Over the weekend some Labour candidates wrote to the papers in support of cautious and gradual rail renationalisation. According to that same piece, “Ed Balls is said to be resistant to anything that would be portrayed by Labour’s opponents as anti-business or a lurch back to the pre-Thatcher era of nationalised industries.” And yet, at a hustings I attended, when the candidates were asked which of their own parties’ policies they would change, the Tory said, without hesitating, rail privatisation, and that he accepted it had been a disaster. Policy lurched right on this. Even many in the Tories think a moderate lean to the left now wouldn’t be a bad idea. But Labour remain just too timid.

As I read this weekend’s coverage I thought to myself about how great it would be if someone had some polling on this just lying around unpublished. Then I remembered that I did! As part of my ongoing polling series with Survation, the Daily Record and Dundee University’s Five Million Questions, last month we asked whether the Scottish public would like to see the train companies renationalised, and the result was 71% for, 29% against (excluding don’t knows: full figures yes 59%, no 24%, don’t know 17%). It’s like I cleverly saved the data for the May Day weekend.

So, by a factor of more than two to one, the Scottish people are to the left of the current positions held by both of our supposedly social-democratic parties. Which means, sadly, this popular policy is offered by only one of the Holyrood parties, the Greens. Much as it’s nice to have such another unique selling point, we’d be a lot more likely to see public control restored if one of the two larger parties felt inclined to outflank the other to the left and adopt a policy with such clear majority support.

While I was at it, I thought I’d establish how far the Scottish people want to see public control over the rest of the commanding heights of the economy. These were the results from Survation (summary table including don’t knows here).

Would like to see nationalised

Would not like to see nationalised

Royal Mail

 74%  26%

Gas and electricity companies

 72%  28%

Train companies

 71%  29%

Private prisons and prisoner transport services

 68%  32%

Bus services

 59%  31%


 49%  51%

Land-line phone companies

 47%  53%

High street / retail banks

 41%  59%

Investment banks

 36% 64%

Mobile phone operators

 29%  71%

It’s quite impressive, really, the scale to which the public are to the left of the SNP and the three Westminster parties. Clear majorities want to renationalise Royal Mail, the power companies, the train companies, the bus companies, and to end private prisons and prisoner transport. The only one from that list where any of those four parties is in line with public opinion is the SNP’s welcome commitment to bring Royal Mail back into public ownership. Ed Miliband gets slated for his policy to cap energy costs as if it’s too left-wing. The truth is it’s too timid and too impractical, and a massive majority of the public want to go much further and overturn the Thatcher-era electricity privatisations completely.

And beyond that, more than 40% of the Scottish public would even nationalise all the high street banks, those we don’t yet own. Despite no political party pushing renationalisation of BT as a monopoly landline operator (effectively those landline services would be close to free, given the true costs of operating them now), the majority against this idea is slim. It’s hardly surprising opinion is divided: we traded one pretty incompetent nationalised industry for several pretty incompetent private firms. Personally if we must have incompetent phone companies I’d at least prefer vast private profits weren’t being made from us.

Overall, though, this is what a radically under-served left-leaning electorate looks like. We know the Tories and the Lib Dems will always be wrong on public ownership: but what excuse do Labour and the SNP have?