31 October 2014

Ca' canny...

As Massie says, the results of yesterday's Ipsos-MORI poll are remarkable, with Labour polling at a grisly 23% to the SNP's 52% going into the General Election. The Tories languish on 10%, and the Liberals, 6%. Grim tidings for the beleaguered Liberal Democrats, hoping to hold on to some of their eleven Scottish seats. Worse for Ed Miliband, who can ill afford to lose bastions on its northward front. 

The poll doubtless has some significance. The next General Election campaign certainly represents an opportunity for the Nationalists to make gains, particularly if we see a differential rise in activism and enthusiasm and turnout amongst the disappointed minority who voted Yes on the 18th of September. But if your attention is fixed on Holyrood, it is easy to forget just how badly the SNP has done in recent Westminster general elections. But here are a few sobering facts we shouldn't allow ourselves to forget in the current ferment. 

The SNP hit its high watermark in Westminster support in the October election of 1974, winning 11 seats. Since, it has never exceeded six MPs. In 2005 and 2010, the SNP were the third party in Scotland,  in terms of seats won, We pipped the Liberal Democrats in the popular vote in 1997, 2001 and 2010 but lagged behind in seats. God bless first past the post. But that was more than a decade ago. The two most recent UK polls put the Nationalists in the vice, squeezed between Labour, the Liberals and the Tories. 

Despite BBC documentaries, asking why Scotland didn't vote for the Tories, in 2010 the SNP polled just 78,500 more votes nationally than David Cameron's party. Labour members were returned to Westminster with thumping majorities, but so were many Liberal Democrats in their enclaves. Take a few big names. Michael Moore won Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk with 45.5% of the vote, some 5,675 ahead of his nearest, Conservative competitor. Wee Danny Alexander took Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey with over 19,000 votes.

But what should disturb the attentive Nationalist more is how we far down the pecking order we fall - even in areas in which we are in contention for, and even win, in Holyrood elections.  The Scottish and UK parliamentary orders do not nearly graft onto one another. The constituency boundaries have, in many cases, diverged. But a few examples from the Liberal Democratic periphery should hammer home the point. Take Danny Alexander, up in the Highlands. The Liberal Democrats may have won the day with 40% of the vote - but in 2010, his nearest competitor was not the SNP, but the Labour Party, who won 10,407 votes to the Nationalists' 8,803. The point is made even more brutally by considering the constituency in which I grew up: Argyll and Bute.

A Liberal seat throughout my childhood, represented by the late Ray Michie and now by the near-invisible Alan Reid, after a 1997 surge, the SNP actually came fourth in the constituency in 2001, 2005, and 2010, behind the Liberals, the Tories and Labour. Compare and contrast with the constituency's preferences in recent Holyrood elections. Lib Dem George Lyon was turfed out by the SNP's Jim Mather in 2007. Mike Russell held it in 2011 with over 50% of the vote. The divergence in voting behaviour is striking, and in general elections, not to our advantage. 

Are these challenges insuperable? Most certainly not. But they are formidable, and should be treated and understood as formidable. The Labour wipe-out promised by yesterday's poll is unlikely to appear. There are gains to be made, and constituencies to fight -- but matching or narrowly exceeding the party's all-time high of eleven seats in 1974 would be a great result. We shouldn't lose sight of that, and the low base - both in terms of votes and seats - from which we spring.

It is essential that the SNP begins to clamp down on the overrunning expectations of sweeping Labour from its Scottish constituencies and running the map after 2015. Take this morning's bad headlines for Ed Miliband, enjoy a partisan chortle, but don't believe the hype. There's a gathering risk here of mismanaging expectations to the extent that even a good result for the SNP in the general election looks like a failure, or worse, a public reckoning for Nationalist hubris.

