There’s been a Guardian/ICM poll done this week, measuring Westminster voting intention in Scotland. It’s not quite as bad for Labour as some of the other Scottish polls done recently, but it’s still pretty awful. The SNP has a 17-point lead over Labour, enough of a lead, on uniform swing, to reduce the Scottish Labour parliamentary party to a mere 10 seats (they currently have 41).
The amazing thing is, if you look closer, the actual problem is a lot worse than this for Scottish Labour. Their share of the vote is dropping even further in their former heartlands, those former ultra-safe Labour seats in the Central Belt. Whereas their share of the vote is down by 16 points across the nation, it is down 22 points in these Central Belt, “Labour heartland” constituencies. Meanwhile, the SNP are up 26 in these same places, compared to 23 across the board. John Curtice has looked at the numbers and thinks that if the polling figures do not improve for Scottish Labour between now and the general election, Labour could actually be reduced to a mere three seats in Scotland.
I start an article about the Lib Dems preventing the Tories from gaining a majority in the House of Commons with all of that preceding in order to lay the fundamental groundwork necessary: Labour are totally stuffed. Losing all those seats in Scotland means they have an even higher mountain to climb in England. Even assuming the 10-seat figure in Scotland, this means that Labour need to gain 104 seats off the Tories in England in order to have a majority of one. You’d have to have very red-tinted spectacles to think this was going to happen with things are the way they are; with the poll numbers being what they are, with the leaders of each party being who they are.
Common accepted wisdom these days is that the Tories cannot get a majority at the next election. Ruling parties never go up (which isn’t exactly true, but is mostly the case); they’ve presided over cuts to public services; then there’s the UKIP problem, which is going to split their vote. But one thing gets left out of the equation when thinking this through: the Conservatives can get a majority if they take a swathe of seats off the Lib Dems.
Something the left-wing press has failed to come to terms with during this parliament is the fact that a Lib Dem collapse, under First Past the Post, would directly benefit the Tories more than Labour. This is because of the 57 seats the Lib Dems hold, 40 of them are Lib-Tory marginals, seats where Labour have no chance. They used to be Conservative safe seats, most of them, pre-1997 collapse. If the Tories can reclaim them in May 2015, I think they’ll get themselves the majority they failed to get last time.
Thus, the only thing, I believe, preventing a Tory majority post-May is the Lib Dems managing to hang on to most of their Conservative facing seats. Some of you reading this might say to yourselves that another hung parliament with the Tories as the largest party and the Lib Dems holding the balance of power would be no different than a Conservative majority, given what has happened over the last four and a half years. If you think this is true, I want you to think seriously about the differences. Whether we stay in the European Union or we don’t, one of the biggest issues Britain needs to decide on over the next decade, will be heavily influenced by whether there is a Tory majority or a Tory minority/another Con-Lib. The Bill of Human Rights. Whether the cuts come across several departments, including defence, or the welfare state is transformed in a permanent, ideologically driven way (I can imagine left-wing activists in ten years time joking about when they used to get uppity about things like the spare bedroom subsidy).
This seems to me the battleground for 2015: hung parliament with Tories the largest party v Tory majority. Because I think Labour are in too much trouble for it to be otherwise.