There is a headline in Scotland on Sunday of “Scots Tories set to gain new seats”. The story underneath is based on polling conducted by ORB for the Conservative party in the party’s 11 target seats (their one current seat, and ten they hope to gain). I always urge caution with polls commissioned by political parties – while the polling companies are all reputable outfits who are not going to produce dodgy figures, the interpretation of those figures by the political parties is a different matter.

We haven’t seen the full tables from ORB yet, so we can’t see whether there was anything strange about the questions, but at first glance the results seem plausible. The poll found just under 60% of people expected Cameron to become Prime Minister after the election, which seems perfectly reasonable given the ORB poll for the whole of Scotland found 67% expected the Conservatives to win the election.

The poll also found 54% of respondents thought that David Cameron was a better leader than Gordon Brown on 46%. While that appears good for the Conservatives, I’d add some caveats. Firstly, while we haven’t seen the tables yet 54+46=100 – so it was either a forced choice question, and doesn’t necessarily reflect any great enthusiasm for David Cameron, or the figures are excluding an unknown quantity of don’t knows and fewer than 54% of respondents actually gave a positive response about David Cameron. Neither would a straight choice between the Conservative leader and Labour leader necessarily reflect voting intention – I’m sure many SNP and Liberal Democrat supporters will have an opinion on whether Cameron or Brown are more capable leaders, but it won’t stop them voting SNP or Liberal Democrat – and half of the 10 Scottish seats the Conservatives hope to gain are currently held by the Lib Dems or SNP.

With that in mind, the finding that 73% of respondents thought that Labour looked “tired and failing” shouldn’t be a great surprise – Labour only got 29% of the vote in these seats in 2005 anyway. The most interesting statement is that 53% of respondents agreed that “it would be good for Scotland if there were more Conservative MPs from Scotland elected at the next general election” – it’ll be interesting to see what question was actually asked.

The Scotland on Sunday article said that the Conservatives claimed the poll showed they had a real chance of winning. Apart from that interesting last question that would appear to show some latent Conservative support, it really doesn’t. However much people think that more Conservative MPs would be good, or that David Cameron would be better than Gordon Brown, the Conservatives won’t get any more MPs in Scotland without more votes (and to be fair to the Conservatives, that seems to be largely the message that Peter Duncan is putting across in his comments in the piece).

Labour’s response to the poll was that the Conservatives had failed to publish details on how people would actually vote, and they’ve got something of a point. It may well be that the poll didn’t include a voting intention question, so the call to publish them may well be just empty posturing – but at the end of the day, the one question that would actually have shown whether or not the Conservatives were on the way to winning new seats in Scotland would have been a voting intention question, and it’s conspicious by its absence.

UPDATE: The tables are now up on ORB’s website.

137 Responses to “Conservative polling in Scotland”

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  1. Hardpressedtqy

    I might even move south and support it!

    Agreed about how bad this is all going to be.

    I’ll make a final point about these polls, though. With no other polls around, these have been generally derided over a much longer period than normal, where they’ve been discussed in Scotland – making it an even bigger own goal!

  2. Anthony

    I saw a rumour about a Harris poll for Metro – any idea about that?

  3. Christian Schmidt – nope, the table for that question excludes don’t knows.

    Oldnat – haven’t seen anything about it, where did you see it. Harris have done strange polls for the Metro that only sampled people between 18-65 in certain demographics (its called their urban panel or something), but have also done proper nat rep polls for them too, so it might be kosher.

  4. Anthony

    Probably a dubious source (certainly distasteful!). A poster on political betting had come across a statement from a BNP spokesperson that they had been asked by the Metro to comment on it.

  5. Apologies if this has been mentioned above already, but more people (12) in the poll think the SNP is best placed to win the UK (!) general election than think the Lib Dems will win it (10).

    Not promising for the Lib Dems, really.

  6. Steven F

    :-) I’d missed that. Thanks for that gem!

  7. Oldnat – yep, just found it.

    Another possible explanation other than Harris is that it wasn’t something Metro had commissioned themselves, but that ICM polling for the EHRC that was leaked a couple of months back and should finally be published in the next few weeks.

  8. Anthony

    Thanks for that.

  9. I’m in southern England and I’d sooner vote SNP than LibDem. Makes sense to me.

    Any chance of Scottish expats running down South as a sort of Monster Raving Loony gimmick??

  10. Anthony,
    I have to take issue with one thing about this poll. It asks which party the respondents think is MOST LIKELY to win the next election. It does not give an option of a hung parliament. I personally think it will be hung, but in this poll, my only options would have been “don’t know” or a party, and so naturally given the state of the opinion polls I’d reply Conservative. I would not want someone extrapolating that into an “expectation” of a Tory victory. So I’d have to take issue with that particular interpretation. Personally I find it interesting that only 51% of Scottish women are happy to say that the Tories are the most likely to win.

