Nicola Sturgeon's SNP now seem likely to win more than 50 seats in May. Photo: Getty.
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New Ashcroft polls: Labour to be wiped out in Scotland and lose Gordon Brown’s seat

The SNP lead are set to win more than 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats, including Charles Kennedy’s and possibly even Jim Murphy’s.

Read this post - and stay up to date with the latest polls - on our election site May2015.com.

Labour is set to lose Gordon Brown’s seat to the SNP – a seat it won by more than 50 points in 2010. It’s also trailing to the SNP in three other seats it won by big majorities in 2010: Ayr (which it won by 22 points in 2010), Edinburgh South West (19 points), and Dumfries (14).

The SNP lead by 4-11 points in these seats. In East Renfrewshire, seat of Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Labour is ahead by just 1 point – they can’t even be sure of winning there.

These findings, based on constituency polls released by Lord Ashcroft this evening, confirm the scale of the SNP surge in Scotland. They confirm that Scotland’s nationalists are set to win more than 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats in 64 days, as May2015 has predicted for the past month.

It now seems plausible that the SNP will win more than 50 seats.

The SNP currently hold 6 Scottish seats. For the first four years of the coalition, that seemed unlikely to change greatly in 2015. Then the party started to surge late last summer, on the eve of the Scottish referendum in September. National polls began to show they could win dozens of Labour seats in October (Labour hold 40 of Scotland’s 59 seats).

By January, the bookies were predicting the SNP would win 25 or so Scottish seats. In the past two months, that estimate has risen to 40. But it now seems plausible that the SNP will win more than 50.

Lord Ashcroft polled three other Scottish seats: two held by the Lib Dems (who have 11 Scottish seats) and one held by the Tories (the Tories’ only hold one).

They paint the same picture. The SNP lead in both Aberdeenshire West (by 14) and Charles Kennedy’s seat of Ross Skye (by 5) – a seat they lost to the Lib Dems by 13,000 votes in 2010. The SNP and Tories are tied in Dumfriesshire.

The SNP lead in Charles Kennedy’s seat of Ross Skye – a seat they lost by 13,000 in 2010.

Today’s polls follow Ashcroft’s first batch of Scottish polls last month. Those 16 polls put the SNP ahead in 15 seats, and showed uniform swings to the SNP across Scotland of more than 20 points.

Six of today’s eight Scottish polls show the same thing: 20-22 point swings to the SNP. In Kirkcaldy, Gordon Brown’s seat, the swing is even greater: 28 points. (In Tory-held Dumfriesshire, a border seat, it is less dramatic: 13 points.)

Ashcroft has now put the SNP ahead in 21 seats out of 24. He has polled nearly half of Scotland.

English marginals

Ashcroft also polled four Tory-held seats which Labour hope to win in May. These are crucial seats which forecasters disagree over: we rate all four as among the closest marginals in the UK, but the bookies think most of these seats lean Tory.

As this graphic shows, we were predicting all four seats – Colne Valley, Vale of Glamorgan, Norwich North and High Peak – as giving majorities of less than 1 point in May.

Ashcroft has confirmed this. His polls show Colne Valley, High Peak and Norwich North are one-point races, with only Glamorgan clearly Tory (they lead by six).

This suggests that May2015’s current forecast – Tories 280, Labour 263 – is not far off. Ashcroft is showing that the seats our model predicts are extremely close, are extremely close (our model is based on national polls where Ashcroft hasn’t polled a seat).

The upshot of today’s poll is that the SNP are headed for more than 50 seats, as we and the Guardian currently predict. A pair of academic forecasts and the bookies have a prediction closer to 40, but that will likely now increase.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.