Sir Keir Starmer will today make his keynote speech to the three-day Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow with hopes high for his party of victory at the general election expected later this year.

A major poll published last week suggested Labour were on course to win an unprecedented majority of 254 seats at Westminster - resulting in a bigger triumph than Tony Blair’s historic win in 1997.

However, the same survey, which was carried out by Find Out Now and Electoral Calculus, presented a less confident picture of the party's fortunes in Scotland.

While it did forecast that Labour would win 13 seats - 11 more than currently - it predicted that the SNP would remain the dominant party taking 40 of the 57 seats allocated to Scotland following the Boundary Commission review.

The Herald: Scottish Labour Anas Sarwar.  Photo PA.

Other polls have put Labour in a stronger position.

Last week, a survey by Redfield & Wilton on Westminster voting intentions gave Labour a lead over the SNP.

The polling of 1,000 people from February 3 to 4 showed that 34% of Scots would vote for Labour compared with 33% for SNP.

READ MORE: SNP poll boost as Scottish Labour prepare for conference

And in November last year, the latest Scoop poll, conducted by the flagship Scottish Election Study, put support for Labour at 38%, some six points ahead of the SNP, which took 32% when undecided respondents are removed.

Researchers said the increased lead for Labour was due "to the weakening connection between support for Scottish independence and support for the SNP".

The same study also found that just 55% of respondents who voted SNP at the last general election in 2019 indicated they would vote for the party again.

READ MORE: Poll: Labour surges ahead to take biggest lead over SNP

While some people have made the point that only a few years ago Labour in Scotland was far far behind the SNP - netting just 19% of the vote share at the 2019 general election - so support of more than 30% underlines the considerable progress the party has made.

Nevertheless, with the SNP having experienced a disastrous 12 months since Nicola Sturgeon's resignation, including a bitter leadership contest, a long running police investigation, defections, rebellious backbenchers and troubles in government, should Labour not be in a stronger position in Scotland, surging ahead in the polls?

So why is it not?

The answer could be that Labour still has major problems regarding the party's offer to Scots.

They are:

Sir Keir Starmer - what does he stand for?

Back in 2020 polls suggested Scots had warmed to the Labour leader. In October that year Ipsos Mori recorded an approval rating of 16% for Starmer, with almost half of Scots who expressed an opinion saying they were satisfied with his leadership. Among Scottish voters, only the then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was more popular.

Just over three years later polls suggest Scottish voters are cooling towards him.

READ MORE: Who are the Scottish Labour MP hopefuls?

Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest Scottish Westminster Voting survey gave Starmer a net approval rating in Scotland of  +3%, down eight points from its previous poll published in October. The research found 34% (-3) of Scottish voters approve of Starmer’s job performance, against 31% (+5) who disapprove.

Some of the change in voters' attitude could be related to policy retreats and uncertainty over what the Labour leader stands for.

In a bid to lure Tory voters, Starmer praised former Conservative PM Margaret Thatcher in an interview in December.

READ MORE: Part Two: Who are the Scottish Labour MP hopefuls?

And while his words could well have persuaded some Tory voters north of the border to back him, he could well have put off another section of voters he wants to win over - SNP supporters.

Changing his mind on policies issues may also have made voters unclear about what Starmer is about.

According to the website Politico, the Conservatives have cited 27 U turns by the Labour leader including the latest, rowing back on a £24 billion "Green prosperity plan" under which a Labour government would borrow to invest in low-carbon schemes.

Earlier this month Starmer also retreated on proposals to scrap the House of Lords in a first five-year parliament, favouring a package of limited reforms instead.

READ MORE: Why does the SNP still lead the polls after many months of troubles?

While some in Westminster have praised the flexibility of a leader prepared to tweak his policy prospective to take on the Tories others have accused him of "flip flopping".

Pollster Mark Diffley said that attacks by political opponents - whether the Conservatives or the SNP - on big policy U turns could be cutting through to voters north of the border.

Scottish Labour - branch office perception

The term was famously coined by Johann Lamont when she resigned from the role of Scottish Labour leader in 2014.

Her parting shot was aimed at her colleagues in Westminster and at UK party headquarters effectively accusing them that the Scottish party were treated as no more than a secondary and distant off shoot of the main party - and one ordered to do what London tells it.

