UK

Labour causing difficulties for SNP with ‘get rid of the Tories’ pitch – Curtice

The elections expert also said First Minister John Swinney is yet to spark ‘any significant sign of SNP progress’.

Prof Sir John Curtice has offered his expert opinion on how Labour has gained ground on the SNP
Prof Sir John Curtice has offered his expert opinion on how Labour has gained ground on the SNP (Strathclyde University/PA)

Labour’s pitch that voters should back them to “get rid of the Tories” has caused the SNP a “lot of difficulties” in this election campaign, polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice said.

He said that messaging, together with the “worries and doubts” about the SNP, could be impacting on support for John Swinney’s party.

Speaking about the SNP leader, who returned to frontline politics and took charge of the party in May after Humza Yousaf’s resignation, Sir John said he is “not as unpopular” as Mr Yousaf, but Mr Swinney is “not in the same league as Nicola Sturgeon”.

His comments came during an online event organised by the Fraser of Allander Insitute ahead of the General Election on July 4.

John Swinney (centre) is more popular as SNP leader and First Minister than Humza Yousaf was, but is ‘not in the same league’ as Nicola Sturgeon, Prof Sir John Curtice said.
John Swinney (centre) is more popular as SNP leader and First Minister than Humza Yousaf was, but is ‘not in the same league’ as Nicola Sturgeon, Prof Sir John Curtice said. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Looking ahead to polling day, Sir John said the “constitutional question is still absolutely fundamental for unionist voters”.

Explaining why support for the SNP is down while pro-independence sentiment has remained broadly unchanged, he said: “For those on the Yes side of the argument, their worries and doubts about the SNP and also Labour’s appeal, ‘vote for us to get rid of the Tories’, that appeal caused the SNP a lot of difficulties.”

Support for the SNP was just below the level of 45% it achieved in the 2019 general election when Ms Sturgeon announced she was stepping down in February last year, but Sir John by the time the campaign to find her successor was over and Mr Yousaf was installed, that had fallen to 38%.

He said: “That leadership contest, both in terms of what happened during that campaign itself in the divisions it exposed and the person who emerged as the winner, was bad news for the SNP.”

He added that “maybe John Swinney has been able to steady the ship of decline”, but there has not yet been “any significant sign of SNP progress and that is potentially making things difficult for them”.

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

Sir John continued: “The reason why this has happened is all to do with people’s perceptions of the SNP and nothing at all to do with attitudes to independence, which have basically flatlined.

“We still are in a position where this country is divided almost down the middle on the constitutional question, with just under half of people saying they would vote Yes in an independence referendum.

“What obviously therefore is happening is support for the SNP amongst people who would vote Yes has gone down.”

He also said the leadership contest last year means the SNP is “now regarded as divided” by some voters.

Sir John said: “People no longer thought of the Scottish National Party as being united, but rather as a party that is divided, and voters tend not to vote for divided parties.”

He added it also now appears to be the case that voters are “finally taking into account their perceptions of the SNP’s record in Government” when considering who to vote for.

Here, he said analysis shows “people who evaluate the NHS less well are less willing to vote for the SNP again”.

However, Holyrood Health Secretary Neil Gray said that the Scottish Government had a “record to be proud of”.

Mr Gray, campaigning in Broxburn, West Lothian on Friday, said: “We’re lifting 100,000 children out of poverty through our actions, even with the diminishing block grant and a decade and a half of austerity.

“We’ve got the best performing health service, on a number of measures, compared to elsewhere in the UK.”

He also hit back at Labour’s claims to offer change to voters, with Mr Gray saying: “What they are actually offering is continued short change, because they are continuing to offer an austerity agenda where they have signed up to the Tory fiscal rules.”

He insisted: “People will see through that and I think we’re starting to see a change in the mood. I certainly felt it this morning when I as knocking on doors.”

Former PM Liz Truss may hav effectively guaranteed the future ofthe Union for the medium term, the election export suggested.
Former PM Liz Truss may hav effectively guaranteed the future ofthe Union for the medium term, the election export suggested. (Victoria Jones/PA)

Meanwhile, Sir John said former Conservative prime minister Liz Truss may have ensured there is not another referendum on independence in the coming years.

He said the SNP using political “leverage” in a hung parliament with Labour in minority administration had “always been where the next referendum was going to come from, at least in the short-term”.

But he said the dip in Tory support during Ms Truss’s short spell as PM had “knocked another six points off the Conservatives in six weeks”.

“The Conservatives have never succeeded in recovering this position,” Sir John said.

“It’s that event which has opened up the prospect of a majority Labour government, and therefore the prospect that we will have another government that can say ‘we’re terribly sorry, we’re not going to have another referendum’.

“I think there is now probably one thing we can say that Liz Truss’s brief tenure in office achieved, at least as far as the medium future is concerned, was to guarantee the future of the Union.”