That's not a story Nicola will want to foster at this early stage in her leadership. We should learn the lesson of the over-spun local election campaign in Glasgow in 2012. While the leadership was telling the press that Labour's grip on the city looked precarious, on the ground, Labour were working like mad - in the last ditch - and the Nationalist campaign never had the same level of resources, focus, or enthusiasm. The results speak for themselves. Labour retained its majority in the city chambers, and justly gloated about the over-inflated expectations which had been stoked up. "SNP juggernaut grinds to halt." Etcetera, etcetera. We saw similar missteps in managing expectations in the 2008 Glenrothes by-election. It is a temptation which must be resisted going into 2015 too. 

Keep the heid. Consider the data. Ca' canny.


  1. I broadly agree - I think 54 seats, or even YouGov's 47, are wildly unlikely when you start looking at individual seats and the sheer magnitude of the gaps needing to be made up.


    What we could be looking at here is a fundamental shift in how Scots regard elections. Until now there's been a massive discrepancy between how Scotland votes for Westminster and Holyrood and it's very loosely characterised as a nationwide tactical anti-Tory vote. The SNP are seen as the best people to run Scotland, and Labour as the best people to run the UK.

    But what if the Scottish electorate has finally been convinced of what we've been saying for years - that Labour really AREN'T significantly different to the Tories? What if the rise of UKIP south of the border has convinced them that the old two-party system is dead? What if they really are, on a basic and visceral level, just plain disgusted with Labour teaming up with the Tories in the No campaign, to the extent that it's completely changed how they see Labour? Or what if they just look at Miliband and his team and see a bunch of useless, unelectable incompetents?

    (Which is what the YouGov poll seems to point to.)

    In those circumstances I'm not sure it isn't possible to picture the sort of mass-scale desertions that could see FPTP start to work for the SNP rather than against it.

    54 or 47 seats? No. But 20, 30, conceivably even touching 40 if everything falls into place? I don't think it's theoretically out of the question. There's a long way to go until May, and Labour and the media will hammer all their worth on "vote Labour to keep the Tories out", and some will fall for it yet again, but I'm sensing a fury with Labour that won't easily go away.

    And if polls in March and April suggest that Cameron will again be the occupant of No.10 with little doubt about it - and I think they will - then the people of Scotland might just fancy the SNP as better protectors this time than another Labour Feeble Fifty.

    1. What he said.

      In 2010, Labour said "vote Labour to keep the Tories out". Well, Scotland voted Labour, and we got the Tories anyway. That surely can't have been lost on some people who did what Labour demanded, only to see them meekly step aside and let the Tories in anyway.

      Also, with 45% of the country having voted for independence, you've got to think that at least some of them will have followed the logic to its inevitable conclusion and realised that the only way for Scotland to make its distinct voice heard in the UK is to vote for a distinctly Scottish party.

      When you put the diametrically-opposed views on the EU into the mix, it's clear that Scottish politics is becoming increasingly disjointed from broader UK politics. I don't think it's just us political anoraks who can see that.

      If nothing else, I suspect folk have rather enjoyed seeing Scotland being the centre of UK politics, and they realise that's only going to continue if we start sending 30-odd SNP MPs to Westminster to cause a racket. Perhaps Scots have just finally tired of voting defensively, and are now ready to start forcing our way to the front.

      Or perhaps people simply want to punish Labour for collaborating with the Tories, the way the Lib Dems were almost completely annihilated in 2011. If's that's the case, then it's going to take a lot longer than six months for people to forgive and forget.

    2. I think the question is, will Scotland slump back into its own shadow and do the Westminster thing same as always, or is this General Election the first one, the very first one, in a totally new era of Scottish Politics?

      I think and hope it's the second, and if it is, then there is no gap between Labour and the SNP in any existing seat because it is a totally brand new vote next time. It would be people voting for who they want to vote for, not by habit.

      I think also we have to be very careful not to do Labour's election campaigining for it by refering to the past, or the keep Tory out line unless it's stolen as a vote SNP to keep Tory out line. I think this election has to be about voting for the party people want to vote for, the positive reason, just like the YES campaign was.

      In that case, all 59 seats are up for grabs, not 20, not 30, not even over 40 or 54. All 59.

    3. "I think also we have to be very careful not to do Labour's election campaigining for it by refering to the past, or the keep Tory out line"

      All that needs to be said is "You voted Labour to keep the Tories out last time. How did that work out for you?"

