They are bad, really very bad. Of 14 Labour-held seats polled, the party is set to lose them all bar one to a SNP tsunami. We're not talking marginals here either. Take West Dunbartonshire, which is typical of the Ashcroft sample. At the 2010 general election Labour's Gemma Doyle romped home with 25,905 votes, or 61%. The SNP trailed far in second with just under 8,500 to their name. Fast forward to 2015 and it's carnage. If the poll findings were replicated on election day Labour would slump to 38% and the SNP surge to 47%. That's practically unprecedented. Let's wallow in some more misery. Look at Coatbridge, Chryston, and Bellshill. The Labour incumbent Tom Clarke has represented the constituency and its predecessors since a by-election in 1982. In 2010 Labour support in the seat increased giving him a majority of almost 21,000. Yet on the basis of the polling, it's as if it never existed. Labour are presently on 43% while the SNP have powered through to a 47% reported share. Across the board the SNP support is not just in double figures, we're talking monster swings in the 21%-27% range. It's almost obscene.
As Ashcroft himself notes, he's not saying this will apply uniformly across Labour's Scottish seats. He after all picked out Labour heartlands where the Yes vote was at its highest. He's also not in the business of forecasting. As he says, it's a snapshot, not a trend. Speaking of which, how is that looking?
Unless the entire SNP is implicated in a huge scandal, or are seen to be doing dirty deals with the Tories it's very difficult to see how Scottish Labour can pull enough irons from the fire. This is despite the Herculean campaigning efforts of Jim Murphy and his attempted shake-up of the party.
This, of course, has been a long time coming and it's not a uniquely Scottish problem. Too many constituency parties have become rotten boroughs beholden to awful cliques of mutual backscratchers. These have been the party to - and occasional victims of - stitch-ups, internal ructions, incompetence and, in some cases, criminality. The key difference between Scotland and the rest is the process is even more accentuated. When you have Scottish Labour MPs seriously thinking having fewer than a hundred constituency members isn't a problem "because we win anyway", then they are the problem. (At this point, it's worth remembering the Prince That Never Was, David Miliband, bequeathed his successor a contact rate of 0.5% - still think he'd do a better job of steering Labour through extremely choppy waters?)
Activism is not a magic bullet, but it does help enormously because regular campaigning narrows the distance between politics and people. Politics matters more, however, and Scottish Labour has long been a basket case. As Labour in England and Wales took baby steps toward a more recognisably social democratic policy platform - one many times removed from what is needed, but still infinitely preferable to the Tory alternative - Scottish Labour was stuck in a time warp. From at least Wendy Alexander on the party was frozen in time. The suits, the policies, they were all a bit 1997. The election of Johann Lamont, who ran as a quiet leftist, saw the nonsense redoubled. The Blairite common sense of the perennial unpopularity of "traditional" Labour politics saw Labour triangulate to their right, as if a left-tacking SNP insurgency would go away simply because their dogma said so. This culminated in the absolutely awful Labour-led Better Together campaign. I don't think it was Alastair Darling's readiness to share platforms with Tories that did for Labour (and I'm not saying that because I have a soft spot for Ruth Davidson) but rather the fact the campaign was almost entirely negative and self-serving, offered Scottish voters nothing but scare stories, and were seen to be lining up with the Tories to screw Scotland in the event of its independence. Would you want to vote for a party guilty of that?
This doesn't happen in a vacuum. This was only possible because political parties generally speaking have been emptied of the people that once animated them. With the labour movement defeated in the 1980s and systematically ground down by Tory and New Labour governments since, it's small wonder that Labour appears remote from people's lives, that much of the politics on show are antithetical to the interests of those the party was set up to represent, that people from working class backgrounds are underrepresented in Parliament, and the state of the left in Labour is shocking. The only consolation is the Tories are in an even more advanced stage of decrepitude.
What can be done? Labour generally and Scottish Labour cannot be fixed before the election. Options are limited. On the plus side Labour is slowly growing, though we're not talking the Green surge, and its troops are out and about. Even yours truly has been hitting the doors in the marginals. Yet what we need is politics. Jim Murphy pretending not to be a unionist isn't going to fool anyone, but shifting emphasis to the left not just on the NHS but on the living wage, education, tuition fees, housing, and employment rights under the theme of security in everyday life might just prevent Scottish Labour from being fatally wounded, and help us recapture some softer Green, SNP, and - yes - UKIP votes. You might suggest I would say that anyway, but I also have YouGov in my corner.
For Labour, these are the worst of times without them being the best of times. The Ashcroft numbers do look incredibly daunting, and with the constant drip-drip of anti-Labour shit-stirring and nonsense in the media it might discourage and demotivate those prepared to go out and help. Which is exactly what Ashcroft and co wants. His numbers are methodologically sound, but they are also an episode in the election battle for hearts and minds. Our job is to note them, adjust our strategy accordingly, and carry on.