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

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What Charles Windsor’s garden reveals about the future of the British monarchy

As an open-minded republican, two things struck me. 

First we are told that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has lost his battle for a “soft” Brexit. In a joint article, he and the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, the hardest of the ministerial Brexiteers, seem to agree that the UK will leave the European customs union in 2019. Then we get a reverse ferret. Hammond will go for a softish Brexit, after all. A government paper states that the UK will seek a “temporary customs union” in the “transition period” that, it hopes, will follow Brexit.

All this is a taste of things to come. We shall see many more instances of hard and soft Brexiteers celebrating victory or shrieking about betrayal. We shall also see UK and EU leaders storming out of talks, only to return to negotiations a few days later. My advice is to ignore it all until Friday 29 March 2019, when UK and EU leaders will emerge from all-night talks to announce a final, impenetrable fudge.

Lessons not learned

What you should not ignore is the scandal over Learndirect, the country’s largest adult training and apprenticeships provider. An Ofsted report states that a third of its apprentices receive none of the off-the-job training required. In a random sample, it found no evidence of learning plans.

Labour started Learndirect in 2000 as a charitable trust controlled by the Department for Education. It was sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but remains largely reliant on public money (£158m in 2016-17). Since privatisation, 84 per cent of its cash has gone on management fees, interest payments and shareholder dividends. It spent £504,000 on sponsoring the Marussia Formula One team in an attempt to reach “our core customer group… in a new and exciting way”. The apprentices’ success rate fell from 67.5 per cent before privatisation to 57.8 per cent now.

This episode tells us that, however the Brexit process is going, Britain’s problems remain unchanged. Too many services are in the hands of greedy, incompetent private firms, and we are no closer to developing a skilled workforce. We only know about Learndirect’s failure because the company’s attempt to prevent Ofsted publishing its report was, after ten weeks of legal wrangling, overthrown in the courts.

A lot of hot air

Immediately after the Paris climate change accord in 2015, I expressed doubts about how each country’s emissions could be monitored and targets enforced. Now a BBC Radio 4 investigation finds that climate-warming gases emitted into the atmosphere far exceed those declared under the agreement. For example, declarations of methane emissions from livestock in India are subject to 50 per cent uncertainty, and those in Russia to 30-40 per cent uncertainty. One region in northern Italy, according to Swiss scientists, emits at least six times more climate-warming gases than are officially admitted. Remember this when you next hear politicians proclaiming that, after long and arduous negotiations, they have achieved a great victory.

Come rain or come shine

Climate change, scientists insist, is not the same thing as changes in the weather but writing about it brings me naturally to Britain’s wet August and newspaper articles headlined “Whatever happened to the sunny Augusts of our childhood?” and so on. The Daily Mail had one in which the writer recalled not a “single rainy day” from his family holidays in Folkestone. This, as he explained, is the result of what psychologists call “fading affect bias”, which causes our brains to hold positive memories longer than negative ones.

My brain is apparently atypical. I recall constant frustration as attempts to watch or play cricket were interrupted by rain. I remember sheltering indoors on family holidays with card games and books. My life, it seems, began, along with sunshine, when I left home for university at 18. Do psychologists have a name for my condition?

High and dry

Being an open-minded republican, I bought my wife, a keen gardener, an escorted tour of the gardens at Highgrove, the private residence of the man I call Charles Windsor, for her birthday. We went there this month during a break in the Cotswolds. The gardens are in parts too fussy, rather like its owner, but they are varied, colourful and hugely enjoyable. Two things struck me. First, the gardens of the elite were once designed to showcase the owner’s wealth and status, with the eye drawn to the grandeur of the mansion. Highgrove’s garden is designed for privacy, with many features intended to protect royalty from the prying public and particularly the press photographers’ long lenses. Second, our guide, pointing out what the owner had planted and designed, referred throughout to “His Royal Highness”, never “Charles”. I am pondering what these observations mean for the monarchy and its future.

Sympathy for the devil

Before leaving for the Cotswolds, we went to the Almeida Theatre in north London to see Ink, featuring Rupert Murdoch’s relaunch of the Sun in 1969. Many accounts of Murdoch  portray him as a power-crazed monster and his tabloid hacks as amoral reptiles. Ink is far more nuanced. It shows Murdoch as a mixture of diffidence, charm and menace, in love with newspapers and determined to blow apart a complacent,
paternalistic British establishment.

You may think that he and the Sun had a permanently coarsening effect on public life and culture, and I would largely agree. But he was also, in his own way, a 1960s figure and his Sun, with its demonic energy, was as typical a product of that decade as the Beatles’ songs. The play strengthened my hunch that its author, James Graham, who also wrote This House, set in the parliamentary whips’ offices during the 1970s, will eventually be ranked as the century’s first great playwright.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear