It is only nine months until we go to the polls to elect a new Scottish Parliament.
While voters should be looking primarily to elect local representatives and ultimately a government for Scotland, there is no doubt that the performance of the UK government will be in the minds of many as they head for the polling station.
And that’s why an opinion poll released this weekend makes such interesting reading.
The headline figures from TNS-BRMB show Labour on 46%, well ahead of the SNP on 32%. If this was the result next May we would see a Labour administration taking over from the current minority SNP government on a swing of around 8%.
It is a little complicated to predict exact results in Scotland because of the Regional List system, where everyone has two votes. The figures quoted here are for constituency votes only, but they do give a good indication of the public’s feelings at present.
The Tories have not done well in Scotland for many years, and it would have been hard to see how their support could fall any further. But they have managed it, going from 13% to a mere 10% in this poll. In 2005 the party secured 17% of the constituency vote, winning 4 seats.
But support for the Liberal Democrats, perhaps surprisingly, is holding up despite the party’s role in the coalition government. While poll ratings on a UK basis have plummeted, the Lib Dems in Scotland remain unchanged at 11% – although this is down on the 16% they received in the last Scottish election when they won 11 seats.
So it would appear that in Scotland at least, anger at the government’s programme of cuts is directed mainly at the Conservatives rather than their new political allies.
There is, of course, a long time until election day. As the government’s cuts begin to bite we could well see support for both parties drop even further.
And the SNP will be in a difficult position as it is forced to administer cuts to the Scottish budget. Alex Salmond and co will be keen to remind voters that they are merely managers of the budget rather than those who set it. And they will also use the situation as another argument in favour of an independent Scotland.
For now it is Labour who will look at these figures with most satisfaction. They are in a good position to win the election, and they can expect their support to grow as anger at public sector cuts to come increases.
But the Liberal Democrats will be very happy to have even a small amount of good news just for a change.