Friday, July 28, 2017

More inspiring civility from our friends on the radical left...

It's genuinely quite disconcerting when half a dozen people you don't know from Adam suddenly launch a downright nasty, childish tag-team attack on you on Twitter for no apparent reason.  These are people who clearly know all about me, hold very strong views about me, some of which appears to go all the way back to Christmas when I wrote a satirical poem that was a bit too close to the bone for some people on the radical left.  And yet during all of those months of them nursing such a bitter personal grievance, I heard nothing from them, leaving me unaware of their existence.  Then suddenly it all explodes in the space of a few minutes.  Why?

Having thought about it, I've come to the strange conclusion that this was a pre-planned trolling operation.  I think a few radical left activists got together after seeing me ask an inconvenient question, and decided it was my turn to get a playground monstering.  In my view this sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable, but I'm not holding my breath for the self-appointed Civility Police on the radical left to actually condemn it - as they would do in an instant if it was coming in the opposite direction.






Utterly bizarre.  If anyone has a clue who Richard and his chums are (there was also someone called Rachel McCormack), and what their agenda is, please do enlighten me.

UPDATE: I am reliably informed that Rachel McCormack is "a slightly contrarian, Scottish nationalist food and whisky writer" who has hated my guts for some time, even though she gets me mixed up with my Labour MSP namesake.  You learn something new every night.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

#50YearsLegal (except for readers in Scotland)

As you probably know, today is the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual sex between men in England and Wales.  It was part of a sweeping range of 'permissive' reforms introduced during the Labour government of 1964-70, which also included the relaxation of divorce law, the legalisation of abortion, and the abolition of the death penalty (except for treason).  The changes were so swift and transformative that it's hard to understand why Harold Wilson isn't remembered as one of the Prime Ministers who 'changed the weather', in the same way that Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher are.  Probably the answer would be that the reforms were generally 'matters of conscience' that the government didn't directly take the lead on, but nevertheless it's hard to dispute that most of them wouldn't have happened, or at least not so quickly, if Wilson hadn't led Labour to overall majorities in 1964 and 1966.

In Scotland, of course, homosexual sex between men remained illegal until 1980.  It's not uncommon for southern commentators to use that delay as evidence of Scotland being a more backward country than the rest of the UK.  To which there is a very obvious and indisputable reply - Scotland did not have self-government until July 1999.  The decision was taken for us by an English-dominated parliament in London.  Yes, the point can be made that Westminster imagined it was taking into account different societal attitudes in Scotland, and perhaps a different mindset among the Scottish legal establishment.  But the fact remains that if Scotland had been in possession of its own elected parliament and government in the 1960s, our representatives might well have decided not to be a slave to prejudice but instead to lead public opinion, just as decades later Wendy Alexander took a lead on the repeal of Section 28, and Jack McConnell took a lead on a smoking ban in public places.

Scotland can't be held responsible for something over which it had no power.  All that can be accurately said is that "the British Parliament, for whatever reason, decided to keep homosexual sex illegal in Scotland for more than a decade after it had been decriminalised in England and Wales".

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Next time we're going to party like it's 1987

Stormfront Lite is beside itself with excitement this afternoon about a Populus analysis suggesting that the SNP would lose all but six of its seats at the next UK general election if it found itself tied with both Labour and the Tories on 30% of the popular vote.  (Labour would have thirty seats and the Tories would have eighteen.)  The problem here is not so much that the analysis is wrong (although it might well be - how the votes for each party would be geographically distributed can only be guesswork), but rather that the scenario it's based on is pretty implausible, and therefore not nearly as interesting as is being made out.  Even now, when we have a reasonably tight three-way battle, it looks like the Tories have slipped to third place, and it's very hard to imagine a situation in the foreseeable future in which they'll by vying for the outright lead or even for parity.

Much more likely is that 2017 will prove to be Peak Tory, and that Conservative support in places like the North-East is going to gradually - or perhaps not so gradually - drop back as the realisation hits home that Tory voters were actually voting to help keep a dire Westminster government in power, rather than for the Ruth Davidson Strong Opposition We Said No And We Meant No Party.  If that happens, it's difficult to see how the SNP aren't going to regain seats from the Tories, even if they're locked in a tight battle with Labour nationally - or indeed even if Labour move into a clear lead.  What we could see is a repeat, albeit on a more dramatic scale, of what happened in 1987, when the SNP lost two seats to Labour, but made up for that with three spectacular gains from the Tories.

That translated into a net increase in overall SNP representation - whether we'd be so lucky this time is debatable given that there's much more to lose to Labour than there was three decades ago.  But predictions of one-way traffic against the SNP just don't pass the smell test.  The Tory surge of 2017 may have been much smaller than the SNP surge of 2015, but the two are probably pretty similar in the sense that they were both relatively sudden, were caused by very specific short-term circumstances, and perhaps involved voters who didn't have any real depth of commitment to their new party.  I expect the tide to recede for the Tories at the next general election, and the party ideally-placed to benefit from that is the SNP.  There is no other credible challenger in the vast majority of Tory-held seats.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Has Colonel Ruth FALLEN OFF HER TANK? Another day, another third place for the Scottish Tories

In the continued absence of any full-scale Scottish polling, arguably the most meaningful guide to the state of play is the Scottish subsamples of YouGov's GB-wide polls - the reason being that YouGov are the only firm that claims to weight their Scottish samples separately.  (And, indeed, the figures they produce tend to be more stable than other firms.)  The third post-election YouGov poll has now been released, and the Scottish subsample has the SNP narrowly ahead: SNP 33%, Labour 29%, Conservatives 27%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 2%, BNP 2%.

Of course, even properly-weighted subsamples have extremely high margins of error, but that problem can be reduced by looking at an average of all three YouGov subsamples since June 8th, which produces the following figures: SNP 33.3%, Labour 32.0%, Conservatives 25.7%, Liberal Democrats 5.7%.

That confirms the general impression of subsamples from across the polling industry, ie. that it's a very tight three-way battle, but that the SNP are probably just about still in the lead, Labour have probably moved up to second place, and the Tories have probably slipped back to third.  There have now been thirteen Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election - eight have put the SNP ahead, four have put Labour ahead, and only one has put the Tories in front.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Logic problems

I'm confused, and I'm wondering if you can help me out.

We've been repeatedly told over the last few days that people are "damaging the Yes movement" by criticising Cat Boyd for voting Labour.

Implicit in that reproach is that people can and should be called out if they do anything to damage the Yes movement.

A prominent Yes activist declaring her "pride" in voting for a rabidly anti-independence party is self-evidently damaging for the Yes movement.  It makes independence less likely.  It makes an independence referendum less likely.

Isn't it therefore logical that such a person should be called out for damaging the Yes movement?

What am I missing here?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Is saving the universe a girl job or a boy job?

As long-term readers may recall, I'm a lifelong Doctor Who fan.  I'm basically a fan of what has become known as the 'classic series' (ie. the period between 1963 and 1989), but I've watched and enjoyed the revived series since 2005, and I was particularly pleased when Steven Moffat used the 50th anniversary in 2013 to create a 'narrative bridge' between the classic series and the new, making the two seem more like an integrated whole (in spite of the very obvious differences of format and style).

What people may not be aware of is that talk of casting a woman as the Doctor goes all the way back to the days of the classic series, and in particular to a press conference in 1980 when Tom Baker announced his resignation and mischievously wished his successor well, "whoever he or she may be".   The tabloids initially took that seriously as a possible hint that radical change was on the way, and ever since then there has been fevered speculation about a female Doctor whenever a vacancy has occurred.  Somewhere I must still have a copy of Doctor Who Magazine from early 1987, just after the excellent Colin Baker was idiotically sacked from the role for no discernible reason, containing an impassioned plea from a young reader that the Doctor must remain male.  "I'm not a sexist," he wrote, "but a female Doctor is as ridiculous as a male Miss Marple".

That eerily echoes the much-mocked arguments of the sceptics three decades on.  But is it so obviously wrong?  If the well-remunerated Derek Thompson was ever to finally stop playing Charlie in Casualty (which, yes, is still running after thirty-one years!) and if the BBC were to recast the role, nobody would think it was remotely odd if only male actors were considered.  Doctor Who's status as a make-it-up-as-you-go-on sci-fi show means that the same rules need not apply, but nevertheless I think there's at least an arguable case that, until very recently, the 'fact' that Time Lords retain the same gender throughout their life-spans had been clearly woven into the programme's 'lore' over a very, very long period, creating certain fixed expectations among viewers.  The Doctor has had thirteen incarnations so far and they've all been male.  Borusa had four and they were all male.  Romana remained female when she regenerated (and she also 'tried on' several female appearances before settling on her second incarnation).  The Master was of course always male until she suddenly wasn't a couple of years ago...and it's arguably only the acceptance and success of that innovation that made Jodie Whittaker's casting possible.

