Following victory in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West byelection, new research shows Labour is well positioned to win target seats across Scotland at the next election.
In a survey conducted by YouGov last week, we asked 1,003 people in Scotland about their voting intention, openness to voting Labour, and their preferred election outcome.
Our survey found 32 per cent of people in Scotland currently intend to vote Labour – compared to 33 per cent for the SNP and 20 per cent for the Conservative party. Compared to the previous YouGov survey in Scotland published on 15th September, Labour is up five percentage points, the SNP is down five, and the Conservatives are up four. Labour has closed an effective 11-point lead for the SNP to just two points.
Labour’s current support includes 17 per cent of 2019 SNP voters and 23 per cent of 2014 ‘yes’ voters. In 2022, the Scottish Fabians estimated that Labour needed one in five of those who voted SNP or Green in 2019 to win the 25 target seats across Scotland necessary to form a majority government in Westminster.
Our survey also found that 31 per cent of people in Scotland are open to voting Labour at the next election, defined as those who said the chance of them voting for the party is 6 or more out of 10. This is effectively the same as the proportion open to voting for the SNP (30 per cent) and double the proportion open to the Conservatives (15 per cent). Those open to voting Labour include:
- 27 per cent of 2019 SNP voters
- 27 per cent of 2014 independence voters
Perhaps just as importantly, Labour had far fewer respondents who said they would never consider voting for the party (defined as those selecting 0 out of 10). Just over a fifth (28 per cent) said they would never vote Labour, compared to 45 per cent saying the same about the SNP and 61 per cent saying the same about the Conservatives.
We also asked: “thinking ahead to the next general election, which of the following outcomes, if any, would you most like to see?” We showed respondents a long list of possible outcomes, recognising that most outcomes presented were unlikely but that it was important for respondents to consider them. Nonetheless, we found broad support for a majority Labour government across Scotland, especially compared to the most likely alternative of a majority Conservative government.
A majority Labour government is the most popular outcome for the next election, with 23 per cent selecting as their first preference. This was followed by 20 per cent selecting a Labour-SNP deal as their first preference and 14 per cent for a Conservative majority government. Those selecting a Labour majority as their preferred outcome include:
- 21 per cent of 2019 SNP voters
- 18 per cent of 2014 independence voters
We also asked about people’s second and third preferences for the election outcome. 43 per cent selected a majority Labour government among their top 3 – compared to 36 per cent for a Labour-SNP deal and 18 per cent for a majority Conservative government. Those selecting a Labour majority among their top 3 include:
- 51 per cent of 2019 SNP voters
- 43 per cent of 2014 independence voters
This is a significant opportunity for Scottish Labour: the job must now be to turn openness to voting for the party across Scotland and support for a majority Labour government in Westminster into votes at the next general election.
25 Scottish Labour target seats
Previous Scottish Fabian and Fabian Society analysis identified 25 seats in Scotland that form part of 150 most likely target seats across Great Britain (based on the old boundaries).
They are all currently held by the SNP apart from Rutherglen and Hamilton West. Winning most or all of these Scottish target seats should be a priority for Labour, because it would make the path to power in Westminster far easier.
Polling expert John Curtice has said that, for every 12 seats Labour win in Scotland, the swing needed across the rest of the UK will be 2 points fewer.
All to play for
We found 34 per cent of people in these target seats were open to voting Labour at the next election. This is equal to the SNP (34 per cent) and larger than the Conservatives (10 per cent).
There was also a significantly larger pool of voters who said their likelihood of voting for the SNP or Conservatives was 0 out of 10 – i.e. they would never consider voting for them – than those who said the same about Labour. Forty-one per cent said they would never consider voting Tory, and 68 per cent would never vote for the SNP, compared to just 25 per cent for Labour.
The Rutherglen and Hamilton West byelection suggests Labour is on course to win seats across Scotland. Our research provides further support for the thesis that Labour is making progress in rebuilding the ‘first red wall’. Key voter groups are currently either intending to vote Labour or open to doing so – and they want a majority Labour government.
With, at most, 16 months to go until polling day, there remains more to do for Labour to convert support into votes at the ballot box. There is an obvious group to persuade: those who prefer a majority Labour government but aren’t yet backing the party. The evidence is clear, however: Labour is on the right track towards a majority government whenever the next election is called.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,028 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd – 6th October 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scotland adults (aged 18+).
Image credit: Keir Starmer via Flickr