THE BLOG

Why Is the SNP Riding So High in the Polls?

16/12/2015 09:47 GMT | Updated 15/12/2016 10:12 GMT

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The Scottish Parliament at night. Photo Rob Bruce

Why is the SNP riding so high in the polls? The next Holyrood election is in May and on current form, the SNP will take almostall the directly elected seats, leaving the Scottish Parliament with only a token opposition. It's surprising as there are many issues which might have been expected to affect their rating.

"What if Alex Salmond is wrong? What if the oil price does fall? The difference in tax revenues between the year when oil prices were at their highest and the year that they were at their lowest was almost £12 billion. This is more than the entire Scottish NHS budget. Independence is forever, oil is not. Given the unpredictability of the price, is it really worth staking our mortgages, pensions and our economic future on such a risky gamble?" Alistair Darling, from the Daily Telegraph March 2013.

The leader of the Better Together campaign toured Scotland for two years arguing that the SNP's oil price forecast was "fantasy economics". He was mocked as a "doomsayer", caricatured as Private Frazer from Dad's Army, one cartoon headlined "Darling warns blah blah something".

Darling was right. The forecast for total offshore receipts next year is about £100 million, while the independence White Paper forecast more than £7 billion. But Labour has experienced no 'I told you so' electoral bounce. In fact, quite the reverse. A recent small poll showed Scottish Labour on an unheard of 13% trailing the Scottish Conservatives on 18%.

Another issue might be expected to be the controversial debate over the UK joining coalition airstrikes over Syria. SNP foreign policy spokesman Alex Salmond missed part of the debate as he was in Edinburgh, among other things, unveiling an official portrait of himself. The Herald diary wryly hoped it was an oil painting, adding "he'll be delighted with the price".

The SNP group were united and all but two of Scotland's MPs opposed the government. After the vote Angus Robertson tweeted that 72% percent of Scottish voters were opposed to the strikes. He was criticized for using a self-selecting online survey. YouGov found opinion was much more divided, with only 48% opposed.

SNP MSP Sandra White apologised last month for retweeting an antisemitic cartoon from a Neo Nazi that she follows online. She has retweeted his postings on several occasions. The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities also voiced concern that 62 of Holyrood's motions on foreign affairs in this Parliament, many put down by White, have been about Israel, compared to 13 about Syria.

SNP MPs Natalie McGarry and Michelle Thomson resigned the party whip at Westminster while investigations are carried out into their financial conduct. In McGarry's case about £30,000 missing from the finances or a pro-independence group, and in Thomson's about a series of controversial property deals.

In addition, the SNP has been accused of planning to undermine the autonomy of Scotland's universities. President of the Royal Society Dame Jocelyn Bell, the outgoing principal of St Andrews Louise Richardson, Prof Timothy O'Shea the principal of Edinburgh University and fellow of the Royal Society Prof Jim Naismith have all criticised the plans. Naismith used his address to hundreds of graduates last month to call the proposed "extensive ill-defined powers" the SNP plans to give itself over the universities "a source of shame" for Scotland.

Police Scotland the organisation that the SNP administration created and to which it has remained close has been accused of undermining the freedom of the press by grabbing phone records when it was confronted with a report into the botched investigation of the murder of Emma Caldwell by the Sunday Mail.

The Scottish police force has been accused more generally of a lack of transparency and failing to respect the rights of citizens, in particular in the death of Sheku Bayoh, a black man who died while being restrained by nine officers.

The unemployment rate is higher in Scotland than in England. On education, highly respected experts such as Professor of Education Policy at Edinburgh University Lindsay Paterson have criticised the SNP's decision to withdraw from international comparison tests where Scottish children have been sliding down the tables.

The SNP administration increasing tax-raising powers may have been expected to raise concerns in some quarters. Last week, many Scots got a letter from HM Revenue and Customs alerting them that they will be subject to income tax by the Scottish Government.

The Forth Bridge celebrated its 50th birthday last year with fireworks. There were political fireworks this year as it now appears that essential repair work was postponed. It might seem likely that the Scottish government would bear some of the blame for its closure.

Will the SNP continue to hold onto the support of almost one in two voters in Scotland?