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21 April 2011

The SNP heads for victory on 5 May

New poll puts Alex Salmond’s party 11 points ahead of Labour.

By George Eaton

What with the AV referendum and the coalition’s internal strife, the fascinating contest north of the border has received less attention than it deserves. Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP), which was 15 points behind Labour in one poll last month, is now on track for a large victory in the Holyrood election.

A remarkable poll in this morning’s Times (£) puts Salmond’s party 11 points ahead of the Labour in the constituency section and 10 points ahead in the regional section.

In the constituency section, the Ipsos MORI survey puts the SNP on 45 per cent (+8 since February) and Labour on 34 per cent (-2), with the Conservatives on 10 per cent (-3) and the Lib Dems on 9 per cent (-1).

In the regional list, it’s a similar story. The SNP is on 42 per cent (+7), Labour is on 32 per cent (-1), the Tories on 10 per cent (-3), the Lib Dems on 8 per cent (-2) and the Scottish Greens on 6 (n/c).Scottish polls may frequently overstate support for the SNP, as Mike Smithson points out, but there’s little prospect of a Labour comeback at this stage.

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How to explain the party’s precipitous decline? One plausible explanation is that its high ratings were simply a transitory reflection of its strong performance at the general election. With the devolved elections now imminent, voters have given the SNP a second look. Labour’s attempt to turn the election into a referendum on the Westminster coalition has fallen flat.

Add to this the enduring popularity of the charismatic Salmond and the unpopularity of the dour Iain Gray, Labour’s Scottish leader, and the SNP’s lead suddenly looks a lot less surprising. On the regional ballot paper, the party is listed as “SNP (Alex Salmond for First Minister)”, a cunning ruse that party officials believe will give the party “the edge” with list voters.

If repeated on 5 May, the latest figures would leave Salmond’s party just four seats short of an overall majority. The SNP would have 61 MSPs (+14), with Labour on 45 (down one), the Conservatives on ten (down seven), the Lib Dems on nine (down seven) and the Greens on four (up two). Were Salmond to strike another agreement with the Greens, he would have the 65 seats needed for an overall majority and, potentially, for a referendum on independence.

The Scottish election is distinct enough for Ed Miliband to avoid much of the blame. But a second SNP victory, combined with the likely defeat of the Alternative Vote, is not the start the Labour leader will have wanted.