I think she's a good choice, and a new departure like this could be a shot in the arm for a long-running series which is always battling against the danger of becoming stale.  It's liberating that Doctor Who has the opportunity to do this when, say, the James Bond franchise doesn't, but in a sense that's the nub of the matter.  The only reason why changing the lead character's gender isn't self-evidently a strange thing to do is that Doctor Who is such an unusual series.  And that's why I've been so troubled by the extreme and intolerant reaction to the minority (and it is only a minority) of long-term fans of the show who are struggling to accept a woman Doctor.  Although I don't personally agree with those fans, neither do I think it's inherently daft for them to choose, if they wish, to say "we think the Doctor is a male character, just like Ken Barlow is a male character".  Instead of it simply being accepted that this is based on nurtured ideas about who a specific much-loved character that they've grown up with should be, they're all simplistically dismissed as Neanderthal sexists who are resisting proper female representation on television.  Maybe a few of them do deserve that characterisation, but believe me, if someone with an American accent was ever cast as the Doctor, the controversy over female anatomy would pale into utter insignificance.  And would that mean Doctor Who fans are anti-American?  No, of course it wouldn't.

I've tried gently making the point to a few feminists on Twitter that much of the negative reaction is Doctor Who-specific and not a rejection of on-screen gender equality, but to very little avail.  A couple of hours ago, I got a highly abusive response ("f***ing clueless") when I pointed out that "the Doctor isn't an MP, she's a fictional character".  Extraordinarily, the same person then angrily declared that "I'm done justifying myself to men. Help the cause or get out of our f***ing way."  I just think all this dogmatic shoutiness is terribly, terribly sad, and it's little wonder a dialogue of the deaf has developed as a result of it.  You're not going to gain much sympathy for your cause by effectively telling someone that their favourite TV programme has become no more than a box to be ticked on an ideological checklist.  It would be far more constructive to say (as Jodie Whittaker has done herself) that "I know this is new, but don't be scared of something new, it'll be fun".  And if you took that less confrontational approach, you might also be pleasantly surprised to find that the person you're talking to isn't the monster you assumed they are, and is actually extremely positive about female lead characters in other series.

If you're aiming for greater diversity, I think it's generally best not to do it in an artificial way.  For example, when the BBC were belatedly trying to address the absence of major network dramas filmed in Scotland, they should have created a new series that organically belonged here, rather than awkwardly transplanting Waterloo Road to Inverclyde.  By the same token, if more female lead characters are required, they should in general be devised from scratch, rather than lazily saying "oh let's bring Arthur Daley back and make him a woman".  With Doctor Who it can work - but it wouldn't go amiss for us to acknowledge the obvious point that this is the exotic exception, not the rule.  And once you do acknowledge that, you can perhaps begin to empathise with the people who resent the fact that their own favourite series is the designated exception.  You don't have to agree with someone to empathise with them.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ipsos-Mori subsample adds to the weight of evidence suggesting the SNP are still ahead

Ipsos-Mori's subsamples (just like Survation's) tend to be very small and produce extremely volatile results.  However, for what it's worth, the subsample from the firm's first post-election poll is very positive for the SNP...

SNP 39%, Conservatives 26%, Labour 23%, Greens 7%, Liberal Democrats 6%

There have now been twelve subsamples from various firms since the election, of which seven have put the SNP in the lead, four have put Labour in the lead, and only one has put the Tories in front.  As Labour appear on balance (albeit not in today's numbers) to be the main challengers, it's particularly significant that the SNP have been ahead of Labour in eight of the twelve subsamples.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The crumbling of Colonel Calamity : evidence begins to mount that the Scottish Tories have slumped to third place

Just as a slight corrective to the recent string of good polling results for the SNP, there's a new ICM poll which has the SNP a little behind Labour in the Scottish subsample: Labour 35%, SNP 33%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 4%, Greens 3%.  However, the potential error in an individual subsample is enormous, so those figures are very easily consistent with the SNP holding a small lead.  That still appears to be where the balance of probabilities lie - there have now been eleven subsamples from various firms since the general election, of which six have put the SNP in the lead.  Perhaps more to the point, the SNP have also been ahead of Labour in seven of the eleven subsamples.

That said, the battle between SNP and Labour seems to be close enough that it's not possible to say with absolute confidence which of the two parties is in front.  The Tories have slipped out of that conversation, and it now looks increasingly likely that they've dropped to third place.  If it gradually becomes an accepted fact that Scottish politics has reverted to a traditional SNP-Labour duel, what on earth will happen to the love affair between Colonel Ruth and the media, both north and south of the border?  I believe the line is "she was the future, once".

Monday, July 17, 2017

But we can still RISE now, and vote for a unionist party again...

So is there anything to be said for Cat Boyd of RISE "proudly" voting Labour at the general election?  Well, there's certainly something positive to be taken from the fact that she's admitted doing it.  There's been a tendency among the unionist commentariat to treat the 27% of people who voted Labour as if they were part of some pan-unionist bloc vote comprising more than 60% of the population.  The reality, as we already know from the opinion polls, is that Labour's support was a coalition incorporating people who voted Labour because of its stance on independence, and also people who voted Labour in spite of that stance.  It'll be very useful to have a high-profile example like Cat Boyd to illustrate that point.  This episode may also be helpful to the SNP on the list vote at the next Holyrood election, because RISE (or whatever succeeds RISE) will find it even harder to pitch for 'pro-independence tactical votes' now that their commitment to independence has been shown to be rather superficial.

However, there's an idea doing the rounds that we must show veneration and respect towards Ms Boyd for voting Labour as part of an alternative strategy for achieving independence.  That is, it has to be said, a bit silly.  Voting Labour in the hope of furthering the cause of independence is no more and no less irrational than voting UKIP in the hope of keeping Britain inside the European Union.  It's been suggested to me that I'm missing some incredibly sophisticated point here, ie. that pro-indy people voting Labour are starting a conversation with the party that will eventually lead to a change in its constitutional stance.  But voting is essentially a passive act - you're not entering into a dialogue with the party you vote for, you're simply endorsing them.  It doesn't matter if Labour are privately conscious of the fact that much of their support is pro-indy - the lesson they'll draw is that those people have already proved stupid enough to vote for them, and so they can just persevere with the same policy and expect the same results in future.  If you reward undesirable behaviour, don't complain if you get more of the same.  For the proof of that, simply consider the fact that a substantial minority of Labour's voters in the decades leading up to the 2014 referendum were solidly pro-indy.  That had no impact at all.

Entryism can sometimes be a viable tactic for changing a party's stance, but that involves actually becoming members and activists (and then trying very hard not to get expelled).  Merely voting for a party you disagree with and have no influence within is entirely counter-productive - and that really ought to be a statement of the bleedin' obvious.

Are there any circumstances at all in which voting for an anti-independence party can help independence?  I can perhaps think of just one.  In the closely-fought 1992 general election, Labour were firmly committed to the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament.  It was not unreasonable to take the view that devolution was a necessary first step if independence was ever going to happen (as Margaret Ewing put it, there was never going to be a "Big Bang"), so the priority had to be to ensure that devolution happened.  There were a very small number of Labour-Tory marginal seats in Scotland, such as Stirling, that were going to help decide whether there would be a pro-devolution Labour government or an anti-devolution Tory government.  There was therefore a case to be made that tactically voting Labour in a seat like Stirling was a constructive act for a pro-independence voter.

Nothing that happened in this year's election was remotely analogous to that.  Labour were not making any sort of constitutional offer at all, and there were no Labour-Tory marginals in any case.  If Cat Boyd voted Labour in an SNP-Labour battleground seat, she was helping an anti-independence party against a pro-independence party.  If she voted Labour in an SNP-Tory battleground seat, it was even worse than that, because she was harming both independence and Corbyn's chances of becoming PM.  It was, in short, a very foolish thing to do, no matter which way you look at it.

More good polling news for the SNP - this time from YouGov

YouGov are the only firm I'm aware of that claim to weight the Scottish subsamples of their GB-wide polls separately.  Given the small size of those subsamples, a huge margin of error still applies (something in the region of 8%) but nevertheless it was a cause for some concern when the first YouGov subsample since the election gave Labour a modest lead.  I'm relieved to say that has been reversed in the second post-election poll, which was released today: SNP 36%, Labour 31%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 1%, BNP 1%.

Those figures are very much in line with the subsamples from the Opinium and Survation polls released on Saturday.  The situation now is that there have been ten Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election, with six putting the SNP ahead, three putting Labour ahead, and one putting the Tories in front.  The information we're going on is admittedly very limited, but it does look as if perhaps Labour have leapfrogged the Tories into second place, but haven't quite managed to overtake the SNP.

Elsewhere in the YouGov poll, there is plenty of other evidence of how Scottish public opinion continues to be radically different from opinion south of the border.  Across Britain, Theresa May has moved back into a small lead over Jeremy Corbyn on the question of who would make the best Prime Minister, but respondents in Scotland prefer Corbyn by a near 2-1 margin.  Across Britain, a narrow plurality feels that the UK is right to leave the European Union, but respondents in Scotland take the opposite view by a whopping margin of 56% to 33%.

