Labour must not be trapped by Conservative thinking on Scotland

Worrying poll results should spur Labour on to make contingency plans for the event of a hung parliament


The latest polling by YouGov for The Times has once again revealed a whole series of problems for the Labour Party in Scotland ahead of the General Election, now less than two months away.

The headline results are that, when asked how they would vote, 46 per cent would go for the SNP, down two percentage points from last month; Labour’s position remains unchanged on 27 per cent; the Conservatives are up three points to 18; the Lib Dems are stuck on four per cent and ‘others’ are on five per cent.

If replicated at the election, this would give the SNP 48 seats in the Commons, up from the six they currently have. Labour would slump from 41 to nine, the Lib Dems would lose all but one of their MPs north of the border and the Conservatives would retain the one they currently have.

Of particular concern for Labour is the poll’s finding that 74 per cent of respondents say they either definitely won’t or are unlikely to change their minds about how they will be voting. Of those who say they intend to vote SNP in May, 89 per cent say they either won’t or are unlikely to change their minds.

The figures continue to reveal the difficulties that Ed Miliband faces in connecting with the Scottish public, showing that whilst 29 per cent believe David Cameron is doing well as Prime Minister, just 19 per cent believe the same about Ed Miliband’s success as leader of the Labour Party.

Asked about Nicola Sturgeon’s performance as first minister, 64 per cent say she is doing well compared to 33 per cent who say the same about Jim Murphy’s performance as leader of the Scottish Labour party.

Interestingly, 59 per cent of those polled in Scotland say that the Labour Party is divided, compared to 11 per cent who say it is a united party. This compares to the 67 per cent who say the SNP are united and 10 per centwho say they are divided as a party.

With ongoing rumblings about what stance Labour should take in respect of any post-election deal with the SNP, 54 per cent believe that Ed Miliband should leave open the possibility of a deal with the SNP compared to 28 per cent who say he should rule a deal out altogether.

More worryingly still for Labour, support for the SNP remains high despite 37 per cent of Scottish voters agreeing that a large SNP contingent at Westminster makes it more likely that there will be a Conservative-led government after the election.

The polling indicates also that 64 per cent believe the SNP is best placed to secure increased powers for Holyrood and 62 per cent believe the party would give Scotland most influence in Westminster.

The findings create a world of headaches for Labour. The former home secretary Alan Johnson yesterday became the latest senior Labour figure to call on the party leadership to rule out a deal with the SNP, but the voters in Scotland clearly have other ideas.

The findings show that they want a strong SNP influence in Westminster and so close to the election it is difficult to see things shifting dramatically.

Whilst publicly Labour obviously have to avoid boxing themselves in, behind the scenes contingency planning should, if it is not already happening, be taking place to avoid the party being caught napping on 8 May.

In the event of a hung Parliament Labour needs to take the initiative early on in, the same way David Cameron did in 2010. That requires thought, preparation and some degree of relationship building between Labour and SNP politicians.

There are many Labour and other party supporters who will no doubt vehemently disagree with this assessment. That’s their right.

But think about this. Last September the party leaders from Westminster launched a love bombing offensive, telling Scotland that it was better off in the UK. That has to mean something if we are to avoid Scotland shifting down the road to independence.

The debate so far has been too dominated by a Conservative Party that seems to see Scotland as a separate country that has no place at the top table of UK government. Labour should not be trapped by this thinking.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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