It’s a stubborn and slightly unfashionable thing to say, but I continue to believe there will be Labour MPs in Scotland after 7 May.
And not just one or two. I think the party has a good chance of holding on to maybe a quarter of the seats it won in 2010 – in other words, a minimum of around 10.
Why do I think this? Because Scotland’s electorate is not a homogenous block of people who all think and behave the same way. Yes, 45% of them voted for independence in September – some of whom, it’s worth remembering, won’t be able to vote this time round by virtue of being 16 and 17 years old. And yes, opinion polls continue to suggest that a similar number of people will vote for the SNP at the general election. Here are the results of every poll since the referendum:
But there are 59 seats in Scotland and every one is different. Will 45-50% of people in each of these seats all vote for the SNP? Or is that 45-50% poll figure spread unevenly across the nation?
I have to tend towards the latter view, if for no other reason than it it is safer. It might be over-cautious, but when you’re dealing with something that has no precedent, it also seems shrewd. Lord Ashcroft’s polls have rightly made headlines, but as yet he’s been to only 28 of the 59 constituencies. A few polls have been within the margin of error. As the man himself always says, he deals in snapshots, not predictions. I’d caution against extrapolating anything from his polls, as with any polls.
By way of a comparison, here are all the opinion polls carried out in Wales since the Scottish referendum:
I’ve included only the top three parties, as both the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru have consistently scored very low numbers throughout this period (around 6% and 12% respectively). You can see that the two biggest parties have edged up slightly, while Ukip have slipped. But as with Scotland, so it is with Wales: its electorate is not a homogenous mass, and 40% of them will not vote Labour in every constituency.
I know Scotland v Wales is not a like-for-like comparison, but that’s precisely the point. Very little can be presumed about almost everything in this election, Scotland included. There may be a fair number of Labour MPs in Scotland come 8 May. Then again there may be hardly any. We just don’t know. If we did, there’d be no point holding the election.