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Brian Monteith: Scottish Conservatives facing a humiliation

Monteith Brian 2013Brian Monteith is a former Tory student chairman and Conservative MSP.  He is now editor of

On Monday Lord Ashcroft’s polling of Scottish voters’ views and intentions caused a predictable stir.  It even led to the rare occurrence of a Scottish political story making the pages of  MailOnline!

The focus was, understandably, the opinions on the independence referendum (a resounding 65 to 26 No), that the SNP’s fixation with independence was not shared by the majority of the electorate and that there remains a good deal of confusion about what the Scottish Parliament is responsible for and what it has actually achieved (the most popular being making various benefits or services ‘free’).

I reviewed that aspect of the polling here.

There was, however, some other rather revealing information that readers of ConservativeHome will be especially interested and I’m afraid it was not good news. Here are the headline findings:

  • In the poll of voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament that will not be held until May 2016 (sample of 1000 between 7 and 17 June) the Scottish Conservatives were third at 15 percent for the constituency vote;
  • In the same poll but for the second (regional list) vote the Scottish Conservatives were pushed into fifth at 10 per cent, behind the Lib Dems on 13 percent and UKIP on 11 per cent;
  • In a different poll with a mega sample of 10,007 the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, had the worst popularity rating with a net −20, behind the Lib Dem Willie Rennie on −8, Alex Salmond on −4 and Johann Lamont on +3.
  • In the same poll Ruth Davidson was not known or provoked no opinion by 27 per cent of her own supporters (better than the Labour or the Lib Dem leaders) but had the largest unpopular percentage, at 18 per cent, and the poorest net popularity at +37 with her own supporters.
On the face of it the polling results are good; achieving an increase in the headline rate of support from 13.9 per cent to 15 per cent suggests the possibility of a recovery after two years of Ruth Davidson’s leadership.  While it remains below the Conservative vote of 15.56 per cent in 1999 and 16.6 in both 2003 and 2007 it is at least heading the right way and is something to build upon.

Unfortunately the constituency vote is not where Scottish Conservatives get the majority of their MSPs, having only three in that category, it is in the second ‘regional’ vote where the top-up system swings in and they gained their additional twelve members in 2011, including Ruth Davidson herself.

It is the decline in the second vote that has been costing Conservatives their share of elected politicians; gaining 15.35 per cent in 1999, climbing marginally to 15.5 per cent in 2003 (with eighteen MSPs), but then falling to 13.9 in 2007 and to an all time low in Scotland (ever) of 12.36 per cent in 2011 and only fifteen MSPs.  

Now Ashcroft’s poll puts them at only 10 per cent. Such a low second vote would be very dangerous, but coming behind UKIP on 11 per cent would be humiliating and embarrassing.

The likelihood would be that the Conservative members would drop to probably twelve, maybe even further, while UKIP would certainly pick up a good handful of seats. Ruth Davidson would undoubtedly lose her own seat in the Glasgow region.

As precedent we only need to look at the Greens. They have been ever present in the Scottish Parliament since 1999, achieving two seats in 2007 on their lowest share at only 4.00 per cent and seven seats in 2003 at their highest on 6.9 per cent. 

The balance of where seats would fall between the parties would depend on the regional distribution of that national vote share, something we cannot yet judge. For instance the Scottish Socialists also managed six seats in 2003 on 6.7 per cent share that was almost exclusively concentrated in the central belt. UKIP will no doubt focus its resources where it can make most impact.

So, we have a Scottish Conservative party that looks to be doing well but is in fact under serious threat of going backwards. What this means for the Westminster election in 2015 we cannot say as that polling question was either not asked or has not been released. Ominously though, David Mundell’s sole seat was won with a national share of 16.9 per cent. That seat could be lost in 2015.

Finally I turn to Ruth Davidson’s personal rating.  It is conclusively the worst amongst the party leaders (-20) and is the worst amongst any party’s own supporters with only +37 net popularity – essentially because she has the largest share of own party dislikes. This cannot be put down to laziness, for she is best known amongst the public in general and among all the other opposition parties (Alex Salmond and the SNP are an exception, he having been an elected politician for some thirty years).

Looking at the picture as a whole Davidson appears to be getting noticed but in so doing annoying or irritating her own base and driving them towards UKIP. The influence that David Cameron may have in this process is unknown as the level of his Scottish popularity was not asked.

Ruth Davidson has to find more messages that keep her own faithful on side while expanding her base; it has never been easy but the story coming from Australia and Norway in the last week suggests being robustly Conservative should not be a vote loser.

If I were Ruth Davidson I’d be seeking a lunch with Lord Ashcroft to see if there’s more he can tell her.


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