The SNP narrowing poll lead over Labour might reopen the question, did they pick the right leader? by Alistair Thompson

credit: scottishdailyexpress.co.uk

In recent years, the political landscape in the United Kingdom has experienced significant shifts and realignments. One such development has been the dominance in Scotland of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Under their two previous leaders, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon the SNP carried all before them, but rocked by a series of scandals and with a new untested leader, who seems to lack the sure footedness of his predecessor is their unassailable position about to go?

The Labour Party had traditionally enjoyed a strong presence in Scotland, but the rise of the SNP pushed Labour into third place. The SNP’s push for Scottish independence, along with what their critics denounced as “grievance politics” resonated with voters, leading to a surge in support and the party’s dominance in parliamentary elections both for Holyrood and Westminster.

However, recent polls suggest that this is changing with Labour Party closing in on the SNP’s lead and the latest poll suggesting that every Scottish seat could be in play.

There does not appear to be a single reason for this change, but a combination.

Certainly, the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer has helped. During his tenure the Labour Party has sought to rebuild its image and reconnect with voters. Sir Keir’s “moderate” approach is in stark contrast to his predecessor in Jeremy Corbyn and has aimed to appeal to a broader range of voters, including those who might have been drawn to the SNP’s message in the past. The party’s emphasis on unity and stability contrasts with the SNP’s primary focus on Scottish independence, increasingly seen by many as a leap into the unknown.

Then of course there is Brexit. The aftermath of the EU referendum has had a profound impact on Scottish politics. While Scotland voted in favour of remaining in the EU, the UK’s decision to leave created an apparent rift between the nations. The SNP initially capitalised on this discontent, positioning itself as the party of pro-European sentiment. However, as the realities of Brexit set in and some of the more out extreme claims of doom and gloom have failed to materialise leading to some voters re-evaluating their support for the SNP and looking towards the Labour Party for alternative solutions – a closer relationship with the EU, but not full membership.

This more moderate approach to Brexit policy can be seen in the Labour Party’s policy platform more generally. Much to the annoyance of the hard left, under Sir Keir the policy offering has moved from hard left Corbynista to softer Blairite centre ground designed to address the concerns and aspirations of Scottish voters. Polling suggests that their commitment to social justice, economic equality, and investment in public services aligns with the values held by many in Scotland. For the first time in years by presenting a comprehensive plan for Scotland’s future, the Labour Party is positioning itself as a viable alternative to the SNP.

Then as one SNP member I was speaking to recently told me, there is the “leadership problem we have”. This argument suggests that with the demise of Nicola Sturgeon, who even her staunchest critics acknowledged her great skill as a politician, what the SNP has been left with is a rather weak tribute act playing the same old tied tunes, just not as well. At the same time, the Scottish Labour Leader, Anas Sarwar, has proved himself to be both competent and likeable.

All these factors have led to a considerable narrowing poll lead of the SNP by the Labour Party, with last month’s poll by Survation showing the two parties are neck and neck – with the SNP on 37 per cent and Labour on 35 per cent. A previous poll, also from August, by YouGov found the parties within four points of each other.

What this means in practice was spelt out by top psephologist Sir John Curtice who claims that every Scottish constituency will be a marginal seat at the next General Election.

“There’s certainly is all to play for so far as the representation of Scotland at Westminster at the next general election with potentially important implications for the overall outcome of the next UK General Election…

“Pretty much every seat in Scotland will be a marginal seat, and therefore a relatively small increase in the SNP lead, and all of a sudden those high expectations for Labour would not look quite so realistic. But equally, if the Labour Party could actually overtake the SNP in voting intentions in Scotland, something they’ve not yet managed to do according to any poll, then they could indeed, quite clearly be the dominant party so far as Scotland’s representation at Westminster is concerned”, he said.

For the Labour Party, a resurgence in Scotland would bolster the party’s chances of forming a majority government in Westminster. A strong showing in Scotland could provide the necessary seats to secure a parliamentary majority and enable the party to implement its policy agenda on a UK-wide scale.

For the SNP, losing so much ground to Labour undermines their pursuit of Scottish independence and I suspect will re-open the question, did they pick the right Leader? Should they have chosen one of the other candidates rather than a tribute act recycling  their old policies which seem to be losing support?

Alistair Thompson

Alistair Thompson is the Director of Team Britannia PR and a journalist.