FFS Explains: Humza Yousaf's polling challenge 3

FFS Explains: Humza Yousaf’s polling challenge

Humza Yousaf has become the sixth first minister of Scotland, and the first from a minority ethnic background. 

His rise to the top job comes at a time when the SNP has faced significant criticism, and there has been unrest within the party about its future direction. 

Ferret Fact Service looked at some key polling indicators to see where Yousaf’s challenges lie. 

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project

SNP election polling

One of Yousaf’s main challenges will be to maintain the SNP’s place in government and as the most popular political party in Scotland.

The party won their fourth consecutive Scottish Parliament election in 2021, falling one seat short of a majority and forming a coalition with the Scottish Greens. The next election is still three years away, providing an early vote is not called. 

In the Scottish Parliament election, voters pick a constituency MSP and a party on the regional list.

In constituency vote opinion polls, the SNP still has a significant lead. The latest poll collected by What Scotland Thinks had the party on 43 per cent with second place Labour trailing 17 points behind. 

The lead has decreased since the election in 2021, when the SNP took 48 per cent of the vote and second place Conservatives were 26 percentage points behind on 22 per cent.

In the regional vote, the gap is narrower, with the latest poll for YouGov showing the SNP backed by 35 per cent to Labour’s 25 per cent.

This has also narrowed since the 2021 election, when the difference was 17 percentage points.

The Scottish Parliament election voting system means that voters often pick a different party in the regional list vote from their vote in the constituency, as the system gives more weight to votes for parties who do not succeed in the constituency election.

For example, the Scottish Greens picked up all of their eight MSPs in the 2021 election through the regional vote. 

Humza Yousaf’s popularity

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon was able to command support and popularity among a wide section of the Scottish public during her time in office.

In the last poll before she stepped down, Sturgeon had a net positivity rating among Scots polled of +8. This was higher than the other party leaders in Scotland and the UK. 

Polling on Yousaf’s popularity has shown he is significantly less popular than Sturgeon. The latest survey showed him at -20, less popular than his former leadership rival Kate Forbes, who was on -8.

Independence polling

Progress towards Scottish independence remains one of the defining issues that SNP leaders are judged on. 

Latest polling shows support for independence is currently under 50 per cent, with the most recent survey for YouGov showing 45 per cent would vote Yes and 55 per cent No, when undecided voters were removed.

One of the defining issues of Yousaf’s time as first minister will be how he sets about achieving his party’s goal of Scottish independence. He has vowed to ask Westminster for a section 30 order which would allow Scotland to hold an independence referendum. 

Since the Brexit vote in 2016, the Scottish Government has pursued a second referendum on independence. The party claims that Scotland was taken out of the European Union (EU) without the consent of its voters, the majority of whom backed Remain. 

Before the first referendum, the Scottish Government secured a section 30 order from the UK Government. This transfers the power to hold a constitutional referendum to the Scottish Government, when it is usually reserved. 

However, the UK Government has repeatedly rejected calls for a new section 30 order, as well as a formal request from Nicola Sturgeon in 2017, and an approach from the first minister in 2019. 

In 2022, the Scottish Government published a draft bill to allow the Scottish Parliament to call a second referendum without UK Government approval, but this was ruled to be outside of its power in a supreme court ruling. 

This led to the Scottish Government pursuing a different approach, with Sturgeon saying the next general election would be fought as a ‘de facto’ referendum. This strategy was to be debated in a ‘Special Democracy Conference’ in March 2023, but this was postponed after Sturgeon’s resignation. 

Yousaf has not revealed in detail what his strategy for a second referendum will be, but a recent YouGov poll found 52 per cent of respondents felt Scotland would not be independent in ten years time. 

Photo credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

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