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Polling expert says Nigel Farage party WILL split Unionist vote

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NIGEL Farage’s new party poses most risk to the Scottish Tories at this year’s Holyrood elections, according to the UK’s leading pollster.

Professor Sir John Curtice said Reform UK Scotland would be targetting the same pro-Brexit supporters as the Conservatives which could lose votes to it.

He said that while around a third of SNP voters backed leaving the European Union in 2016, he thought Nicola Sturgeon’s party would not see its electoral performance damaged by the new party as “the British nationalism” message it advanced would not appeal to Yes supporters.

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Speaking to The National, Curtice was also asked if the Tories lost some votes to Reform UK Scotland, could Labour return to become the main opposition.

He believed this situation was unlikely as to get back into second place in Holyrood, Labour would have to take remain-backing votes off the SNP. He said this ambition would be hard for Scottish Labour as UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s stance was to move on from Brexit.

“More leave voters vote Tory than anything else, so the Tories are the ones which will be least happy,” Curtice told The National.

“A third of SNP voters backed Leave, but with Reform UK running with the type of British nationalism that was typical of the Brexit Party and Ukip that doesn’t do well up here.

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“But one suspects Tory leave voters are somewhat more vulnerable [to the Reform Party] than SNP leave voters. Meanwhile, of course it fractures the Unionist vote a bit more.”

Asked about the prospect of Labour returning as the main opposition party, Curtice said: “The Labour party position in the polls has improved a bit, the average is now about 17% rather than 16%, but the Tories are running just below what they got in 2016.

“If anyone is going to stop the SNP getting a majority it would be the Labour party. It is much better placed than the Tories to take votes off the SNP but the fact that Keir Starmer has decided to say that Brexit is over and that we’re not going to seek to change the treaty, is certainly not going to help his party in May.”

Former Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne was unveiled on Monday as the Scottish leader of Farage’s Reform UK party.

The party intends to field candidates on the regional list section of this year’s Holyrood election.

Reform UK Scotland’s predecessor before the Brexit Party – Ukip – contested all eight regional list elections in 2016, winning just 1.9% of votes. A party needs around 6% of vote to get an MSP.

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Curtice, who is professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said the fact it was standing in the Holyrood election, due in May, would “add to the variety” but overall he didn’t think Reform UK Scotland would “make much impact”.

He said its anti-lockdown message was “niche” and not one which would gather much support at the election.

“The people who tend to complain most about lockdown are Brexiteers but research so far suggests that is not true of public opinion,” he said.

Ballantyne, who last year unsuccessfully ran for Scottish Tory leader, described the new party as “pro-Scotland and pro the UK”, adding it was “the best choice for the people of these islands”.

Richard Tice, the chairman of Reform UK, which was previously known as the Brexit Party, and before that Ukip, criticised the prospect of another independence referendum at the party’s online launch.

He said: “There is no need for any referendum for a generation.

Far better that existing powers, including those repatriated from the EU, are used to better effect than create further bitter division between Scots.”

Speaking about the pandemic, Ballantyne added: “Scotland needs an exit strategy not just out of Covid but to recover from lockdowns. Children need to get back to school, healthcare needs to fully open and human beings need to be able to interact socially.”

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