CLAIMS that the latest polling shows Labour are gaining ground at the expense of the SNP is a “misinterpretation of the evidence”, John Curtice has said. 

The professor argued that Labour's gains were mostly down to the Tories' political disasters - namely Boris Johnson's partygate scandal and the fall out from Liz Truss's mini-budget.

Curtice added that Labour are still backed “predominately” by Unionist voters.

Scotland’s top pollster, speaking on The National’s Holyrood Weekly podcast, gave his verdict on two conflicting surveys that were published earlier this week – one that put the SNP and Yes in the lead, while another predicted victory for Labour and No.

Curtice argued that the Ipsos poll, which put Yes at 53% and predicted the SNP would pick up 40 seats at the next General Election, historically gives a more favourable result for the pro-independence party.

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The Redfield and Wilton poll on the other hand, gave Labour a small lead (34%) compared to the SNP (33%), and found support for the Union at 47% compared to independence at 43%.

Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said that the key was to look at long-term changes over polling from the past year.

“The brutal truth is that once you do that basically the story of these two polls is that very little, if anything, has changed,” he said.

“None of them show movements greater than one or two points for any of the individual parties.

The National: Professor Sir John Curtice

“Those are changes that could well and truly simply be the consequence of the sampling variation to which all polls are subject – so sure, there is a certain amount of uncertainty as to exactly where is the balance between Labour and the SNP.

“But what does seem to be pretty clear is that we've not seen a great deal of change in that, indeed, I don't think we've seen a great deal of change really since last summer in the relative strength of the two parties once you start putting all the polls together.”

Curtice explained that Scotland is split “more or less down the middle” on independence and that Yes supporters were generally voting for the SNP at the last Holyrood election.

But, with support for the SNP falling, the pollster added that Scottish Labour are “certainly breathing down the SNP’s neck”.

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“That's enough to create an awful lot of marginal seats in Scotland,” he added.

“And a prospect whereby Labour and the SNP may be both around 24 points after the election, rather than the SNP so clearly being dominant at Westminster at the moment.”

The professor added that there is a “tendency to assume” that polls tell a narrative of Labour “gradually and increasingly gaining ground at the expense of the SNP”.

However, he said this was a “misinterpretation of the evidence” as Labour’s gains could be traced back to Boris Johnson’s partygate scandal and Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget, both at the Scottish and UK-wide level.

The National: Liz Truss

After Truss (above) crashed the UK economy, Labour were running at between 29% and 30% in polls in Scotland, achieved “primarily by taking the Unionist vote” away from the Tories, Curtice explained.

Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation was “from the SNP’s point of view clearly a mistake”, he added, pointing to the impact of the subsequent leadership campaign on public opinion.

When Sturgeon resigned as first minister, the SNP were at 43% in the polls, down to 38% by the time Humza Yousaf took over as party leader.

He added: “That was a leadership contest which exposed a number of divisions inside the SNP and resulted in the election as leader of somebody who is not particularly popular, and who is still not particularly popular, including amongst those who voted for the SNP in 2019.”

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Curtice said that overall Yousaf’s public rating of his performance is much lower than both Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond.

He also argued that the SNP will need to try and win back Yes supporters from Labour, pointing to polls that suggest Labour are picking up one in six of those who voted for the SNP in the Holyrood elections in 2021.

The National’s Holyrood Weekly podcast with John Curtice will be available to stream on Friday February 9.