THE latest major poll was widely reported as a blow for Labour and showed that, despite the myriad of troubles which have hit the SNP, Humza Yousaf's party was still ahead among voters across Scotland and with a bigger lead over Labour than in other recent surveys.

If a general election was held at the moment, the SNP would win 38% of the votes cast, up two points since last month, while Labour would net 27% - a fall of five points from the previous month, the YouGov poll suggested.

According to seat projections, under the new Westminster boundaries, the result would mean the SNP winning 39 while Labour would return 11, a significant increase from the one the party has at present but well below recent expectations.

READ MORE: Poll: Blow for Labour as YouGov puts SNP on top with bigger lead

The SNP currently holds 44 Westminster seats, taking 48 in the last general election in 2019, with two MPs later defecting to Alba, a third being ousted in a recall petition and a fourth expelled from the party and now sitting as an independent.

If the YouGov poll for The Times, published on September 15, was not disappointing for Labour, it probably should have been. Previous surveys had put Labour in a much stronger position.

The Herald: Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing her resignation in Bute House, Edinburgh, on February 15 this year.

Research by Wilton and Redfield earlier this month put Labour ahead of the SNP in Westminster voting intentions with the party on course to win 26 seats — four more than the SNP, who would win 22.

A poll by Panelbase for The Sunday Times in June pointed to a Labour triumph with 26 seats, while the SNP would take just 21 seats, while the same month a survey by Savanta also showed a closer gap between the parties, though with the SNP still ahead, and on course to win 27 seats to Labour's 22.

READ MOREPoll: Scottish Labour and SNP tied on Westminster voting intention

Asked about the YouGov poll this week Labour insiders insisted a single survey does not give a clear indication of the political mood among voters and noted the expert Sir John Curtice pointed out that the numbers still pointed to a Labour win in next month's crunch by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West.

They also suggested it's a matter of interpretation and expectations pointing to how much delight there would have been a year ago in Labour circles if polling suggested the party would win 11 seats.

Of course Labour has a point. The YouGov poll could be an outlier and it is clearly the case that the SNP is in a far shakier position than it was a year ago.

But given the political turmoil surrounding the party in recent years - not just in 2023 - shouldn't the SNP be well behind in the polls at the moment and Labour firmly back on top?

READ MORE: SNP by-election hopeful Katy Loudon: It's been a difficult few months

Humza Yousaf's party has now been in power at Holyrood for more than 16 years and since 2020 we've had the trial and acquittal of the SNP's former party leader and first minister Alex Salmond on sex charges and the resignation this February of his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Since her exit, we've seen the arrests of her and her husband Peter Murrell, the party's former chief executive, as well as its former treasurer Colin Beattie. (Each were released without charge pending further inquiries).

There's been a fractious leadership campaign, ongoing internal divisions, problems in government, particularly in the management of the NHS and delivery of critical infrastructure projects such as the two ferries long awaited ferries being built in Port Glasgow and the failure to dual the A9.

READ MORE: Labour's Michael Shanks says independence supporters are rejecting SNP

Further, of course, there is no clear route to the party achieving its founding goal of independence after the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to agree to a new vote and the Supreme Court ruled that Holyrood does not have the power to hold one with Westminster agreement. So why is the SNP still ahead? What's happening?

It's a matter that has provoked some reflection in the SNP itself with senior figures believing the party has almost become synonymous with the Scottish party of government in the eyes of voters.

"The remarkable thing is that after 16 years in office, and despite the destabilising events that have occurred in recent months, the SNP continues to be the leading party in Scotland," one senior SNP insider told The Herald.

The Herald: Scottish Labour candidate Michael ShanksLabour's candidate in rhe Rutherglen and Hamilton West by election Michael Shanks, pictured with party deputy leader Dame Jackie Baillie and activists.  Photo Colin Mearns/The Herald

"A big factor is that the SNP remains the only party that looks and sounds like the government of Scotland - the entire Scottish political debate still revolves around us, as underlined in this month's Programme for Government."

