For the first time, Labour has fallen behind the SNP in an ICM/Scotsman poll on voting intentions for the Edinburgh Parliament. Other polls have put the SNP up to 14 points ahead.
Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, found comfort in the detail of the figures but the headline slump means more pressure on his new deputy, Helen Liddell, in her job of reversing the nationalist tide.
Of the 1,200 polled by ICM, 39 per cent said they would vote SNP in the first-past-the-post constituency part of next May's election compared to 36 per cent voting Labour. For the second question, voting for party lists, there was a dead heat on 36 per cent.
Mr Blair's notion of a "Middle Scotland" was derided, with only 17 per cent believing it existed, but oddly there was a marked fall in support for independence if a referendum was held.
Mike Russell, chief executive of the SNP, said the more Mr Blair visited Scotland, the better it suited the SNP. The last visit was "supposed to signal the start of Labour's recovery, but the poll shows that it was a total flop", Mr Russell said.
Mr Dewar said the dead heat on the party preference question put the "rather excitable headlines" into perspective. However, privately, party leaders will be concerned that so far their tactic of branding the SNP as "separatists" and a pledge of extra money for education and housing has had no discernible impact.
The Secretary of State sounded equally relaxed over moves to cut back the time devoted to Scottish business in the Commons following devolution. The Commons select committee on procedure has decided to hold an inquiry into the consequences of devolution for business at Westminster.Reuse content