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SNP leadership polling – March 2023

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Along with our friends at Diffley Partnership, we carried some polling regarding the SNP leadership contest. We wanted to see how the general public rated the candidates on performance regarding key issues, as well as how they might influence any election or referendum voting.

You can find the fuller breakdown of findings here or read on for our summary and take.

Key points

  • Kate Forbes is rated highest by voters on all key issues – healthcare and the NHS (29% Forbes, 17% Yousaf, 10% Regan); education (29% Forbes, 18% Yousaf, 10% Regan); crime (25% Forbes, 17% Yousaf, 10% Regan); the environment (24% Forbes, 17% Yousaf, 11% Regan); transport (25% Forbes, 19% Yousaf, 8% Regan); and the economy (32% Forbes, 18% Yousaf, 9% Regan).
  • In all of the above instances, between 41% and 50% of voters did not know who would perform best.
  • A deeper look at the poll data highlights that SNP have a similar view of each of the three candidates across the issues examined, while it is Labour and Conservative voters who have a higher rating for Kate Forbes. For example, on the economy, 33% of SNP voters think that Forbes will perform best, a lead of 3 points over Humza Yousaf on 30%. However, this gap grows to 20 points among Labour voters (35% for Forbes vs 15% for Yousaf), and 31 points among Conservative voters (39% vs 8%)
  • Support for independence in a referendum is presently at 45%, with 55% opting to stay in the UK.
  • Those figures do not change significantly when any of the SNP leadership candidates are assumed to be first minister when a referendum is taking place, although Yousaf performs slightly better than the other two.
  • Voting intention for the SNP at the next Westminster election decreases slightly with all three leadership contenders in place. Scottish Labour are closing the gap on the SNP, with the Scottish Conservatives appearing to steady their position after a difficult few months.

Top level analysis

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Iain Gibson, partner

Whilst Kate Forbes scores highly than either Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan as regards competence in key areas, the numbers are greatly enhanced by favourability from Conservative and Labour voters. In all reality, we would have to question whether or not these people would ever vote SNP in large numbers. Forbes’ opponents will certainly be hammering this point home.

The holy grail throughout this election campaign has been to read the temperature as regards members of the SNP. Besides one small poll of around 500 party members (typically polls of under 1,000 respondents are deemed less comprehensive by analysts), no one has done this.

It is no exaggeration to say that members of political parties do not reflect the more nuanced positions people take in real life, which is why Liz Truss was able to comprehensively win last year’s Conservative leadership contest against Rishi Sunak. She appealed to a party base that has grown used to being in power and thus indulged itself when in reality, even though no one could have predicted her spectacular implosion quite so quickly, it was obvious Sunak was the more measured choice.

To that end, the question posed by our founding partner Malcolm Robertson when we released these findings remains the critical one: will SNP members – affiliated to a party that has been in power even longer than the Conservatives – take note of what the wider populace think, or will they plump for the candidate that appeals to their core beliefs?

If the latter, then it would seem no amount of positive public polling will help Kate Forbes. Businesses must hope that the likely victor, Humza Yousaf, will break from his predecessor in at least one respect and adopt a more pro-enterprise approach to government.

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