Scottish Labour - the gloomy outlook.
28 July 2013
I believe Scotland will vote Yes in the independence referendum in 2014, but I can't deny that in that I'm very much in a minority at present.
The bookmakers currently have Yes at something around 4/1, with No paying only about 1/7. Coalition sources are reported as saying the vote has already been won, and the only question is how big the winning margin will be.
I think it's fair to say that at the moment although around 35% of people plan to vote Yes, perhaps only 10% or less actually believe that Yes will win in 2014.
On that basis, the results of today's Panelbase survey on voting intentions for the 2016 Holyrood elections are truly astonishing.
The Sunday Times reports that the SNP are on 48% on both the constituency and list votes. That is 3% UP on the SNP's astounding result in 2011, a result I didn't see coming, and certainly never expected to be repeated.
This 48% figure means that the SNP would receive more votes than Labour, Lib Dems and Conservatives combined!
It's a reasonable assumption, given this 9/10 figure, that a No vote in 2014 will not make any difference to voters' intentions for 2016.
So, two years into their 2nd term, with a hostile press and with their main policy, independence, a dead duck in 9/10 voters' eyes, the SNP is still likely to form the next Holyrood government, possibly even with a majority.
What does this mean for the other parties? Well, for the Conservatives, not much - the Tories have no hope of power at all. Once the independence referendum is out of the way, I'd imagine the LibDems would be more amenable to a coalition with the SNP than they were in 2007, but in the Panelbase poll they have 4% of the vote, below the Greens on the list, and would struggle to have numbers worth coalescing with.
For Scottish Labour though, this is a huge deal. They must have convinced themselves over the last couple of years that a No vote would return Scottish politics to business as usual; following such a hammerblow the SNP might fragment and should certainly be reduced to a a weak opposition to the Scottish Labour machine.
But I think that loses sight of a simple fact - in the voters' eyes the SNP has two alternate raisons d'être - to gain independence for Scotland, or to fight Scotland's corner within the UK. Following a No vote, the bulk of those who voted Yes are not going to become disillusioned with the SNP and switch to other parties - the vast bulk will continue to vote for the SNP. But it's clear that a large chunk of the No vote will also stick with the SNP into 2016, due perhaps to a fear of repercussions from Westminster, or because they don't trust the other parties to fulfil the promises of extra powers they made before the vote.
I don't believe that the SNP will fragment in the event of a No vote - at least, very little. Despite the fact that the SNP has become a centrist party, it's still to the left of Labour, so there are few who will make that jump.
What then would a Yes vote do for the political parties in Scotland? I believe that the SNP would be the largest party in 2016 with a bit of an independence boost. The Conservative & Unionist party would of course be wound up, with a new, Murdo Fraser type right-of-centre party formed to replace it. This might lead to an improvement in their fortunes. I can't see the LibDems being anything other than irrelevant, but the Scottish Labour party would be an entirely different beast, revitalised by it's new challenge and the return of some of its big guns from Westminster. By 2020 a more left-wing Labour party might well attract voters, members and even MSPs from the SNP, and I do question whether the SNP would exist at all by then.
So I'd say the message to Scottish Labour activists and members is clear - if you are working for a No vote because you believe in keeping the UK together, fair enough. If you are working for a No vote in order to defeat the SNP you are misguided - if anything, a No vote will make the SNP's position at Holyrood even stronger, whilst a Yes vote gives you a chance to regroup.