#sp11 – it’s going down to the wire

I’d like to be able to say I told you so with that blogpost about the Royal Wedding, but the latest YouGov poll for Scotland on Sunday was conducted before the big event.

These findings, the last in a series of polls stretching back to October 2010, show a tightening at the top.  For whatever reason, voters have paused for thought.  It’s as if we’re in a communal changing room, unable to decide between the golden yellow and the poppy red.  Which suits us best?  Having opted for the yellow, a last minute wobble has got us trying out the red, one more time, just to be sure.

What’s caused the SNP to slip several percentage points in both votes and Labour to gain?  Could be any number of things.

Labour’s much pilloried re-launch might just have hit the mark with Lib Dem and Conservative switch voters.  Until now, they were prepared to plump for the SNP but that was before a stark reminder that a near majority for the Nats would result in a referendum for independence.  Seeds of doubt will have been sown with some.

Or could it be that with the election losing top billing to the big wedding build up, the SNP’s ability to dominate the air war was dented, allowing the effective ground battle being fought by Labour to gain a little traction at last?

Labour is now piling resources into key seats, and even in some much less winnable ones on paper.  This week, this household received a very good candidate leaflet, hitting the right note on all the local issues.  It was delivered before 8am, by a big team with Geordie accents.  We also received two target letters – one for me, talking a lot of tosh about Tory policies that only apply south of the border, but deliberately included to appeal to me as a *hard working family* type;  and one for the Big chicklet, talking about key Holyrood pledges on youth issues.  This, dear reader, is voter targeting at its most sophisticated.

As this is nowhere near a target seat for the SNP, it’s hard to know if they were matching Labour’s offensive.  One hopes so, because this kind of bombardment and ratcheting up of momentum in the last ten days of the campaign counts.

More conjecture: the narrowing of the SNP’s poll lead might be down simply to all those don’t knows making up their minds at long last.  Or perhaps it is the arrival of April’s payslip that is finally focusing minds.

I’ve banged on before that Scotland has been in a phoney war in relation to the cuts and would only start to get it when the first UK budget changes kicked in.  Well, now they have.  Increased National Insurance contributions, benefit changes and reduced tax credits combine this month with pay freezes for many and whacking big rent rises for others, as well as other council fees going up.  Suddenly, we are in real economic time.

One final possible reason – and this one’s a googly – the Scots like an underdog.  For much of this election campaign, the SNP has rolled through town in a Panzer tank demolishing everything in its wake, pushing Labour on to the defensive and making them look incompetent all along the way (though they also managed to do a fair bit on the incompetency front themselves).  Now, this is not to suggest that folk have decided to vote Labour because they feel sorry for Iain Gray and his party.  But Labour is the home that Scots love best, and just as the Scots reacted badly to the doing Gordon Brown got day in, day out on the stump in the 2010 General Election, could there be a similar kind of reaction going on in the final denouement of this Scottish election campaign?

Whatever, it’s now going down to the wire.  Yes, the SNP are still ahead – and it should be pointed out that the Mail on Sunday poll by Scottish Progressive Opinion has them ahead by a country mile, and only a handful of seats short of an overall majority – and that is where they are likely to stay.  Especially as we have two leaders’ debates between now and polling day.  If Alex Salmond is on as good form as he has been all campaign, he’ll wipe the floor with the other leaders and not even get out of second gear.  He and the SNP thoroughly deserve the endorsements received today from the News of the World, Scotland on Sunday and Sir Tom Farmer (UPDATE – and Scottish Sunday Express)

But staying just ahead ain’t enough to win this election.  The SNP has to win on the constituency vote to hold the seats it has (or needs to retake, thanks to boundary changes).  As was seen in 2007, a narrow win will do and returning 21, and maybe one or two more, constituency MSPs sets the party on its way back into government.  An eight point lead is nice to have but doesn’t translate into a big enough swing to start toppling Labour’s dominoes across the central belt.  The majorities are just too big in most seats.

Which is why a convincing and resounding lead on the regional vote is so necessary.  A two point lead on the lists will ensure enough MSPs are returned to increase the majority.  But it’s tight – well within the margin of error tight.  If Labour picks up regional MSPs at the expense of the other parties, that is not good news for the SNP.  Not only will the SNP have more MSPs but so will Labour.  Moreover, it might even mean that Labour wins the popular vote which some in their ranks will interpret as a good enough mandate to seek a coalition deal.

