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No mid-term blues as SNP stay ahead in Holyrood poll

THE SNP have hailed a strong polling lead over Labour in Scottish Parliament voting intentions as a "remarkable achievement" for a party well into the middle of its second term of government.

The party commissioned Panelbase to conduct the survey of more than 1000 voters between December 13 and 20. The findings show the SNP leading Labour by eight points on constituency voting intentions and by nine points on regional list intentions - figures virtually unheard of for a party of government that would expect to be experiencing "mid-term blues".

The polling also highlights the conundrum at the heart of Scottish politics - that the electorate is still warm to First Minister Alex Salmond and his party as a government, without buying into its aspiration for independence. The prospects for a Yes vote continue to trail those for No.

However, the latest figures do come with a health warning. Panelbase - whether on party voting intentions or on independence referendum polling - has tended to produce findings that are more favourable to the Nationalist cause compared to other polling companies.

The company has accepted there has been some risk of enthusiasts for either side in the constitutional debate to seek to flood their online panel system, and it responded by closing this to new applications.

Labour are refusing to comment on the poll because it was commissioned by the SNP. But Panelbase is a member of the British Polling Council, which means it publishes its full results and methodology.

Even within Panelbase findings there is some comfort for Labour: the party has narrowed the gap since May when the pollster last asked the same questions. Seven months ago the SNP had a 15 points lead over Labour on the constituency vote and an 18 points lead for the regional lists.

In early December, YouGov had the SNP and Labour on 38% for the constituency vote and Labour three points ahead at 37% for the regional vote.

Since then an Ipsos Mori poll has put the SNP on 41% for the Holyrood constituency vote, four points ahead of Labour.

SNP business convener Derek Mackay said: "For the SNP to enjoy such a substantial lead - after more than six-and-a-half years in government - is a remarkable achievement by any standard. The SNP continue to move Scotland forward - delivering effective, competent government in the face of Westminster cuts. This poll reinforces a previous key finding - that people trust the Scottish Government rather than Westminster to take decisions for Scotland by a margin of nearly four to one."

He added: "We are moving into a crucial year in 2014, with the all-important referendum in September - but also a by-election in January and the European elections in May - and these figures demonstrate the SNP are in tip-top condition and excellent heart."

Given that different polling companies have different sampling methods it is best to compare like with like. The last time Panelbase asked about Holyrood voting intentions was for a Sunday newspaper last May.

The latest results compared with seven months ago show the SNP losing ground on 40% (down five points), Labour on 32% (up two), the Conservatives on 15% (up two) and the LibDems stuck on 5%.

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