Jim Murphy has a challenge ahead for boosting Scottish Labour's chances. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

New Scotland poll puts the SNP 17 points ahead of Scottish Labour

Does a "bloodbath" really await Labour, as a new poll gives SNP 43 per cent of the vote share next May, with Scottish Labour's share tumbling to 26 per cent?

Labour has been fighting a battle on a number of different fronts recently, both ideological and otherwise, but its biggest battle is undoubtedly in Scotland.

As membership and support for the SNP rocketed during and following the Scottish independence referendum campaign, it looks like Scottish Labour will be hit hard in seats where the party has been in an increasingly precarious position. Labour's complacency in Scotland began to do some damage to its popularity there long before this year's referendum, and now the party has finally caught up with the challenge for Scottish Labour, there are only five months to go to the general election.

A new poll published in today's Guardian by ICM suggests there is a "bloodbath" ahead for Labour in Scotland, come the general election. It suggests the SNP's vote share will be more than double its 20 per cent share of 2010, hitting 43 per cent of the vote, while Labour's 42 per cent take in 2010 will tumble to just 26 per cent. This would give the SNP a 17-point lead: disastrous for Labour, as its number of Scottish MPs would plummet from 41 to 10.

To add to Scottish Labour's bad news, a recent Survation poll for the Daily Record had 48 per cent of voters saying they would back the SNP, and put Labour at a disastrous 24 per cent. As well as this, the election polling sage and the media's academic of the moment, Professor John Curtice, has analysed the Guardian's latest poll, and written that polling results based on uniform swing could actually be underestimating how hard Labour could be hit by the SNP: ". . . if anything, estimates of how many seats the SNP might win that are derived by assuming that the Scotland-wide movement uncovered by a poll would be replicated in each and every constituency in Scotland could actually underestimate the scale of SNP gains." He warns that Labour's defeat could be greatest in its "safe" heartland seats.

However, as George points out, though the numbers look bad, they are not enough for us to begin writing Scottish Labour's obituary. The Labour MP and former frontbencher Jim Murphy only became leader of Scottish Labour two weeks ago, and it is clear that he is already taking the party in a new direction, outwardly rejecting the idea of taking advice from Ed Miliband and Westminster. The man who won popularity with his passion during his pre-referendum tour of Scotland, speaking from his Irn-Bru boxes around the country in a bid to save the Union, is in the best position to save Scottish Labour as well.

Although winning support back from the SNP cannot be done by one individual alone, Murphy's leadership coupled with the unlikelihood of Scotland treating the general election as a re-run of the in/out referendum – plus a reminder that the recent predictions in the Guardian derive from an online, rather than telephone, poll ("never the golden ticket", as one pollster describes this technique to me) – makes it too early to write off Labour's chances in Scotland.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder