Friday, March 16, 2018

No, the OBFA repeal was not a surprise, and nor was it a victory for the little guy

For some reason Angela Haggerty seemed to be going out of her way to wind up supporters of the SNP yesterday with a number of goading tweets.  Most obviously, there was her jubilation at the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.  Now, she's absolutely entitled to her view that the Act was harmful, although I suspect the majority of people feel that the decision to repeal it, especially just days after ugly scenes in Glasgow associated with an Old Firm game, sends out a truly appalling signal that football-related sectarianism isn't really such a big deal.  But what was so provocative was Angela's eagerness to stress that a big part of the reason for her excitement was specifically that the repeal constituted a defeat for the SNP government.

"Today is an absolutely stunning victory for @FACKilltheBill, it's huge. I can't really stress it enough. Nobody expected a group of football fans to take on the government and win. And not only that, but this is the Scottish Government's first massive defeat since devolution. Wow."

That's a bogus narrative in at least three ways.  Firstly, this is not a story of a bunch of ordinary football fans defying massive odds and defeating the government.  This is a story of four ideologically disparate opposition parties zeroing in on pretty much the only issue on which they all agree with each other and disagree with the SNP, and using it to score a morale-boosting victory.  Secondly, in no sense was the repeal a surprise.  All of the opposition parties voted against the OBFA when it was first passed, so it was obvious to anyone who could count that repeal was firmly on the cards as soon as those parties won a narrow majority between them at the 2016 election.  And thirdly, is this really the first "massive defeat" for any Scottish Government since devolution?  It's certainly not the first defeat, so how are we defining "massive"?  Is it more significant than the defeat the SNP government suffered on the Edinburgh trams soon after taking office, for example?

It's also worth noting that cases where the government backs down minutes or seconds before a vote it knows it's going to lose are functionally identical to defeats, so I would argue that by far the biggest reverse for any government since the start of devolution was when the Labour-led administration was forced to accept free personal care for the elderly in 2001.  (Tom McCabe dramatically announced the change in policy to buy off Liberal Democrat MSPs who were just about to vote with the SNP and the Tories on the issue.)

Later in the day, Angela made another extraordinary comment while watching the BBC's Question Time -

"Brian Cox has just demonstrated the inconsistency between nationalists wanting indy but also being pro-EU, and the SNP hasn't clarified this well enough. What does it mean to be in a union? What does it mean to be independent? Where are the lines? Do voters know?"

That's essentially a Farage-esque observation.  To the extent that UKIP have ever bothered to campaign in Scotland, their favourite line has always been that "you can't be serious about independence if you want to be ruled from Brussels".  (The obvious retort being that it therefore follows that you can't be serious about independence if you want to be ruled from London, as "UKIP Scotland" apparently do.)

Of course, anyone who has followed Scottish politics over the years knows that Angela is just plain wrong about this - the SNP have spent vast amounts of time explaining the difference between the straitjacketed union of the UK, and the much looser, participative union of the EU.  They've done that both in terms of specifics, and also by using rhetorical points that tap into people's intuitive understanding of how sovereignty works - eg. "would anyone seriously say that France isn't an independent country?"

But there's another important point here as well.  The pro-indy radical left have always been incredibly touchy about the SNP claiming ownership of the independence cause.  So why on earth is Angela singling out the SNP and "nationalists" in general as being culpable for the supposed lack of "clarification"?  If she sees herself as being part of the pro-independence movement, and I gather she does, shouldn't she regard this as being her own failing as much as anyone else's?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

More on that 48% Yes vote...

Just a quick note to let you know I have a new article in The National, with more analysis of yesterday's sensational Ipsos-Mori poll that put support for independence at 48%.  You can read the article HERE.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dramatic poll boost for independence campaign as SNP open up comfortable lead - and almost HALF want a new indyref within just THREE YEARS

Do you remember, around a year ago, before anyone even suspected that Theresa May was going to call a snap election, there was an Ipsos-Mori telephone poll that showed a 50/50 split on the independence question?  We marvelled at how phone polling, which during the long indyref campaign had been much more No-friendly than online polling, was suddenly so favourable for Yes.  If you've bought into what the mainstream media have been telling you since then, you probably think a lot of water has passed under the bridge, and that everything has changed utterly in the last year.  In fact, as today's new Ipsos-Mori telephone poll demonstrates, hardly anything has changed at all.  Yes and No remain in a statistical tie - meaning that due to the standard margin of error, it's not possible to tell which side is actually in the lead.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Ipsos-Mori, telephone fieldwork, Don't Knows excluded)

Yes 48% (+1)
No 52% (-1)

The reason why the Yes vote has gone up rather than down is that there was also an Ipsos-Mori poll last May that showed a slight dip in Yes support, albeit within the margin of error.

