The polls are starting to come thick and fast, at last. There were two this week, a YouGov poll and one by ICM for the Scottish Sun, but do they tell us anything new?
Well, it would seem that it’s tight at the top, and getting tighter. The SNP is closing the gap on Labour but applying the findings to the ScotlandVotes seat predictor still gives Labour a commanding lead – it’s that pesky inbuilt majority caused by first past the post what does it. My predictions of a Tory revival appear to have been a one poll flash in the pan, with some indication that their vote is shifting towards the SNP. The burd presumes, nay prays, that it is tactical. And it ain’t looking great for the Greens whose direction of travel is backwards, on this evidence.
To get a sense of patterns and trends – with caveats about YouGov’s weighting and sampling (and it is unclear if these have been resolved) – requires a look at a series of polls. Here is the constituency vote in the last three YouGov and recent ICM polls:
And here are the findings on the regional vote:
Despite the jostling, there is a discernable trend that goes beyond these two recent polls and in fact, is there in all the polls since the summer. At this election, Scotland is set to vote for a government, much more than for a Parliament. Allow me to explain.
In 1999, Scotland voted pretty much in a way that reflected the state of the parties in General Election terms. Each party’s share of the vote did not differ significantly from normal voting behaviour, but the existence of a regional top up system meant that the number of seats was more reflective of voting share.
But in 2003, voters seemed to wake up to the existence of a new voting system and determined to play. We voted for a rainbow Parliament: Labour and the SNP remained the two biggest parties but regional list votes in particular were cast around like confetti, with the result that it was very much down to those inside Holyrood to sort out who might form an administration.
Regime change was the order of the day in 2007. A swing away from Labour and from smaller parties towards the SNP enabled it to make the breakthrough, picking up enough constituency and regional list seats to make it the biggest party. This was perhaps the first election where how and what people voted for, shifted from voting for a Parliament towards voting primarily for a government.
But the polls suggest that such a motivation is hardening in this election. The primary motive for voters is who should form the next government, not which parties do we want to see in the Parliament. It will result in a Holyrood with a very different look and feel, with two huge blocs dominating the chamber and a sprinkling of others occupying the fringes. Labour and the SNP will be slugging it out and everyone else will be squealing for scraps.
For example, committee places are allocated in proportion to group size – if Labour and the SNP between them have around 110 seats, they will hoover up most of the committee places and convenorships. The smaller the margin between the size of their groups, the more balanced the committee membership is. Cue nightmare for whoever is in government, but suddenly those scraps look quite tasty, given that a single Lib Dem or Tory would effectively hold the balance of power in these settings.
Moreover, these two will dominate parliamentary business with the smaller groups only ever getting time and importantly, subject choice for debates when the moon is full and there is a “y” in the month. The two prize fighters will be going 15 rounds week in, week out. Sounds appetising doesn’t it?
These details, though, are the flotsam and jetsam of how the system works. One wouldn’t expect the great voting public to realise the detailed consequences of its actions. But unlike the chattering classes who, every election doubt that the electorate gets the subtleties of our voting system, the burd believes that the electorate knows exactly what it is doing and knows how to manipulate the system in order to produce its desired outcome.
This election matters. We can live with whoever occupies our Parliament but our livelihoods and wellbeing depend on getting the choice of government right. That is what is exercising voters’ minds right now and it explains why the polls are showing such a divide between the government contenders and the also-rans.