Only the other day, I was bemoaning the need for ITN news to dust off its unemployment totaliser, and then I go and discover it sort of has.
ITV is commissioning monthly polls from Com Res to create a Cuts Index and October’s makes for fascinating reading.
The sample base for Scotland is small, only 176, so it cannot be read as representative, but as a snapshot of sentiment, it seems to highlight a number of trends.
Firstly, there is a reason leading SNP figures are trotting out this line about Labour’s continuing support for the Union will consign Scotland to a lifetime of Tory governments. Poll findings suggest it has traction with Scottish voters.
In the October Cuts Index, when asked about the key UK politicians and trusting them to see the country (sic) through the current economic situation, Scots’ opinions varied considerably from those of the UK as a whole. George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer? Only 18% of Scottish respondents trust him compared to 27% of all respondents. For David Cameron, it’s worse – one in five Scots compared to over one-third of total respondents (36%). Nick Clegg performs slightly better but it’s relative – only 13% of Scots trust him compared to 16% of all respondents: the issue here is the lack of trust everyone has in his leadership qualities. Ed Miliband has a similar problem, with only 9% trusting him compared to 16% in total.
Setting aside the bit part players, it is clear that Scottish opinion (albeit a small tranche of it) finds the Conservatives less trustworthy than the UK generally. Hence, this argument from the SNP but also some hope for Labour – resurrecting the threat of the Tories wasn’t necessarily a poor election ploy per se, it just didn’t play well in the context of a Scottish election.
There is also considerable divergence in feelings of optimism and pessimism about the economy. The survey posited a number of attitudinal statements:
- the way the government is going about cutting public spending is fair
- the government is cutting public spending too much and too quickly
- things in this country are headed in the right direction
- the UK is on course for another wave of recession
- I know someone who has lost their job since the Credit Crunch in 2008
- I or a member of my family are seriously worried about losing our jobs
- I feel more confident in my personal financial situation than I did six months ago
- I am confident that the company I work for will be more successful financially in the next year, than last year
- I expect that there will be more redundancies made at my workplace in the next year, than last year
On all of these indicators, which make for a great test of the temperature of the nations and regions on the economy, Scotland is either less optimistic or more pessimistic than the UK. Only on the one on redundancies, do Scots think slightly more positively than the UK (35% to 36%).
And on the ones which include an assessment of the UK Government’s performance, Scotland diverges sharply. Only one in four Scots think the government is going about cutting public spending fairly, compared to 36% of total respondents; nearly two-thirds of Scots (65%) disagree with the assertion that the country is headed in the right direction while 55% of total respondents do (hardly a UK wide endorsement of the ConDems incidentally); and nearly 70% compared to just over 60% think the country ie the UK is headed for another recession.
The sample sizes are tiny so caution must be applied, but this split in opinion is interesting in terms of its relationship with our constitutional future. For the first time in a long time, a narrow majority of Scots support independence – consistently, across a range of polls – with the numbers outright opposed shrinking. The direction of travel is away from no towards don’t know and yes. Independence appears to be emerging as offering Scotland an alternative economic route to a generation of austerity and ConDem cuts.
This Index does not ask about Alex Salmond’s performance as First Minister nor John Swinney’s as Scotland’s Finance Secretary so we cannot tell if they would emerge with different ratings on their capabilities. But one finding does suggest that the Scottish Government’s approach to handling the economic situation finds favour with Scots. When asked if the Government should invest in a series of large-scale infrastructure projects to boost UK employment, 65% of all respondents agreed it should, and 67% of Scottish respondents agreed. Given that this is a major plank of Plan MacB, it would seem to chime with voters here (and offer a hint to the UK Government that people are looking for a more Keynsian approach).
Of course, what would be nice is a much larger Scottish sample or purely Scottish survey (hints) which explored this kind of territory. But even this snapshot starts to explain what appeared a puzzling drift of support towards independence so early on in the SNP’s second government term, with the potential to create the perfect storm of opinion in favour of independence I blogged about a wee while back.
It all suggests that the Scottish Government’s tactics are sound: continuing to point up the failings of Westminster to assist the Scottish economy, to emphasise the role of the Conservatives, in particular, in it all, to pick fights with the big bad wolf of UK government on a range of issues while forging its own path with an economic growth plan and programme for government which chimes with Scottish voters.
This presents something of a challenge for Labour, which has switched focus since the election by trying to pin down the SNP Government as being to blame for service cuts and job losses. They’re not just Tory cuts, the narrative goes, they’re also SNP cuts. It would appear the Scottish electorate isn’t listening, or at least hearing that message, for now, again indicating just how out of step with Scottish opinion and mood the Labour party is currently. And how much work it has to do to find its way back.
No wonder the SNP is heading to its annual conference in Inverness in buoyant mood.