    4. Sounds good to me Rev.

  2. All of the above and more. Bernard Ponsonby's sensationalist outpourings yesterday should be warning enough that the establishment is stoking the bonfire. Perhaps it's in a bid to galvanise the Labour Party to actually do something, but my own view is that if you are a political journalist or spin doctor, nothing tickles your fancy more than the idea that folk listen to your hype (in whatever direction) rather than do their own research.

  3. I agree with both Andrew and Stu, in a way. The SNP has never achieved its potential at Westminster, certainly not since I was a student in the 1970s, and especially not recently. Salmond was aiming for 20 seats in 2010, and we got nowhere near. The 2010 performance was poor. From that baseline the whole thing looks like the Eiger Nordwand.

    But is that the baseline we're really starting from?

    2010 is a bloody lifetime ago, now. Since then 2011 has happened, and then the amazing summer of 2014, and the even more amazing influx of members to the SNP. The opinion polls, which seldom showed the SNP even a whisker ahead for Westminster are showing ridiculous numbers all of a sudden.

    If we are indeed looking at a tectonic shift in the politics of the country, 2010 is no longer the baseline that applies, it's that simple. There may be a number of reasons. Simple scunner at Labour for having become as Tory as the Tories and for campaigning beside them in the referendum. Yes-voting Labour people abandoning their roots from a sense of betrayal. Lack of any belief that Labour really can win in Westminster anyway, combined with contempt for the ineffectual Miliband.

    An interesting one being discussed the other day was the possibility that unionist voters who feel otherwise aligned politically to the SNP's centre-left poitics now feel safe voting SNP because "independence is off the table now". I'm not sure how safe that assumption is, but it could be a factor.

    I think a lot of it may be a calculation that the SNP is the only party that will actually stand up for Scotland in any parliament, and that Scotland needs support to deliver the promised "more powers". If a substantial SNP Westminster contingent is seen as a realistic possibility, there could be quite a big incentive to vote that way to get people in Westminster for that specific purpose.

    These opinion polls are not lying. Right now, there are a hell of a lot of people intending to vote SNP for Westminster, or at least seriously thinking about it, who have barely even contemplated such a move before. That is often the hardest step to take. The question now becomes, will they hold to that intention, or will they swing back?

    In a way, the difficult bit has been accomplished. We have people prepared to vote SNP for Westminster, and in their droves. We have to keep them to that intention. That's going to be harder than it sounds, once the "three main parties" juggernaut gets going, aided by the media lionisaton of UKIP. We're going to get squeezed, and so Andrew is absolutely right that 50-odd seats is fantasy football.

    Nevertheless, as Stu points out, our ambitions should stretch a lot higher than the teens. If these polls tell us anything it's that we're pushing at an open door now.

    1. I voted SNP last time on the basis that independence was off the table! However when the time came I voted for that too. A solid performance of Holyrood is fundamental. At Westminster what does anybody have to lose by voting SNP? All the other votes essentially produce the same outcome anyway.

    2. Nicola's apparent strategy of 'Respect the No vote,and vote SNP to ensure Devomax is delivered' is the correct one. There is a 70%plus constituency for that. Derick Tulloch

    3. That was great right up to "50-odd seats is fantasy football".

      Not according to the opinion poll it isn't.SNP - 52%, seats 54.

      All it needs is for the Libs to drop 2 points, Labour to drop 3 and the SNP to pick up 3 points, and it's a clean sweep for the SNP.

  4. Problem is, however WE play it, the narrative will be set by the media. And, if the polls are positive prior to the GE, 'nationalist hubris' will be the line they will take.

