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General election 2015: The SNP poll surge is real

A new survey confirms that Labour is in serious trouble North of the border

By Josh Lowe  

Jim Murphy has a tough task ahead of him. © Danny Lawson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, won’t be having a great morning. It seems, according to the most detailed Scottish poll of this General Election campaign so far, that the SNP surge might well be real. Labour are in serious trouble north of the border.

The poll is by Lord Ashcroft, a Tory grandee who is unusual in Britain for regularly conducting seat-by-seat polls. Labour has had plenty of bad news from other pollsters thus far in Scotland—most election predicting models have forecasted that the SNP will end up around 31 seats ahead in May, taking 25 new seats—but these have used Scotland-wide samples rather than seat-by-seat research. Ashcroft’s new research will be particularly worrying for Labour because he has conducted polling in 14 seats currently held by Labour and two held by the Liberal Democrats. He has found that 15 of these 16 seats would return an SNP MP if these results were repeated at the general election in May. The election prediction site May 2015 reckons that, taking this new research into account, the SNP are set to win more than 50 seats in Scotland.

The SNP’s fortunes are important as they could make the difference between Labour being the largest party in the election or not. In the result of the SNP and Labour both doing well, the two parties have been mooted as possible coalition partners, or otherwise coming to some arrangement.

Across the Labour-held seats, that averages out at a 25.4 per cent swing to the SNP. Here’s how that looks in a typical seat, the former working class Labour stronghold of Glasgow East:

If these results were repeated in May, Labour’s campaign manager Douglas Alexander and the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander—who currently have majorities of about 17,000 and 9,000 respectively—would both lose their seats. It would also put Alex Salmond back on the train to Westminster with 43 per cent of the vote in his Gordon constituency.

The SNP surge will have been driven by a number of factors; the party enjoyed a huge boost from the independence referendum campaign, and new leader Nicola Sturgeon has proved capable. SNP membership more than tripled to over 90,000 between September and November last year. But the research contains an additional possible explanation. It shows that, while none of the parties has properly got going with its local campaigning, the SNP have been in direct contact with more voters than Labour in most seats polled. That will be embarrassing for Labour, who are basing their general election campaign across the UK on doorstep conversations with voters and targeted messaging.

Read more on the SNP:

Where will Nicola Sturgeon take the SNP?

Is there any hope here for Labour? Not much, but some. Ashcroft notes in his write up of the poll that two thirds of voters who have switched from the SNP to Labour say they definitely won’t go back, leaving one third who Labour could cajole into turning red again. Labour’s 2010 majorities in some of these seats were so enormous that even this massive swing wouldn’t leave them with an overwhelming defeat. The fieldwork for the polls was conducted last month, meaning that Jim Murphy and Gordon Brown’s new promises of extra tax powers won’t have been taken into account by these voters.

But the results show that there’s plenty of work left for Murphy if he wants to fulfil his pledge of not losing a single seat to Sturgeon and her band of nationalists. His attempts to paint Scottish Labour as a “patriotic” party distinct from its unpopular Westminster wing don’t yet appear to be working.



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