The full scale of the post-referendum political earthquake in Scotland has been demonstrated by a new poll which suggests Charles Kennedy’s once safe seat will fall to the Scottish National party, along with the seat Gordon Brown is retiring from in May.
The poll by Lord Ashcroft – which is of a series of parliamentary seats across Britain – indicates that the SNP, led by Nicola Sturgeon, could win 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats, according to the veteran polling analyst Mike Smithson. This would virtually wipe out the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats north of the border.
The projected success of the SNP would almost cancel out Labour gains in other parts of Great Britain, producing a dead heat between the two main parties on 7 May, according to Ashcroft’s projections.
The former Tory treasurer, who now insists he is an impartial pollster, suggested that the Tories and Labour would be tied on 272 seats each. Labour won 258 seats in 2010 while the Tories won 306 seats.
In a presentation to the ConservativeHome website, Ashcroft challenged David Cameron to “weaponise” himself – a play on the wording Ed Miliband is reported to have used to describe Labour’s tactics on the NHS.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats were shocked by signs of the depth of the SNP breakthrough despite losing the independence referendum in September. Charles Kennedy, the former Lib Dem leader, is five points behind the SNP in his Highlands seat of Ross, Skye and Lochabar. The poll placed the SNP in his seat on 40%, the Lib Dems on 35%, Labour on 9% and the Tories on 8%.
The Lib Dems had hoped that Kennedy, first elected in 1983 who has kept his distance from the coalition, would be safe. “I’m genuinely shocked about Kennedy,” one Lib Dem source said. Projections from the polling in eight Scottish seats suggests that Alistair Carmichael, the Scotland secretary, would be the only one of the Lib Dem MPs in Scotland to hold on, in Orkney and Shetland.
The one Lib Dem hope is that the likes of Kennedy will enjoy a personal boost. Ashcroft did not prompt voters by naming candidates, although he did ask voters to think of the candidates standing in the constituency. Smithson suggested that the SNP would fare less well if the poll had named candidates.
The deep threat to Labour is highlighted by a 28.5% SNP swing in Gordon Brown’s seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The poll placed the SNP on 45%, Labour on 37%, the Tories on 10% and the Lib Dems on 2%. Labour will not benefit from any personal bounce in the seat because the former prime minister is standing down at the election.
The one crumb of comfort for Labour is that Jim Murphy, the party’s leader in Scotland, will hang on in East Renfrewshire. But Murphy is just one point ahead of the SNP by 34% to 33%. The Tories are on 26% and the Lib Dems on 2% behind the Greens on 3%. All the parties will treat the poll with caution. Ashcroft polled just eight of the 59 seats in Scotland.
Angus Robertson, the SNP general election campaign director, said: “These polls are very encouraging, but we aren’t taking a single seat or vote for granted in May. The most significant aspect of the findings is it confirms that the SNP’s surge in support is reflected every bit as much in areas of Scotland which voted no as a well as yes in the referendum.”
Murphy acknowledged that the polls were bad news for Labour but he sought to use the findings to highlight Labour’s central message in Scotland – that a vote for the SNP would help Cameron remain in No 10.
Murphy said: “There is no gloss that can be put on these polls. This is bad news for Scottish Labour but great news for the Tories. David Cameron will be rubbing his hands with glee when he sees these polls, because any seat the SNP take from Scottish Labour makes it more likely the Tories will be the largest party across the UK.
“It is a simple fact that in every election since before the second world war, the largest party has gone on to form the government. In May’s election, the biggest party will be either Labour or the Tories. This election is too close to call with Labour and the Tories running neck and neck. This poll makes clear that only Labour is big enough and strong enough to beat the Tories across the UK.
“We need to do everything we can to stop the Tories being the largest party, and the way to do that is to vote for Scottish Labour.
“We can’t let David Cameron back into Downing Street by the back door. That would be a disaster for Scotland, but it looks like that is what might happen if these polls in Scotland are repeated on election day.”
Ashcroft found the weaknesses of the party leaders as voters drew laughable comparisons. Miliband was likened to the cartoon character Elmer Fudd and a creme de menthe. Clegg was likened to Fred from Scoobie Doo, a Smart car, a bottle of Babycham and a chihuahua in a handbag. Cameron was likened to a Vesper Martini, a Mercedes, Dick Dastardly and Hugh Grant.
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