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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.