Grotesque. Unbelievable. Bizarre. Unprecedented. Today’s Ipsos-Mori opinion poll is the most astonishing survey of Scottish political opinion in living memory. Perhaps, even, the most remarkable survey of all time.
It is, of course, a snapshot not a prediction. The actual election will not produce anything like these numbers. I don’t believe the SNP will win 52% of the Scottish vote in May. I don’t believe the Labour party will take 23% of votes. And I don’t actually believe the Conservatives will only be supported by 10% of voters.
Still, there is something happening in Scotland right now. The electorate is volatile. Just a month ago Survation reported Labour’s support (amongst decided voters) at 39% and the SNP on 35%. That still seems a more likely kind of outcome than today’s poll.
Not least because today’s numbers would notionally leave Scotland with 54 SNP MPs, four Labour members and a solitary Liberal Democrat (Alistair Carmichael). We all know that’s not going to happen. The SNP are not – I am quietly confident about this – going to win Michael Moore’s Borders constituency. A region in which 65% of voters backed the Union is not going to suddenly start supporting a party dedicated to ending that Union.
There will be two stories in Scotland next May. On the one hand Labour will, as always, present the election as a contest between two possible outcomes: Prime Minister Cameron or Prime Minister Miliband. This has traditionally squeezed the SNP vote in Westminster elections and Labour are counting on it doing so again. A vote for the SNP is effectively a vote for David Cameron. If, as you say you do, you hate the Tories you have no choice but to vote for a Labour government. Sure, Labour may be uninspiring but, come on people, focus on the bigger picture.
Quite so, say the Nationalists. The bigger picture is bigger than Miliband vs Cameron. The SNP will argue that only the Nationalists can truly stand up for Scotland. Only the SNP will put Scotland first. The only way to advance Scotland’s interests is to send a large delegation of SNP MPs to Westminster. There they will hold Westminster’s feet to the fire. There they will hold the balance of power and wield their influence for Scotland’s advantage. You need not believe in independence to vote for the SNP. To vote, in effect, for Scotland. Labour’s difficulty, you see, is Scotland’s opportunity. (And a Tory government is better for the SNP than a Labour one.)
The thing about it – the thing that makes this election interesting and also dizzyingly unpredictable – is that both of these stories, both of these arguments, are true. The question then becomes which of them the electorate considers more important. At present that tide is not running in Labour’s favour.
YouGov have also been polling in Scotland this week. We shall have a modestly clearer picture of the state of the nation when their numbers are released.
But, hey, it’s a good day for Ed Miliband to be coming to Scotland. Oh.