  11. That’s Scottish women in Tory target seats, of course… :-)

  12. Oldnat may be able to confirm, but I recall reading that the SNP did consider running a candidate in Corby* in the 1960s. They decided not to because under the rules then it would have reduced their allocation of PPBs (they’d have been counted as a party contesting 70-odd seats out of all of those in GB, rather than a party contesting all the seats in Scotland).

    (*Corby had vast migration from Scotland in the 50s to work in the steel industry there, and in the 2001 census 18% of people in Corby were still born in Scotland)

  13. Ah Corby. The big supermarket chain I used to work for always ranged Corby as if it were Scottish.

    Three times as much canned soup as a normal English store, plus extra Tennants.

    Has a range of polls ever been conducted in England regarding Scottish independence? Would make for interesting trends.

  14. The Tories are always going to struggle in Scotland considering they are faced with three wings of the old Labour party ; Nu Labour, the SNP, and the remains of the SDP dressed up as the Lib Dems.

  15. Anthony,

    “18% of people in Corby were still born in Scotland”…. What you mean they are dead…


  16. Kaybraes

    Divide and rule should make it easy. It’s the Thatcher Legacy and FPTP that does it.

    As I remember it in 2005 it took nine times as many votes to elect a Conservative and more than three times as many an SNP MP as a Labour MP.

    A consequence of Labour being concentrated in Glasgow, and Cons being very thinly spread and in the South West is that North of the central belt is a LibDem v SNP two party system. This is an area which is different from the rest of the UK (including the rest of Scotland) in its population density, topography, climate, industry, communications, coastline, fauna, culture and history. Its needs are neither understood by nor addressed by the two big parties.

    Hardpressedtqy has got it about right. There won’t be much change here, but the significance of this election will be that the SNP wil be in the position where although they “lose” by increasing their seats by two thirds and gaining more votes than any other parrty, they will then have a large number of marginals and with less than 5% further swing will flip the FPTP jackpot and gain a majority of the Scottish seats.

    That would be hugely significant.

  17. Peter – Bah! You know what I mean. Even 40 odd years after the big rush of Scottish migration there, almost a fifth of the population is still made up of people born in Scotland.

    (Bloody cheeky people picking on my tortured syntax ;) )

  18. This is as good a place as any to raise the issue of the likely outcome of the proposal to exclude the SNP’s from the leaders debates. I leave it to OLDNAT and Peter to make the case for the SNP and am fairly sure that the BBC’s legal department will have the right solution under the law whatever that may be, though deals could no doubt be done.

    What would be the effect if the SNP completely lost, and the party that is going to get the greatest number of votes in Scotland is not represented?

    All of Scotland would be insulted, and they want to see AS involved because he is a skilled debater who would get the better of most if not all of the other party leaders though OLDNAT would agree with me that he isn’t the best debater the SNP have.

  19. Anthony

    There have been various suggestions (usually by pockets of activists outwith Scotland – and I’m not sure seriously) over the years.

    Peter will correct me if I’m wrong, but there were other grounds of objection – other than the PPB and the waste of money.

    It would be wrong, in principle, for the residents of an English constituency to be represented by an MP whose primary loyalty was to Scotland.

    In a situation where the majority of Scots voted for Independence – but Westminster refused – it would weaken Scotland’s case in the international arena if the SNP were fighting seats outwith the territory of Scotland.

  20. John B Dick

    What I think would unite many non party-partisan Scots would be the failure of the UK to recognise the reality of a different political system here – regardless of who they’ll actually vote for in May(?). There is a reasonable amount of polling evidence that there is volatility in Scotland, and an overlap on potential support between the SNP and the 3 other parties.

    Salmond is obviously playing a strategic game here, as no-one (including him) wants to hear him debating English domestic issues.

    There is an obvious solution, of course, in themed debates. One (or even 1.5) on English domestic issues, with the others being solely on UK issues – economy, wars etc. from which the SNP, Plaid, and the NI parties should not be excluded in their areas.

    As to who should represent each party, clearly that should be a matter for each party. There is a clear basis in UK legislation and both Scots and English constitutional law that parties contest elections, not potential PMs. There is no legal basis for the Fuhrer Prinzip which has invaded the process of politics since Thatcher.

    At the end of the day, it’s about power, not fairness. However, the courts tend to favour fairness, and the threat of their use gives power to the SNP case.

    If the broadcasters were intransigent, then I can see the Court of Session imposing “reasonable” conditions of fairness on any broadcast being shown in Scotland.

