Exclusive: Pensioner power to sink Labour in Scottish elections

(L-R) Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour's Kezia Dugdale and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
(L-R) Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour's Kezia Dugdale and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The exclusive survey of 1,000 older voters shows the Tories are expected to push past Scottish Labour into second place at the Holyrood election.

Falling behind hated rivals the SNP and Tories in both constituency and list voting intentions is a far cry from the party’s dominance of Scottish politics for more than half of a century.

But our poll shows the dramatic collapse in Labour’s fortunes in recent years. It is even struggling in areas such as Glasgow and Fife, once impregnable party strongholds.

As a consequence, nearly half of pensioners don’t think Labour will ever return to power in Scotland, including one in 10 of its own supporters.

The SNP remains on course to win May’s election according to the poll – though fewer older people back the Nationalists than in other age groups – and the party enjoys support for its record in running the Scottish Government among OAPs in all areas bar the economy.

The poll of voters over the age of 60 found support for the SNP in the constituency vote at 43%, Scottish Conservatives at 28%, Labour at 19% and the Lib Dems on 6%.

For the Holyrood list vote, the SNP was backed by 38% of OAP voters, Tories 27%, Labour 18% and the Lib Dems on 7%.

Polling guru Professor John Curtice said: “Older voters are less keen on the EU and less keen on independence, and thus the SNP.

“But we also know they are relatively keen on the Conservatives as opposed to Labour. The numbers in this poll are fully in line with this pattern.”

Prof Curtice said all of the parties had to take the “grey vote” seriously because it remains the age group most likely to get out on polling day.

He said: “We know that older voters are in general keener on turning out to vote, and 85% of this sample say they are certain to vote compared with 68% in the last regular Survation poll.”

Scottish Labour led the first two post-devolution Scottish Governments and until last year, when it was left with just one Scottish MP, had wiped the floor with the opposition at successive Westminster General Elections since the late 1950s.

But it has been haemorrhaging support to the SNP for several years and has gone through a string of leaders. Traditional heartlands such as Lanarkshire are now dominated by the nationalists.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson has made a big push to unseat Labour as the official opposition to the SNP at the Scottish Parliament.

Voters were asked if they were more or less likely to vote Tory if it would help the party become the official opposition.

Just 15% said they were more likely to do this, compared to 39% who were less likely and the rest were unsure.

The respondents were also asked if they thought Scottish Labour will ever return to government in Holyrood. A quarter said yes, 45% said no and 30% were not sure.

Of those who backed a Labour return to power, only 8% said it will happen in this year’s election, with most (62%) judging it will happen in the next four to eight years.

SNP Campaign Director John Swinney said: “This is an encouraging poll which shows a significant lead for the SNP amongst older people and a further fall in support for Labour amongst some of their traditional voters – highlighting just how far Labour have come from their founding principles.

“On key public services this poll also shows that older people are satisfied with our record of delivery in government and recognise that the SNP is the only party standing up for Scotland’s pensioners. Over the last nine years the SNP Government has protected key benefits such as the concessionary bus pass, free prescriptions and free personal and nursing care for older people.

“We are absolutely committed to making Scotland a fairer country for all – that’s why we’ll reject Labour’s plans to increase taxes on half a million low income pensioners and Tory plans to fund tax cuts for the rich through cuts to disabled people.”

Scottish Conservative Alex Johnstone said: “This shows a strong Conservative support among the over 60s, and that these people have completely lost faith in Labour.

“It’s also clear that they believe while the SNP will continue agitating for another referendum, they will resist such a move in strong numbers.”

The poll results translated into seats would have the SNP on 62 seats, the Tories on 36 and Labour on 23, while the Lib Dems would be on six, and the Greens would be on two.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “This election is all about which party will use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to stop the cuts and invest in our public services. Under Labour’s plans we would stop the SNP’s cuts to local services like social care.

“We would guarantee an appointment at a GP surgery within 48 hours and a social care package within a week. Faced with a choice between using the powers of the Parliament to protect the public services that pensioners rely on or carrying on with the SNP’s cuts, Labour will use the powers.”