Scottish Polling Update (August 2013)

By Barryob (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Opinion polls for the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood aren’t published as often as I would like; generally they appear on a quarterly basis produced by either the Ipsos MORI or Panelbase polling companies.  Here’s a reminder of how the 2011 Scottish Parliament election went:

Scottish National Party – 69 seats
Scottish Labour Party – 37 seats
Scottish Conservative Party – 15 seats
Scottish Liberal Democrat Party – 5 seats
Scottish Green Party – 2 seats
Other – 1 seat
(65 seats needed for a majority)

This result allowed the SNP to form a majority government – a remarkable feat, considering the Scottish Parliament was given a proportional electoral system with the clear intention of avoiding majorities, so to reduce the chance of nationalists gaining power and seeking to achieve independence for Scotland.  Uh…  That went well.  Since then the SNP has lost three of its MSPs; Bill Walker was expelled after allegations emerged implicating him of domestic violence – he currently sits as an independent – while Jean Urquhart and John Finnie resigned after the party’s decision to support NATO membership – they too sit as independents.

The question everyone has been asking is whether the SNP’s popularity would decrease after such a stunning victory.  Surely the only way now is down?  Well, not according to the opinion polls.  Of those I have been able to find, all have shown the SNP continuing a lead over the other parties in both the constituency vote and the regional vote*.  Using this handy tool, we can figure out what kind of seat allocation each poll would result in.  Very roughly, half the polls indicate an SNP majority government could be formed while the other half show an SNP minority government.  A Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition is a possibility, but not a very likely one at this stage.

I would take an average of all the polls published recently, but Ipsos MORI don’t appear to ask for voting intention in the regional vote, which largely invalidates any predictions for seat allocations.  Instead, I’ll simply have to describe the most recent Panelbase poll, which would give a result for 2016 resembling:

Scottish National Party – 71 seats (+2)
Scottish Labour Party – 34 seats (-3)
Scottish Conservative Party – 16 seats (+1)
Scottish Green Party – 5 seats (+3)
Scottish Liberal Democrat Party – 3 seats (-2)

This would indicate merely a small reshuffle consolidating the SNP’s majority, whilst the opposition becomes more fragmented.  Because of the irregular and complex nature of opinion polling in Scotland, it’s difficult to say whether this indicates an upturn in the SNP’s fortune or whether it’s just a quirk of data sampling.  What we can say with certainty is that there is still plenty of wind in the SNP’s sails, and that if current trends continue we are more than likely to see the SNP somewhere in government in 2016.  Considering the SNP has now been in power for six years, their continuing popularity is quite incredible – though we mustn’t forget the importance of national politics in Westminster.  I suspect the continuing unpopularity of every major party from Westminster is playing its fair share in producing these results.

Interestingly, despite that latest poll suggesting that pro-independence parties would control 59% of the seats in parliament, we really aren’t seeing any particular movement in polling towards favouring independence itself.  Every single poll since the referendum was announced has shown a ‘No’ vote has a very large lead, ranging from 8% to 28% just in the last few months.  I think as we get closer to the referendum in September next year the polls will become increasingly volatile, though I have a hard time imagining a scenario where the ‘Yes’ vote would actually win.

*Scotland uses the Additional Member System, allowing voters to vote twice: once for a candidate to represent their constituency and again to vote for candidates on a party list.  This second vote distributes seats to parties in a way which creates a roughly proportional result.