This coming Scottish election will be the most important in the history of the Scottish Parliament. We already know that the SNP will win, it’s just a case of figuring out by how much. We also know that there will be a Yes majority in that Parliament and that the SNP and Scottish Greens will combine to vote through a new independence referendum. The new pro-independence party Alba, which hopes to join them in the Parliament, will also add its votes to that referendum bill.
No one expected an SNP majority in 2011 and there was only one fully committed Yes party back then, so the SNP majority was crucial to gaining a referendum. With Alba introducing a third party in the mix for list votes it may boost the overall Yes majority but make a repeat SNP majority harder to achieve - and that is what our poll has discovered.
As the largest and most active independence campaigning organisation, Believe in Scotland members wanted a poll on Holyrood voting intentions that they can trust. We are non-party political and, although pro-Yes, we are a neutral observer when it comes to elections. We, therefore, commissioned Panelbase, a major polling company that is a member of the British polling council; it is also a company we have regularly commissioned to carry out polls for us.
The independence question
Our poll found headline support for Scottish independence at 51% and support for the Union at 49%, which represents no change from Panelbase’s last poll. You can read more about that finding on our website here. The survey of 1,002 Scottish residents over the age of 16 between 9th to 12th April (including undecided voters) found support for independence leading by 48% to 46%, with 6% defining themselves as Don’t Knows.
Headline Holyrood voting intentions - (+/-) numbers refer to the change to last month’s Panelbase poll for direct comparison.
Holyrood constituency vote - SNP 47% (-2%), Con 23% (+1%), Lab 20% (NC), Lib Dem 6% (NC), Green 4% (+2%)
Holyrood regional vote - SNP 36% (-3%), Con 22% (+1%), Lab 17% (NC), Green 9% (+1%), Lib Dem 6% (+1%), Alba 6% (NC), All for Unity 2% (-2%)
With the SNP down -2 in the constituency battle and -3 in the list, it's plain to see that SNP support is looking less resilient than previously and that carbon copy of the 2011 SNP majority is slipping from its grasp. Technically those losses are within the margin of error of a poll this size, but they confirm a trend in other polls.
That SNP supporters may be a tad disappointed in the fact their party looks set to win by a 24% margin demonstrates just how dominant a force in Scottish politics it has become. The battle for second place between the Conservatives and Labour is close and may heat up in the next few weeks; that will surely mean less unionist tactical voting on the list and may help the SNP.
On the list vote the good news is for Alba and the Scottish Greens; our poll puts Alba on 6% - the second poll to do so - but also Panelbase is the only polling company to place Alba on 5% or more on the list the level that will get them seats and this poll's 6% represents no change from last months’ Panelbase poll.
What we can say is that if Panelbase is right, Alba will get five seats and Alex Salmond will return to Holyrood, if other posters are right then they may only get one or two or possibly none. From our poll Alba add 5 Yes MSPs from the list but if those votes were able to be transferred the SNP the SNP would get 3 more seats and have a majority. It will therefore be argued that Alba are costing the SNP their majority - Alba will say they have saved those votes for the Yes side as they were leaving the SNP anyway.
The Scottish Green Party is on 9% on the list and may yet climb higher after the performances of its co-leaders in the TV leaders’ debates. The Greens are standing some constituency candidates, largely to ensure they get invited to TV debates; in theory having a constituency candidate reminds more people to give you their list vote and it could be argued that neither the Greens nor Alba want an SNP single-party majority, as this would reduce their influence in the next parliament.
We also included All for Unity in our graphs as some polls have suggested it might get a seat via the list, but the ultra-unionist party led by George Galloway seems to be out of the game for now on 2% and won't return any MSPs.
The seat projections
To demonstrate the absolute integrity of our Holyrood seat projections we have engaged the nation’s leading pollster, Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University, to calculate how this poll translates into seats and this is his seat projection for Holyrood:
On these figures, the SNP will fall two short of a majority with 63 seats, which represents no change from the previous Scottish election. The SNP would take three constituency seats from Labour, namely Dumbarton, East Lothian and Edinburgh Southern making Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie a high profile casualty but as she sits top of the Labour West of Scotland list she will still take a list seat.
So the Yes side sits at SNP 63 (NC), Greens 10 (+4), Alba 5 (+5) and the No side sits at Conservative 26 (-5), Labour 20 (-4), Lib Dems 5 (NC). This means that the pro-independence majority at Holyrood is predicted to be 27 seats.
We asked Sir John Curtice for his thoughts and he told us:
"The poll underlines the potential tactical choice that faces nationalist voters. On the one hand, it provides some support to Alba’s claim that a list vote for them could result in the election of more pro-independence MSPs.
On the other hand, the poll also affirms that backing Alba on the list vote could cost the SNP seats – and, in turn, the prospect of an overall majority. Supporters of independence may well have to decide which they think is more likely to bring about a second referendum – having more pro-independence MSPs or the SNP winning an overall majority."
If our poll had found Alba at 2 or 3% then it was dead, but 6% puts the party back in the game. Alba will need to make a move in other polls to back this up and then the list dynamic will start to change dramatically. For now, Alba seems to have convinced more SNP constituency voters to change their second vote but not universally in their favour and if Alba goes backwards from here then the Greens may go up a few more percentage points.
A supermajority is not a thing; it's spin, a majority of one is enough to set plans for a new independence referendum in place and this poll states there will be a Yes majority of 27 seats. So it is happening - probably in May or September 2022.
An SNP majority is also not a necessity for indyref2, but it has the feel of an undeniable mandate in the court of public opinion and that is what matters. Without it, the Westminster Government may feel more confident in their ability to say no for longer.
Alba supporters will point at these findings with relief but they have a lot more work to do before they are guaranteed seats and if they don’t match this poll's 6% in polls from other companies soon, their support may leak to the Greens and back to the SNP.
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