  21. Apparently Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt are trying to organise a secret Labour party leadership ballot.

  22. Hoon Hewit confirm attempt to force vote on Brown. I wonder what impact it will have on public opinion – will labour support falter as the public seems them in disarray and failing to support their PM who the party has previously congratulated as a world saving genius, or will their support pick up?

    Does it hing on whether the country is dissatisfied with Brown in particular rather than Labour in general? The party seems to be good as dosowning its leaders and claiming to have no responsibility for their actions – e.g. Blair on Iraq…..Brown on the economy?

  23. Surely this is simply too close to the election? I think there’s only about 12 weeks before the campaign starts if the election is to be on May 6th.

  24. ‘JOHN B DICK
    This is as good a place as any to raise the issue of the likely outcome of the proposal to exclude the SNP’s from the leaders debates’

    Is it a leader’s debate? Or a debate about potential PMs (and one who could make / break a PM to be realistic). In the rest of the world it’s about who could lead a country, not party leaders…

  25. Let’s please not have the argument about whether they should be or not here, but the implications of the SNP going to court are interesting. IIRC, the previous example was the SNP going to court to stop a big interview with Major being broadcast just before Scottish local elections. In that case the courts stopped it being broadcast in Scotland (which also affected parts of Northern England, since the transmitters don’t line up nicely).

    I don’t know if that could work these days though because of satellite and cable telly. Any viewer with Sky can get regional TV from anywhere in the country, and I doubt Sky can flick that on and off (after all, it’s the same satellite signal you get wherever you are). Equally there’s a limited about the courts could do to stop Scottish viewers seeing it online.

  26. Tony M –

    My expectation is that it will have an extreme negative effect – with two important caveats. Being seen as disunited and more concerned with internal disputes than policy is very damaging to public support, the big 20+point Tory leads this Parliament have often come as a result of Labour infighting.

    The caveats are, firstly, if it’s a flash in the pan that fades after a day or two Labour should be fine. It needs to stick around for a bit to cause damage, and I’ve no idea if it will. Sometimes these things turn out to be damp squibs.

    Secondly, if Labour actually do get Brown to resign and manage to replace in a relatively orderly fashion, I expect it will be to their huge advantage.

    The best thing for Labour is if they replace Brown or, failing that, if everyone shuts up and backs him. What the Conservatives would like is for Brown to remain Labour leader, but with Labour paralysed by infighting and plotting to dump him.

  27. @Anthony Wells
    I agree with your view completely. I had an exchange yesterday on the site, my point was exactly this matter of internicine warfare in the midst of an election campaign, is about as bad as it gets. However, with Hoon and Hewitt attacking THE GREAT MAN, it will probably go nowhere.

  28. I think the Conservatives will get what they want on this issue, ie. Anthony’s final sentence. What will almost certainly happen is that quite a lot of ordinary Labour MPs will back this move but no Cabinet ministers will be brave enough to follow suit. That will mean that Brown survives but is further weakened. Just what the Tories hope for.

  29. Oldnat

    “Salmond is obviously playing a strategic game here, as no-one (including him) wants to hear him debating English domestic issues.”

    “That” as the lawyers say, “is a matter for him”, but he needent be tongue tied because, as FM he can say on many issues What NS said on privatised hospital cleaning “It’s wrong, we’re not doing it.”

    As Anthony shows the broadcasters and the lawyers have a very complex problem, so if we have any lawyers on here, I’d like to hear from them. Possibly the broadcasters can do deals that will satisfy all four parties and enable the big Westminster three to keep the English “others” off the TV.

    Some of the people involved think that they have what it takes to negotiate settlements in any of the world’s conflicts. If they are right, they should be able to sort this out, shouldn’t they?

    For the SNP, the next best thing to winning the legal argument and having AS with the other three party leaders, is to be unfairly excluded. So long as it was perceived that they had not been unreasonably intransigent, it might even be better for the SNP for them to be excluded unfairly.

  30. Anthony:

    On the leader replacement issue, I agree entirely with your analysis except that even if GB resigned tomorrow, there isn’t enough time to have the replacement established. Labour candidates need a narrative to explain why despite the fact that last week GB was the man who single handedly saved the world from financial disaster, this week he isn’t fit to lead the Labour party.

    It’s a huge gamble and they aren’t in quite such a hopless situation in the polls that they have nothing at all to lose.

    Apart from anything else, what will be the effect on party morale, not least on the party in Scotland where GB is not so much disliked and seen as “one of our own”?

  31. Technically the Cabinet could pick a new claimant by acclamation. In practice, that’d only work if it was somebody who promised to resign no more than 18 months after the next election if he won, otherwise the various contenders would never agree on a joint candidate. And I don’t see any likely caretakers, with the possible exception of the distinctly uninspiring straw.

