Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Sturgeon sticks firmly with the policy of an independence referendum at the end of the Brexit negotiations
"Funny seeing how this is being reported as #indyref2 being withdrawn - not what I heard at all"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
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
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
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.
* * *
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
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.
* * *
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
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!
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Sunday, June 18, 2017
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
"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?
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?
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.