SNP buoyed by two new polls

I'm not sure if it was Wimbledon or the Doctor Who announcement that distracted me, but I completely forgot to check on Saturday night whether there were any new opinion polls.  As it turns out there were two Britain-wide polls - one from Opinium and one from Survation.  Both had the SNP slightly ahead on the Scottish subsample...

Survation: SNP 33%, Labour 25%, Conservatives 24%, Liberal Democrats 14%, UKIP 4%

Opinium: SNP 35%, Conservatives 31%, Labour 29%, UKIP 1%, Liberal Democrats 1%

Survation's subsamples are always particularly small and not correctly weighted, but as it happens the recalled vote of the sample on this occasion is reasonably close to the actual result in June, so there's one less reason to be sceptical than usual.

In conjunction with the SNP's creditable near miss in the Elgin by-election, where the swing against them since May was negligible, I'd say these new figures move the balance of probability back towards the SNP having some sort of continuing lead in Westminster voting intentions.  There have now been nine Scottish subsamples from various firms since the general election, with five putting the SNP ahead, three putting Labour ahead, and one putting the Tories in front.  The SNP have never been lower than second place, whereas both Labour and the Tories have been third some of the time.

My best guess is that if a full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions was conducted now, it would probably show the SNP with a narrow lead over Labour, with the Tories in third place.  I certainly wouldn't exclude the possibility that Labour have a small lead, but I don't think there's any real danger that the Tories are ahead.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Colonel says "Phew"! Huge scare for Ruth as SNP run Tories close in Elgin by-election

It always looked fairly predictable that the Tories would win yesterday's Elgin North by-election.  They had won the popular vote in the ward in May, their tails were up after winning the Moray parliamentary constituency in June, the local SNP were presumably a tad demoralised, and of course we know from long and bitter experience that Tory supporters are more likely to make it to the polling stations in low turnout local by-elections than supporters of other parties.  Given all of those disadvantages, it's really quite striking just how close the SNP came to pulling it off...

Elgin City North by-election result (first preference votes) :

Conservatives 40.0% (+7.1)
SNP 38.8% (+6.1)
Labour 15.8% (+3.9)
Independent - Monaghan 5.4% (n/a)

We shouldn't get carried away by the increase in the SNP's vote, because like the other parties they benefited from the much reduced vote share for independent candidates.  Nevertheless, the closeness of the result gives us a fair bit of reassurance that things have not worsened for the SNP since the general election in areas where the Tories are their main opponents.  (For what it's worth, there's also no sign of any Tory bandwagon effect in the Scottish subsamples of opinion polls.)  It remains to be seen what is happening in the SNP-Labour battleground areas.

One of the fascinations of local elections conducted under STV is seeing how Labour voters transfer when faced with a choice between SNP and Tory.  The answer in this case was pretty evenly : Conservatives 91, SNP 90.  If the SNP suffer significantly from unionist tactical voting in the next general election, it's unlikely to be in Tory-SNP marginals.  I have my doubts as to whether it will happen very much even in Labour target seats, because Tory voters will surely feel increasingly conflicted about helping a left-wing Labour leadership into power.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Tories begin their Great Attempt to Destroy Devolution

So it's official - the Tories have not only betrayed the promise that new powers will come to the Scottish Parliament after Brexit, but they have also announced that some of the existing devolved powers will be taken away.  Unless you count a minor change over powers relating to Antarctica which were devolved by mistake, this will be the first time that powers have been snatched back by Westminster since Devolution Day in 1999.  Don't let anyone fool you into thinking this is happening as an automatic consequence of Brexit - as things stand, the Scottish Parliament has total control over devolved matters except where limited by EU legislation.  For that to change, the Tory government has to effectively repeal parts of the Scotland Act, and that is what they have set about attempting to do today.

Is there any hope that the power-grab can be stopped in its tracks?  Under the Sewel Convention, the Scottish Parliament can withhold legislative consent for its powers to be removed.  We already know that the Supreme Court regards the convention as legally unenforceable (in spite of the fact that it's written into law!), so everything will depend on whether the UK government feels that it is too politically damaging to abandon Sewel.  Remember they will have an eye on the next independence referendum (regardless of whether that happens in two years or in fifteen) and will know that one of the big topics of debate in that campaign will be whether or not "The Vow" was honoured.  If Sewel is ripped up just two years after being written into statute, it'll be extremely hard to argue that the part of "The Vow" relating to the permanence of the Scottish Parliament was fulfilled.

The other big advantage the Scottish government have is that they appear to be of one mind on this subject with the Labour-led Welsh government.  We know that Labour no longer give a monkey's about protecting Scottish devolution, but because of the Welsh dimension there'll be pressure on them to resist anything that undermines devolution in both Scotland and Wales.  Now that we have a hung parliament, a united front between Labour and the SNP could open up the possibility of the Tory government suffering defeats on the floor of the Commons.

*  *  *

Hot on the heels of Julia Rampen's fearless and groundbreaking "Aren't Scottish Labour adorable?" series of articles, the New Statesman have served up a somewhat less innovative "The Nats are doomed!" piece from James Millar.  I just thought I'd do a quick run-through of the highly dubious points made in the article, and also the outright inaccuracies.

* "Many in the party repeat the mantra that they won the election in Scotland, but some sound like they are trying to convince themselves."

In all honesty, Mr Millar, they shouldn't be finding it terribly hard to convince themselves, given that they won the popular vote by a whopping 8.3% margin, and also won 59.3% of the seats. As I've noted a couple of times before, the scale of the SNP's triumph last month was roughly on a par with the UK-wide Thatcher landslide of 1987. It is actually perfectly possible to simultaneously acknowledge that a party won an election, and also lost some ground in the process. Consider for example the difference between the Republicans' showings in the 1984 and 1988 US presidential elections. In 1984, they carried 49 states and won 525 electoral votes. In 1988, that had dropped to 'only' 40 states and 426 electoral votes. The extent of the slippage was noted, but if anyone had tried to claim that the Republicans hadn't 'really' won the 1988 election, they would have been laughed at, and rightly so.

I can't remember if I've ever listened to one of Mr Millar's podcasts, but I did notice that he gave his post-election podcast the understated title of "SNP Apocalypse!"  The mind boggles as to what he would have come up with if the SNP hadn't won the election comfortably.

* "Another [MP] admits that that the result in June could’ve been worse. “If the election had taken place on the Friday rather than the Thursday, I’d have lost my seat. It was one-way traffic to Labour.”"

I've been quick to dispute the claims that the Scottish Labour recovery was a 'mirage', but it's important not to go to the other extreme either.  If you think back to the council elections in May, long before the Corbyn surge, it looked like Labour were competitive in a handful of parliamentary constituencies.  In June, they won a handful of parliamentary constituencies.  The situation was scarcely transformed out of all recognition in the intervening month. I've seen a number of SNP activists contradict the suggestion that there was significant direct slippage to Labour, so it does appear that Mr Millar is only reporting the private conversations that actually concur with his own preferred narrative.

In fairness, no-one can say for sure that an extra day wouldn't have made a difference in Glasgow East or Glasgow South-West...but those seats were so close that a good sneeze could have made a difference.

* "Not only has the group in Westminster been trimmed from 56 in 2015 to 35 just two years later, but many of the survivors have seen their majority slashed, some to double figures, Stephen Gethins’ majority in north east Fife is just two."

Which ignores the fact that the North-East Fife result was comparatively good.  Even when the conventional wisdom was that the SNP would win around 45 seats, it looked like North-East Fife would probably fall.  Holding that one against the tide was a considerable bonus.

* "Many in the party have never known a reverse before. The last time the party went backwards was 1979."

That, I'm afraid, is just complete and utter rubbish.  I could at this point give you chapter and verse on the occasions that the SNP have lost ground in European and local elections, but doubtless someone would come along and insist that there is a big difference between 'first order' and 'second order' elections.  So instead I'll just give you the examples since 1979 that are indisputably from 'first order' votes.

In the 1983 general election, the SNP's vote share fell from 17% to 12%.

In the 2001 general election, the SNP vote share fell from 22% to 20%, and they lost one of their six seats.

In the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP's constituency vote share fell from 29% to 24%, and they lost eight of their 35 seats.

In the 2005 general election, the SNP's vote share fell from 20% to 18%.

Conclusion?  You'd have to be very, very young not to be able to remember a time when the SNP went backwards in an election.  And in truth, if anyone out there wasn't expecting some kind of correction after a freakish election in which the SNP won 50% of the popular vote, they were being a bit naive.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Relearning the oldest truth : voting Tory doesn't produce results for Scotland

I've been having my latest technological meltdown, but 24 hours late, here's a quick note to let you know I have a new article on the TalkRadio website!  You can read it HERE.

