But how bad will it get for Scottish Labour?
You wouldnâ€™t know if you only received your news from the London media but there are three general elections in the UK this year. Voters will go to the polls in May to elect new Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland and to the Scottish Parliament (as well as a London mayor, various lesser mayors, a bumper set of councillors and PCCs across England and Wales â€“ itâ€™s probably the biggest polling day before the next general election). But clearly thatâ€™s far less interesting than the EU referendum in June or the dramas of the US presidential primaries.
There are interesting questions surrounding the outcomes of both the Belfast and Cardiff assemblies but the most fascinating race lies north of England, where the political landscape has undergone a revolution unlike any in Britain in almost a century.
At the heart of that revolution is the SNP, who will be seeking to win a third term and a second overall majority. Going by current polls they seem as certain to do so as can ever be the case in politics. Not since August 2014 has the SNP trailed Labour and since the referendum changed everything, the SNP has never led by less than 10%; their smallest lead since last yearâ€™s general election in the crucial regional vote is some 22%. That the best odds on an SNP win are 1/50 tells you all you need to know.
Two questions follow such overwhelming dominance: just how well can the SNP do, and who will be best of the rest?
On the first question, Ladbrokes are offering 7/2 that Sturgeonâ€™s army will take all 72 constituency seats and 1/6 that they wonâ€™t. Thatâ€™s quite a big margin and I donâ€™t really see any value there. Achieving a lock-out of all other parties is hard: you only have to make a mistake in one constituency or with one candidate and itâ€™s lost. And some constituencies will be hard to win anyway with Shetland perhaps proving the toughest nut.
A lesser target is that of the overall majority which Ladbrokes have priced at 1/16 that the SNP will, and 7/1 for a hung parliament. There might just be a smidgen of value in the latter. Winning half the seats under AMS is difficult. The SNP won a majority of nine in 2011 on a 44% regional vote. That, however, was with parties outside the main four gaining 12% of the vote but just three MSPs (two Green and Margo MacDonald standing as an independent).
Current polling is far from consistent: TNS typically report the SNP as well into the 50s, a level that would produce an easy overall majority; by contrast, Survation and YouGov only put the SNP in the low- to mid-forties. Just as relevant are the scores at the bottom. If TNS is right, then the Greens, Lib Dems and UKIP will be unlikely (again) to reach double figures between them; if Survation is on the mark then they should be in the 15-20 range.
As for best of the rest, Labour is 2/5 (again Ladbrokes), against 7/4 for the Conservatives. Itâ€™s a measure of how far Labour has fallen that we are seriously talking about them finishing third, something they havenâ€™t done at any election in Scotland since 1918*. All the same, they should do so and despite the unattractive odds, there is a little value there. The Conservatives have had great difficulty breaking through a barrier at 17% (other than presumed margin of error) and there has to be a limit to how far Labour can fall. All the same, punters would be well-advised to invest it in, for example, the US presidential race where more attractive options exist.
One question to ask is whether we should be placing too much faith in the polls at this stage after the experience of 2015, when they were badly wrong, and 2011 when they moved heavily late on. Iâ€™d say cautiously yes for two reasons. Firstly, I donâ€™t expect a late swing this time because the numbers are in alignment: Sturgeon is a popular leader and her party is well ahead. Thereâ€™s no tension there to be resolved. And secondly, last yearâ€™s general election gives us all the evidence we need as to the big picture assuming that littleâ€™s changed â€“ and weâ€™ve no real reason to think otherwise.
* This is definitional. Iâ€™m counting parties that fought an election under a pact as a single entity. Iâ€™m also using MPs elected as the decisive factor. If votes are used, then it would be the first time since December 1910 (Labour outpolled Asquithâ€™s Liberals in 1918 but won two fewer seats, eight to six).
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— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) March 5, 2016
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