Labour's poll surge: ten key points

What lies behind Labour's 10-point poll lead?

Today's polls should gladden the hearts of even the most pessimistic Labour supporters. An Independent/ComRes survey gives Ed Miliband's party a 10-point lead over the Tories, Labour's largest since last March and its largest with ComRes since 2005. Elsewhere, YouGov has them seven points ahead and Populus has them four points ahead.

A third of the fieldwork for the Populus and ComRes polls was conducted after the cash-for-access scandal broke, while the YouGov survey was carried out entirely on Sunday and Monday (i.e. after the publication of the Sunday Times story). It remains too early to say what effect (if any) the scandal has had on the parties' standings. That hasn't stopped many excitedly commenting on the fact that the third of the ComRes poll conducted after the scandal broke gives Labour a 17-point lead.

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Latest poll (ComRes/Independent) Labour majority of 114

Below the headline figures, the polls contain some fascinating findings on the Budget and other subjects, here's my summary.

1. Labour leads on taxation. One notable post-Budget shift is that Labour is now rated as the best party on taxation. Two weeks ago, the Tories led by a point (27-26) but the abolition of the 50p rate and the "granny tax" mean they now trail by three (28-25).

2. But the Tories still lead on the economy. Perhaps aided by a Budget that saw no significant revisions to the OBR's growth and borrowing forecasts, the Tories still lead Labour by four points (30-26) as the best party to manage the economy (see YouGov poll). It is this rating that Labour needs to shift to guarantee a majority at the next election.

3. No Budget boost for the Lib Dems. Despite the largest ever increase in the personal allowance (a policy that originated as a Lib Dem manifesto pledge and is supported by 90 per cent of people), Nick Clegg's party has seen no increase in support since the Budget. Populus offers us a clue why. Only 23 per cent recognised the policy as a Lib Dem idea, while 16 per cent credited the Conservatives and 19 per cent the coalition as a whole.

4. The rise of the "others". All three of today's polls show a surge in support for minority parties. YouGov has the Greens on three per cent and Ukip on six per cent, while ComRes has the Greens on five per cent and Ukip on four per cent.

Given that the latter cost the Conservatives up to 21 seats at the last election (there were 21 constituencies in which the UKIP vote exceeded the Labour majority), the continuing high levels of support for Nigel Farage's party will trouble Tory strategists.

5. Labour seen as more "united". One unsung achievement of Ed Miliband's leadership is the avoidance of the "blood bath" so many predicted would follow Gordon Brown's departure. Consequently, according to Populus, Labour is now seen as more united than the Tories (46-42).

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Labour majority of 76

6. Personal allowance increase: small change? Despite the cost of raising the personal allowance to the government (£3.3bn in 2013-14), Populus shows that just 35 per cent believe that increasing the tax threshold from £8,105 to £9,205 will help them. 45 per cent said that it would make "little or no difference to me".

7. The "granny tax" backlash. It wasn't just the press that disliked the abolition of the pensioners' tax allowance. According to ComRes, only 31 per cent agree with the idea, while 59 per cent disagree.

8. 50p tax cut: not a stimulus. Had George Osborne sold the abolition of the 50p tax rate as an economic stimulus, voters might have been more sympathetic. Instead, he focused on the number of people avoiding it. As a result, it's unsurprising that 53 per cent (according to Populus) believe the move will do "nothing" to boost the economy.

9. The Tories' health problems. Andrew Lansley's toxic bill has finally made it onto the statute book and his party continues to suffer. YouGov shows that Labour's lead on the NHS has grown from 14 points (37-23) to 16 points (39-23).

10. Labour's in-built electoral advantage. If there was a general election tomorrow, every one of today's polls, assuming a uniform swing, would give Labour a majority. But what about the boundary changes, I hear you ask. Won't they tilt the balance in the Tories' favour? The truth is that the significance of the changes has been overstated by most on the left and the right. While the proposed reforms reduce Labour's electoral advantage, they do not eliminate it. Even after the new boundaries have been introduced, the Tories will need a lead of seven points on a uniform swing to win a majority (compared to one of 11 points at present), while Labour will need a lead of just four.

The biggest obstacle to a Tory majority at the next election may not be the NHS or the economy but the British electoral system itself.

Ed Miliband's party has a 10-point lead over the Tories, an Independent/ComRes survey shows. Photo: Getty Images

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.