"VOTERS aren't listening to arguments about policy, they're filtering it out as white noise," says researcher Geraldine O'Riordan.
"They're going with their heart. It's about who they want to be a voice for Scotland."
Her conclusions follow a series of focus groups for research firm TNS, set up in one of the first attempts to understand an unprecedented surge in SNP support which pollsters predict will lead to a momentous reordering of the Scottish political landscape in five days' time.
Loading article content
The first session, in Edinburgh, is made up of people who supported parties other than Labour or the SNP in 2010, but are considering voting for the nationalists on Thursday. The second takes place in Glasgow, where previous Labour voters preparing to back the SNP for the first time in a general election have been picked.
Like the vast majority of those who will cast votes, they are not political anoraks. They might have caught one of the TV debates, come across the odd political discussion on Facebook that spikes their interest and if a leaflet comes through the door, there's a chance it won't go straight in the bin. A few remember a LibDem broadcast, but only because it featured prominently on an episode of Channel 4's Gogglebox. They took an interest in the referendum, though, and have remained engaged.
Certain narratives have clearly taken hold. That the LibDems sold out to take their place in Government is quickly agreed. The Tories are dismissed as the party of big business and the rich, with the toxic legacy of Thatcher cited in both sessions. The Greens? Great if the world was a touchy-feely utopia, but you wouldn't hand them the keys to the Treasury.
Labour, both groups agree, are no longer true to their founding principles. "They're like a band, I liked their first few albums, but..." says one member of the Glasgow session. Adopting the analogy, the moderator asks when they last put out a decent record. "When John Smith was there," says another of the ex-Labour voters. "It's been downhill since then."
One member of the first group has heard her local Labour MSP is great, but the party don't even get credit for that. "What she wants seems to be more what the SNP is going for at the moment," she remarks. "Labour are more like the Tories."
The responses may explain why Scottish Labour's messaging has fallen flat. Why bother voting Labour to keep out the Tories if there is little that sets them apart? Full fiscal autonomy doesn't come up once in three hours, while Ed Miliband is not seen as a credible Prime Minister. These voters, at least, have simply stopped listening to Labour.
Politicians are dismissed as cynical careerists, happy to lie and scheme their way to the top. With one notable exception - "Nicola". But then, this member of the Scottish Parliament since 1999, who joined the SNP as a schoolgirl, is not seen as a career politician at all.
"Strong" is a recurring term. One describes her as "feisty, determined and professional." She is not just a highly-competent chief executive, though.
"Not everything is scripted, when you listen to her, it's like she's talking to you," a voter tells the group. "Like someone you meet in the street," adds another. A former Labour voters says: "I'm proud to have her represent the country." There is an emotional connection to the First Minister.
But what about her stance on independence? Many of the participants were evidently not keen on Scotland breaking away from the UK, revealing they voted No last September. Yet, they appear perfectly comfortable with supporting the SNP.
The two major issues identified by both groups are health and education, both devolved to Holyrood. They like the SNP's stance on free tuition and prescriptions, but the nationalists benefit from a clear 'Teflon effect' and are not blamed for issues in schools and the NHS. One of the First Minister's fans says local authorities should receive far more funding, apparently oblivious to the SNP imposed council tax freeze, dating back to 2007.
However, according to Ms O'Riordan, Insights Director at TNS, the huge growth in SNP support is driven by emotion and identity, rather than dispassionate logic. Even many who voted No felt empowered by the referendum.
While the ex-Labour voters expressed a disillusionment and sadness with the state of the party they backed in 2010, the process began when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. Meanwhile the SNP, once seen as a niche party at general election, emerged as a power player on the UK stage.
She says: "I think a fire has been lit -people are really enjoying delving in to what it means to be Scottish and what their values and culture mean in the modern world. They are projecting that onto Nicola, who they see as their mouthpiece. There aren't many people who don't want to be heard and understood over the din and irrelevance of Westminster.
"To recover, Labour would have to capture some of that emotion and articulate it. But they're hamstrung by their different masters and tied to the London agenda meaning they can't be a distinct or credible Scottish voice. Policy isn't going to sway this one. If Labour don't find an answer, they will continue to feel redundant."