What I find remarkable is that if Ipsos-Mori are typical, it appears that phone polling remains slightly more Yes-friendly than online polling is.  No online poll since June has had Yes higher than 47%.  I must say that's against my expectations, because there were signs in the run-up to the general election that phone and face-to-face polls were swinging sharply back towards No.  There was one particularly awful Survation phone poll in June that had Yes down to 39%, much worse than anything online polls were suggesting at the time.  Perhaps, as was also the case in the EU referendum, phone polls are more likely to be volatile and to show exaggerated swings in either direction.  Whatever the explanation, we can now for the first time say with confidence that, irrespective of data collection method, the Yes vote recovered from any brief election blip, and is back to roughly where it was in the early spring of 2017.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, I'm going to have to take the media organisation that commissioned the poll to task for misleading people about the results.  STV's online headline, which presumably will be reflected in TV reporting at 6pm, claims that the poll shows that Scots "don't want Indyref 2".  That is quite simply untrue.  The poll actually shows that 42% support a referendum within the next three years (a crucial caveat), 47% oppose a referendum by 2021, 8% "neither support nor oppose" an early referendum, and 3% don't know.  Even if the Don't Knows are stripped out, that means a slender majority of the population do not actively oppose Indyref 2 being held soon.  If Don't Knows and neutrals are removed, the result is as follows -

Do you support or oppose holding another referendum on independence within the next three years?  (Neutrals/Don't Knows excluded)

Support 47%
Oppose 53%

That's extremely close to being a statistical tie, and is strikingly reminiscent of a number of Panelbase polls that have shown a virtual dead heat on similarly-worded questions.

What's even more objectionable about STV's reporting, though, is the unjustified emphasis it's putting on a supplementary question that was asked only to respondents who are in favour of an early indyref.  Those people were asked to make a binary choice between saying that they want a referendum because of Brexit, or that they want a referendum anyway.  STV have used that to split the referendum supporters roughly in half, and to produce a fantasy figure of "only" 22% who supposedly agree with Nicola Sturgeon's stance that a referendum should be held specifically because of Brexit.  Back in the real world, the half of referendum supporters who want an indyref in any circumstances may very well feel that Brexit strengthens the case just the same - but they weren't given any opportunity to say that.  It's also quite possible that some of the respondents who on balance oppose an early referendum nevertheless feel that the arguments in favour are stronger because of Brexit, but they weren't given an opportunity to say that either.  A much more useful question would have been something like "Has Brexit made you more or less supportive of holding an independence referendum within the next three years?" - and it should have been asked to all respondents, not just some.

Scottish voting intentions for next Westminster election:

SNP 39%
Labour 26%
Conservatives 25%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 4%

There have now been eight full-scale Scottish voting intention polls since the general election.  This is the sixth of those to show that the SNP's vote has slightly increased from the 37% recorded on election day.  All eight have shown that the SNP's lead over the Tories has increased, and five have shown that the SNP's lead over Labour has either increased or remained static.

No Holyrood figures from the poll have been published yet, although I would guess STV may release them tomorrow or very soon.  If so, the pattern of recent polls from other firms would suggest that Labour may be performing slightly less well at Holyrood than at Westminster, which could mean they'll still be languishing in third place.

