Scottish election: Latest poll spells fortune for SNP

With a single day of campaigning left before Scotland votes, today’s poll by Opinium makes for good reading for the SNP and the Conservatives but will be seen as disappointing for Labour after some recent uptick in support.

This election is less about who wins and more about the margin of victory and who comes second. Throughout the campaign Nicola Sturgeon has made much of her being the only serious contender for First Minister while opposition leaders have conceded that their focus is on securing second place.

Every poll conducted during the campaign and for many months prior has pointed to an SNP victory; less certain is whether the party can repeat its feat of 2011 by securing the 65 seats needed for an overall majority, thus giving the party the strongest possible mandate to push for a second independence referendum in the next few years.

This poll indicates that may still happen, suggesting an overall majority albeit by just two seats with the party tallying 67. Interestingly it also suggests that the SNP may achieve that milestone by virtue of the constituency part of the ballot alone, gaining 66 of the 73 seats available in that part of the election.

Ironically of course this means that the emergence of new parties to try and encourage voters to use their regional list vote more tactically may prove to be moot if the SNP can govern as a majority administration.

But even if that does not happen this poll, putting Alba at 3% on the regional list ballot, suggests that the party of the former First Minister Alex Salmond is not poised to make any significant breakthrough in terms of the independence ‘super majority’ it craves.

At 51% on the constituency ballot and 41% on the regional list, this poll follows the pattern of surveys from last weekend which suggest an uptick in SNP support following some more modest polls for the party where its vote share fell to around 45% on the constituency and 35% on the regional list, a result which would leave them short of a  majority.

The SNP mantra in the closing stages of the campaign is to reinforce its message to voters about the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and it is true that her approval ratings significantly outperform those of the other party leaders. Across all voters 57% approve of the job she is doing, including 1 in 4 voters who would vote ‘No’ to independence, a key cohort she would need to persuade in the event of a second independence referendum.

Positive personal ratings do not always lead to uplifts in a party’s fortunes however, and one of the big stories of the campaign has been the rave reviews and good favourability ratings for Labour leader Anas Sarwar without a significant uptick in support for his party.

One or two recent polls had suggested that Labour could push the Tories close for second place but more recent readings suggest that this is less likely and that, once again, Labour could find a breakthrough unachievable in an era of constitutional politics where the links between views on independence and support for political parties is stronger than it has ever been.

There is a huge amount at stake on Thursday and few certainties, but if this poll is reflected in the final results then the SNP will be very content.

This article was published in The Herald Voices Live on 4 May 2021

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