YouGov’s MRP poll suggests unionists aren’t coordinating in Scotland…

The big story today is the release of YouGov’s new poll for the Times. The headline figure is a projected Conservative majority of 68, but of more interest to this column are the projections for Wales and Scotland (Northern Ireland, alas, isn’t included). How does this tally with what we’ve been hearing from troops on the ground?

North of the border, it foresees the Scottish Nationalists picking up eight seats, with Labour slipping from seven to just two. As we suggested at the end of October, the Scottish Tories appear to be doing much better than early write-offs supposed, holding 11 of their current 13 seats.

Yet there is a gulf between this forecast and the expectations of those closer to the action – one that seems best explained by either YouGov or the campaigners respectively under- or over-estimating the scale of pro-UK tactical voting.

Consider North East Fife. In 2017 the SNP held this seat by two votes, 13,743 to the Liberal Democrat’s 13,741. The Conservatives were in third with a respectable 10,088. YouGov predict that the seat will remain pretty much a dead heat, with the SNP favoured to win. Yet I have yet to speak to anybody who doesn’t think that enough Tory voters will lend their support to eject the Nationalists next month.

The projected SNP win in East Renfrewshire (again by a slender margin, admittedly) is just as puzzling. Paul Masterton, the Conservative incumbent, enters the election with a majority of over 4,700. Last time out Labour racked up a solid third place, taking over 14,300 votes (versus fewer than 16,800 for the SNP), by running a very high-profile campaign fronted by arch-unionist candidate Blair McDougall, who played a prominent role in the pro-Union Better Together campaign.

Again, the overwhelming expectation is that Masterton ought to be able to win over more than enough of those pro-UK voters who backed Labour last time to hold the seat.

Likewise there are more than a few Scotland watchers who think that unionist tactical voting could even help the Tories hold Stirling (a long shot), or gain SNP-held seats where the Tories came a close second last time such as Perth and North Perthshire (SNP majority: 21), Lanark and Hamilton East (266), Central Ayrshire (1,267), and Argyll and Bute (1,328).

Finally, I’ve heard from several sources from different parties that the Tories could be on track to pick up East Lothian from Labour. They placed third last time, just 500 votes behind the SNP. Labour had hoped to win over Conservative tactical votes, but Jeremy Corbyn’s wooing of the Nationalists has reportedly not only completely stopped such switching but is also pushing pro-UK Labour voters the other way. Yet MRP has the Tories in third again.

Of course, on-the-ground feedback isn’t everything – it was partly such reports that had everybody writing Labour off ahead of the 2017 election. An overall SNP advance was the most widely anticipated result going to this election (albeit more at the Tories’ expense), and as YouGov themselves say there are still two weeks to go.

But it would certainly be a disappointing night for unionists – and a damning indictment of their ability to coordinate – if the Nationalists do pick up all these seats next month.

…and that the Tories may have a moderately disappointing night in Wales

In Wales, YouGov forecasts that the Tories will retain all eight of the seats they held in 2017: Aberconwy, Brecon and Radnor, Carmarthen West and South Pemrokeshire, Clwyd West, Monmouth, Montgomeryshire, Preseli Pembrokeshire, and Vale of Glamorgan.

It then predicts that the Conservatives will regain Vale of Clwyd as well as finally winning Wrexham and capturing Anglesey (Ynys Môn) for the first time since the mid-1980s.

Should this be how it pans out on the night it would be a somewhat disappointment for the Welsh Tories. Although those I spoke to never believed that they might really gain nine seats, as an early ‘Welsh Political Barometer’ poll suggested, their expectations were much more in the region of six gains than three (four if you count Brecon and Radnor).

It would mean not only had they missed out on outlying targets such as Alyn and Deesside and Delyn but also on firmer prospects such as Bridgend, as well as both Cardiff North and Gower, which the party won in 2015.