Scottish politics feels a little like a parallel universe at the moment. Despite the ‘No’ campaign carrying the day in September’s independence vote by nearly 400,000 votes, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is enjoying a huge post-referendum dividend while Labour and the other unionist parties may suffer heavily in next year’s election. The referendum losers now feel like winners, while the winners feel like losers.
Our October poll for Scottish Television1https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3469/SNP-open-up-significant-lead-ahead-of-General-Election-vote.aspx drew this into sharp focus. With six months remaining before the 2015 general election, it highlighted that Labour can no longer rely on one of the absolute certainties of recent decades in Westminster elections – that the political map in Scotland will be overwhelmingly red. Indeed, if the results of the poll, which put the SNP on 52% with Scottish Labour on 23%, were repeated in May, Labour would likely lose the vast majority of the 41 seats it currently holds north of the border.
Why? Firstly, it is clear that many traditional Labour supporters felt that the party was on the wrong side of the independence argument. Our final poll before September’s vote showed that nearly a third of Labour voters intended to vote ‘Yes’. 2https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3453/Small-lead-for-No-but-referendum-result-still-looks-extremely-close.aspx In addition, qualitative research we conducted among voters who had switched from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’3https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3444/Meet-the-switchers.aspx before the referendum highlighted the extent to which Labour alienated many of its core voters.
Secondly, while Scots rejected full independence in September, there is clearly an appetite for substantial new powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament,4https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2982/Increased-powers-is-the-favoured-option-for-Scotlands-future.aspx an issue currently being addressed by the Smith Commission, set up by David Cameron in the wake of the referendum. Although Labour prided itself as being the party of devolution in the 1990s, it now seems as if most Scots regard the SNP, rather than Labour, as the party most able to secure a robust new settlement for Scotland in the UK in the next few years.
Thirdly, while Scottish Labour remained leaderless until December, incoming First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoyed an approval rating of 65%,5https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3470/UK-Party-leaders-suffer-ratings-blow.aspx a score not experienced by any UK party leader since Tony Blair in the early years of his government.6https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/88/Political-Monitor-Satisfaction-Ratings-1997Present.aspx That she is a Glasgow-based, left-of-centre politician is likely to give the SNP added appeal in the very areas where votes for Labour would have been weighed rather than counted, and where Labour can ill afford to lose further support.
In what is expected to be a very close general election in 2015, the implications of such a result will be felt across the UK. If Labour does not recover ground in Scotland it will deprive Ed Miliband of the opportunity to form a majority government. The party’s new leader in Scotland has little time to reverse the trend in fortunes before their first electoral test.
Although the extent to which we see an SNP march into Labour’s strongholds in May is far from certain, it is likely that the party will have many more MPs than the six it currently has. If it has a role in determining the next UK government, then politics in Scotland could be as interesting in 2015 as it was in 2014. It was, after all, the 11 SNP MPs who triggered the no-confidence vote in Jim Callaghan in 1979, leading to 18 years of Conservative government.
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