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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
'Same again' in Scotland

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, looks at what sets the general election in Scotland apart from the campaign in England.

Scotland's general election looks set to be very similar to the last contest in 1997. But that means it will once again be very different from that in England.

Polls undertaken by ICM, System Three and Scottish Opinion Ltd since January have been remarkable for the degree to which they have shown the ratings of all four parties to be similar to their share of the vote in 1997.

Labour won 46% of the vote in 1997. Five out of the seven polls conducted since January have put Labour between 45% and 47%.

The Conservatives won 17% in 1997. The two most recent polls have given them 15-16%.

John Curtice
John Curtice: Labour cannot afford to be complacent
The nationalists could, however, make a modest advance. All but two of the polls conducted this year have put the SNP above the 22% of the vote they won last time, while only one puts them below.

The only party that seems in danger of losing votes is the Liberal Democrats. They have been running at 9% to 11%, compared with the 13% they won in 1997.

Even if the nationalists do make a modest advance this looks unlikely to bring them much reward.

Only in one seat, Inverness East, was the SNP less than 5% behind Labour last time around. It was also the only seat they captured from Labour in the Holyrood election.

Equally a small drop in the Liberal Democrats' vote should not do much damage to their representation at Westminster.

The Liberal Democrat majority was less than 5% last time in just one seat, Tweeddale, where Labour are the closest challengers.

But if the SNP do come second in votes in Scotland, the outcome will affirm the message of the 1997 Westminster election and the 1999 Scottish Parliament election that the nationalists have replaced the Conservatives as Labour's principal opponent north of the border.

In 1997, Labour's share of the vote in Scotland was only 2% higher than it was in England

Elections may continue to be primarily a battle between Labour and the Conservatives in England but Scottish politics now looks very different.

Yet if the Conservatives are likely to remain a 'third' party in Scotland, Labour cannot afford to be complacent.

While recent Scottish polls have suggested Labour is on course to win much the same share of the vote in Scotland as it did in 1997, polls taken at the same time across Britain as a whole have put the party six points up on 1997.

In 1997, Labour's share of the vote in Scotland was only 2% higher than it was in England.

This time the gap could disappear entirely. If that happened, Scotland will no longer appear a particularly Labour fiefdom.

Moreover, all the recent polls suggest Labour will face a much tougher challenge in the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2003.

Voters in Scotland continue to be more willing to say that they would vote SNP in a Holyrood contest, while at the same being less willing to back Labour.

Two of this year's polls actually put the SNP ahead of Labour on the crucial second vote for Holyrood.

This pattern should help the SNP retain the Holyrood seat of their former leader, Alex Salmond, in Banff and Buchan.

A Holyrood by-election will be held there on the same day as the general election because Mr Salmond has decided to concentrate on Westminster.

But fortunately for Labour the SNP pose little of a threat in Strathkelvin and Bearsden where there will also be a Scottish Parliament by-election on general election day.

The current Labour MSP, Sam Galbraith, has decided to retire from politics on health reasons. 


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Scottish opinion poll figures

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