A technical point that will only be of interest to geeks: you may remember that during the indyref campaign we assumed (but didn't know for sure) that Ipsos-Mori were only contacting telephone respondents by landline, which could have meant they were interviewing a disproportionately small 'c' conservative sample.  They now seem to be conceding that point by noting: "Our sample now includes a small proportion of mobile numbers as well as landline."  I've no idea when exactly they made that adjustment, or how much difference it's making to headline results.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The logic is inescapable: the UK government must pull England out of the World Cup

I'm fairly agnostic on the claims that Theresa May has made about Russian state involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. I find it entirely plausible that Russia might have sufficient disregard for human rights and international law to do something like that, but by the same token the events leading up to the Iraq War should serve as a handy reminder to us all that Western governments are highly skilled at taking advantage of narratives that seem plausible to their citizens, regardless of whether they are actually true or not. What I do know for sure is that the British establishment, all the way from Nick Robinson down to David Leask, have recently been taking an absolutist stance on anything that might give succour to the Putin regime. Remember Robinson saying that it didn't actually matter that the Alex Salmond Show would be free of pro-Putin propaganda, because the existence of the show was still lending credibility to propaganda elsewhere on the same channel?

Well, if RT is an instrument of Russian soft power, the same is true a hundred times over of Russia's forthcoming hosting of the World Cup. England's participation in the tournament would in effect be a genuflection towards that soft power before a global audience of billions, and yet we're told that the UK government's belief that the Russian state has just attempted murder on British soil will not be an obstacle to that happening. Only practical concerns about safety would lead to the team's withdrawal. Is that position remotely sustainable? I don't think it is. My guess is that some sort of sophistry about "the need to keep sport and politics separate" will eventually be used as an excuse for England taking part, because self-serving Tory politicians are too scared of disappointing the large football-mad section of the electorate. If that proves to be right, we'd better not hear any more hypocritical and sanctimonious tripe about how a 30-minute weekly TV show on an Ofcom-licensed channel is somehow undermining Western civilisation.  Amazing, isn't it, how when there's some sort of political cost, all these fine principles suddenly go flying out of the window?

*  *  *

I caught the early part of the Continuity Bill debate in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, and I was tickled by the apparent belief of Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!" Tomkins that we should all be reassured that the UK government's amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill will "allow" - but not require - London to seek agreement with the devolved administrations before establishing common UK frameworks that affect devolved matters.  Apparently it's some sort of spectacular breakthrough that the UK government isn't legislating to forbid itself to talk to Nicola Sturgeon.

Even more disingenuous is that Tomkins claims to believe that frameworks should be agreed, not imposed, and yet refuses to acknowledge that such a stance is irreconcilable with his support for Westminster legislation that enables imposition.  The bottom line is that Tomkins and his colleagues think that if the Scottish government fail to reach an agreement with London on a framework after negotiating in good faith, London should be entirely free to impose a framework.  That is simply not consistent with the devolution settlement as it has existed since 1999.

*  *  *

Of the many abusive trolls that pollute Scottish political Twitter, Labour's Ian Smart is undoubtedly the one that has enjoyed most exposure as a TV pundit.  This was his 'thoughtful contribution to the debate' on the Continuity Bill the other day -

"Because no-one in 1998 anticipated us ever leaving the EU, always and never are both apposite. Question for SNP remains why they are best exercised on a supra national basis or by Holyrood alone but not by any intermediate arrangement? Difficult to see an answer beyond Anglophobia."

Given that Smart should undoubtedly have been long since expelled from Labour for the use of abusive and racist language, it's perhaps a mistake to take anything he says too seriously.  Nevertheless, I'll bite, because the answer to his question is actually pretty straightforward.

First, it's obviously not the case that the SNP support the status quo in Scotland's relationship with the EU.  They want those powers to remain at a supranational level, but for Scotland to have a vote on them by means of direct representation in EU institutions, which we currently lack.  In some areas, of course, that would mean having an outright veto, and in others it would be possible to stop unwanted things happening by forming part of a blocking minority.

