This week in Scotland: Ashcroft’s polling paints worrying picture for Scottish Labour

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Introduction

The much anticipated Scottish constituency polling from Lord Ashcroft was published this week, and suggests the problems that Labour face may be even worse than expected. Elsewhere the Scottish Government passed its eighth Budget.

Polling

Polling from Lord Ashcroft was the main talking point in Scottish politics this week. Looking at sixteen seats, fourteen of which were Yes leaning and the other two being high profile current Lib Dem seats, Ashcroft conducted a full 1,002 sample for each seat. It is the most detailed look at the situation the parties find themselves in ahead of the General Election in May.

Scottish Labour had been steeling themselves for a bad result. On-going national polling had laid out the challenge they face, with the SNP often being twenty points ahead of their main rivals. However the polls showed that the situation was even worse than many in the party had thought.

Of the fourteen Scottish Labour seats (see below) polled only Glasgow North East looks set to stay with the party (and then by only five points) if these results were replicated in May.

  • Airdrie & Shotts
  • Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill
  • Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East
  • Dundee West
  • Glasgow Central
  • Glasgow East
  • Glasgow North
  • Glasgow North East
  • Glasgow North West
  • Glasgow South
  • Glasgow South West
  • Motherwell & Wishaw
  • Paisley & Renfrewshire South
  • West Dunbartonshire

High profile Scottish Labour MPs such as Margaret Curran, Douglas Alexander and Anas Sarwar could fall as part of a national sweep by the SNP.

The polling also suggests that Alex Salmond should have little trouble taking Gordon, with polling suggesting a 20 point lead over the Liberal Democrats. Danny Alexander is also likely to lose his seat, with polling putting the SNP on 48% compared to the Lib Dems on 16%.

Averaging out the polling for those constituencies the results are –

SNP – 48%

LAB – 37%

CON – 6%

LIB DEM – 2%

OTHER – 7%

In response Jim Murphy has been seeking to frame the debate in terms of Labour vs the Conservatives, arguing that to vote for the SNP would be to let David Cameron back in power.

The SNP for their part have tried to temper expectations of such a grand sweep, but are clearly delighted with what the polling is showing. However, ahead of the 2010 General Election the two parties were neck and neck until the short campaign, when the level of support fell as voters went to Labour in an attempt to halt the Conservatives.

Lord Ashcroft promises that more constituency polling will be published in the coming weeks,

Scottish Budget 2015-2016

Deputy First Minister John Swinney successfully passed his eighth consecutive budget (although this would never be a challenge with a majority in the Chamber) claiming that it was designed to protect education and health.

He announced a package of measures which included an increase of £383M in frontline health spending and £51M to maintain teacher numbers, along with £20M of new educational spending. Over and above this, Swinney announced the following new spending commitments;

  • An increased investment in energy efficiency of £20M to provide a total budget of £114M.
  • £15M held to support prudent management of tax revenues in 2015-16.
  • £3.9M to support cycling and walking infrastructure.
  • £200,000 to progress the Fair Work agenda.

Gordon Brown Intervention

Scottish Labour have been attempting to keep in front of the media for the last month, and this week they brought out Gordon Brown, who had previously announced that he will not be seeking to stand in May, to speak about going further than the Smith Commission in delivering powers for Scotland.

Scottish Labour has now announced that should the party win the General Election, then it would seek to devolve powers in social security, unemployment, benefits and further devolving power to local communities. Brown called this the “Vow-plus” a reference to the commitment made to extend the powers of Holyrood the week before the referendum.

With Brown credited for having helped the No campaign in the final week of the referendum, Scottish Labour will be hoping that a similar boost can be gained from the former Prime Minister.

English Votes for English Laws

William Hague this week outlined his plan to ensure that voting in Westminster was reflective of the devolution settlement via the so-called “English Votes for English Laws”. Under his proposals English MPs could have a veto over Bills which enter Parliament, although the final vote would involve MPs from across the United Kingdom.

The key parts of his plan are;

  • English and, when appropriate, Welsh MPs would meet ahead of any final vote on a Bill which affects only those areas of the UK. A Bill would not be taken further unless a majority of support could be found within this group.
  • Only English and Welsh MPs could sit on the Committees regarding these Bills.
  • All MPs would be able to vote for the final Bill before it becomes law.

This falls short of the English Parliament that has been called for by some MPs, but Hague argued that it would bring “fairness and accountability to England without breaking up the unity and integrity of the UK Parliament“. The SNP described it as “confused and a bit shambolic“.

By Rob

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