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New TBI polling suggests ‘SNP grip on Scotland is loosening’


Press Release6th October 2023

  • New TBI polling published today reveals that in Scotland the next general election will be fought on ‘competence not the constitution’.

  • Research by Opinium, analysed by Peter Kellner in ‘More United Than Divided: How Voters See Scotland's Future’ reveals that ‘a path has opened to an election campaign in which the constitutional question is not the dominant one’.

  • With a third of SNP voters in our poll saying that defeating the Conservatives in a general election is their priority, the Rutherglen and Hamilton West result supports the belief that Scotland is ‘no longer a settled political landscape’.

Peter Kellner’s argument is made in ‘More United Than Divided: How Voters See Scotland's Future’ by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI). The polling reveals that ‘independence is not a question for today’ with the two tribes of “Yes” and “No” dwarfed in size by the three-quarters of the Scottish public who support a closer relationship with Europe, or the two-thirds who say improving the NHS should be a top priority.

The data in the report demonstrates that it is pressing issues such as the cost-of-living crisis and the state of the nation’s public services that occupy voters. While support for independence has not gone away, there is a recognition across Scotland that it is currently a more remote prospect. If a campaign focused on other issues does emerge, what will be revealed is an electorate characterised by broad agreement on many of the key policy issues facing the country. This creates an opening for those who want to talk about radical National Health Service (NHS) reform or begin a conversation about a closer and more coherent relationship with Europe.

Peter Kellner said: “Today’s result coupled with the data in this report should give even the most ardent nationalists and unionists pause for thought. Scotland is no longer a settled political landscape. The SNP grip on Scotland is loosening. A bold offer – one of credible hope that shows a way through a cost-of-living crisis and promises reform of seemingly broken public services - is high in demand. A political party that offers this in the next election can make gains.

“The next election will be fought on competence not the constitution meaning Scotland is very much in play for Labour.

“This result could also generate significant momentum for the party. Labour has shown the one-third of SNP voters who prioritise removing the Conservative Party from power in Westminster that they can win.”

The TBI polling published today reveals significant levels of dissatisfaction with the SNP government even among their own voters. As set out in the report: “The SNP does best (or least badly) on education, though more people say it has done “badly” than “well”. It is also worth noting how few enthusiasts there are for the SNP’s record.

“The percentages range from 3 (drug abuse) to 7 (the NHS). On every issue far more people say the SNP has done “very badly”, with a percentage range of 18 (crime and railways) to drug abuse (25). Even SNP voters have concerns about many issues. Their highest rating, for the way the SNP has run Scotland’s health service, ("very well"), is 17 per cent. There is no other issue on which more than 12 per cent of SNP voters say it has performed “very well”. On three issues where SNP voters were asked how the government had performed ranging from "very well" to "very badly" – tackling drug abuse, improving housing and cutting poverty – fewer than half of SNP voters gave a favourable verdict. The majority responded to the question with “badly”, “neither” or “don’t know”.”

Tactical voting also contributed to the size of Labour’s victory in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. The Conservative vote collapsed from 15 to 4 per cent. In 2019, more than 29,000 voters supported a unionist party (Labour plus Conservative plus Liberal Democrat), while fewer than 24,000 voted SNP. But Labour secured the backing of just 63 per cent of unionist voters, so the SNP regained the seat. In the latest by-election, Labour won 90 per cent of the unionist vote. Had 90 per cent of anti-SNP voters backed a single unionist party in each constituency throughout Scotland in 2019, the SNP would have won 20 fewer seats.

As the paper states:

“The Rutherglen and Hamilton West result is clear evidence, as we set out here in this report, that tactical voting could be central in determining Scotland's political future.”

Methodology

TBI commissioned Opinium to undertake a survey of Scottish voters’ views on political parties, key political questions and priorities for government. Opinium interviewed 1,004 Scottish adults between 5 and 14 September 2023. The data have been weighted to age and gender, education, 2019 vote, 2016 referendum vote and political attention.

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