READ MORE: Blackford and Gray hit SNP by-election trail with anti-Brexit message

James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, was though less positive.

"I think it is an exaggeration to describe the SNP dominating Scottish politics," he said.

"Its position has weakened significantly over the last year.  It is, however, right that it still has the support of more voters than any other party. 

"I'm not sure you can read so much into one opinion poll regarding Labour losing momentum.  Much, I imagine, will depend on what happens in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election.  All that can be said with any degree of confidence is that the SNP has lost its dominance but remains the largest party."

Mr Mitchell went on to say that the reason why the SNP's support has held up to the extent it has is that it is able to rely on core voters who want to see Scottish independence.

The Herald: Stephen Flynn and Katy LoudonThe SNP's candidate in the Rutherglen and Hamilton by election, pictured with the party's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn.  Photo Colin Mearns/The Herald.

"The SNP’s base is, as always, support for independence," he said.

Polls suggest Scots are evenly divided on favouring the Union or independence, though some have showed some pro independence voters switching to Labour.

"Support for independence is maintaining the SNP in a position it would be unlikely to be in if its support was based on governing competence," said Professor Mitchell.

But is Labour under UK leader Sir Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour's Anas Sarwar failing to sufficiently capitalise on the SNP's woes? Some in the party suspect it should be benefitting more from its rivals's troubles.

While buoyed by their party's revival over the past 12 months, there is some nervousness about the YouGov poll.

There's concern the party is too reliant on voters turning away from both the SNP and the Conservatives and not enough emphasis on what a Labour government can offer.

"It is just one poll, so of course there's that caveat," said one senior Labour member on the left of the party.

"But it could be that what it shows is that the support we are getting is soft. The strategy is win by default because the SNP and Tories are rubbish.

"But the YouGov poll shows the danger of relying on that thinking and not putting forward a case that will enthuse people.

"I think the biggest thing is that people are facing huge issues in their lives and Starmer is not proposing sufficient levels of policy which can help the people who need help."

As with previous elections since the EU referendum, Labour continue to face the problem of appealing to pro-Brexit voters south of the Border, particularly those they want to win back in the north of England, while appealing to Remain voters in Scotland.

Policy U-turns too may not have escaped the attention of voters and turned off some.

Among the list have been row backs on a £28bn a year green prosperity fund, plans to abolish the House of Lords, scrapping the two child benefit cap, which stops parents from claiming some welfare benefits for more than two children and support reform of the Gender Recognition Act by scrapping the need for a person to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

While people may or may not agree with various policy changes, the problem about making so many is that it can lead to voter distrust.

"Starmer has reneged on pledges, so there is probably a distrust there," said the senior Labour member.

Chris Hopkins, director of Savanta, echoed the criticisms.

"There are very few people who would believe that the reason that Labour is in a stronger position in Scotland and a stronger position in the UK is down to anything Labour has done. It's been down to Conservative implosion across the UK and a minor SNP implosion in Scotland," he said.

"Up to the next general election there will be a series of policy questions that Labour have to answer and it is always going to struggle in Scotland to differentiate itself from the UK leadership. For a lot of dyed in the wool SNP voters, Labour still represent something unpalatable.

"There are of course some SNP voters who don't prioritise independence over everything else who are more willing to switch to the Labour Party but that is probably not to do with anything Labour has done and therefore that new support feels soft and vulnerable to switching back. Labour haven't won these votes for good. It's not always a good strategy to just wait for the government to screw up."

Does this mean that the SNP have no need to worry and the party will soon return to the levels of popularity they were used to in the Sturgeon years?

Mr Hopkins is not so sure.

"In our polling from June 2022 to June 2023, we've seen the SNP lead over Labour cut from 21 points to just four points," he said.

"That momentum could subside a bit but there hasn't been a quietening of the SNP problems and in our next poll it will be interesting to see if things have shifted back a little, whether they remain the same or whether Labour's momentum has carried on and they have narrowed the lead more. At the minute I would say the SNP are still ahead but it's still bad news [for them] as they did have a very very comfortable lead and it's no longer near as comfortable as it was," he said.