  5. I wrote a long treatise response which disappeared the minute I signed in to post it. So the executive summary will have to do:
    1. Labour will improve its position under a new leadership
    2. Polling questions are 'finger in the air' feelings at the moment
    3. The media that helped win it for No, is out to stop the Nationalist bandwagon, therefore, expect even the Telegraph to talk up Murphy et al to stop Nicola
    4. People vote to form a government not a single issue - unlikely a YES momentum will continue into voting patterns especially if YES returns to party candidates
    5. Incumbents have a 5% advantage on a personal level if nothing else
    6. The Lib Dems are the weakest link: expect SNP to take some, not all rural seats, but Labour to take Strathkelvin and Edinburgh West

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Interesting that the scottish left seem to have made no gains from their involvement in the yes campaign, pollinbg at less than 1% between them. Also, the headline figures ignore the 30% or so of those polled who are "dont know" or "uncertain to vote" Jim Monaghan

    1. It's not that interesting. Under FPTP, voting for the likes of the SSP or Scottish Greens really is a wasted vote.

  8. From a more or less similar perspective the result of 45% at the referendum was near unbelievable in its magnitude, yet it is viewed as failure. Whether it was a failure or not remains to be seen.

    Those figures in the polls were specifically related to a general election, weren't they? Whether those surveyed made the distinction is anybody's guess.

  9. Aye, keep the heid, watch Scottish Labour closely (and particularly the confirmed leader - Murphy?), keep note of their actions, and get everybody ready to confront them loud and clear in the campaign next year:


    (hmm, nearly a month old? Better do a redraft at this rate - so much new material...)

  10. a new multi medial portal is being set up to help co-ordinate and strengthen campaigns for pro-scotland parties in the 2015 general election. i think it is essential for success and urge people to support it http://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/scot2scot-westminster-theres-a-storm-coming/

  11. I don't agree at all. For many years, decades even, very few people took much interest in "politics", apart from Thatcher. Even in the 1997 Devo ref there was only a 60.1% turnout, less than the previous general election. So in Scotland, after Thatcher it was "vote Labour to keep out Tory", nice and simple, no thought needed.

    Since then we've had a referendum which engaged the whole of Scotland, as near 100% as you can get. Registration was 97%, the turnout was 85%, and some of those 12% missing a vote were 10 year-olds, dead, away, sick or pregnant, or still registered at their old adress / addresses. A totally massive engagement in politics, talked about in pubs, clubs, cafes, workplaces, street corners and even in the loo.

    Scotland is different, and the 2015 General Election will be different too. I think people will vote conciously this time, not by knee-jerk. And that means that previous Westminster results are - irrelevant.

  12. The electorate need reminded of a few things as we approach May 2015.
    1. Labour, despite a considerable time in power both at Westminster and Holyrood did nothing to help the people of Scotland so we have ATOS, PFI, the bedroom tax, and the continuance of the unfair grid connection charges for electricity generation.
    2. Weapons of mass destruction remain on the Clyde. Even though we don't want them, don't need them, and can't use them as the US have the codes, nevertheless we have to pay for them with our taxes, and we are told that the money spent is actually part of the UK's investment in Scotland.
    3. The Westminster system is still full of self serving greedy people who are economically illiterate. We can expect no change in how this country is governed while Westminster is in charge. Did the House of Lords get reorganised? Did the first past the post system get changed? Did anything that would change the balance of power away from the establishment change?

    I think the electorate is waking up. The real test is can we mobilise people enough to make a difference when we have existing seats with a 20,000 labour majority in Scotland and the media part of the establishment.

  13. I can't see these opinion polls as at all credible.

    The opinion polls before the Euro election gave the SNP good, if not quite so dramatic, leads. But in the actual voting, SNP got 29%, Labour 25.9%, Tory 17.2%, UKip 10.5%, Greens 8.1%, LibDems 7.1%.

    Taking our eyes off Labour and SNP, is it at all credible that the Tories have suddenly collapsed to a 10% share - and has UKip really finally returned to the shades from whence it came?

    Andrew: 'We should learn the lesson of the over-spun local election campaign in Glasgow in 2012. '

    Indeed the SNP should. Just after the polls closed I heard an excited Hamza Yousuf gabbling on the wireless that the SNP had won Glasgow, it was only a question if it was an overall majority blah blah.

    Of course when I woke up the next day, Labour had held Glasgow comfortably. Which i had mixed feelings about. One major asset Nicola Sturgeon brings to her role is that she seems to recognise the difference between espousing propaganda and believing your own propaganda - ie she has a firm grasp of reality.

