The latest polls from Scotland all show the same picture. The Labour vote has fallen substantially, and the SNP vote has risen in its place. One poll on a small sample (YouGov) goes so far as to show the SNP on 42% and Labour as low as 27%. This accentuates the move more than others and would mean 43 SNP seats at Westminster to Labour’s 12. This would make the SNP the third placed party comfortably ahead of the Lib Dems in seats given their current poll position. Other polls point to Labour losses on a more modest scale.
In the run up to the 2015 election I will not be making any of my own predictions of the Conservative result. I take this view for two obvious reasons. I believe a Conservative majority is in the best interests of the c0untry, and is the only way to guarantee the renegotiation and referendum on the EU which I think we need. It can be achieved and is my preferred outcome. I know that if I made an optimistic projection for the Conservatives it would be written off as self serving and arrogant, and if I made a pessimistic forecast for the Conservatives I would be seen as defeatist and would delight my opponents who would use and abuse it.
According to pollsters and commentators from here a Conservative majority is clearly possible, but so are a number of other outcomes. The latest polls showing the SNP doing better are a reminder of the significance of third, fourth and fifth placed parties when they reach a certain level in the polls. It is important to remember just how many MPs were elected in 2010 from parties other than Conservative or Labour:
Liberal Democrat 57
Northern Irish parties 18
Total 85 (13% of seats)
If we project this forward, there are some reasons to suppose on current polls that this number could stay high in the next Parliament. Whilst persistent polls point to a substantial reduction in the number of Liberal Democrat seats, the polls also suggest there could be a substantial gain by the SNP in Scotland at the expense of Labour, and there could be modest gains by Plaid in Wales.
If the two main parties again only share 565 seats out of 650, this means to have an overall majority one party has to win 58% of the seats going to the 2 main parties to do so, obviously more than the Conservatives did last time. This is possible for either party to achieve, but gaining an overall majority is clearly more difficult when there are so many MPs from other parties. There is also the impact of votes for third and fourth parties on the outcome in close races.
Gaining a majority is also made more difficult for either party where people who would in the past have preferred one or other of the main parties and who wished to help choose between them in a General Election now wish to make 0ther points by voting for other parties. Clearly those voting for SNP know their party cannot possibly form the next UK government, but they may have other reasons for voting for them even in a General Election.
Last time there was only one combination of 2 parties that could command a majority in the Commons. That was a Con/Lib Dem alliance. If the Lib seats say halve, and if the SNP gain more than 20 seats the position would be different next time if one of the main parties still fail to achieve a majority. There are permutations where it would take three or more parties to form a government.
As the General Election gets closer some think more people will wish to contribute directly to the decision about whether to have a Conservative led or a Labour led government, by voting for their preference between the main two. This could lead to a majority government offering more stable government and the ability to deliver the manifesto promises. Others think this time more voters will want to make a different point, whatever the impact such voting may have on the balance between the two main parties.
Devolution could become an even more important issue if a Parliament is elected with more nationalist and regional party MPs elected and no overall main party winner. The party which had the best offer on devolution might be the best placed to form a coalition government in such circumstances.
Update 30.10.14 A further poll today now gives the SNP 54 seats with Labour down to just 4 and Lib Dems 1.