Second, it's not even the case that the SNP are opposed to the powers being exercised at a 'supranational' UK level after Brexit.  But what Smart doesn't seem to understand is that "UK-wide" and "London-imposed" do not mean the same thing.  It is perfectly possible for there to be UK-wide frameworks that have been voluntarily thrashed out between the different governments in the UK.  Just as would happen if Scotland was independent within the EU, the SNP wants post-Brexit Scotland to pool sovereignty as an active participant whose agreement for decisions is required.  The only difference is that independence is not necessary for that to happen in the post-Brexit scenario - the existing devolved settlement, under which anything not explicitly reserved to Westminster is automatically devolved, should already guarantee it.  Alas, it looks as if that settlement isn't worth the paper the Scotland Act was written on.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Leonard left red-faced as Labour propaganda site admits SNP is still ahead in internal polling

The new Scottish Labour and anti-independence propaganda site The Red Robin has until now been best known for the inexplicable decision of CommonSpace (an ostensibly pro-independence news outlet) to actively promote it as if it was practically a sister site.  But tonight it's gaining new attention by breathlessly claiming an exclusive about "Labour internal polling" that supposedly shows the party has "dramatically closed the gap on the SNP".

Yeah, up to a point, Lord Copper.  The polling was conducted by Moonlight Research, and if the name doesn't sound familiar to you, there's a good reason for that. I cannot recall them ever having conducted a political poll before - or at least not one that's seen the light of day.  The Red Robin are correct in stating that Moonlight are members of the British Polling Council [see below for an update on that point], so it would be wrong to dismiss them out of hand as some sort of Mickey Mouse outfit.  But with no track-record whatsoever, it's impossible to know how likely their figures are to be even vaguely close to the truth.  And because they have never conducted a published Scottish political poll before, there are no baseline figures to measure percentage changes from, which means The Red Robin's repeated claims that Labour have gained ground in the poll are quite simply wrong.  Because of house effects and methodological differences, you simply can't look at two polls conducted by different firms and measure percentage changes from one to the other.  It just doesn't work that way.  You can only measure from previous polls conducted by the same firm - and in this case there aren't any.  For all we know, Moonlight may have a Labour-friendly methodology that would have produced very similar results at any time during the last few months.

As a general rule, "internal polling" is always less satisfactory than public polls commissioned by media organisations, because we only get to see internal figures if they're favourable for the party that commissioned them.  So, for example, in a series of eight internal polls you might only see the one that happened to be most favourable for Labour, which could well give you a completely distorted impression of the significance of an outlier result.  But at least with internal polling that is properly published, it's brought into the open, and we eventually get to see the datasets, allowing us to judge how much credibility to give the figures.  This particular case falls well short of that standard, because it looks as if Labour have no intention of publishing the poll, but have just conveniently decided to leak partial figures to a friendly website.  We don't even have a clue whether the figures are being accurately reported, let alone whether the sample size was sufficient, or a hundred other questions we'd need to know the answer to.

For what it's worth, these are the purported figures for Westminster voting intention: SNP 34%, Labour 30%, Conservatives 24%.  Take those with a bucketload of salt.

*  *  *

UPDATE: As you may have seen, Nick Moon of Moonlight Research has told Wings Over Scotland that his firm is not in fact a member of the British Polling Council, and is not even eligible for membership as it only has one client (presumably the Labour party).  He implies that the confusion has an innocent cause, because as an individual he has a senior role in the BPC.  I don't think that's good enough, because the organisation's website specifically lists Moon as the "company representative" of Moonlight Research on the BPC.  That gives a grossly misleading impression, to put it generously - any reasonable person would feel entitled to conclude that Moonlight are full BPC members and are bound by BPC rules.

The Parable of the Reasonable Tory Thieves

Tories:  Hey, Scotland!  We're going to have to break into your house soon and steal 111 items.  Don't worry, we'll only be taking what we need, and you'll still have plenty.  Next Tuesday suit you?

Scotland:  This is absolutely outrageous.  Stealing is totally unacceptable in a civilised society.   Please keep your hands off our possessions.

Tories:  OK, OK, maybe 111 is a bit excessive.  We'll only steal 25.  So, next Tuesday?

Scotland:  It is not acceptable for you to steal anything at all.

Tories:  Come on, be reasonable.  We're offering you a very substantial compromise.

Scotland:  We're sorry, but if you don't stop talking about breaking into our house and stealing our possessions, we'll have no option but to reinforce the locks on our doors, and to install advanced anti-intruder devices.

