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The Times They Are a-Changin
A survey for Notes on Nationalism looks at the potential for further movement in the polls as post-Sturgeon politics begins to take shape.
In a possible sign of what is to come, voters in the Bellshill local byelection last night deserted Humza Yousaf’s SNP in favour of the Labour Party. Locally the nationalists have been embroiled in scandal, with questions of cover-ups and stories of splits in the party. Unsurprisingly, the result, which saw Labour gain twice the votes of the SNP, is being taken as an indicator of what may happen next door in the Rutherglen byelection.
Sevanta released their regular Scottish poll today confirming the gradual slide in SNP support. A year ago this pollster had the SNP at 46%, a lead of 19 points over Labour. Today they stand at 38%, just 4 points ahead of Labour. One in six SNP voters from 2021 are moving to Labour.
These findings suggest the SNP will lose 21 MPs at the General Election. But there is a long way to go until we next vote and so I wanted to explore what room for further movement in the electorate there might be.
Could tactical anti-SNP voting have an impact on top of these changes in voters’ declared preference? Is there space for Labour to benefit from tactical anti-Tory voting from those who have previously been SNP voters? Thanks to paid subscribers to this newsletter we were able to hire Savanta to ask an additional set of questions for Notes on Nationalism about tactical voting.
Voters were asked: To what extent would you consider voting for each of the following parties in your constituency at the next General Election, either as your preferred party, or by voting tactically to stop another party from winning? They were asked to answer on a scale of 0-10 where 0 meant they absolutely would not consider voting for a party, and where 10 meant they would consider very strongly voting for a party. Here were the results with the mean scores for different groups of voters.
We’ve always got to be careful about reading too many lessons about the future from a snapshot of the present, but I think these kind of questions offer deeper insights into the political landscape that the parties will contest in the months ahead. I take four things from the numbers:
Of all parties, Labour is most likely to hold onto previous support - either wholeheartedly or tactically - with a mean score among 2021 Labour voters of 8.45. Labour is also the party most likely to gain votes from other parties with higher mean scores than the others.
The SNP’s message that there is ‘no difference between Labour and the Tories’ doesn’t appear to be shared by their own supporters, with Labour’s mean score more than twice that of the Conservatives. Past SNP voters are far more likely to see Labour as a potential home for their future support than the Conservatives.
Labour has the potential to take votes from both the SNP and Conservatives. Interestingly the mean scores for the likelihood of past supporters of both parties switching to Labour are very similar. In the past this has suggested a dilemma for Labour: do you target soft SNP voters or seek tactical votes from No-supporting Tories? So far, Labour may be doing what it has struggled to do in the past: appealing to both groups with a message of change. Can they continue to show this message discipline and avoid alienating either group?
An irony within these numbers is that the two parties who base their popular offer on beating each other - the SNP and the Tories - appeared wholly unable to fulfil this promise. Beating either the SNP or the Tories means persuading their voters to switch from them, but as the mean scores show, hardly any conservative voters are willing to consider voting SNP and very few SNP voters are willing to consider the Conservatives. On these numbers it looks like these parties can only maintain the polarisation of Scottish politics, not end it.
As Bob warns, don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin and there's no telling who that it's naming. However, the Scottish electorate is now in a fluid state. The next few months are going to be fascinating.
The Week When Populism Died?
After a week when Johnson, Trump and Sturgeon were all humbled, there are two comment pieces which are especially worth reading. Firstly Andrew Marr in the New Statement has a terrific piece on the Humiliation of the Populists:
“At Westminster, a rule-breaking populism has been expelled. In Edinburgh, a democracy that was subsiding into a one-party, top-down system with inadequate countervailing forces, is being purged by law. These are two leaders who could hardly be more different and who cordially despise one another, but Boris Johnson in England and Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland both thought they represented an entire people.”
Marr has the clarity to point out that populist nationalists operate in different contexts but have a common playbook that makes them dangerous:
“If you’re not with us, you’re not a patriotic Brit, or a real American, or an authentic Magyar, or a proper Scot. And that’s dangerous because once you “other” your opponents, then the reasons to stick by commonly agreed rules and norms begin to shrivel.”
In the FT, Robert Shrimsley criticises what he calls the ‘radical certainty’ of recent populist leaders:
”What marks the leaderships of Johnson, Corbyn and Sturgeon (one might add Liz Truss) is the primacy of a revolutionary zeal that refuses to be tempered by economic and political realities, combined with fanatical supporters and the concentration of power in a purist vanguard.”
Shirmsley wisely cautions against assuming that the downfall of populists will lead to an easy reset of our democracies:
“It may be that the UK has had its fill of radical certainty for now. But political discourse, once debased, is hard to restore entirely and bad actors remain ready to stoke up anger and falsehood. The parties may now be convalescing, the country will need longer to recover.”
Like in a horror movie, there may be one last scare just when we thought the monster was dead. There’s always the risk that they return for a sequel, but for now, it feels like we may have begun to move on from the destructive politics that has dominated for so long.
Culture Corner: To be of use.
Today marks seven years since my friend Jo Cox was taken away from us. When I think of Jo I think of when my wife Mary and I were living in Rwanda. Jo messaged to say that she was in Kenya and wanted to “pop over” to say hi. That was Jo when she was flying into equatorial Africa she used the same language that most of us use when we’re nipping out for a pint of milk.
Jo’s message that we have more in common with each other than we do to divide us is needed more than ever. I also take inspiration from her indefatigable optimism and refusal to accept that ‘nothing can be done’. The wonderful poem To be of use by Marge Piercy captures what I loved about her:
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.