The SNP have this morning been put a whopping 13 points above Labour in the Scottish Parliament race: on 45 percent and 46 percent of the vote in two separate polls. Given that they went into this election campaign somewhere around 35 percent, this represents a huge leap giving them a near-impregnable lead in the Holyrood race. And that’s what’s worrying them in SNP headquarters.
Salmond’s strategists, packed into a third-floor office suite behind the Scottish Parliament fear that – in the words of one senior Nationalist – “we have gone too early”. That Labour may now plausibly play the underdog card, and SNP votes may be inclined to stay at home thinking that it’s in the bag.
It doesn’t help that this is the second poll in a week to give the SNP a commanding lead over Labour. The IPSOS Mori poll for The Times last week gave the SNP an 11 percentage point lead over Labour on the first vote and a ten point lead on the regional list vote.
Translated into seats, both polls give the SNP the same result: 61 seats, just four short of an overall majority. Labour would have 42 seats, according to YouGov or 45 according to Mori. For a party that had hoped to retake Scotland, as stage one of a national comeback, it would be a humiliating result.
Furthmore, with both polls giving the Greens enough seats to make up the difference to the majority figure of 65 (and with the Greens backing an independence referendum) it does now seem that Alex Salmond’s dream of putting the independence question in a referendum may be within reach.
The irony is that the devolution system was designed (by the three unionist parties) as a device to “kill nationalism stone dead” (in the words of George Robertson, Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary in the run up to the 1997 election).