*  *  *

After an insanely long wait, ICM have finally released the datasets from last week's GB-wide poll.  The Scottish subsample figures are: Labour 37%, SNP 32%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 3%, Greens 2%, UKIP 2%.  The Labour lead can be partly explained by the fact that respondents who said they would vote SNP were sharply weighted down from 64 to 43 - that may have happened for good reasons, although if we assume YouGov are right that a disproportionate number of SNP-inclined voters simply didn't turn out on June 8th, weighting to past vote recall may start to underestimate the SNP's potential strength.

We've now had seven Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election, with three putting the SNP in the lead, three putting Labour in the lead, and only one putting the Tories in front.  I think all we can say with confidence now is that it looks like a tight three-way battle, and that the Tories probably aren't in first place.  I'm not convinced the Scottish Labour recovery will survive any return to public infighting between the Corbynites and the "moderates", so perhaps that's what we should be keeping the closest eye on.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Tories take a hammering in new YouGov poll

If the Tories imagined their narrow lead in the GB-wide Survation poll a few days ago was some kind of turning-point, they appear to have been mistaken.  We've since had an ICM poll (albeit one with radical methodological changes) putting them two points behind Labour, and tonight brings word of a YouGov poll putting Labour eight points clear - the biggest Tory deficit for many a year.

Of most interest to us, of course, is the Scottish subsample, and the news isn't that great : Labour 36%, SNP 31%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 1%.  This is the third subsample that's put the SNP in second place since the election, but it's the first one of those that I take remotely seriously, because the previous two were absolutely tiny Survation subsamples which you could tell were clearly skewed by looking at the past vote recall of respondents.  As far as I know, YouGov still weight their Scottish results separately, which means they should produce results that are slightly more accurate and stable than other firms' subsamples.  However, even when properly weighted, a subsample has a much greater margin of error than a full-scale poll - I make it roughly 8% in this particular case, which means YouGov's figures are entirely consistent with a small SNP lead.  I still think that's the most likely state of play, because in total we've had six subsamples since the election, with three putting the SNP in the lead, two putting Labour in the lead and only one putting the Tories ahead.  It's also significant that the SNP haven't been in third place in any of the subsamples, whereas both Labour and the Tories have.  However, even if the SNP do still have the advantage, it's plain enough that we're faced with a fairly tight three-way battle for the time being.

'For the time being' are the operative words, because it's entirely predictable that a major political shock like the one we saw last month will radically shift the opinion polls in the immediate aftermath.  Sometimes the change is superficial and temporary (for example the brief Conservative surge during the fuel crisis of 2000 which was completely reversed at astonishing speed), and sometimes it's meaningful and lasting (for example the Tory slump after Black Wednesday in 1992, which they didn't properly recover from for well over a decade).  We'll just have to wait and see which category the current situation falls into.  The irony is that if Labour have hopes of exploiting this apparent moment of relative vulnerability for the SNP and winning back a truckload of central belt seats, their own strength in the opinion polls may end up preventing them from doing so.  The Tories aren't going to willingly call an election unless they think there is a good chance of winning an overall majority, and as I've noted before, there is no realistic prospect of them being forced into an election by a vote of no confidence in the Commons for at least three years (unless Tory MPs defect to other parties).  The more I've thought about the parliamentary arithmetic, the more I've come to the conclusion that it's not totally inconceivable that the new parliament will stagger on for the full five-year term.

The Tories are very lucky that the exit poll was wrong about them only having 314 seats.  The difference between 314 and 318 may not sound all that great, but it could well be enough to swing the balance between a very short parliament and a very long one - which apart from saving the Tories' bacon, could also rescue the SNP from having to defend their own 35 seats for a good number of years.  Ideally Scotland will be an independent country by 2022 (Nicola Sturgeon's recent statement very much leaves that possibility open), but even if it isn't, Labour could be in a completely different place by then.  There are already plenty of signs that the truce between the Corbynites and the "moderates" is starting to break down.

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Stormfront Lite's notorious Deputy Editor is a reliable source of painful prose and unwitting comic genius, and yesterday morning's effort was no exception -

"I know I’m not the only Tory who somehow hopes Ruth Davidson becomes an MP before the next Tory leadership election but I suspect she sees her role for the next few years as ensuring Scottish Nationalism really is killed stone dead and that can only be achieved in Holyrood and not Westminster."

Which suggests that Scottish nationalism hasn't "really" been killed stone dead thus far?  Well, quite.  It's a tad difficult to boast about killing Scottish nationalism when you've only just been beaten by Scottish nationalists in a sixth successive nationwide election.

The roll of shame for Ruth is : the 2012 local elections, the 2014 European elections, the 2015 general election, the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, the 2017 local elections, and the 2017 general election.  Every single one an SNP victory.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Scottish Labour may be dinosaurs, but it wasn't a dead cat bounce

As you may have seen on social media, there was a post on the LSE politics blog yesterday arguing that the notion of a "Corbyn bounce" in Scotland at the general election is a "myth" and a "mirage", and that the SNP should not be sidetracked into strategies to fend off Labour when the Tories are the real enemy.  It would be comforting to agree with that, and to tell ourselves there is only one unionist party worth worrying about, but I do think the conclusion is wrong.  The main flaw of the blogpost is that it treats the results of the 2015 and 2017 general elections as if they are the only pieces of information available to us.  When you look at it that way, it does appear superficially that the entire drop in the SNP vote can be explained by a natural 'correction' after the freakish result of 2015, and that the very small revival in the Labour vote (from 24% to 27%) was an inevitable side-effect of that readjustment, rather than being caused by the phenomenon that generated a much bigger Labour surge in England.

However, if you widen your gaze to take account of opinion poll evidence (and indeed the Holyrood election of last year), the picture suddenly looks very different.  There is overwhelming evidence that Labour's true recovery in Scotland was not from the low of 24% recorded in 2015, but from the much worse position that the party slumped to after that election.  Survation, who proved to be the most accurate pollster, had Scottish Labour languishing at just 18% as recently as mid-April, but by the end of the campaign that had jumped to 29%.  Other firms showed a similar trend (even if the exact figures were very different).  That sort of big shift is much more in line with the Corbyn surge that occurred in England, and given that it happened at exactly the same time, it's not unreasonable to suppose that it probably happened for much the same reason.  It can't really be explained by the correction in the SNP's vote share, because the SNP had dropped to the low 40s (and the Tories had risen to the high 20s) before the Labour surge even started.  It looks much more likely that the SNP suffered a drop from an unsustainable high, and then suffered a further small drop as a direct result of voters switching to Labour because of enthusiasm for the Corbyn project.

Even though the premise of the LSE blogpost is wrong, I do think it's correct to argue that the SNP shouldn't head off on a radical left wild goose chase to try to deal with the Corbyn threat.  If you're losing voters who are inspired by the prospect of a radical left government at Westminster, you can hardly counter that by offering a radical left opposition at Westminster (and an opposition with third-party status at that).  You can only compete by putting forward an alternative inspiring vision that Corbyn can't/won't offer - and that means a much greater focus on independence than we saw in the recent campaign.

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Elsewhere in the LSE blogpost, a reasonable point is made about the SNP's "heroic" determination to conflate support for independence with support for remaining within the European Union, which may have cost the party votes from Brexit supporters.  That factor may also go a long way towards explaining the Tories' seemingly puzzling failure to defeat the SNP in places like Perth & North Perthshire and Edinburgh South-West - both constituencies that voted Remain by a much more emphatic margin than the rural north-east did.

But this is not just a dilemma for the SNP.  Could the Scottish Tory surge be a similar phenomenon to the SNP surge of 2015?  In other words, was it partly caused by temporarily energised Brexit supporters who were determined to reinforce their vote from the referendum last year?  If so, the Scottish Tories are very likely to suffer their own natural 'correction' at the next general election (as long as it doesn't take place in the near future).  Those new north-east Tory MPs, especially the ones with the narrowest majorities, probably shouldn't get too comfy in their seats.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Live stream

Just a very quick note to let you know I took part in a live stream on Independence Live earlier today, answering questions on a variety of topics related to the current political situation.  You can watch it HERE.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I'm going to make some mild criticisms of an article written by Neal Ascherson (some viewers may find these scenes distressing)

Just very, very occasionally (maybe once every four months or so) Christopher Silver sends me a passive-aggressive tweet with a "Don't diss the intelligentsia, man!" subtext.  Today was one such occasion.  Clearly even the mildest criticism of Neal Ascherson was just too much to be borne.


Free from the constraints of 140 characters, allow me to briefly set out why I did not misread Ascherson's Sunday Herald piece, whether wilfully or unwilfully, "in the service of latent insecurity" or otherwise.

In the fourth paragraph of his article, Ascherson says this : "What’s true is that the SNP and their leader have been seriously damaged – possibly holed below the waterline in ways which aren’t yet visible. What isn’t true is the assumption that independence sinks or swims with the SNP’s fortunes."  In paragraph 8, he expands on what he means by that : "Neither can we know who will surf that tide. But it might well not be the SNP...it could be some hybrid, say a rebel Scottish Labour Party linked with the Greens and radical seceders from the SNP, which finally leads a free Respublica Scotorum out into the world. Less probably, it could be a much angrier, more impatient formation now hidden in its chrysalis. Remember how Sinn Fein came from behind and wiped out the Irish parliamentary Home Rulers in 1918?"  In paragraph 9, he also speculates about the possibility of Tories leading Scotland to independence.  

