scotsman – under somewhat different editorial times…), drawing attention to the chasm between the level of support for the SNP, which at the time was less than half of the (albeit marginal) majority in favour of an independent Scotland. As a friend said to me, the translation into Westminster seats might generously be described as ‘fanciful’, and that is a fair point. The fact that the poll was taken during the period of Johann Lamont’s resignation and the resulting fallout, also needs to be taken into account – the results might have been markedly different with a Scottish Labour leader in post, even one as right-wing as Big Jim. But it does also tally with many other polls that show Labour losing support and trust.

YouGov also conducted a poll for The Times over the same week as IPSOS-MORI’s for STV, that showed similar – if not quite so emphatic – results (instead of SNP/Labour being 52/23, it was 43/27 – which would translate into 10 Westminster MPs for Labour, rather than 4, and 47 for the SNP). Some time back before the Referendum, I also referred to an October 2013 poll of Holyrood voting intentions in the scenario of both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ votes (see post: ‘All Those Wee Things’: The Loss to Labour). The poll indicated that Labour in Scotland would be in for more of a hiding with a ‘No’ result than a ‘Yes’, with only 47% of their voters choosing to vote for them again for an ongoing devolved parliament. The fall to 23% in the very different bunfight that is a First Past The Post Westminster election, is equivalent to 54.7% (64.3% for The Times’ poll) of their 2010 support.

Similarly, a recent TNS poll for the Herald showed trust ratings for Labour were less than half that of the SNP in terms of delivering more powers for Scotland (SNP 37%, Labour 15%, Conservatives 8%, LibDems 1%). That same poll also showed the same patterns of distrust for the Westminster leaders that were signatories to the Daily Record’s political ‘The Vow’ stunt, all of them being well below double figures (Cameron 6%, Miliband 1%, Clegg <1%), with Nicola Sturgeon on 24%. In that context, the fact that Gordon Brown was rated as the most trustworthy (on 15%) Westminster politician to deliver more powers for Scotland perhaps supports the Electoral Calculus projection of his survival after next May’s general election. Notwithstanding the outlier of Gordon, the lack of trust does seem compatible with the drop in political support for Labour in Scotland.

Of course, these are only polls, and as anybody who followed the Referendum campaign knows very well, a lot can happen in 6 months to erode a lead. But perhaps the crucial result here (beyond the undeniably pleasant comedy gold), is that public support for the SNP is actually finally aligning with support for independence. That – arguably – the numbers of those in the electorate supporting the SNP now slightly exceeds those confidently supporting independence. Because, self-evidently, it does not matter how many people want political independence, if people are not going to vote for a political party committed to giving it to them.

In the wake of the Referendum, the surge in support for the SNP (what are we at now, 84,000?) has been a translation of many ‘Yes’ activists into that political party, whereas before they had held back from doing so. It also – if yesterday’s two polls are to be believed as any sort of indicator – seems to have seen a translation of the Scottish population’s Westminster voting intentions.

 

“maybe in twenty years time” (Jim Murphy, 2011, on standing for Scottish Labour Leader).

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