One reason for the surprising level of optimism and energy among the Tories, which I explore in my column this week, is the worsening position of Labour in Scotland (which I didn’t have room to discuss in the piece). Several Conservatives that I spoke to in Birmingham were hopeful that the post-referendum surge in support for the SNP, which has tripled its membership to 75,000 since the vote (making it the third-largest party in the UK), would cost Labour a significant number of seats in May 2015.
This is borne out by a new Panelbase poll, which, as well as giving the SNP a commanding lead in the Scottish parliament, puts them ahead of Labour in general election voting intention. The nationalists are on 34 per cent (up from 20 per cent in 2010) with Labour on 32 per cent (down from 42 per cent), a swing of 12 per cent in the SNP’s favour. For Labour, a shift of that size is deadly. As Peter Kellner has noted, while a 5 per cent swing to the SNP would cost the party three seats, a swing of 8 per cent would cost it 19. This could, of course, just be a temporary surge that will fade as the general election approaches. But it would now be surprising if the SNP, with its huge activist base, didn’t win some seats from Labour. Expect the nationalists to campaign for a mandate to hold Westminster’s “feet to the fire” on further devolution.
Another encouraging finding for the Tories is that, unlike in the rest of the UK, support for them in Scotland has increased since the general election from 17 per cent to 18 per cent. With the plaudits their Scottish leader Ruth Davidson has attracted, they are hopeful that they can finally begin to recover ground in the country and put an end to those panda jokes.