Labour overtake the SNP in Scotland

When Labour collapsed from 41 seats to just one in 2015, it was difficult to see any road to recovery. Riding the Independence Referendum, the SNP went from six MPs to 56.


In 2017 Labour won six additional seats on 27.1% of the vote – a 2.8% increase from the previous election. However it was the Conservatives who performed best, almost doubling their vote share in the process of gaining 12 seats. The SNP lost 21 seats as their vote share declined by 13.1%. The Conservatives and the SNP structured the constitutional debate, with the former surpassing Labour as the principal opposition to the SNP and Independence.


The SNP reasserted its dominance in 2019 by winning 45% of the vote, gaining 14 additional seats and losing just one to the Liberal Democrats. Despite losing just 3.5% of its vote share, the Conservatives lost 7 seats to the SNP. The progress Labour had made in 2017 was eviscerated as the party’s vote share fell 8.4% and it lost 6 seats – all to the SNP. As in 2015, Edinburgh South was the only Labour seat the SNP were unable to gain.


The electoral landscape in Scotland looks very different four years on. The popular former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has since resigned and been arrested while her successor has resigned and been replaced by Sturgeon’s former Deputy. Meanwhile Labour leads the Conservatives by 23 points in UK wide polls.


Labour is also resurgent in Scotland. The SNP’s lead over Labour stood at 26.4 points in the 2019 election. Heading into this election, however, Labour lead the SNP by 4 points. This is the first time Labour have led the SNP since the party was nearly wiped out in 2015. Labour looks set to regain a significant foothold in Scotland, particularly in its former heartlands in the central belt. 

You might expect declining support for the SNP to be coupled with declining support for Scottish independence. Survation has polled Independence Referendum voting intentions 40 times since Brexit – including 23 polls conducted since the 2019 election. Support for Yes increased during the pandemic and its response. Since spring 2021, however, Yes has not recorded a lead in independence voting intention.

Support for independence is clearly very sticky. While Sturgeon and Yousaf’s resignations have hurt the SNP, they have barely weakened the cause for independence. The difficulty for the SNP is that the party is retaining fewer 2014 Yes voters – just 54% in this poll. Meanwhile Labour has become much more attractive to the same group of voters. One in four (24%) of those who voted Yes or intend to vote Yes (26%) say they will vote Labour at the next Westminster election, as do one in five 2019 SNP supporters. 

Yet Labour is also making gains with 2019 Conservative votes, as 17% say they intend to vote Labour at the next election. Labour under Starmer has established itself as the most popular party among unionist voters.

Given the turmoil since Sturgeon’s resignation, the SNP have proven to have an exceptionally high floor. However the party’s near monopoly over Yes voters has fractured. Support for independence does not alone appear to be a sufficient reason to vote SNP in this election. 

Labour finds itself in a fortunate position: it is attracting Yes voters as the only party capable of removing the Conservatives from Westminster, while also appealing to unionist voters as the party best-placed to defend the union.


Get the data

Survation conducted a online poll of 1,026 adults aged 16+ in Scotland on behalf of True North. Fieldwork was conducted between 23rd – 27th May 2024. Tables are available here. 


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