Alex Massie

Nicola Sturgeon’s bandwagon rolls on: a new poll puts the SNP on 62%

Nicola Sturgeon's bandwagon rolls on: a new poll puts the SNP on 62%
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People like to support successful teams. That's why there are far more Chelsea fans now than there were 20 years ago. It's why, in Scotland, Celtic and (until recently) Rangers carved up the country between them.

And it helps explain, a little, why the SNP is now polling at 62 percent. You read that correctly: 62 percent. Today's Herald/TNS poll suggests the SNP could win 78 seats at next year's Scottish parliament elections. And with the Greens projected to take nine seats, pro-independence parties would hold 87 of Holyrood's 129 seats. Labour would be reduced to 25 MSPs, the Tories 15 and the Lib Dems to only two.

So if this is a bubble it's a bloody large bubble that shows no sign of bursting any time soon.

It helps, of course, that Labour are a shambles north and south of the border, that the Tories remain persona non grata and that the Liberal Democrats, polling at three percent, are, functionally, an ex-party. Be that as it may and nevertheless and all the rest of it, 62 percent is still quite something.

It adds weight to the notion - long-favoured in these parts - that the SNP is judged by different standards. (See here and here, for instance.) Politics in Scotland, these days, is a question of feelings just as much as it is a matter of actual policy. The electorate is happy to accept the SNP's argument that only the nationalists can 'put Scotland first' or 'stand for Scotland' and, having conceded that the SNP's heart is in the right place, voters are happy to forgive the nationalists' failings. They mean well, you see, and that's enough.

At least for now, the SNP government in Edinburgh enjoys power without accountability. This is a rare luxury indeed. I am not persuaded it is entirely healthy but that's a different matter. The people think differently.

In any event, there's no longer any need to pretend that the SNP are not held to a different standard. The polling numbers confirm that voters are prepared to indulge Nicola Sturgeon's party.

Consider these findings: just 25 percent of voters think the SNP is doing a good job on the economy while 24 percent are disappointed by the party's economic record (45 percent say its neither good nor bad).

As for the NHS, well, 34 percent of voters are happy with the government's record, 29 percent are unhappy and 33 percent are neither gruntled nor disgruntles.

Education? Shamefully, 30 percent think the government is doing well while just 19 percent disagree and 40 percent are in the neither well nor poor camp.

On crime and justice the numbers are even less flattering to the nationalists. Just 23 percent of respondents are happy with the government's performance, 29 percent say the SNP are doing badly in these areas and 40 percent dinnae ken.

In other words, it's not the record stupid, it's the attitude. A significant minority of SNP supporters will concede that the party's record in government is not as good as it might be but will vote for the SNP anyway. An equally significant minority of SNP supporters don't much care whether the party's record in government is good or not.

Again, that reflects Labour's weakness just as much as it is evidence of the SNP's strength and you may reasonably think that even if the SNP aren't up to much they're still not as bad as the alternative. Since, despite everything, Labour and the SNP agree on plenty this is not necessarily an altogether illogical position to take. Better the crew you know - who come with added 'Scottishness' - than the mob you don't.

Even so, it all helps demonstrate the extent to which Nicola Sturgeon is kevlar-plated these days. A reminder, too, that Labour's lost votes aren't returning to the coop any time soon. They're gone for the foreseeable future.

And, to be clear, poll findings of this sort would be depressing if Labour - or even the Conservatives - were in power. I don't believe it's altogether healthy for any party to be given this kind of free pass.

Nevertheless, we are where we are. For months Labour and the Tories have been hammering away at the Scottish government's record and while this may have seeped, at least a little, into the public consciousness winning - or at least making some progress towards winning - an argument is evidently a very different think to winning votes.

Yeah, the public say, the Nats aren't that good but are you going to be any better? Moreover, most of the SNP vote is rock solid. Because it's not a vote cast on policy per se, at least not in terms of everyday governance, but rather a vote cast on identity and the idea of some better future after independence.

That belief trumps all else. Conveniently, it also means that today's failings can be blamed on the absence of independence. Because independence is the key to improving everything. It's unfair to hold the Scottish government to account because don't you understand they lack the necessary levers to improve matters?

Independence, after all, is an unfalsifiable proposition. Happy? Then vote for independence because you'll be happier still. Unhappy? Then vote for independence because you'll become happy.

Common sense says this SNP bubble must deflate eventually but common sense is not the force she once was. As it is, however, there are plenty of voters who think the SNP is not performing quite as well as it might but who will still vote for the Nationalists anyway. Because their heart is in the right place.

A neat trick, right enough.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.