In fairness to Ascherson, there is plenty of "possibly" and "might well not be" in there, but I scarcely think it's unreasonable to detect in those segments of the article an assumption that the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon are probably on the way out (and that unambiguously refers to the general election result which saw the SNP win almost 60% of the seats), that the independence cause will survive this upheaval, and that independence supporters will find another vehicle to deliver their goal - which might involve some wildly implausible alliance of pro-indy Labour rebels and the Greens.

For those like Christopher who think that anyone who is dubious about this prospectus must simply be an 'insecure SNP supporter', I'd suggest it might be a useful exercise to look at the current political landscape in Scotland in a hard-headed way and try to work out what a truly objective person would think is the most promising road-map to independence in anything like the foreseeable future.  Is it likely to involve in some way a pro-independence party that currently holds almost 60% of Scottish seats at Westminster and almost 50% of the seats in the Scottish Parliament?  Or is the vehicle more likely to be an as yet unformed splinter group from a much smaller party that has been rabidly anti-independence for as long as anyone can remember?  The answer seems self-evident to me, and if others disagree, perhaps they'd better explain their reasoning in a rather more credible way than they have thus far.  Pipe-dreams could tie us up in knots for decades.

The notion of a new right-of-centre pro-independence party perhaps isn't quite so fanciful, because at present pro-indy Thatcherites don't have a remotely comfortable home in either the Tories or the SNP.  However, people have been talking about that sort of thing for decades and nothing ever materialises, so it appears the critical mass simply isn't there.  Even it did happen, the chances are that the new party would have to work with the SNP to bring independence about (and that the SNP would be the senior partner in that arrangement).

Leaving aside his musings about how the SNP might be replaced, Ascherson's article is primarily about the notion that Scotland should act as if it already is independent, and that the Scottish government should essentially exceed its legal powers and only stop doing so when the UK government forces it to.  I don't have any objection in principle to that, but a more practical objection is that the UK government won't necessarily be the obstacle - where legislation is involved, it would first have to get past the Presiding Officer and his legal advisers.  

No, Jeremy Corbyn would not be Prime Minister right now if the Scottish Tories had failed to make gains

This post is really just an indulgence of a point of pedantry, but it's been bugging me since the election that people keep saying that Jeremy Corbyn would currently be Prime Minister if it hadn't been for the twelve Tory gains from the SNP (indeed, in my weaker moments I may even have retweeted the people who are saying it).  It's not strictly true.

Holding the constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk would have been an almost miraculous feat for the SNP.  Given the enormous tactical switch from the Lib Dems to the Tories, the SNP would actually have needed a significant increase in their own vote just to hold the seat, and that was obviously never going to happen.  However, as a 'bit of fun', let's imagine for the sake of argument that they had somehow pulled it off, and also held onto all of the other eleven seats that the Tories gained.  This is what the result of the general election would have been -

Conservatives 306
Labour 262
SNP 47
Liberal Democrats 12
DUP 10
Sinn Féin 7
Plaid Cymru 4
Greens 1
Independent 1

From there's it's a simple calculation - the Conservatives and DUP combined would have had 316 seats, and an informal progressive alliance consisting of Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens would have had only 314.  Sinn Féin are irrelevant because they don't take their seats, so the balance of power would have been held by the 12 Liberal Democrats and the sole independent MP Lady Hermon (who we know is minded to support the Tories in confidence votes). That means the only way the Queen would have been able to justify not inviting Theresa May to form a government would have been if the Liberal Democrats had clearly indicated a preference for Jeremy Corbyn. Based on the commitments they made prior to the election, it seems highly unlikely they would have done so.

What would have happened after May's reappointment as PM?  Without an overall majority for the Tory/DUP alliance, it's theoretically possible that the Queen's Speech would have been defeated, triggering a second election almost immediately.  The public would not have looked kindly on that, so much more probable is that the Tory government would have introduced a limited and uncontroversial Queen's Speech, allowing the Lib Dems (and possibly even Labour) to abstain with dignity, on the implicit understanding that there would be a general election in the autumn.

There's no doubt that without the Scottish Tory gains we'd be in a radically different situation from the one we actually find ourselves in - the Tory government would be merely a caretaker administration with almost no capacity to get its policies through the Commons, and a quick second election would be a near-certainty rather than just an intriguing possibility.  But even so, it's simply not true to say that the Scottish Tory gains are literally responsible for there being a Tory government as of this moment.  In the longer run, what would have happened in a second election is entirely a matter for speculation - for all we know, the urgency of the situation would have concentrated Tory minds, and they would have quickly found an alternative leader who might have delivered a much better result in the autumn.

There is no shortage of little paradoxes to be found in politics, and it's not totally inconceivable that the Scottish Tory gains will ultimately leave the Tory government in a weaker position than would otherwise have been the case.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Davidson seeks solace in titillating photos as Opinium subsample puts SNP 10% ahead

Opinium have today become only the third pollster to produce a GB-wide poll of voting intentions since the general election.  Given the hammering the SNP have taken in the media over the last few weeks, and given that the SNP probably haven't been strong enough in defending the comfortable victory they won on June 8th, the poll's Scottish subsample is hugely reassuring : SNP 38%, Labour 28%, Conservatives 27%, Liberal Democrats 3%, UKIP 2%, Greens 2%.

Yes, individual subsamples are not reliable, and these figures do not necessarily mean the SNP are actually 10% ahead.  However, we've now had four post-election subsamples, of which three have put the SNP ahead.  The other one put Labour ahead, but looked (on the basis of past vote recall) like an obviously skewed sample.  You'd have to say on the balance of the available evidence that the SNP are probably still ahead on Westminster voting intentions - and if that's true, they're weathering the storm much better than many commentators would have expected.

The headline Britain-wide figures put Labour ahead of the Tories by 45% to 39%.  Perhaps most significantly, they suggest the Tories are not only suffering from a direct swing to Labour, but also from a mini-recovery by UKIP (presumably because a hard-core of Leave voters fear the Tories may be about to sell them down the river).  The standard response to this sort of finding is "this is why there won't be an election any time soon", but in truth the Tories would probably be extremely wary of another snap election even if they had a small lead themselves - after all, they've only just managed to blow a lead of more than 20 points.  If an early election happens, it'll likely be for one of two reasons -

1) Discipline breaks down on the Tory backbenches, making the parliamentary arithmetic unmanageable.

2) Theresa May is replaced, and the new leader decides to cash in on his/her honeymoon with the voters (if such a thing occurs).

*  *  *

UPDATE : Survation have just muddied the waters with a poll that has the Conservatives moving back into the lead (albeit only just) across Britain, with no sign of a UKIP recovery, and with a Scottish subsample that has the Tories ahead of the SNP by 42% to 29%.  Does this change what I said earlier about the SNP weathering the storm?  Probably not.  As with the previous Survation subsample that had Labour ahead, you can tell that the sample is somewhat skewed by looking at past vote recall - more respondents recall voting Tory on June 8th than recall voting SNP.  The situation now is that three out of five post-election subsamples have had the SNP ahead, with the other two unable to agree on whether the SNP have been overtaken by the Tories or Labour.  Additionally, by far the largest subsample had the SNP ahead of the Tories by 4 points, and ahead of Labour by 5.  It does still look like the SNP are probably in the lead, albeit perhaps not by a huge margin.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

And this is why Indyref 2 is not going away...

As you may have seen, the House of Commons has just voted on an amendment to the Queen's Speech, tabled by Labour MP Chuka Umunna, calling on the UK to remain within both the EU single market and the customs union.  The Corbyn leadership whipped Labour MPs to abstain (yet again), leading to confident predictions among the London commentariat that there would be a huge rebellion against Corbyn.  Well, I don't know how we're supposed to define 'huge', but given that 75%+ of the PLP are known to be Corbyn-sceptic, and given that the vast majority of the PLP are also pro-European, I have to say I'm somewhat underwhelmed by just 49 of the 262 Labour MPs voting in favour of the amendment, which was defeated by more than 200 votes.  No Tory MPs at all voted in favour, meaning that less than 16% of Commons members (even after the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and tellers are excluded) backed single market membership.

