The Scottish Conservatives 'badly need the Scottish Labour party to revive between now and next May' says Prof. Curtice
Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice has said that the best hope the Scottish Conservatives may have to stop the SNP winning a majority in the Scottish elections would be a revival of the Scottish Labour party.
Curtice was interviewed on Holyrood’s Politically Speaking podcast as new polling found 57 per cent of Scots intend to vote SNP in the May 2021 election and that support for Scottish independence is at 53 per cent.
He also said that it appeared the UK Government had now “not only acknowledged but accepted” that public support for the union “now appears to be more fragile and weaker than it’s ever been”.
Reflecting on the YouGov opinion poll findings published in The Times on Wednesday, Curtice said that the rise in support for Scottish independence was a “long running story” that could be seen in opinion polling over the course of 2019, which on average put support at 49 per cent.
Curtice argued that Brexit was the main factor in the change in public opinion but added that perceptions over the UK and Scottish government’s handling of COVID-19 had helped tip pro-independence sentiment into the majority.
He said: “The last three months have, arguably, been the most important in the history of devolution. Not only in Scotland, but arguably across the whole United Kingdom.”
The pandemic has put the Scottish Government’s role in public health “front and centre”, Curtice said, and raised awareness of how devolution works.
Curtice said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be pushing voters away both because he is seen as the “principle cheerleader of the Leave side” and because he is regarded as having done a “bad job” at handling the pandemic.
He said: “Boris is part of Brexit. But Boris is also, because of perceptions about how things have been handled, is also COVID.”
Asked if Johnson is the biggest threat to the union, Curtice said: “No, that would be personalising things too much.”
But he did go on to say that Johnson’s association with Brexit and perceptions on how he has handled the pandemic “does not make life for the unionist movement any easier”.
Discussing the May 2021 election, Curtice said: “One of the crucial disadvantages that the unionist side has north of the border is that politically it is divided”.
He described the Scottish Conservatives’ position going into the election as “not bad” but added: “The problem, however, is that the Labour Party is an awful lot weaker.”
He said: “It rests on the fact that the Labour party is an awful lot weaker that it opens up the opportunity for the SNP to get an overall majority.
“So, arguably, the really difficult strategic difficulty that faces the leader of the Scottish Conservative party and faces Boris Johnson is that they badly need the Scottish Labour party to revive between now and next May.
“Because it may well be that on that the chances of denying the SNP an overall majority rests.”
Curtice said that much of the SNP’s success in the December 2019 general election came from winning back votes that it had lost to Labour in 2017.
He added that between a third and 40 per cent of the Labour vote supports independence.
“That’s where the action probably is,” he said.
He added: “At the end of the day, because the Conservative party in Scotland are basically milking a niche market of Leave voters, and that market is not that big, then there is a limit to what the Scottish Conservative party on its own can achieve so far as trying to deny the SNP a majority is concerned.”