Adam Tomkins:  Reinforcing the locks on your doors simply because someone is threatening to steal from you is an unnecessary, ill-thought-through, incoherent and provocative step.  Scotland must stop sulking, fling its doors wide open, and rejoice at every item that is generously left behind by the benevolent intruders.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

You'd be forgiven for thinking the London Tories actually WANT an early independence referendum

Regular readers of the Herald will be aware that Iain Macwhirter has rarely missed an opportunity in his recent columns to state, supposedly as an established fact, that there isn't going to be another independence referendum any time soon.  I believe he's wrong about that, although obviously I would be foolish to completely exclude the possibility that he knows something the rest of us don't, because he's very well-connected.  However, I thought it was interesting in his most recent piece that he seemed to be relying mainly on gossip from the Westminster side of the equation - ie. that the UK government have convinced themselves that Nicola Sturgeon doesn't have the "authority" to push for a referendum.  Why doesn't she?  Perhaps because she "only" leads a minority government.  (Just as Theresa May does without fretting for a moment about "authority".)  Or perhaps because the SNP lost 19 seats at the general election.  (An election the SNP nevertheless won by a 1987 Thatcher-style landslide majority.)

If it's true that the London Tories have got carried away with the bogus narrative of Nicola Sturgeon losing her capacity to act, that could explain the seemingly insane decision today to curtail negotiations with the Scottish government and unilaterally press ahead with plans to reduce the Scottish Parliament's powers, thus driving a coach and horses through the Sewel Convention, which has been faithfully upheld for nineteen years.  They must truly believe that they can get away with just about anything without having to worry about triggering an independence referendum.

In that they're mistaken.  My own guess (and it is only a guess) is that Nicola Sturgeon has always been genuine about the possibility of a pre-2021 referendum.  But even if by any chance it turns out she hasn't been genuine, it would still be the case that she and the wider independence movement have their breaking-point.  The idea that Scotland can be dragged out of the EU, the single market and the customs union against its will and the Scottish Parliament's powers can be reduced in defiance of the Sewel Convention and the UK government can go to court to get a law of the Scottish Parliament overturned and all of the above can happen despite the Scottish government making efforts in good faith to reach a negotiated settlement...SNP members will be screaming to themselves "if that isn't the change in circumstances that demands a second indyref, what on earth would be?"  The pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to act would be overwhelming, and I doubt if she'd even want to resist it. 

We now have a precedent of a Bill being introduced in spite of doubts over the Scottish Parliament's competence to pass it.  There's no reason why a Bill to legislate for a consultative independence referendum couldn't be brought forward in similar circumstances, with the SNP content to try their luck in the courts.  The current constitutional crisis could well be taking us in that direction - unless, ironically, the Supreme Court or the House of Lords step in over the coming weeks to save the Tories from themselves.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

London's legal challenge to the Continuity Bill perfectly illustrates how "The Vow" was betrayed

Something suddenly crystallised in my mind the other day when I saw a tweet stating that the UK government were going to court in a bid to grab powers back from the Scottish Parliament.  Of course strictly speaking that isn't what's happening (or what's seemingly just about to happen) - the legal challenge to the Continuity Bill will be based on the technical argument that the Scottish Parliament doesn't currently have the legal right to depart from EU law, and won't have until the day after Britain leaves the European Union.  Theoretically, if the UK government win the challenge, all the Scottish government would have to do is wait until immediately after Brexit, and they would then be perfectly free to introduce exactly the same Continuity Bill without legal impediment.  But the snag, as we all know, is that by then Westminster's EU Withdrawal Bill will have been passed, and the Scottish Parliament will have been stripped of some of its current powers and thus will no longer be able to pass the Continuity Bill in its current form.  To all intents and purposes, then, the legal challenge may as well be a bid to destroy the devolution settlement, because if the Supreme Court doesn't uphold the Continuity Act, the Scottish Parliament will be left utterly defenceless in the face of a power-grab.  (The only remaining hope would be a blocking move in the House of Lords.)

