British Labour downplays threat of Scotland collapse

LONDON - British opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband on Thursday brushed off polls indicating his party faces collapsing support in former stronghold Scotland ahead of next year's general election.

"We face a tough fight but no tougher than the fights we have faced in the past," Miliband told a Labour dinner event in Glasgow.

His comments came after an Ipsos Mori survey showed Labour could lose up to 90 per cent of its lawmakers in the region to the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) when voters go to the polls in May.

Even though 55 per cent of Scottish voters rejected independence in a September referendum, the SNP has seen support rise and its members more than triple since the campaign.

A YouGov poll indicated Labour lawmakers in Scotland could drop to four from 41 currently, which would badly damage Miliband's chance of beating Conservative leader David Cameron to become prime minister.

"In the next six months I know the Scottish Labour Party will fight every hour and every day to deliver the changes the working people of Scotland need to improve their lives," Miliband said.

He conceded it had been a "tough week" for the party after the leader of Scottish Labour Johann Lamont unexpectedly resigned.

Lamont accused the London leadership of treating the Scottish party as "a branch office" in criticism apparently directed at Miliband.

It was followed by the resignation of Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar on Thursday.

Scotland has long been a bastion of support for Labour, with the party taking 41 of its 59 Westminster seats in 2010.

But polls in the run up to the referendum showed increasing numbers of Labour voters backing independence, putting them at odds with their party as it campaigned against the split.

The Ipsos Mori poll of 1,029 adults found the SNP now had 52 per cent support compared to Labour's 23 per cent, meaning the SNP would take 54 seats and Labour just four.

The findings pile pressure on Miliband, who has struggled to impress voters, and come as Scottish Labour stages a leadership contest to replace Lamont.

The leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, said the poll showed the independence referendum had "changed Scottish politics forever".

"More and more people are choosing to put their trust in the SNP as disillusion with the entire Westminster establishment grows," Sturgeon said.

"At next year's general election, we have the power to send a shockwave through the Westminster establishment."