Low-income Scots could be key in deciding UK's next PM, think tank says

22 May 2018, 07:14

Ballot Box

Low-income voters in Scotland could be crucial in determining whether Labour or the Conservatives win the next general election, a think tank has suggested.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) claimed the major parties must "reboot" their policy offerings to this group in a bid to boost support.

It said, however, that moving further to the left was "unlikely to solve Labour's problems" in Scotland.

The think tank argued Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn's parties both need to increase their backing among poorer Scots if they want to win the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Meanwhile, if Nicola Sturgeon's SNP can "galavanise" support in this group, it said the SNP could hold the balance of power.

In a new report looking at the results of the 2015 and 2017 elections, as well as the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the Brexit vote in 2016, research for the think tank said: "There are good reasons for the main parties to think seriously about how to win over voters in Scotland, in particular low-income voters, who are increasingly a key battleground in Scottish and British politics more widely."

After the 2017 snap general election, there are 31 seats across the UK with majorities of less than 1% of the vote - with 12 of these most marginal seats in Scotland.

Professor Matthew Goodwin, from the University of Kent, and Professor Oliver Heath at the Royal Holloway University carried out the study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

While they found the SNP "continues to perform strongly among low-income voters who live on less than £20,000 per year", it said their lead among this group had declined.

The Scottish Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson, has made "big inroads" with those who support both the UK and Brexit, and has also won over some poorer voters from Labour.

The report also stressed that "low-income voters do not have cohesive preferences on the two big referendum issues and so attempts to win them over only on these constitutional issues will likely have limited success".

Consequently, it advised: "Parties would do well to pitch to other issues and to find more out about the preferences and concerns of these voters."

With "all to play for" in the next Westminster election, it said Labour would need a uniform swing of just under five points to win a majority - although a swing of less than two points could put them in power with the support of the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

The research highlighted the importance of Scotland, saying that of the 79 seats that could fall to Labour if there were a five-point swing, 23 are north of the border.

In the 2017 election "in places where turnout declined a lot the SNP tended to suffer, perhaps indicating that people who had previously voted for the party opted to stay at home," the report said.

It added: "The Conservatives tended to do better in places were turnout declined. One example is the seat of Gordon, which the SNP's Alex Salmond won in 2015 but then lost to the Conservative Party in 2017, while turnout fell by five points."

While Labour "polled strongly" in England and Wales, the party was "squeezed" between the SNP - which retains the most support among low-income voters - and the Tories, who are winning votes amongst those who are supporters of both the Union and Brexit.

The report said: "Despite making minor gains in Scotland this time out, there is the very real prospect that these gains are papering over bigger cracks that could see the party lose ground to its two major rivals. Moving further to the left is unlikely to solve Labour's problems."

Claire Ainsley, JRF executive director, said: "With British politics on a knife-edge and the main parties unable to secure a majority, how low-income households vote at the next general election could pave the road to Number 10.

"Yet political debate is fixated on Brexit at a time when millions of families are locked in poverty and struggling to make end meets."