The latest poll from TNS-BMRB, formerly System Three, sees Labour down four points on 42% for the constituency vote, but still giving them a 10-point lead over the SNP, who flatlined on their July figure.
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It comes as ministers want to put the pledge of a referendum offering either independence or greater financial powers at the heart of next year’s election campaign and are considering whether outright defeat in a Holyrood vote would blunt that.
The Government’s announcement of its final legislative programme on Wednesday will, in effect, start the “long campaign” amid polling that will disappoint Nationalist strategists.
On the regional vote there is no change at all on party standings, with Labour on 42%, SNP 32%, LibDems 12%, Conservatives 11% and Greens 3%. Others increased by one to 3%. More than 1000 voters across 70 constituencies were polled between August 25 and 31.
Chris Eynon, of TNS-BMRB, said: “For the SNP, their failure to build further on last month’s recovery will be a disappointment. Nevertheless, they will be happy to see Labour slipping back and the gap reduced to 10%.”
Another poll at the weekend gave Labour a 10-point constituency lead over the SNP, by 39% to 29%, with the Tories on 19% and the LibDems on 11%. The YouGov poll for the Scottish Mail on Sunday, conducted from August 31 to September 3, gave regional standings of Labour 36%, SNP 26%, Tories 15% and LibDems 12%.
When the SNP commissioned YouGov just a fortnight previously, that poll put the Nationalists one point behind Labour’s 36%, while an Ipsos Mori poll had the SNP just three points behind.
First Minister Alex Salmond is wrestling with a real dilemma over his Referendum Bill. Following a summit of MSPs, it is thought an outright rejection in the chamber may make it harder to bring the issue back in the next Parliament.
An aide to the First Minister said: “We are discussing our strategy to make the referendum the transcending issue of the election, to demonstrate that financial independence is the only alternative to a decade or more of Westminster-dictated cuts.
“It is clear that we will now have to appeal over the heads of the unionist MSPs to the people of Scotland next May.”
He pointed out the “ludicrous” position of holding a referendum on an AV voting system that no-one supports on the day of the Scottish election, or pursuing a referendum on more powers for Wales, while denying that for Scotland.
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: “Alex Salmond’s bill has turned into a white flag rather than a flagship policy. This climbdown is a humiliation for him.”
Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said: “Alex Salmond has squandered millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money chasing a minority aspiration. Now he is running scared.”
A LibDem spokeswoman said: “We welcome the SNP fighting next year’s election solely on the grounds of independence.”