Oops. Well this is awkward, just as the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon undertakes a new push for Scottish independence, the latest opinion poll undertaken by YouGov for the Times in Scotland suggests that Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories, is ahead of Sturgeon in the popularity stakes.
Davidson has a higher net approval rating (of +21) with voters than Sturgeon (+20) but it is the direction of travel that should trouble Nat strategists, chief of which is the SNP leader’s husband, SNP boss Peter Murrell. The Tory leader’s numbers have risen substantially from +2 in the Spring. In the same period, Sturgeon has been on the slide from 30+.
Oh, and despite all the suggestions that Brexit would lead rapidly to Scottish independence, 50% of Scots do not want a second independence referendum before the UK leaves the EU. Only 37% say they want such a vote.
And on independence itself, the Union leads 54% to 46%, with 49% of voters saying that being part of the UK benefits the Scottish economy. Just 23% say it harms Scotland’s economy.
The Scots may well vote for independence at some point. They might have done that with or without Brexit, which a majority of Scots voted against. As it is, Brexit probably makes a difficult situation worse for the SNP, by complicating the party’s offer. New currency (different from rest of UK, where 60% of Scottish exports go) or join the euro? Enormous deficit and cuts needed to get into the EU? Finding the money for EU contributions? It is unlikely to sound wildly appealing.
You can see why the SNP leadership talks a lot about a second independence referendum but is reluctant to get on and hold it.
Which is why Sturgeon is relaunching her independence campaign, after a summer in which she has had endless largely futile meetings and phot ops, and amusingly made the same speech and remarks on TV over and over and over again about exploring all options to keep Scotland in the EU.
The leadership figures fit in with the mood music reported by those in the media returning from jaunts to Scotland. That mainly involves walking twice around the Edinburgh Book Festival and going for lunch in the New Town with a critic from the Scotsman. Still, there is a change in the dynamics. Not only has Sturgeon now been around for a while – oh, the perils of political fashion – but the SNP’s constant constitutional carping and grievance hunting may be starting to grate. They have been in command in Scotland for nine years now. There is no suggestion yet that the SNP is anything other than the dominant electoral force, but the Tories are strengthening their position as the main opposition party. Notice that I have forgotten to mention Scottish Labour, an ommission which would have been impossible to envisage a few years ago. Labour leader Kezia Dugdale languishes on a -17 approval rating.
Of course these are just polls, polls, polls. Margin of error and all that.
But still, considering the over-confidence and pious self-satisfaction that has been rampant in the SNP for several years, the findings are quite funny.