Brian Monteith is a former Tory student chairman and Conservative MSP. He is now editor of ThinkScotland.org
On Monday Lord Ashcroft’s polling of Scottish voters’ views and
intentions caused a predictable stir. It even led to the rare occurrence
of a Scottish political story making the pages of MailOnline!
The focus was, understandably, the opinions on the independence
referendum (a resounding 65 to 26 No), that the SNP’s fixation with
independence was not shared by the majority of the electorate and that there
remains a good deal of confusion about what the Scottish Parliament is
responsible for and what it has actually achieved (the most popular being
making various benefits or services ‘free’).
I reviewed that aspect of the polling here.
There was, however, some other rather revealing information that
readers of ConservativeHome will be especially interested and I’m afraid it was
not good news. Here are the headline findings:
- In the poll of voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament
that will not be held until May 2016 (sample of 1000 between 7 and 17 June) the
Scottish Conservatives were third at 15 percent for the constituency vote;
- In the same poll but for the second (regional list) vote the
Scottish Conservatives were pushed into fifth at 10 per cent, behind the Lib
Dems on 13 percent and UKIP on 11 per cent;
- In a different poll with a mega sample of 10,007 the Scottish
Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, had the worst popularity rating with a net
−20, behind the Lib Dem Willie Rennie on −8, Alex Salmond on −4 and Johann
Lamont on +3.
- In the same poll Ruth Davidson was not known or provoked no
opinion by 27 per cent of her own supporters (better than the Labour or the Lib
Dem leaders) but had the largest unpopular percentage, at 18 per cent, and the
poorest net popularity at +37 with her own supporters.
On the face of it the polling results are good; achieving an
increase in the headline rate of support from 13.9 per cent to 15 per cent
suggests the possibility of a recovery after two years of Ruth Davidson’s
leadership. While it remains below the Conservative vote of 15.56 per
cent in 1999 and 16.6 in both 2003 and 2007 it is at least heading the right
way and is something to build upon.
Unfortunately the constituency vote is not where Scottish
Conservatives get the majority of their MSPs, having only three in that
category, it is in the second ‘regional’ vote where the top-up system swings in
and they gained their additional twelve members in 2011, including Ruth
It is the decline in the second vote that has been costing
Conservatives their share of elected politicians; gaining 15.35 per cent in
1999, climbing marginally to 15.5 per cent in 2003 (with eighteen MSPs), but
then falling to 13.9 in 2007 and to an all time low in Scotland (ever) of 12.36
per cent in 2011 and only fifteen MSPs.
Now Ashcroft’s poll puts them at only 10 per cent. Such a low
second vote would be very dangerous, but coming behind UKIP on 11 per cent
would be humiliating and embarrassing.
The likelihood would be that the Conservative members would drop
to probably twelve, maybe even further, while UKIP would certainly pick up a
good handful of seats. Ruth Davidson would undoubtedly lose her own seat in the
As precedent we only need to look at the Greens. They have been
ever present in the Scottish Parliament since 1999, achieving two seats in 2007
on their lowest share at only 4.00 per cent and seven seats in 2003 at their
highest on 6.9 per cent.
The balance of where seats would fall between the parties would
depend on the regional distribution of that national vote share, something we
cannot yet judge. For instance the Scottish Socialists also managed six seats
in 2003 on 6.7 per cent share that was almost exclusively concentrated in the
central belt. UKIP will no doubt focus its resources where it can make most
So, we have a Scottish Conservative party that looks to be doing
well but is in fact under serious threat of going backwards. What this means
for the Westminster election in 2015 we cannot say as that polling question was
either not asked or has not been released. Ominously though, David Mundell’s
sole seat was won with a national share of 16.9 per cent. That seat could be
lost in 2015.
Finally I turn to Ruth Davidson’s personal rating. It is
conclusively the worst amongst the party leaders (-20) and is the worst amongst
any party’s own supporters with only +37 net popularity – essentially because
she has the largest share of own party dislikes. This cannot be put down to
laziness, for she is best known amongst the public in general and among all the
other opposition parties (Alex Salmond and the SNP are an exception, he having
been an elected politician for some thirty years).
Looking at the picture as a whole Davidson appears to be getting
noticed but in so doing annoying or irritating her own base and driving them
towards UKIP. The influence that David Cameron may have in this process is
unknown as the level of his Scottish popularity was not asked.
Ruth Davidson has to find more messages that keep her own faithful
on side while expanding her base; it has never been easy but the story coming
from Australia and Norway in the last week suggests being robustly Conservative
should not be a vote loser.
If I were Ruth Davidson I’d be seeking a lunch with Lord Ashcroft
to see if there’s more he can tell her.