Friday 17 February 2023

Glory Days are Coming?

Absurd propositions can become hard fact. There have recently been two such events that have made a fool out of me. The first was Jacket Potato on The Masked Singer getting revealed as Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, after pouring much scorn on the suggestion. And the other was on Wednesday. Responding to Nicola Sturgeon's departure, I wrote the idea her resignation "opens the road to Labour gaining 25 Scottish seats is the dumbest official optimism heard in some time." And then YouGov went and dropped a poll.

In field work done prior to Sturgeon's announcement, on Westminster voting intention the SNP are in the lead on 39%, but from nowhere Labour have surged to 36%. In seat terms it means, depending on who you believe, an estimated gain of between 21 and 29 seats. So much for the scoffing. Okay, in all probability this poll is an outlier. Survation also published a poll today with figures more in the standard range (43% SNP, 29% Labour), and their field work concluded a couple of days before YouGov started gathering its data. Did much happen in that time? Nope. The issues around gender recognition certificates did not reach fever pitch. Nor did the questions surrounding Peter Murrell. Similarly, a Savanta survey done between the 15th and 17th, after Sturgeon's speech, puts the SNP on 42% and Labour 32%. All these lend credence to YouGov's being a rogue finding.

But what if it's not and most pundits, me included, have been shown up as know-nothings? How to explain a shift in the polls of this character? It's not like masses of Scottish voters have taken notice of Keir Starmer's decentralisation plans and are on board. In lieu of anything, a couple of not entirely exclusive hypotheses come to mind.

1. The SNP's approach to independence has been comprehensively defeated by the Supreme Court, which was inevitable as a matter of law. The Scottish Parliament's powers are tightly circumscribed and it has no legal basis for self-determination beyond what Westminster has delegated to it. Even though there is a strong political case for a second referendum, neither Rishi Sunak nor Starmer after him are going to say yes to one. With the SNP's commitment to accepting the constitutional rules of the game, there is nowhere else to go. Their anti-Tory alternative is blocked. Unless the independence movement becomes a campaign of mass disobedience that simultaneously puts pressure on the Tories, backed by a firm and persistent polling lead for Yes, all that is left is what the SNP can manage as the Scottish government within the UK framework. With some SNP supporters realising this, and deciding there are more pressing issues, it isn't difficult to fathom why some might return to Labour who are offering something better (but not unproblematic) than five more years of Sunak and friends.

2. Split ticketing. The poll's voter intention for Holyrood diverges significantly from Westminster. For the constituency vote share the SNP are on 39% and Labour 28%. On the list vote (where the SNP share is depressed anyway), it's 33% and 28%. This might suggest a layer of SNP voters have come to the conclusion that their party is best for Scotland, but are moving back to Labour to help lock the Tories out of Westminster. Given the policy consistency between the two parties on a range of issues (save independence), they've concluded that an SNP government can deliver more if Labour are in Number 10.

Whatever the case, it's certainly not enthusiasm for Scottish Labour in and of itself. Though, even if the poll is a freak, that might change. Having fought shy of attracting SNP supporters because appealing to the unionist leanings of erstwhile Tories was easier, Anas Sarwar's speech at today's spring conference is a good step in the right direction: clear home insulation targets, decarbonising by 2030, populist attacks on the oil giants, Centrica, and Amazon, identified NHS savings at the expense of unnecessary bureaucracy, and the homes for a quid scheme that were a big success here in Stoke-on-Trent for bringing dilapidated houses mack into use. These were all good eye catchers and is exactly what would-be Labour voters want to hear more of. Is the moment of Labour's Scottish recovery finally here?

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