We've been constantly told since election night that there is no majority in the Commons for leaving the single market, but I'm not sure what use it is having a 'silent majority' on your side if those people are not prepared to vote for what they believe in.  Unless something dramatic changes, we are still heading for a very hard Brexit, meaning in turn that the prospect of Indyref 2 is simply not going to go away.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sturgeon sticks firmly with the policy of an independence referendum at the end of the Brexit negotiations

For those that heard Nicola Sturgeon's speech, the title of this blogpost may seem like a statement of the bleedin' obvious, but I gather from a tweet written by Ipsos-Mori's Mark Diffley that some MSM outlets only took a few minutes to completely misrepresent what she had said -

"Funny seeing how this is being reported as #indyref2 being withdrawn - not what I heard at all"

As I said the other day, I was fully ready to say I thought Nicola Sturgeon had made a terrible mistake if she reversed policy on an independence referendum, but I'm delighted and relieved to say I'm not going to have to do that, because the speech ticked absolutely every box I was looking for -

* Ms Sturgeon stressed that the SNP won the general election in Scotland and that this reinforced the mandate for a referendum initially received in the Holyrood election of May 2016.

* She upheld the policy that a referendum should be held at the end of the Brexit process.

* By stressing the mandate to hold a referendum within the current Holyrood parliament, she strongly hinted the vote should take place before May 2021.

* She gave a clear timetable (autumn 2018) for making a decision on the timing of a referendum, which removes the concern that today's decision is going to later mutate into an 'indefinite postponement'.

* She undertook to step up campaigning for independence even before a referendum is called - the complete reverse of assumptions that the topic is going to be "parked".

* Although she acknowledged that the Tories losing their majority reopened the possibility of a soft Brexit (which presumably would remove the need for a referendum altogether), she didn't pretend that this was a remotely likely outcome - I think her exact words were "however slim".

* Most importantly, she didn't renounce the decision on a referendum taken by the elected Scottish Parliament a few weeks ago, and she didn't revoke the request made for a Section 30 order on the basis of that vote.  (She did note that the resolution of the request has become less urgent, but it remains active.)

As far as I can see, the one and only change in the SNP position is that the referendum bill will not be brought forward in the immediate future, but instead a decision about its exact timing will be taken next year.  That is a change of process, not a substantive change of policy, and I have no great problem with it.  (Although it's heartening to see Patrick Harvie and the Greens acting as a counterbalance against the unionist parties and media by keeping the pressure up for the speediest possible progress.)

G A Ponsonby said the other day that he had no concerns at all about what Nicola Sturgeon was going to say, but he had great concerns about what the media were going to pretend she had said.  I now see his point entirely.  The media and unionist parties have a problem, though - they clearly want to say Nicola Sturgeon has performed a "humiliating U-turn" on an independence referendum, but they also want to say that Nicola Sturgeon has "ignored the wishes of the people of Scotland" by "doubling down" on an independence referendum.  I have a feeling some people out there are intelligent enough to spot that those two claims are not actually consistent with each other.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Boost for SNP in massive Panelbase poll

My concern for the SNP over the last couple of weeks has been the risk they might slip to second place in Westminster voting intentions - not behind the Tories, who have probably come pretty close to hitting their natural ceiling of support in Scotland, but behind Labour, who now have considerable momentum behind them.

There have only been a tiny handful of voting intention polls since the general election - probably because most polling firms called the election wrong, and there's little point in commissioning a poll from those that did until they've reviewed their methodology.  However, that hasn't applied to Survation, who famously got the election right (in defiance of Andrew Neil's clueless sneering in this extraordinary clip which has been charitably described as his "Michael Fish moment").  The Scottish subsamples of the two post-election Survation polls show a contradictory picture - the online poll had the SNP still in the lead with Labour in second place, but the phone poll had Labour ahead with the SNP in second.  The good news is that the phone subsample seemed to be very obviously skewed - Labour also had a significant lead on how people in Scotland recalled voting in the general election, when they should actually have been in third place on that measure.  So as of yet there's no convincing evidence from Survation that Labour have edged ahead of the SNP.

On Saturday night, word came through of an enormous GB-wide Panelbase poll which had Labour on 46% and the Tories on 41%.  A combined total of 87% for those two parties is unusually high, giving rise to the obvious concern that the SNP were being squeezed out in Scotland.  However, now the datasets have been released, it appears that isn't the case at all.  Irritatingly, there are no Scottish subsample figures, but there's enough information to make some educated guesswork.  The most important fact is that, unlike the Liberal Democrats, the SNP have retained the support of well over 90% of the people who voted for them earlier this month.  As you'd expect, the small minority of votes they've lost have essentially gone as a bloc to Labour, but that direct swing would be nowhere near enough on its own to push Labour into the lead.  Some of the SNP losses have been offset by new support from elsewhere, and a very rough calculation suggests that the SNP's share of the vote has probably only slipped from 37% to something in the region of 35% or 36%.  An extra 2% for Labour wouldn't even take them to 30%, so unless there has been very substantial movement from the Tories to Labour, it's hard to see how the SNP can possibly have been overtaken in this poll's Scottish subsample (which, it must be stressed, is an unusually large subsample of several hundred people).

After the relentless 'shock and awe' media propaganda campaign of the last couple of weeks which has attempted to finish off both the SNP and the Yes movement for good, I'd suggest it's hugely heartening if the SNP still have some sort of lead in Westminster voting intentions, even if that lead is fairly modest.

[Update : Either Panelbase have updated their datasets over the last couple of hours or I somehow missed the relevant part earlier, but the Scottish subsample is now available.  The figures are pretty close to the assumptions I made above : SNP 34%, Conservatives 30%, Labour 29%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 1%.]

Bear in mind that the favourable wind behind Jeremy Corbyn isn't going to last forever, and Scottish Labour's chances of seizing the moment have been dealt a severe blow today by the nauseating Tory-DUP agreement, which on the face of it leaves Theresa May in a fairly healthy arithmetical position in parliament...

Conservatives + DUP : 328
All other parties (excluding Sinn Féin) : 315

That's a majority of 13, which means that it would take 7 by-election defeats or defections to put the government in an untenable position.  By-elections have become rarer in recent years, perhaps simply because general life expectancy has risen.  There were only three by-elections in Conservative-held seats in the entire 2015-17 parliament, and all three were caused by resignations rather than by deaths.  I'd suggest that at the very least it would take three years to wipe out the Tory/DUP majority, unless there is a sudden spate of defections from the Tories to either UKIP or the Lib Dems (or both).

On the other hand, the current situation has revived the old concept of a 'working majority', meaning a few seats over and above the total required for an overall majority.  Unless relations between the Tories and the Lib Dems warm up considerably, there is no real 'buffer' for the government outwith their own ranks and the DUP ranks.  The only opposition MP that would probably vote for them on a confidence vote is the independent Northern Ireland unionist Lady Hermon, on the basis that she wouldn't be able to accept Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister (although even she has very well-known anti-Tory leanings).  If the government lost as few as four or five by-elections, they would arguably have lost their 'working majority' because they wouldn't be able to get their business through the House reliably, and a general election would perhaps become inevitable at that point.  But even that would take quite a while.

So, for better or worse, it looks like the SNP will have plenty of time to steady the ship before facing the electorate again - which is another good reason why they shouldn't panic and needlessly reverse their policy on an independence referendum.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

We must fervently hope there is no truth in the Sunday Mail's "U-turn exclusive"

Did I speak too soon last night in saying that any worries about the SNP making the historic error of reversing their referendum policy had receded?  Today's Sunday Mail splashed with an "exclusive" claiming an indyref "U-turn", and suggesting that the plans for a vote "by 2019" are about to be scrapped.  The reaction of independence supporters on social media has been interesting - most take the view that the Sunday Mail are playing games by misreporting a restatement of the original policy as a U-turn, but on the other extreme Ben Wray has taken the story at face value and accused Nicola Sturgeon of giving up Scotland's only leverage over Brexit.

It goes without saying that the Record and Sunday Mail must be regarded as hostile, cynical, and utterly unscrupulous actors in all this.  It's perfectly possible that they've deliberately misrepresented the information they've received in pursuit of their anti-independence agenda.  Apart from more mischief-making from Alex Neil (a former fundamentalist who has now practically reinvented himself as the one-man indy-sceptic wing of the SNP), the only fresh quotes in the article are from an anonymous source using very ambiguous language, which could be seen as vaguely consistent with the Sunday Mail's claims, but could just as easily be seen as merely pointing to a modest change of detail and emphasis as the existing referendum policy is essentially upheld.

If it's the latter, there's no problem.  No-one is going to die in a ditch to keep open the theoretical possibility of a referendum in autumn 2018, as long as a date not too long after that remains firmly on the cards.  By the same token, no-one is going to object if Nicola Sturgeon points out that the loss of the Tory majority has changed the dynamic on Brexit, and that we won't be 100% sure that a referendum is actually necessary until the possibility of maintaining membership of the single market is definitively excluded from the negotiations.  (Incidentally, that change in circumstances would be an indisputable fact regardless of whether the SNP had won zero seats, fifty-nine, or absolutely any number in between.)

