SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS: New polling shows the future of Scotland rests on a knife edge

Lady in Red – FM Nicola Sturgeon is dropping back in the polls. Picture by Bill Heaney

By Lucy Ashton

Polling cards were dropping through letterboxes in Dumbarton today (Thursday) and a new series of advertisements got off the ground on television to warn local people that the Scottish Parliament elections are due to take place on Thursday, May 6.

Pundits have reported that Nicola Sturgeon is on course to fall short of an overall majority at Holyrood for a second time, according to a new poll.

The Opinium Survey for Sky News suggested the SNP would win 64 seats in May’s election, one more than in 2016, but still one short of a majority.

The poll found the SNP and Ms Sturgeon remained comfortably the most popular party and leader in Scotland, but constituency voting intention for the SNP was its lowest since 2019.

The SNP was also seen as the most divided major party in Scotland, and more and more pictures of her are beginning to appear in the media in Wee Nippy mode.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to hold a second independence referendum in the first half of the next five-year parliament if she wins in May, while her opponents say the economic recovery from the pandemic should be the priority.

Even if the SNP win a majority, more voters (48%) said there should not be a referendum before 2026, than those in favour of one on that timescale (46%).

The wavering in the SNP’s fortunes comes after weeks of bad headlines for Ms Sturgeon’s party over sleaze and the Alex Salmond affair, and she is said to be feeling the pressure.

Several recent polls have shown a weakening of support for the party and for independence.
The Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair, and Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor criticising one another in public, appears to have undermined’s the First Minister’s credibility, accoirding to the Herald’s political editor Tom Gordon. 

More voters (44%) thought Ms Sturgeon failed to tell the truth in her recent Holyrood inquiry appearance than thought she was honest (40%), although Mr Salmond was believed even less, with only 15% thinking he told the truth, compared to 68% who thought he didn’t.

A majority of Scots (51%) think Ms Sturgeon should quit if found to have broken the ministerial code, compared to just 35% who think she should stay in her job.

The poll also found a narrow majority of decided voters in favour of independence, with 51 per cent backing Yes and 49% for No.

The full breakdown was 45% Yes, 43% No, 4% would not vote and 8% didn’t know.

On voting intention for Holyrood, the SNP was 22 points clear of its nearest rival in the constituency vote at 46%, and 20 points ahead on the regional vote at 42%.

Constituency vote for the Tories was 24%, Labour 20%, the Liberal Democrats 6% and the Greens 4%.

On the regional vote, it was Tories 22%, Labour 19%, LibDems 5% and Greens 7%.

Using a crude uniform swing calculator, this result would translate into 64 seats for the SNP, up one on 2016.

However Opinium warned the very small margins could change the overall seat numbers.

The pollsters also found Ms Sturgeon was “still incredibly popular”, thanks in large part to her perceived handling of the Covid pandemic.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, Tories’ Ruth Davidson and Douglas Ross and the new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

She had a net approval rating of +27, compared to -35 for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, -12 for UK Labour leader Keir Starmer, and -16 for Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, with the new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar on a net score of zero as a relative unknown.

One who would be the best First Minister, Ms Sturgeon led with 50% of the vote, followed by Douglas Ross (12%) and Anas Sarwar (10%).

However, 15% didn’t think any of the current candidates would be the best first Minister and 13% didn’t know.

The number of Scots who approved of the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic was higher than those who disapproved by a net of +31 (57% vs 26%).

Opinium said this was much higher than the net score of -25 rating for UK government’s response, as 54% disapprove and 29% approve.

Over a third (35%) of those surveyed thought Scotland would have been able to respond better to Covid as an independent country, with over a quarter (27%) thinking they would have done worse.

However, the median view is that they would have done about the same (27%).

Poll indicates Union flag will be flying in Scotland for years to come.

SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown said: “Voting SNP in the coming election will give people in Scotland – not Boris Johnson – the right to decide Scotland’s future.

“Scotland’s recovery from COVID must be in Scotland’s hands – not those of Boris Johnson, who is hammering our economy with his hard Brexit and who is a threat to our NHS.

“Using both votes for the SNP will re-elect Nicola Sturgeon to continue to lead Scotland as we move from pandemic to recovery.

“This is the most important election in Scotland’s history, and every single vote will count in May. Scotland’s future must be in Scotland’s hands – and giving both votes to the SNP is the only way to protect that right.”

Chris Curtis, Senior Research Manager at Opinium, said: “The polling shows the future of Scotland rests on a knife edge.

“Firstly, in terms of whether the SNP can gain a majority alone in May, which would strengthen their mandate to hold a second independence referendum.

“Secondly, in terms of what might happen in such a referendum, with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ eye wateringly close in our latest poll.

“But it is also important to note Sturgeon’s incredible popularity in Scotland.

“Despite her recent difficulties over the Salmond affair, she still has the overwhelming support of Scottish voters, driven by the fact that most think her government has done a good job responding to the pandemic.”

Opinium surveyed 1,096 adults online from March 11 to 16.

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