Labour is facing a desperate battle to stop a Scottish National party landslide after a poll showed the SNP had a clear but weaker lead across Labour constituencies in Scotland.
The ComRes poll for ITV News focusing on Labour’s 40 Scottish seats has found the SNP has a six-point lead over Labour, putting Nicola Sturgeon’s party on the brink of winning about 28 new seats and close to becoming the third largest party at Westminster.
But the detailed polling suggests the gap between Labour and the SNP in its heartland seats is far closer than the 17-point average detected in national polling, with Labour sources describing that finding as “encouraging, but we’re not saying ‘great, high five’.”
Worryingly for Labour, the poll confirms that 30% of current SNP voters had backed Labour at the 2010 general election, with the SNP commanding significant levels of support among voters aged under 54, by a ratio of nearly 3:2 over Labour.
The results were released after Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, insisted he still believed his party was able to close the unprecedented gap with the SNP.
Speaking on a campaign visit in the SNP target seat of Edinburgh South earlier on Tuesday, Murphy said lots of voters were only beginning to think about the issues at stake: “The election is only 24 hours old; there are weeks to go,” he said. “When I was elected [Scottish leader] I said the polls will turn big and the polls will turn late, when people are confronted by the choice facing them.”
He said as the poll was released: “We are back in the fight but we are still the underdogs. If this poll is repeated on election day it could hand the keys to Downing Street back to David Cameron ... [that] would be a disaster for Scotland.”
ComRes added that voters in those seats had a far more favourable view of Ed Milband than national polls suggest, with 49% of those voters preferring Miliband to David Cameron as prime minister, implying that Labour’s attempts to force voters to see the contest as a straight head-to-head contest could win support. Only 19% of SNP voters preferred Cameron.
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader and election campaign director, said the SNP’s clear lead in former Labour strongholds was instead clear evidence Labour was being punished for its collaboration with the Tories during the independence referendum and for supporting spending cuts.
Warning that his party was “taking absolutely nothing for granted,” he said: “Electing a strong team of SNP MPs is Scotland’s opportunity to hold real power in the House of Commons, to ensure the things that matter to people in Scotland are firmly on Westminster’s agenda.”
He added that an SNP landslide would help build a larger anti-Tory alliance in the Commons, allowing that bloc to “lock David Cameron out of Downing Street – and put an end to the ideological commitment to austerity which is hurting communities across Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.”
But the ComRes study – of 1,000 people across the 40 seats currently held by Labour – shows that voters are evenly split on whether the SNP should strike a deal at Westminster, with SNP voters far more uncertain about the case for a deal than the party’s leadership.
A large minority of all voters (41%) opposed any deal with either party, but 21% backed a formal Labour/SNP coalition while another 21% favoured a more informal approach to Labour by the SNP.
Of SNP voters, 41% said they would prefer no deal with either party, followed by 33% who wanted the SNP to support Labour informally.
But in a finding which will discomfort Labour’s leadership which has sought to dismiss any prospect of a deal, ComRes found that 56% of Labour voters wanted either a full pact with the SNP or SNP support in a hung parliament.
ComRes ignored the former Labour seat of Falkirk because its MP Eric Joyce was suspended by Labour and then resigned after an assault conviction, sitting instead as an independent.
Labour MPs admit privately they are all deeply worried about the SNP surge, which allows the SNP to challenge for seats where it was previously a distant also-ran. The SNP came fourth in Edinburgh South in the 2010 general election but is now a serious challenge to sitting Labour MP and shadow business manager Ian Murray after the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed.
This article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 31st March 2015 18.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010