THE UK Labour Party end 2022 with reason for optimism.

Ipsos’ latest Political Monitor (November 2022) estimated Labour would receive 50% of the vote among likely voters across Britain, which compares with 29% for the Conservatives – a gap of 21 percentage points, compared with the 1-point gap (Labour on 36%, Conservatives on 35%) recorded by Ipsos a year earlier.

However, in comparison with the dramatic shifts in Labour/Conservative polling numbers at UK-level, there has been far less movement in voting intentions in Scotland, where the SNP remain a force to be reckoned with.

SNP support has fallen by a few percentage points over the year – from 48% on average saying they would vote SNP if there were a General Election in late 2021 (based on the last four polls that year to ask General Election voting intention) to 44% in late 2022 (based on the latest four Scotland polls in mid-December 2022).

However, 44% is just 1 point behind the actual share of the Scottish vote the SNP received in the 2019 General Election (45%). So this can hardly be viewed as a collapse in support for the party.

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Meanwhile, Scottish Labour’s fortunes have improved somewhat – from 20% on average (across the same four polls) in late 2021, to 29% on average in late 2022. But this boost is less dramatic than that being enjoyed by their UK colleagues.

There remains a very substantial gap with the SNP for Scottish Labour to close if it wishes to go from ‘nearest rival’ to ‘front runner’ in Scotland. Any speculation that the prospect of a Labour Government at Westminster might prompt a mass return of voters from the SNP to Labour certainly looks premature based on this evidence.

Ipsos’s most recent poll in Scotland pours further cool water on the notion that Scottish Labour can necessarily rely on sharing in the recently revived fortunes of their UK compatriots.

On balance, more people in Scotland agreed than disagreed that the UK Labour Party was ready to form the next government at Westminster (43% agreed and 35% disagreed, while 21% neither agreed nor disagreed or were unsure). However, when it comes to forming the next Scottish Government, just 28% agreed that the Scottish Labour Party is ready, while 50% disagreed.

Scottish voters’ views of both Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar also appear to have cooled somewhat. Keir Starmer’s ratings in Scotland were, on balance, already more negative than positive back in May 2022.

The Herald: Scottish Labour's fortunes still rely on voters' views of the constitutional questionScottish Labour's fortunes still rely on voters' views of the constitutional question (Image: Newsquest)

However, by December 2022, his ‘net’ satisfaction rating (the proportion satisfied minus the proportion dissatisfied) had slipped back a further 11 points, to -13. Anas Sarwar appears to be rated more highly in Scotland than his UK Labour counterpart – back in May, he had a net positive rating of +19. But by December 2022, this too had slipped back by 16 points, driven by both a fall in those satisfied with his performance and an increase in those dissatisfied.

Further scrutiny of the results suggests that the explanation both of Anas Sarwar’s changing ratings and the difference in attitudes to Labour forming Governments at Westminster and at Holyrood lies in the views of SNP supporters. In May 2022, unsurprisingly Anas Sarwar received his highest ratings (net +52) among those who planned to vote Labour if there were an immediate General Election.

However, at that point he also received relatively positive ratings from those who planned to vote for the SNP (net +9). But by December this year, while Mr Sarwar has maintained his positive ratings among Labour supporters (net +51), his ratings among SNP supporters had dropped substantially (to net -23).

Meanwhile, among those who intend to vote Labour at the next General Election, a clear majority agree both that the Labour Party is ready to form the next UK Government (78%) and that Scottish Labour are ready to form the next Scottish Government (69%).

But among those inclined to vote SNP, there is a much bigger difference in attitudes to the prospect of Labour governing at Westminster and Holyrood – 39% of SNP supporters agree Labour are ready for Westminster, but just 11% that they are prepared for governing at Holyrood.

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These patterns underline a number of overlapping challenges for Labour in Scotland. While a significant minority of SNP supporters appear relatively relaxed about the prospect of a UK Labour Government, this does not, so far, appear to have prompted them to switch their General Election vote to Labour in sufficient numbers to make a significant dent in the SNP’s projected Westminster seat share.

Meanwhile, Anas Sarwar’s personal standing does not seem to be winning him the same friends among SNP supporters as it once did, while any warmth among this group might have towards the idea of a UK Labour Government clearly does not extend to the prospect of a change of government at Holyrood.

And of course, all of this ties in with the difficulties for Labour in navigating the constitutional question. Ipsos’s latest poll found that independence is not top of the important issues people think Scotland is facing – the NHS tops that list, followed by inflation and the cost of living.

However, independence is top of the issues mentioned by SNP supporters. And the link between supporting independence and supporting the SNP is very strong – 84% of those who would vote Yes if there were another referendum on independence say they would vote SNP at an immediate general election, compared with just 11% who would vote Labour. This link simply cannot be ignored if Labour wishes to tempt further voters away from the SNP.

Of course, if a week is a long time in politics, a year and a half until the next General Election (assuming the Conservative Party hold on until then) is a very long time indeed. But it remains to be seen whether the increases in Labour support in Scotland in the last year represent genuine green shoots that will continue to grow, or whether these challenges will thwart their efforts to push past the SNP juggernaut.

Rachel Ormston is a Research Director at Ipsos in Scotland