Over at Comment is Free, Daniel Davies has an interesting piece on why the BNP are unlikely to win a seat at the European elections in the North-West.

Daniel’s argument is that, while the BNP got 13% in the council wards they contested at the 2008 local elections, this is unlikely to reflect their support across the country, since they will have put up candidates in the seats where their potential support was highest. It is only because their weaker areas had no BNP candidate to include in the average that the figure appears so high.

Daniel is almost certainly right on this front, albeit, probably that that right. My impression is that fringe parties don’t necessarily target the wards they contest that well, it’s often just the wards where they happen to have a keen activist willing to stand. Notwithstanding that, the swathes of rural Cumbria and Lancashire where there weren’t BNP candidates are not going to be as fertile territory as the white working class urban areas they did fight. The problem comes with trying to translate that into the level of support that the BNP will get at the European elections. Daniel looks at the share of the vote in each district that had elections in 2008, sees there are only Burnley, Bury and Tameside where they got over 7.5%, and concludes that even with their name on the ballot paper in every ward, there is no way they will match that support in all the other districts.

On the surface that sounds like pretty sound logic and a good reason to think that the BNP will only get around 3% or 4%. The problem is that if we go back to the 2004 European elections, the BNP received 6.4% of the vote in the North-West. If we look at the local elections in the North West for 2003, they in no way foreshadowed that.

Back in 2003, which had much wider local elections than 2008, the BNP only got over 6.4% in local elections in 4 districts: Burnley, Tameside, Pendle and Ribble Valley (which is, it’s worth noting, just the sort of nice rural Tory area we are assuming they can’t do well in). They barely showed their face elsewhere, and didn’t put a single candidate up in Cumbria. The point is, if we had done the same thing then as Daniel is doing now, we would have said their was no way they would get as high as 6.4%. The only thing we can conclude by comparing the BNP’s local election results in the North-West in 2008 with those of 2004, is they appear to be a lot more organised now.

How well will they do then, what can we look at that will give us a reliable guide? Well, the sad truth is not much. BNP support in opinion polls is difficult to measure because people are reluctant to admit to voting for racist or extremist parties. We can see some evidence of this by comparing telephone polls, where people give their answers to a live interviewer, and online polls, where they type them into a website. Back in 2006 after Margaret Hodge made some comments about how much support she was seeing for the BNP on the doorstep their support went up to 7% in YouGov polls, but ICM and Populus showed far smaller increases in their support, only putting them up to 3%. I suspect there is even some social acceptability bias in online polls, so even that might not necessarily give us a good guide to the level of support they’ll actually get (and that’s before we get to the issue of whether to prompt or not minor parties, which is a whole extra can of worms).

The Sunday Times today has a new YouGov poll for Scotland. The full voting intention figures, with changes from YouGov’s last Scottish poll, which was conducted right at the end of October and had shown a move back towards Labour, are below.

Westminster voting intention: CON 20%(nc), LAB 37%(-1), LDEM 12%(+1), SNP 27%(-2).
Holyrood constituency: CON 13%(nc), LAB 32%(+1), LDEM 12%(nc), SNP 38%(-1).
Holyrood regional: CON 15%(-1), LAB 28%(-1), LDEM 11%(nc), SNP 34%(+2), GRN 6%(nc), SSP 4%(nc).

As you can see, the figures are largely steady, with the shift from the SNP back towards Labour being maintained. Only on the regional vote has there been a slight shift back towards the SNP, thouh arguably this is the most important vote in determining the actual seats won at a Scottish election. It also suggests that the SNP would win an early election if one is indeed held over the current Scottish budget deadlock. The Sunday Times projects that if these levels of support were repeated at a Scottish Parliamentary election the SNP would retain 47 seats, with Labour losing 2 and the Lib Dems 3. The Greens would gain 3 seats, the SSP 2 and the Conservatives 1.

On the specific question of the Scottish budget, 79% of respondents said they thought there should be a fresh election were the budget defeated again.

Alex Salmond remains in the lead as the best first minister by 20 points, and is the only party leader with a positive approval rating (plus 11), followed by Annabelle Goldie (-3), Iain Gray (-17), Tavish Scott (-19) and Patrick Harvie (-25). Where his rating has fallen is on the economy – at least in comparison to Gordon Brown. Back in September 36% trusted Salmond more on the economy than Brown (26%). Now they are even on 33%.

Finally, support for independence has again fallen marginally – 29% would vote YES in a referendum, with 55% voting NO. In October the figures were 31% to 53%.