According to today’s Sun on Sunday, the Scottish National Party have just passed a new campaigning milestone: they’ve just dropped before 40 per cent for the first time in the general election.
This is the latest instalment in the slow-burning story of how the Conservatives seem to be doing remarkably well in Scotland, building off their second-placed Holyrood finish last year.
If this poll is right, then not only are the Conservatives on 29 per cent – almost double their share at the last election – but they may be on the way to their best seats result since 1992, when they won 11 seats. Labour will be delighted to be on 25 per cent, not far short of second and well up on their mid-teens showing of recent times.
In terms of seats such figures would, the article claims, put the Tories on 12, Labour on 2, and the Liberal Democrats (polling at 4 per cent) on three. These 14 losses would take the Nationalist contingent down from 56 MPs to 42.
Some caveats: these seat figures are likely over-stating how bad a night the SNP will have, especially if they’re using Uniform National Swing. Polls can also be wrong, as we pointed out on Saturday. Nonetheless, there is a clear trend in Scottish polling and it is not to the SNP’s advantage.
Nicola Sturgeon clearly believed, along with many (although not this site) that the Brexit vote would trigger a surge of separatist sentiment and the imminent break-up of the UK. Hence her decision in the hours after the result to declare that a second independence referendum was “highly likely”.
Since then support for independence hasn’t slumped – it remains about where it previously was – but the SNP’s fortunes seem to have slipped. They won the most seats in the latest round of local elections but didn’t make any dramatic advances, and lost control of both of the councils they controlled outright as the Tories doubled their representation, taking first place across a swath of target seats.
The interesting fact at the heart of this is that the Scottish Nationalists are now under-polling independence. Where previously they took the 45 per cent who voted ‘Yes’ in 2014 and bolted on a section of the unionist vote that liked good government, there now seem to be independence-minded voters opting to support someone else – quite possibly Labour, judging by those figures.
Some may have been antagonised by Sturgeon’s timing, wanting an opportunity to see the outcome of the Brexit negotiations before being asked to decide again on independence. Others may have been deterred by the Scottish Government’s poor domestic record, which after ten years of SNP rule can scarcely be blamed on anyone else.
In their own ways both Sturgeon and Davidson are now bedevilled by the sort of expectation problems that Theresa May is struggling with. Winning more than two thirds of Scotland’s seats would be a huge achievement in ordinary circumstances, but a disappointment for the SNP.
Meanwhile the Conservatives are caught between the need to talk up their prospects (to encourage people to back them as the most viable anti-Nationalist force) and inflating expectations to an extent that would sour a perfectly good result, such as five or six seats.
It also remains to be seen whether the Scottish Tories are caught up in the struggles of the national campaign, which seems to have helped Labour to overtake the Conservatives in Wales.
But one thing is clear: with the Scottish Greens only standing in three seats, pushing the SNP below 40 per cent will give the Prime Minister all the room she needs to keep saying “not yet” to another referendum.