But if there is the slightest truth in the notion that Nicola Sturgeon will announce that a referendum has been 'called off for the time being' as a consequence of the general election result in Scotland, that would be a catastrophic error of judgement and an abandonment of the most basic democratic principles.  It would mean repudiating a decision taken not by the SNP, but by the democratically-elected Scottish Parliament only a matter of weeks ago.  It would not be done because the SNP had lost a subsequent election, but because their victory in that election had not been by a margin deemed acceptable by the unionist commentariat.  Because Conservative votes in a minority of constituencies apparently carry more weight than SNP votes in the majority of constituencies.  Capitulating to that grotesque logic would be a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of people who helped the SNP win the election, and who did so in good faith on the basis that a majority of seats would complete a 'triple-lock' mandate for an independence referendum.

Here's what I don't understand : even looking at it from a hard-headed pragmatic point of view, what would be the point of waving the white flag now?  If you think Indyref 2 cost the SNP votes in Aberdeenshire, that's all very well and good, but where's the time machine that's going to change what happened?  The election is over, the hit has already been taken, and it probably isn't about to be undone.  It's perfectly conceivable there won't be another election of any type until the Holyrood contest in May 2021 - very nearly four years away.  Why wouldn't you get on with celebrating and defending the mandate you've just won in very difficult circumstances, rather than voluntarily surrendering that mandate as part of some 'grand bargain' with voters in the hope of winning a phantom election by an even bigger margin than you've just won the real election?  I do fear that the hysteria of the last couple of weeks has led to a few people in the SNP losing their compass.

Peter A Bell said today that he would support any decision that Nicola Sturgeon takes, because it would be bound to be taken in the best interests of Scotland.  I must say I take a somewhat different view - if I think a terrible mistake has been made, I'll say so.  However, I await the actual announcement with interest, and I remain hopeful that the Sunday Mail are just spinning us a line, and that there will be no "U-turn" or "cancelling" of the referendum.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The option of a consultative referendum on independence

Assuming Nicola Sturgeon isn't about to make the dreadful mistake of substantively changing the SNP's policy on an independence referendum (and, touch wood, that worry has receded somewhat after Ian Blackford's strong restatement of the policy in the Commons the other day), it's fair to say that the general election result has only made a referendum less likely to the extent that it's made a soft Brexit a little more likely.  If, as the likes of Michael Portillo predict, Britain now remains in the single market, there will be no need for a referendum because Ms Sturgeon's red line won't have been crossed.  But if, as seems much more probable, we're still heading towards a 'bespoke red white and blue Brexit' that falls well short of single market membership, the logic and mandate for a referendum will be inescapable.  The Tories clearly want to block any vote from taking place before 2021, but they were saying much the same thing (albeit in a somewhat cagier fashion) even before the election.

So the big question remains exactly the same as it was a couple of months ago : if a referendum becomes necessary, and if the Tory government says no, what then?  We've been told repeatedly that Nicola Sturgeon is not attracted to the idea of a consultative referendum held without the granting of a Section 30 order by Westminster.  That seems odd, because Alex Salmond was preparing the ground for exactly that sort of referendum in his early years as First Minister, at a time when Ms Sturgeon was his deputy.  It would be a fully legal referendum, not a 'wildcat vote' as STV once described it, because in order for it to happen the lawyers would have to successfully frame the legislation in such a way that the Presiding Officer would certify it as being within the parliament's powers.  It might also have to survive a legal challenge.  If it proved possible to reach that point, it's not hard to see the attractions -

1)  The referendum would go ahead without the SNP having to cross any further electoral hurdles.  Leader-writers in the Observer would be able to splutter indignantly to their hearts' content about the independence debate being "settled", but it wouldn't make any difference.  The mandate for a referendum was received in the Holyrood election last spring, and the SNP's term of office still has almost four years to run.

2) As soon as a consultative referendum becomes a reality, the unionist parties will be faced with a monumental strategic dilemma.  They'll either have to campaign full-bloodedly for a No vote, or boycott the referendum completely.  If they do campaign, they'll effectively acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote, thus rendering the denial of a Section 30 order completely pointless.

3) If, on the other hand, there is a unionist boycott, a Yes majority will become inevitable, and the only task for the Yes campaign will be to produce a turnout on their own side that at least makes it look plausible that the victory could still have been won without the boycott.  (It shouldn't be forgotten that Strathclyde Regional Council's consultative referendum on the water industry in 1994 stunned everyone with a turnout of more than 70%, in spite of an effective Tory boycott - the theory before the vote was that anything in the 40s would be decent enough.)  OK, the unionists will brand the result illegitimate, but they'll be on a lot weaker ground than before - instead of arguing that the No vote in 2014 has settled everything, they'll be arguing that a much more recent Yes vote hasn't settled anything at all.  We might even end up with the ultimate role reversal of the SNP fighting the 2021 Holyrood election on the basis that Indyref 3 isn't wanted or needed, and that the opposition parties should accept the result of Indyref 2 and move on.

Sounds like a win/win to me.

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The DUP's "defeat", in numbers

It may be a surprise to you to learn that the DUP lost the general election in Northern Ireland, but as we all know the SNP's "defeat" in Scotland has become the accepted benchmark for electoral "failure" across the globe.  I'm afraid the direct comparison makes for pretty bleak reading from Arlene Foster's point of view.

SNP's performance in Scotland :

Percentage of seats : 59.3%
Vote share : 36.9%

DUP's performance in Northern Ireland :

Percentage of seats : 55.6%
Vote share : 36.0%

Ouch.  Bit of a mystery why the London government wants to have anything to do with a party that did even worse than the SNP.  But then again, the Scottish Tories are still welcome in polite circles, so it appears exceptions can be made...

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Did some SNP supporters stay at home because the party downplayed independence?

A number of people on social media today raised an eyebrow or two at YouGov findings that show people who voted SNP in 2015 were significantly more likely to simply stay at home in the 2017 election than voters for any other party (with the exception of UKIP).  This has raised the possibility that much of the swing from the SNP to the Tories and Labour was caused by SNP abstentions, rather than net movement from one side to the other.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough information in the datasets to draw such a strong conclusion.  This is a GB-wide poll, and the SNP's abstention rate is not being compared with that of the Scottish Tories or Scottish Labour, but with the Tories and Labour across Britain as a whole.  That's bound to give a misleading impression, because turnout in Scotland dropped by several points this year, whereas it rose south of the border.

The most that can be said, therefore, is that this poll is consistent with the theory that the SNP suffered from differential turnout, but it doesn't provide proof.  If that is what happened, presumably there were independence supporters who were fired up in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 referendum, but who this time weren't sufficiently inspired by the rather vague (and bland?) "Stronger for Scotland" message.  I suspect the SNP missed a trick by downplaying independence during the campaign - they were probably worried about losing No voters, but the pre-election polls suggested most of those people had already drifted off anyway.

The poll's oddest finding is that, even after abstainers are excluded, only 33% of people who voted Plaid Cymru in 2015 stuck with the party this year.  The equivalent figure for the SNP is 71%.  It's hard not to be sceptical about that finding, because Plaid's vote share only slipped 1.7% (and they made a net gain of one seat!).

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Ruth is reeling after stunning ScotPulse poll finds majority of Scots are open to the idea of an independence referendum

After last week's dodgy poll from the Daily Record with the leading question, we have a more neutrally-worded poll from ScotPulse on an independence referendum, and unsurprisingly it produces a radically different result.

A total of 30% of respondents want an independence referendum either before or after Brexit.  A further 22% say their view on a referendum will depend on how Brexit works out.  The speed-counters among you will already have spotted that this means a slim majority (52%) are open to the idea of a referendum.  Only 48% are opposed.

For the avoidance of doubt, the actual results of this poll are good news.  After the relentless and almost comical propaganda of the last couple of weeks, you'd expect support for a referendum to be at an unusual low (not least because natural supporters of a referendum will be feeling cowed at the moment).  So for a poll to show a majority are still open to the idea is very heartening.

The bad news, however, is that we know of old that ScotPulse polls are not correctly weighted, so how much credibility today's results have is anyone's guess.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Scot Goes Pop Ham-and-Cheese Toastie Fundraiser

Click here to go straight to the fundraiser page.

As you may remember, I was doing my best in the early months of this year to promote this blog's last fundraiser from 2015, which remained open for new donations.  Progress was fairly slow, but nevertheless I'm hugely grateful for all the extra donations received, because they've been just about enough to keep everything afloat over the last few extraordinary weeks.  During the month up to June 8th, the blog received more visitors than in all but one previous month in its history.  That kind of performance simply wouldn't have been possible without your help - blogging during an election period is incredibly time-consuming, and the fundraiser money gave me the freedom and flexibility to drop everything and write when required.

I abruptly stopped promoting the donation link altogether in March, because I didn't want to distract from the fundraising efforts for ScotRef, or later for the SNP general election campaign.  However, as a result of that, I have now reached the point where in the immortal words of Liam Byrne "there is no money left".  That means I can't even risk returning to the previous fundraiser, because back in the winter Indiegogo missed their 4-weekly payment schedule, and I didn't receive some of the funds for two months.  I've no idea how common that sort of glitch is, but if it happened again I might be waiting until mid-August, which would come pretty close to defeating the whole point of the exercise.  So instead I've started afresh with a new fundraiser on a different platform.  I'm going to give GoFundMe a try and see how it works out.

