The bookies were responding to a number of sizeable bets placed on the nationalists in the wake of two recent polls and the performance of Alex Salmond in last night’s first televised debate.
As a result, Ladbrokes this morning slashed the odds on an SNP win from 11/4 to 7/4.
Labour, who were as short as 1/12 for the election at one point and a banker in the eyes of many, now drift to 2/5. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both remain rank outsiders with odds of 100/1 each.
“Labour have drifted from apparent dead-certs and all the momentum now appears to be with the SNP,” said Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes. “It’s a genuine two horse race and should trade continue like this we expect Salmond’s party to assume favouritism shortly.”
According to a YouGov poll published in the Scotsman this morning, Labour would still emerge as the biggest party in Holyrood but, crucially, the momentum appears to be with the SNP.
YouGov found that, in the first vote, the SNP had edged out Labour, with 40 per cent to Labour’s 39 per cent, but Labour enjoyed a crucial lead in the second vote, with 39 per cent to the SNP’s 32 per cent.
Translated into seats, this would give Labour 57 seats to the SNP’s 48. The Tories recorded 11 per cent on the first vote and 12 per cent on the second, giving them a notional 13 seats, down four from the last election.
The Liberal Democrats do appear to be shedding votes, though, with the YouGov poll giving them just 5 per cent on both votes – which would put them behind the Greens on the list vote.
This would translate into six Greens and five Lib Dems in the new parliament, which would be a shocking result for the Liberal Democrats.
Although Labour is still ahead, in terms of seats, in the YouGov poll, the gap between the two parties (nine seats) is the smallest for almost a year and suggests that the SNP leaders have narrowed the gap between themselves and Labour consistently over the past few months.
And now, with just five weeks to go until polling day, that momentum could prove crucial.
Another poll, this time by TNS for STV to coincide with last night’s debate, put Labour on 38 per cent and the SNP on 37 per cent for the constituency vote and both parties on 35 per cent for the regional list vote.
This would give Labour 54 seats, ahead of the SNP on 48 with the Tories unchanged on 17, the Lib Dems with eight seats and the Greens two.
Again, even though Labour remain in the lead, the momentum does now appear to be with the SNP.
The two questions that stand out, however, are these: will the SNP be able to do enough over the next five weeks to close the gap completely and overtake Labour? And, with the Lib Dem vote collapsing as a result of the party’s problems in government at Westminster, who will benefit the most?
At the moment, the nationalists appear to be doing enough to overtake Labour by polling day, but the one factor keeping Labour in the race is the party’s ability to win over disaffected Lib Dem voters.
If the Lib Dem vote keeps on imploding, this will be the key factor, so voters can expect to see both main parties target their messages straight at the Lib Dems in an attempt to take advantage of that disintegration.