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by Kirsteen Paterson
29 May 2024
Wavering SNP voters ready to switch to ‘wishy-washy’ Labour, Lord Ashcroft finds

Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar on the campaign trail | Alamy

Wavering SNP voters ready to switch to ‘wishy-washy’ Labour, Lord Ashcroft finds

“Disillusioned” former SNP voters in Scotland are prepared to vote Labour – but see Starmer as “wishy-washy”, focus groups have found.

Researchers working for pollster Lord Ashcroft spoke to undecided former SNP and Conservative voters in Paisley, Dundee and Aberdeen between 20 and 23 May.

They found that people who had backed the SNP before were “more critical” of the party than in any previous research rounds.

Though the general election relates to government in Westminster, the groups discussed a range of reserved and devolved issues. And while they listed SNP achievements on free school meals, the renationalised ScotRail network and pay rises for nurses, they were negative about the party’s record on the economy, ferries and drugs deaths.

Operation Branchform, the police probe into SNP finances, has also led to some seeing the party in a more negative light. The inquiry began after former first minister Nicola Sturgeon left office and her husband, ex-SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, has been formally charged with embezzlement from the party.

The investigation remains live and while Sturgeon and former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie MSP were arrested and questioned by police, they were released without charge.

Participants said Sturgeon’s successor Humza Yousaf was “insipid” and while some said current SNP leader and First Minister John Swinney had “snuck in the back door” after Yousaf, others said he has “the ability to bring things together”.

While some said the SNP would get “the best deal for Scotland”, others were prepared to vote for rivals.

Writing for Holyrood and ConservativeHome, Ashcroft said: “Some of our more disillusioned former SNP voters were prepared to switch to Labour at the general election – but the decision was not an easy one.

“Many had doubts about Keir Starmer and knew little if anything about the party’s policies; very few had heard about the plan for GB Energy, and none knew of the intention to base the new company in Scotland. Many doubted that Labour still stood for people like them: ‘For me, Labour was a working-class party and you’ve got a knight of the British empire running it. I don’t like it;’ ‘He’s so wishy-washy, he keeps changing his policies. You can’t get a straight answer;’ ‘Working in oil and gas, it would be a disaster for us if Labour got in. I would have to look at my livelihood more than anything else;’ ‘He doesn’t exude confidence. If Trump wins, Trump’s going to walk all over him;’ ‘He’s patently not got different policies from the Tories. Gaza, for example;’ ‘I don’t think they’d do anything major. They would be a change, but keep it generally status quo.’”

Ashcroft wrote: “For most of those considering the idea, there was only one good reason to switch from the SNP: ‘I would vote for Labour only to oust the Conservatives;’ ‘Realistically, it’s only ever going to be the Conservatives or Labour in power. The Tories have had quite a long shot at it and not been particularly successful. So to make my vote matter a bit more, I would vote Labour because they should be given a chance and it’s pretty much a two-party system.’”

Meanwhile, those who voted Conservative in 2019 were “often divided between wanting a change in Westminster and sticking with the Tories to try and stop the SNP.”

Ashcroft wrote: “Around half the former Tories in our groups said Sunak’s party were still in play for them, usually because of their doubts about Labour.”

When asked what it would be like if the parties got together for Sunday lunch, voters gave a range of answers for the SNP, including that “Buckfast and square sausage” would be on menu or “if we’re paying they’d have it at the Ritz”.

Labour’s Sunday lunch would be “salmon and strawberries” or “sourdough bread at £9 a loaf” with “people saying, ‘do you want to try our elderflower wine?’”, the groups suggested. For the Conservatives, the answer was “swan. And peasants”.

You can read Lord Ashcroft's analysis in full here.

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