I never plan things out too much in advance, other than the fact that I intend to continue writing regularly in some form - probably on this blog, perhaps on other websites, or perhaps I'll follow the example of other pro-indy bloggers by taking time out to write a book for self-publication.  Rather than pitching the last fundraiser as a chance to finance "465 blogposts over the next eight months" or whatever, I suggested that it should instead be seen as a chance to "buy me a hot chocolate" if you'd enjoyed my writing or found it useful.  But blogging is hungry as well as thirsty work, and I do like nothing more than a ham-and-cheese toastie (alternative fillings simply don't compare) with my hot chocolate.  So feel free to see the 2017 fundraiser as a way of addressing the equally important toastie side of the equation.

After I suggested the other day that someone on the pro-indy side should urgently commission an opinion poll to counterbalance the dodgy poll in the Record, a number of you urged that I should use fundraiser money to do it myself.  That's probably not a realistic idea, because past fundraisers have generally only barely met their targets, so the chances are pretty slim that enough would be raised to cover the basic amount needed plus an opinion poll on top of that.  However, in the unlikely event that the new fundraiser significantly exceeds its target, I'll certainly consider the possibility.

As always, please don’t feel under any pressure to make a donation. Scot Goes Pop isn’t a newspaper or a magazine – it’s a blog, and there’s absolutely no charge to read it. The option to donate is there if you want to, but it’s only an option. And, of course, if you have a spare minute or two you can always pass on the word to others – every tweet or Facebook share helps enormously!

Click here if you'd like to donate.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Survation poll gives the lie to the notion that people are "scunnered" with referendums

Anyone who buys into the theory that people have just had enough of voting (and of referendums in particular) ought to take heed of the recent GB-wide YouGov poll showing a narrow majority in favour of a second general election as early as this autumn, and also tonight's UK-wide Survation poll showing a similar majority in favour of a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

On holding a referendum to accept or reject Brexit deal (Survation) :

Support 48%
Oppose 43%

The poll's Scottish subsample is tiny - but for what it's worth, it shows a somewhat bigger majority of 43% to 33% in favour of a referendum.  As the entire rationale of Indyref 2 is to give people the choice between Hard Brexit (assuming that's still what we're heading towards) and the only viable alternative, it would seem from these numbers that there are reasonable grounds for optimism that people will be receptive to the arguments in favour of holding a vote, if they are presented in a thoughtful way.

There's mixed news for Remainers in the other questions in the poll - the centre of gravity of public opinion appears to be support for remaining within the customs union from outside the EU.  Single market membership seemingly wasn't asked about, and that's arguably the more important aspect of the Soft/Hard Brexit divide.  (Norway is inside the single market but outside the customs union - and the reverse is true of Turkey, which speaks volumes.)  Extraordinarily, in spite of her catastrophic loss of general support, a narrow majority of respondents would still trust Theresa May's judgement if she decided that no deal was better than the deal on offer - although unsurprisingly respondents in Scotland take the opposite view by an overwhelming margin.

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I noticed a comment on Wings earlier today saying there had been a poll showing that the SNP would gain seats in an early general election.  I did a search and drew a complete blank, so I assumed it was probably just some sort of 'voodoo poll'.  But oddly enough, when I checked Survation's Twitter feed tonight, there was indeed a projection that the SNP would win 41 seats in a new general election (a gain of 6), and it was supposedly based in part on the notorious poll commissioned by the Record the other day.  That's peculiar, because as far as I can see there were no voting intention figures in the Record's reporting, and there are none in the published datasets either.  Could there have been voting intention results which have been withheld by the Record?  If so, did they do it because they didn't want anything to contradict the "disaster for SNP" narrative?  

I must stress this is just wild speculation.  But if by any chance there has been an unpublished Survation poll of Scottish voting intentions showing the SNP making ground rather than losing ground, that would be very significant.  The results would have been weighted back to 2017 recalled voting, which means they ought to be more accurate than the pre-election polling was.  I've been quite concerned that any new poll might actually show the SNP slipping behind Labour - that seems an odd thing to say given that Labour finished third only ten days ago, but shock election results can generate momentum like nothing else can.

Friday, June 16, 2017

An open suggestion : if anyone on the pro-indy side has ever thought about commissioning an opinion poll, this would be the optimum moment to do it

Most of you have probably come across Peter Hitchens' famous quote about the purpose of opinion polls -

"Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense."


That is, of course, a massive over-generalisation. Almost all of the voting intention polls we saw in the run-up to the general election were genuine, if mostly extremely poor, attempts at measuring public opinion. Based on the past history of polls having an in-built pro-Labour skew, ICM and ComRes honestly believed they were improving accuracy with their extreme Tory-friendly methodologies. It's doubtful whether the polling errors worked in the Tories' favour anyway - if people had actually known that Labour were only a couple of points behind the Tories, it's likely that scare stories about a Corbyn premiership would have had far greater potency.

There's a 'but' here, though. Voting intention polls using standard, neutral wording are one thing, but non-standard, non-neutral poll questions about other matters have an entirely different purpose. Even more famous than Hitchens' quote is the Yes, Minister scene in which Sir Humphrey demonstrates how it's easily possible to get exactly the same poll respondents to say that they both support and oppose the reintroduction of National Service. All you need to do is use wording which makes the desired answer seem like the 'natural', 'obvious' one.

In Scotland we've just seen a particularly sinister example of that dark use of opinion polls, with the Daily Record commissioning Survation to ask a ludicrously leading question designed to produce a result that made it seem as if Scotland had turned decisively against a second independence referendum. Whether or not the stunt was done in direct collusion with the Tories, it may as well have been, because within a few short hours Ruth Davidson was brandishing the poll at First Minister's Questions as 'proof' that her narrative about the meaning of the election result was the correct one.

And there you see pretty plainly what the function of the poll was - it's no exaggeration to say that it formed part of a 'soft coup'. You can't steal people's votes with a poll, but what you can do (especially in our present quasi-colonial set-up) is steal the meaning of their votes. You can turn black into white, and establish a narrative that people were somehow voting against the flagship policy of the winning party. So how was it done? Obviously the first indispensable step was a 2014-style 'shock and awe' media propaganda campaign that relentlessly portrayed the SNP's election victory as an unmitigated disaster for the party. Bang in the middle of that hysteria, you run a poll that doesn't ask about an independence referendum as a matter of principle, but specifically ties it to the general election result - thus inviting people to agree that it's only 'natural' that a referendum should not take place in the light of the general election result, as helpfully interpreted by the media. In order to dispute that such a conclusion is 'natural', a respondent would have to consciously resist the near-unanimous media verdict on the election, which is not easy to do, particularly given that the SNP did not challenge it strongly enough themselves.

It doesn't end there, though. The proposition was also framed negatively - respondents had to agree or disagree with the statement that "Following the General Election result, Nicola Sturgeon should remove her demand for a second independence referendum". Given that 'demand' is a pejorative word, and that groundwork had been done to establish in people's minds that Nicola Sturgeon was the loser of the election she won, it would take a good bit of psychological effort to actively disagree with what is intentionally presented as a 'perfectly reasonable' point of view. Indeed, to indicate disagreement, a respondent would have had to check the box next to the following faintly ridiculous formulation of words : "Following the General Election result, Nicola Sturgeon should not remove her demand for a second independence referendum".  The result of the poll was utterly predictable, and that was the Record's plan from the start.

So how do we combat this cynical tactic? The only way would be for someone on the pro-indy side to commission their own poll as a matter of urgency.  In theory it could use a scrupulously neutral question, such as "Do you think there should be an independence referendum within the next five/ten years?". In my view, that would probably produce a majority against a referendum in the current mad climate, but I doubt if the size of the majority would be anything like the one found in the Record's dodgy poll. Probably more useful, though, would be to deliberately approach the issue from a different angle - someone suggested today on Twitter that people should be asked whether the Scottish Parliament or the UK government should decide the timing of a referendum. We've had polls like that in the past which have shown decisive majorities backing the Scottish Parliament's right to choose, and it would be very helpful to have that principle reinforced in a post-election poll.

Here are another couple of possibilities -

Q.  At the recent general election, the SNP won 35 Scottish seats, the Conservatives won 13, Labour won 7 and the Liberal Democrats won 4.  Who do you think won the election in Scotland?

a) SNP
b) Conservatives
c) Labour
d) Liberal Democrats
e) Nobody won

Q.  At the recent general election, the SNP won 60% of the Scottish seats at Westminster.  Do you think this gives them a mandate to call an independence referendum once the terms of Brexit are known?

a) Yes
b) No

One thing is for sure - we're at a crucial turning-point in Scottish history, and dark forces are stopping at nothing in their attempts to neutralise our pro-indy movement for good. A 'counter-poll' would be a very useful tool to deploy, and as soon as possible.