And you remember something?  A major strand of the Smith process which followed on from "The Vow" in 2014 was about supposedly putting the Sewel Convention on a statutory footing.  The convention, among other things, forbids the UK government from removing powers from Holyrood without consent.  If that principle had been meaningfully written into law as promised, it would have been possible for the Scottish Government to go to the Supreme Court to block the power-grab.  Instead, the British government are somehow able to go to the Supreme Court in an attempt to effectively enable the power-grab.  It's utterly grotesque - and that's what betrayal looks like.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Scot Goes Pop: the fifth most-read alternative media site in Scotland?

Well, it's been several years since I last did a self-indulgent stats post, so it's probably long overdue.  I spotted that a few hours ago the Indyref2 site had compiled a list of "the top six alternative-media sites" based on traffic estimates from the helpfully-titled Traffic Estimate website. I was a bit surprised that Scot Goes Pop wasn't on it, because I knew from having looked into this subject in the past that this blog has very similar traffic levels to both Wee Ginger Dug and Indyref2. So I punched the Scot Goes Pop web address into Traffic Estimate, and found that, sure enough, it should have been on the list, just below Wee Ginger Dug but ahead of CommonSpace. Assuming nobody else has been accidentally left off, this is the correct top seven -

1) Wings Over Scotland: 215,900 unique visitors in the last 30 days
2) Craig Murray: 128,000 unique visitors in the last 30 days
3) Bella Caledonia: 112,200 unique visitors in the last 30 days
4) Wee Ginger Dug: 75,500 unique visitors in the last 30 days
5) Scot Goes Pop: 74,200 unique visitors in the last 30 days
6) CommonSpace: 59,800 unique visitors in the last 30 days
7) Indyref2: 30,800 unique visitors in the last 30 days

In all honesty I'm a bit sceptical about those figures.  I use Google Analytics, and the figures I get there are significantly less than an average of 74,200 per month.  Admittedly there's some traffic that Analytics doesn't pick up, but even so.  It's also intuitively difficult to believe that CommonSpace, a multi-author site that is updated far more frequently than Scot Goes Pop, and that gets free advertising on the mainstream media of the sort that the rest of us can only dream of, is only in sixth place.  Possibly the above figures are just ballpark estimates with a very wide margin of error.  Nevertheless, I can certainly believe that Scot Goes Pop is at least competitive with the likes of CommonSpace and Bella, which is pretty incredible for a one-man operation.

*Self-indulgent post ends*

Monday, March 5, 2018


I had an exchange with Peter A Bell last night about his "#Referendum2018" hashtag, the frequent use of which he thinks is an important tool to establish support for an early independence referendum.  I told him that I wished I could get behind that hashtag, but I couldn't, because I believe 2018 has already been timed out as a possible date for the vote, and that 2019 or 2020 are now much more probable.  I suggested something like "#ScotRefBefore2021" as a better alternative.  He replied (and this was not a surprise because he's said it many times before) that I might as well opt for #ReferendumNever, because if there isn't a referendum by the autumn of this year, the British state will take some unspecified action to make a vote impossible to hold, or unwinnable.

I think on its own merits the #Referendum2018 thing is harmless enough.  It's pretty obvious that its adherents are heading very shortly for a 'Free by 93' moment, but that's not the end of the world.  However, it becomes more problematical when anyone who doesn't sign up to the 2018 date is told that they effectively oppose an early referendum.  That creates a needless split among people who are essentially on the same side of the debate about timing.  The real debate is between those who think the SNP's mandate for a referendum before the May 2021 election should be honoured, and those who either don't think that or are extremely sceptical.  A unity of purpose among the supporters of a pre-2021 referendum is important, because as we've seen, we'll need to make our case against at least a few well-known and influential people within the SNP who are minded to allow the mandate to expire.  The last thing we need is some artificial division among ourselves over the exact date.  I also worry that Peter is getting himself so boxed in with his insistence on the absolute necessity of a September 2018 vote that he might give up on campaigning for a referendum when he finally accepts his preferred timing isn't going to happen (and that moment can't be far off).  He might even react angrily towards those of us who are continuing to push for an early referendum, which could be rather unhelpful at a time when the prize may be closer than ever.

#ScotRefBefore2021 is just a suggestion, and it may be too unwieldy.  But please, let's come up with a more inclusive hashtag than #Referendum2018 - one that we can all get behind full-bloodedly, and hopefully get trending.