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by Rachel Ormston, Ipsos MORI Scotland
29 April 2021
Election diaries: Undecided voters want more detail from all the parties to help them make up their minds

The leaders during the Channel 4 debate Credit: Alamy

Election diaries: Undecided voters want more detail from all the parties to help them make up their minds

As 6 May approaches, Ipsos MORI and Holyrood have been following a small group of undecided voters. They have been keeping diaries, responding to the leaders’ debates, and sharing articles and flyers that have made them think about how they might vote. In this second instalment, we explore how their views of the leaders and parties are shaping up and what might have an impact on their vote in the time that remains.  


Nicola Sturgeon has had continually very high opinion poll ratings over the last year - our most recent Ipsos MORI poll showed 62 per cent were satisfied with her performance as First Minister.

The extent to which she is seen as an asset to her party is reflected in the views of our undecided voters, particularly (though not exclusively) among those in favour of independence.

However, while Nicola Sturgeon enjoys undeniable personal popularity, our undecided voters raised serious questions about the SNP’s record in government – something they felt other party leaders had successfully homed in on during the second leaders’ debate.

Even those who were in favour of independence felt the SNP needed to improve its domestic record: “I also had a look at the SNP website and there’s a lot about social justice and improving society for all. It all reads very well but I do take it with a pinch of salt as they’ve been in power for a long time and I’m still waiting to see changes in areas I feel strongly about.” (Gilbert)

Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservatives’ vocal opposition to a further referendum divides our undecided voters.

It gains them some sympathy among those most strongly opposed to independence, prompting one previously loyal Labour voter to consider a tactical vote for the Conservatives on this basis.

However, others feel their focus on independence is too narrow, while their perceived reluctance to work with others is off-putting and divisive.

They wanted to know more about what the Conservatives stand for, not what they are opposed to: “This is the latest Conservative flyer (received around 8 April) from Douglas Ross which tells me nothing about the Tory manifesto but demands that I vote for them to keep out the SNP. Unless he has a major change to his strategy … he won’t be getting my vote.” (Jeanette)

Scottish Labour

Anas Sarwar again attracted positive reviews for his performance in the second leaders’ debate. He was praised for being less adversarial than others – particularly Douglas Ross – in both the tone and content of his contributions.

At the same time, there is a clear sense that voters feel they need to know more – both about Labour’s policies and about Sarwar himself.

We asked our voters which leader they would most like to go for a drink with when cafes and pubs open up and Sarwar was the most popular choice – both because people warmed to him, but also because they wanted to get to know him better. 

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Willie Rennie’s personal performance in the leaders’ debates certainly won some plaudits from our voters, who saw him as “experienced”, “clear”, and “reasoned” in how he sets out his policies.

Yet at the same time, there were apparent limits to how far the Liberal Democrats are cutting through with voters, with others commenting that although he says “good things”, it’s not particularly “memorable” or “inspiring”. 

The Scottish Green Party

Unsurprisingly, voters see Green policies around climate change – particularly investing in renewables – as their key strength.

Their key weakness, perhaps equally unsurprisingly, lies in their perceived closeness to the SNP.

This was exacerbated for some by a perception that Patrick Harvie and Nicola Sturgeon gave each other a relatively easy time in the second debate.

The Alba Party

After initial shock at the surprise entrance of Alex Salmond to the race, our undecided voters have had less to say about Alba as the campaigns have progressed.

Where they have commented, however, their views are overwhelmingly negative. Both pro- and anti-independence voters in our group were troubled by the entry of Alba to the election, citing negative views of its leadership and concerns about what it might mean for the tone of political debate in Scotland:

“I think we’ll see revenge and difficulties between the two characters, himself and Sturgeon, played out in Holyrood.” (Christine)

What could influence voters now?

As we enter the final stages of campaigning, our undecided voters are still looking for more detail from all the parties to help them make up their minds.

Specifically, they want to know what distinctive policies each party is bringing to the table and, importantly, how they plan to pay for these.

There is a clear perception that what they have heard so far is not helping them to draw clear distinctions between what the parties are offering: “Today I received election leaflets from all the main parties. What is so striking is that they are all saying the same thing. … Support the NHS, sort education , economic recovery!” (Chris) 

As well as hoping they would hear greater detail on policies, voters are also planning to research their local candidates, both to inform tactical voting (for either pro- or anti-independence parties), and to understand their positions on local issues – which for voters who remain undecided, may end up proving critical.

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