In Depth

Labour and Lib Dem bigwigs on the high road to disaster

Danny Alexander and Douglas Alexander will be toppled while Alex Salmond gets an easy ride, says new polling

Columnist Don Brind

Two of the biggest names in Westminster face being toppled by the Scots Nationalists on 7 May, according to the first batch of Scottish constituency polls released this morning by Lord Ashcroft.

Lib Dem Danny Alexander, who is number two to George Osborne at the Treasury, and Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election campaign chief and shadow foreign secretary, would both be ousted. Meanwhile, the former SNP leader Alex Salmond would storm back to Westminster, seizing a seat now held by the Lib Dems.

Labour currently have 41 seats north of the border to the Lib Dems’ 11 and the SNP’s six. (The Tories aren’t really in the frame, having just one MP in Scotland.)

That picture is clearly going to change radically at the election: as Lord Ashcroft says, the SNP surge since September’s independence referendum makes the idea of safe seats meaningless. 

Ashcroft’s first round of Scottish polls looks at 18 constituencies in all. Two of them are Lib Dem-held seats with high-profile candidates, and 16 are Labour seats - including some with “colossal” Labour majorities – in areas which voted Yes to independence, or where the result was very close.

In other words, the 16 Labour seats surveyed are likely to be the happiest hunting grounds for the SNP – and the most worrying for Labour. And that’s how it’s turned out. Labour would lose all but 15 of the 16, including Douglas Alexander’s Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat where Ashcroft found a swing to the SNP of 25 per cent.

The Labour heartland surveyed by Ashcroft included all the Glasgow seats, plus Airdrie & Shotts; Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill; Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East, Dundee West; Motherwell & Wishaw; Paisley & Renfrewshire South; and West Dunbartonshire. Only Glasgow North East would stay in Labour hands if Ashcroft’s findings were to be repeated at the election.

Labour’s Scottish leader Jim Murphy was braced for bad news – but the way in which Ashcroft is releasing his figures doesn’t tell us exactly how bad things might turn out for Labour on 8 May. Ever the tease, Ashcroft says: “In future rounds of research we may find a different pattern where support for independence was lower.”

Neither do the results released so far tell us exactly how badly the Lib Dems might fare.

Just as severe losses in Scotland will hit Ed Miliband’s hopes of getting an overall majority at Westminster, severe losses among the 11 Lib Dems could scupper any hopes Nick Clegg and David Cameron might have of renewing their coalition. The Lib Dems might simply not have enough MPs to help get the coalition past the threshold of 326 for a Commons majority.

All we can tell about the Lib Dems’ chances so far is that Danny Alexander looks set to lose his seat of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey which is in the middle of the range of vulnerable Lib Dem-held constituencies, while the seat of Gordon will fall easily to Alex Salmond.

Ashcroft polled more than 14,000 voters by phone across the 18 seats. The big picture is that “While the Conservative vote (such as it was) has held up in these seats well, the Lib Dems have collapsed: only 12 per cent of the party’s 2010 supporters said they would vote Lib Dem again; nearly half (47 per cent) said they would switch to the SNP.

“In the Labour-held seats, only 60 per cent of those who voted Labour in 2010 said they would do so again this year; more than one-third (35 per cent) said they would support the SNP.”

The only hope for Labour is some hard work on the ground, said Ashcroft. “With a vigorous Labour campaign there remains room for movement before May. For such a crucial battleground, the campaign in these seats has yet to reach fever pitch – perhaps not surprisingly given the exhausting referendum campaign.”

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