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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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