    In practice, nobody likes Hoon or Hewitt. Backbenchers are queuing up to denounce them, whilst they’ve only got support from Blairite retreads like Clarke and oddballs like Sheerman and Field.

    Even if Jowell had resigned, she’s not prominent enough to have toppled Brown. It’d need to be one of the prominent eight: Balls, Johnson, Straw, Darling, Burnham, Milliband D, Milliband E or Mandelson. None of those will do it, as it would be career suicide.

    So Charles Clarke needs to quit plotting, accept that he’s making it even more likely we’ll lose this year and get back to defending his actually pretty marginal constituency.

  32. It’s funny, GB is so unpopular a couple of the party try and oust him, and get so little support he looks relatively loved!

    Ultimately, this is just the most Blairite of the old Blair cabinet opening old wounds. This will look bad for Labour, but overwhelmingly is the feeling that the Labour backbenchers just have no appetite for it.

  33. What a peculiar development!

    The next poll is going to be even more fascinating than normal! To have a party with public division on policy is bad enough, but a leadership challenge when the Tories have launched theirs on the basis of a “strong leader” – see the Scottish Tory poll details – is insane.

  34. If I may bring us right back on thread …..

    Peter / OldNat..I think that this poll is , as you note, instructive not in what it tells us about Scottish opinion but in what it tells us about Scottish Tory strategy for the campaign. However, I think you may be misreading the purpose.

    While it is widely accepted that Cons have a sizeable war chest to spend on the national campaign, it is not evident that the Party in Scotland is awash with cash – still less the manpower and on-the-ground resources to use that effectively. The difficulty Cons face is that in a tight contest, campaign expenditure would deliver more seats in England than in Scotland. There is also the separate problem in Scotland that the seats in which Tories have the strongest baseline in 2005 are mainly not Labour held.

    The absence of a voting intention question is instructive. I suspect that the real purpose of this poll is not so much to test ability to influence voters, but more to determine whether it is worth devoting resources to target seats in Scotland.

    The findings suggest that it is worth targeting SNP seats, but also, that there may be more mileage in targeting LD held seats – or at least those Lab or SNP seats where there is a sizeable LD vote to squeeze.

    At the same time, one can discern key themes for a Scotland wide campaign to ensure that the overall Tory vote holds up – even in those seats which have not been targeted. This matters since Tories will want to demonstrate not just additional Scottish MPs, but also that they have a base across Scotland, not just in a handful of seats. That is especially important if the target seats campaign only delivers 2 or 3 seats rather than 5-8.

  35. Paul H-J

    I agree with modt of your analysis, not least with your conclusion that there will be no great progress for Cons in Scotland. In fact I do not see any reason to believe that there wil be much change for the other parties either.

    Labour and the LibDems are losing votes and the SNP are on the way up so I think that Con gains from SNP are very unlikely. There are only two anyway and there would need to be serious negative local issues for such an upset against the trend.

    As I am In Argyll, I should be the first to see if your speculation about spending money in LibDem seats is right.

    The Libdem MSP will certainly lose a proportion of his previous share of the poll. If it is a small percentage, it needs to brake unfeasably in favour of the Con for there to be a change of party and if it is a large proportion, and the share that goes to the SNP is greater than the Con share as I expect, then the greater the LibDem loss, the more likely an SNP win.

    I think the C|on will still be in second place, but I wouldn’t bet on the winner.

    Your point about the resources on the ground may be the determining factor. Con activists are too evenly dispersed. If none of the Ashcroft largesse is spent in Scotland, you can expect OLDNAT to tell you that this is a foretaste of a Con government’s lack of interest in, and unwillingness to spend money on Scotland.

  36. John,

    I can’t be sure, but I would imagine that Con activists in Scotland are far from evenly dispersed. The problem is more likely to be the opposite – they are too concentrated in areas like Tayside and Grampian where they will be expending their efforts against an equally strong SNP machine instead of those weaker Lab or LD seats where their efforts would be better rewarded.

    The quandary is that it would be wrong in democratic terms for Cons to abandon those areas where they were “strongest” in 2005 simply because their prime opponents are stronger still.

  37. Paul H-J

    I have seen a surprisingly well attended constituency party event in a constituency where they came fourth and I think the number of active party members may not be in proportion to the vote. Sometimes the vote is an anti-Labour or anti-SNP vote and while there is hard core of committed party members who will do some work when called upon on (rather like the Socialists) Labour and SNP also have a wider membership which includes fair weather friends. Theese will enthusiastically back their party when it is winning and will drift away when it is not.

    The few remaining Conservatives are loyal and, in Scoland, they need to be to persevere.

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