  14. I'm actually worried by the appointment of Murphy as Labour leader. Sure it proves everything Johan Lamont said, but that will very quickly be astroturfed/airbrushed away. Murphy will bring McTernan, McDougall and the Project Fear team with him. That team includes a compliant media - particularly BBC Scotland. That's the challenge we will face - again.

    Be in no doubt that winning many of these seats is going to take a titantic effort of campaigning, out on the doorsteps, in the streets. It's neither a certainty not a pushover.

  15. I'm a veteran SNP campaigner and I've never had the least interest in opinion polls. I'm a dumb soldier, I do what I do: I knock doors, find out if they're voting SNP, push their names into the system, make sure they come down and cast their votes. I did it yesterday and I expect to be doing it tomorrow. Complacency is a vice unknown to the average SNP worker. I think you're warning celibates about the dangers of sex. A chance'd be a fine thing.

    1. You are totally correct. Some of us, who have been in the race a lot longer, and kept the flame alive in the dark days, have never been in the position to acknowledge complacency, because we have never experienced it.At least we are seeing new, younger supporters joining the fight, and they were few and far between, back in the day.

  16. Lets be clear about this folks!

    There will NEVER be another referendum on independence.

    Thats a given.

    Only reason Cameron give us one in the first place was because he thought that we would only get circa 30% of the vote, as the polls were indicating at the time.

    However, as the polls got up to nearer 45%, london panicked, and offered the Scots “major new powers.”

    The Scots, for reasons most of us fail to comprehend, voted for the status quo, thus giving up the right to becoming the 15th wealthiest country on the planet!


    And if you poor deluded souls think for one nanosecond that “significant new powers” will be given to our “pretendy parliament” (controlling not one ha”penny of our own resources), then you definitely need to be looked at by a psychiatrist!!

    We are now well and truly “back in our little box” and no amount of shouting “we wiz robbed” will alter the fact that london will continue to shaft us for evermore.

    The fact the SNP have quadrupled their membership is neither here nor there, from a london viewpoint. All it means, locally, is that SLAB will die a painful death at the ballot boxes here, to the SNP’s advantage.

    The only way ANY progress will happen is if Scotland decides to grow a backbone and go down the Irish route of freedom.

    General Post Office, Glasgow, anyone??

  17. Nigel, you posted exactly the same rant at 7.30ish on Scot Goes Pop, Derek Bateman's blog and Wings over Scotland. Why?

  18. I used to be a Labour voter, almost a tribal one. But NEVER, NEVER, NEVER again.

    I live in an SNP held seat but Stewart Hosie's majority is not large. But there are plenty of people like me, I met them not he doorsteps in the referendum and campaigned with some of them. So I think the SNP seats are safer than they seem.

    Over the city in Dundee West people voted more heavily Yes than here in Dundee East, yet it is Labour held. But the people who voted most heavily Yes are those in the estates that usually could be expected to vote Labour. This time they likely won't. Add in the newly and never before registered. Here in RIC we have been distributing leaflets in such places thanking them for voting Yes and urging them to stay registered and vote in the GE. RIC got that Yes vote by and large here and registered a great many people too. Add in the greatly increased SNP membership many of which now have canvassing experience from the referendum and you have formidable forces to persuade people to stay registered and vote for Yes people or simply don't waste your vote on those Red Tories in the Labour party again.

    So I can easily see Dundee West falling to the SNP and McGovern has a 10,000 majority. But I agree that that baseline is now effectively meaningless. There has been a seismic shift. If I had a quid for every time someone on the doorsteps in this city told me 'I've always voted Labour but never again' I would be much better off.

    I know this is the Yes city, but then so is Glasgow, Labour's supposed heartland and place of a lot of seats. It is definitely game on.

  19. Blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. The only thing i can really add is that the SNP really need something so so much better than "More Nat's, Less Cuts", and a much better campaign full stop...

    1. Urk. An ungrammatical horror, never to be repeated.