One of the first big tests for Ed Miliband will be whether Labour can regain power in Scotland in ten weeks’ time. Until recently, polls put his party around 10 points ahead of the Scottish National Party. But today’s Ipsos MORI/Times survey (£) shows that Alex Salmond’s party has made a remarkable comeback.
In the constituency section, the poll puts the SNP on 37 per cent (+6 since November) and Labour on 36 per cent (-5), with the Tories and the Lib Dems both unchanged on 13 per cent. In the regional list, it’s a similar story. The SNP is on 35 per cent (+3), Labour is on 33 per cent (-3), the Tories are on 13 per cent (+1), and the Lib Dems on 10 per cent (+1).
If repeated at a general election, these figures would leave the SNP with 51 seats, four more than now, Labour with 48 seats (+2), the Tories with 14 seats (-3) and the Lib Dems with 12 (-4).
In other words, Salmond would be free to lead another minority government (his preferred option) or to form a “rainbow coalition” with the Lib Dems and the Greens (who are on track to have four MSPs).
How to explain Labour’s precipitous decline? One plausible explanation is that the party’s high ratings were simply a transitory reflection of its strong performance at the general election. With the Holyrood election now imminent, voters have given the SNP a second look.
Add to this the relative popularity of the charismatic Salmond and the relative unpopularity of the dour Iain Gray, Labour’s Scottish leader, and the SNP’s lead suddenly looks a lot less surprising.
The smart money is now on a Labour defeat in May.