Ten years on the slur has continued to dog the perception of Labour among some voters north of the Border.

Of course the SNP have used the jibe to their benefit arguing that no leader of their party bows down to a higher authority in Westminster.

The SNP have repeatedly seized on policy differences on Starmer and Sarwar and pointed out that the former's policies taking precedence over the latter's reflects where the real power lies in the party - and it's not in Scotland.

In recent months, Stephen Flynn, the SNP's Westminster leader, has exploited the differing positions between Starmer and Sarwar on a ceasefire in Gaza, with the latter calling for an immediate ceasefire while the former has not.

Labour MPs Ian Murray and Michael Shanks abstained in November when the SNP put down an amendment to the King's Speech backing an immediate ceasefire - though 56 Labour MPs did rebel. To some it seemed that Mr Murray's and Mr Shanks' position made clear they took their instructions from the London party, and not by implication the Scottish Labour "branch office".

The situation looks set to arise again next week when the SNP are to try to force a Commons vote on a ceasefire in Gaza.

Writing on X on Thursday, SNP activist Marcus Carslaw made the point about the forthcoming Commons vote.

Referring to a motion at the Labour party conference backing a ceasefire SNP activist he noted: "Assuming this passes will Ian Murray and Michael Shanks vote in favour of the SNP's vote in favour of the SNP’s ceasefire motion next Wednesday?"


Some soft Yessers may be prepared to "lend Labour" their vote at the next election to remove Rishi Sunak from Number 10, but others may be less persuaded because deep and continuing opposition to leaving the EU.

For this group of voters Brexit is still something they want to see reversed, not just made not quite as bad. Labour's position of "making Brexit work better" has for this group of voters a distinct lack of appeal and they see cowardice in Starmer's lack of preparedness to face up to the negative social and economic impacts of leaving the EU.  A report by investment bank Goldman Sachs last week said the UK economy was 5% smaller than it would have been if it had chosen to stay in the European Union.

Pro-EU voters may well think the SNP has its faults but many seem prepared to set those aside to support a party which shares their own pro-EU outlook and membership aspiration.

Fear of a Labour version of the Conservative's 'Muscular Unionism'

Scottish Labour have had to negotiate something of a balancing act towards appealing to new voters - from two very different groups - disillusioned Conservative and fed up SNP voters.

While Labour's message to "back us to oust the Tories from power" certainly has appeal across both, its appeal could be limited - and in terms of reaching SNP voters may only get the ear of the really fed up ones.

For instance while many SNP voters may be ready to accept this year's election may not be about constitutional reform, some of them may well want to see some progress on devolution under a new Labour government.  But to date, Labour appear unwilling to say what, if anything, they would do in terms of handing more powers to Holyrood.

This group of disillusioned SNP voters thinking about switching to Labour are likely to be put off by shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray's opposition to greater devolution for Holyrood. A poll published by Survation last May suggested most voters in Scotland were in favour of more powers for the Scottish Parliament with 46% and 42% respectively wanting powers over cost of living issues and energy policy in the hands of Holyrood, compared to 34% and 33% who thought they should remain with Westminster. Some 41% thought Holyrood should have power over employment law compared to 33% saying it should be Westminster, while 22% were undecided and 5% didn’t know).

Support for the Scottish Parliament having power in this area was strongest among 2019 SNP voters (70%) and weakest among 2019 Conservative voters (13%). 28% of 2019 Labour voters favoured the Scottish Parliament, while 42% favoured the Westminster Parliament.

Anti-Scottish sentiment among some UK Labour figures

Senior Labour figures making jibes about Scotland, not surprising doesn't go down well north of the Border.

One such throwaway remark was made last week by the director of an influential Labour think tank who suggested that people-smuggling gangs should be shipped to the north of Scotland.

Josh Simons, director of Labour Together, made the comments on LBC radio while discussing the UK government’s plan to fly some illegal immigrants to Rwanda.

“I mean, why don’t you send the smuggler gangs and put them on the barge that has been set aside for the asylum seekers, and then ship the barge up to the north of Scotland, who cares?” he said.

Mr Simons later apologised for his comments and “any negative insinuation about Scotland”.