The headline figures in today’s YouGov poll for The Times are brutal for Scottish Labour. Labour (27 percent) are still 20 points behind the SNP (48%). But that’s the good news. Because everything else is even worse.
Consider this: 95 percent of SNP supporters think Nicola Sturgeon is doing a good job. That’s impressive or, if you prefer, slightly terrifying. But, hark at this: 39 percent of Labour supporters think Nicola is performing admirably. Her net approval rating amongst Labour voters is just -4. Jim Murphy’s net approval rating amongst SNP supporters, meanwhile, is -54.
Or this: 67 percent of SNP voters say there is no chance they will change their minds before the election but only 50 percent of Labour supporters are so certain. Overall, more than 90 percent of SNP voters reckon it is extremely unlikely they will change their minds.
So where do Labour get the votes from which they can build a recovery? Not from the Lib Dems, that’s for sure. The YouGov poll puts them on a mere four percent. There just aren’t enough Lib Dem voters left to make much of a difference anywhere. Even if they were minded to vote tactically to thwart the Nationalists.
No, they need to find a way of cutting through to win support from people presently minded to vote SNP. The trouble is – and I consider this in tomorrow’s Times – there’s just little sign that these voters’ commitment to the Nationalist cause is wavering. Indeed if anything it may be strengthening.
The poll reveals something we’ve long suspected: Scotland’s four party system is no more. Instead the country is divided into two blocks, one Unionist and the other Nationalist. The difference is that the Nationalist block is united but the Unionist vote is still split three ways. Good luck organising effective tactical voting in those circumstances.
The SNP line that there’s no difference between Labour and the Tories is, of course, a nonsense but it’s a piece of poppycock in which many voters are prepared to believe. Again, we know even the SNP know it is twaddle because if it weren’t they’d be just as happy to do a post-election deal with the Tories as they might be to offer some form of support to a Labour-led ministry. (As it happens 30 percent of SNP voters want no deal of any kind in the event of a hung parliament, 40 percent believe they should help Labour and one in five would be happy to support a Tory-led government.)
Now, as it happens, the poll also reveals a measure of delusion amongst SNP supporters. Fully 56 percent of them, for instance, believe plummeting oil prices are neither good nor bad for Scotland and if you ever needed an impressive demonstration of the power of groupthink then, well, there you have it.
Nonetheless it also seems clear to me that Labour cannot possibly win this election in Scotland if the battle is fixed around the question of which party can most effectively use its influence to secure additional powers for the Scottish parliament. Just 15 percent of Scots – and only 52 percent of Labour – voters think Labour is the answer to that question. By contrast, 64 percent of all voters think – as is not unreasonable – the answer to that question is the SNP. Even one in four Labour voters (and a majority of Tory supporters!) think so.
No, the only way Labour can recover its position in Scotland this year is by making the election a contest between Miliband and Cameron to which the SNP are an unwelcome and even perhaps irrelevant distraction. A third of Scots say Labour is the party best-placed to stymie the Tories and while this is not exactly a good result for Labour – not least since 43 percent think the correct answer is the SNP – it is at least not as bad as all the other findings in this poll.
So, sure, this is only one poll and all that. Nevertheless it also continues a pattern we have seen in previous polls and, heck, even if there remains a long way to go until polling day it is also the case that time is beginning to run out.
Things could change. Of course they can. The question remains, however, that if you voted Yes in September why would you really vote for anyone other than the SNP? The constitutional question remains rather larger than questions about whether Ed Balls can more sensibly be trusted with the keys to the Treasury than George Osborne. But if the constitutional question trumps all else then, hey ho, it’s advantage Nats all the way.
The problem Labour faces is that it cannot win on the constitutional question but nor can it win on other matters unless or until it has proposed something useful and persuasive on the constitutional question. Which explains all this latest positioning on something called “The Vow Plus” – a slogan that, perhaps unfortunately, makes me think of those American gospel missions promoting Chastity Plus to teenage girls.
I wouldn’t dare to be so uncouth as to suggest Labour are fucked but they’re hardly unfucked either.
The irony – for those who care to enjoy these things – is that Labour are doing reasonably well at Holyrood. Kezia Dugdale, Murphy’s deputy, has emerged as a capable and persuasive performer. The SNP’s record in office is not nearly as shiny as their poll ratings. But it doesn’t seem to matter very much. At least not yet. That might have to wait until 2016 but by then it is entirely possible the rules of the game will have changed again.
Which is another way of remembering that, as a senior Scottish Tory put it to me recently, this election is a win-win contest for the Nationalists and a lose-lose dilemma for Unionists.