There are still four days of campaigning left:  whisper it, but Labour could still be gaining ground.  As one of the SNP’s dream team, Stephen Noon, tweeted tonight:  *it’s the numbers on Friday that matter most.  Got to turn good polls into votes.*  Indeed.

For once, every vote really will count.

11 thoughts on “#sp11 – it’s going down to the wire

  1. Sorry I meant commissioned by STV, obviously.

  2. On the other hand TNS with today’s poll commissioned by TNS IS a member of the British Polling Council. TNS polling shows the SNP lead increasing not lessening.

    A poll that shows a drastic difference from all recent polls should be questioned as at least a possible outlier. Had the positions been reversed, you may be sure it would have been labeled such as the first poll showing the SNP pulling ahead was.

    • Indeed, and TNS was most accurate pollster re 2007 result. Not seen the tables but apparently this headline finding on certain to votes which halves the sample size. So think some caution required (but trend is definitely towards a near overall majority for the SNP)

  3. Really good post and talking real sense. I have long believed that the opinion polls can’t really reflect the complex nature that is the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament. Having been out on the doorstep, like John for the past few weeks but in a number of constituencies, I have come to the same conclusion. There are a lot of people who genuinely have still to make up their minds.

    We will only be able to see on Friday and I think there will be some results which will be completely unexpected.

  4. I’ve always said the result will be tight – whoever is the largest party will do it by a few seats. I was sceptical of the polls which showed Labour with a 13 point lead in January, and equally so of those which showed a similar SNP lead.

    For some time now, I’ve been surprised by the number of people who, when spoken to face-to-face, have admitted they havnt made up their mind. Now, as I am in a seat where they normally weigh the nationalist vote, it could be they are just being polite – but they seem genuine enough. I think that even people who have voted SNP in the past just havnt made their mind up which way to vote on Thursday. This last week might prove crucial.

    I’ve also been surprised by the number of people who have said to us that we are the only people to have delivered a leaflet or knocked on their door. People are pleasantly surprised to see a political party come and take in interest in them, and try to understand the issues facing them. The targetted mail you received is a higher form of that.

    I cant see the SNP having a leg to stand on if Labour attempt to form a government if they win the regional vote share, even though they might have fewer seats overall. After all, isnt the regional vote supposed to be a vote for First Minister?🙂

    • I’ve been where you are John and you are right, people do like to have the parties engage with them. There’s been a lot more of it in this election and that can only be a good thing.

      Your point about the regional vote? Ha! It’s a good un and suggests we might have a bunfight on our hands next weekend if things not totally clearcut! But no… moral authority lies with whomever wins most seats.

      • I would agree – but then its not been us saying that the regional vote is one for the First Minister! ON that basis, surely a Labour victory on the list share of the vote means that the people want Iain Gray, and not Alex Salmond for First Minister?

        Ok, thats a bit of mischief making, but it merely points out the absurdity of turning a vote designed to make the parliament more proportional into a presidential contest.

  5. Why are you ignoring other polls published today showing SNP even further ahead?

    Do these not suit the “Labour comeback” theme of your comments?

    Other polls are giving SNP 62 seats.

    My estimate is SNP 59 seats; Labour 39 seats

    • Dave,
      Maybe because the other poll is by Progressive Scottish opinion, who are not members of the British Polling Council. That means their methodology is not open, like all the other pollsters. Thats why when a PSO poll a couple of weeks back showed a Labour revivial, it was rubbished by the SNP on that basis.

      You cant just rubbish polls which dont give you the answer you like!

    • Hi Dave – I didn’t ignore the other poll (there is only one other out today I think). It gets mentioned. But see John’s comments above – they still have released the figs from last one and have only done two fairly recently. For all the doubts about weighting and sampling, YouGov have been polling for the Scotsman/SoS since October. It provides a real tracker across headlines and some key demographics and has consistency as well as longevity to offer.

      I think your estimate is a good one but I do think it’s going to be tighter than that. But the SNP will still win!

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