When the Scottish National Party (SNP) lost the independence referendum in September, it’s unlikely they’d have considered that just four months on they would be potential kingmakers for a parliament they wished to be separated from.
Yet with only three months to go until votes are cast for Westminster, many polls and media pundits are indeed suggesting that it is Nicola Sturgeon’s party who could hold the balance of power on determining the shape of the next UK Government.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising. The SNP has now overtaken the LibDems as the UK’s third largest party with a membership approaching 100,000 which is an increase of well over 300% on their pre-referendum numbers. They continue to ride the crest of a popularity wave following the unprecedented levels of political engagement in Scotland with Nicola Sturgeon’s approval rating shooting past that of her predecessor.
Throughout the referendum campaign the SNP claimed that voters would punish the Labour party for forming an alliance with the Tories as part of the Better Together campaign. Whether this is the underlying reason or other factors are in play, if the polls are to be believed then it looks as if the SNP will indeed make swingeing gains from Scottish Labour’s current 41 sitting MPs. The most recent YouGov poll puts support for the SNP at 48%, Scottish Labour at 27%, the Conservatives on 15% and the LibDems reduced to just 4%. If this result were to be transferred to votes it would see the Labour party lose 30 seats to the SNP.
The impact of this south of the border shouldn’t be underestimated. Sky News polling suggests Labour will be the single largest party with 282 seats, leaving them 44 seats of a majority. With these numbers so close to the numbers available in Scotland it’s evident how important it is for Labour to retain seats.
Tory peer Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll however shows no signs of a Scottish Labour recovery. He looked at 16 marginal seats, 14 of which are currently held by Labour. His data suggests all would be lost to the SNP if the current trend remains until May 7th.
It’s not the best start for new Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, as it leaves his party fighting to retain a presence in even the party’s most traditional heartlands in the West of Scotland. If the predictions comes true then election strategist Douglas Alexander and Shadow Secretary of State, Margaret Curran, would both lose their seats.
So with just 13 weeks left to go, what are Labour doing to stop the slide? Well since Jim Murphy took over from Johann Lamont he has certainly undertaken a sustained media campaign which has kept both his profile and that of his deputy, Kezia Dugdale front and centre.
In terms of policy promises they have pledged to fund 1000 NHS nurses in Scotland from Labour’s mansion tax and renationalise the railways. Perhaps more surprisingly though they have pledged to continue to seek greater powers for the Scottish Parliament despite the implementation of the Smith Commission proposals now becoming a reality. Some will view it as an odd tactic given that it plays to the SNP’s strengths. But of course every vote counts and for those Labour voters swayed by SNP arguments it’s crucial that everything is done to stop the exodus.
For the other parties, it’s unlikely that they will have much of an impact in Scotland. Ashcroft predicts the LibDems will lose many of their big names such as Danny Alexander and Michael Moore and UKIP are gunning for David Mundell who holds the only Tory seat in Scotland.
However Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, was a solid performer in the run up to September last year and they are seeing a slight spike in their polling.
Ironically, it may be the SNP’s Yes bedfellows, the Scottish Green Party, who cause them the biggest headache. Their numbers have also swelled in recent times with a seven-fold increase on their pre-2010 membership of 1000. They have announced plans to stand in 30 of the 59 Scottish constituencies and Scottish green MPs are not out of the range of possibility.
So regardless of the outcome on May 7th, it’s clear to see that politics in Scotland remains very much part of the UK landscape. The profile of the SNP is at an all-time high south of the border with issues such as English votes for English laws and their inclusion in leadership debates high on their agenda. If we know anything from the SNP’s rise from the ashes post-referendum it’s that they have a strong, loyal following and they won’t go quietly into the night.