Wednesday, April 25, 2018
The inconvenient truth the media don't want you to know about: the Scottish government's negotiating position may have just been strengthened
Monday, April 23, 2018
That said, I'm extremely unsure about the logic that has led him to conclude today that Theresa May can't use the threat of Corbyn as Prime Minister to bring Tory rebels into line, and that she will therefore probably be forced into making a U-turn on remaining in the EU customs union. Basically Bush makes the point that under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Prime Minister can't designate a vote on the customs union as a vote of confidence in the government. So Remainer rebels would know that even if that vote was lost, and even if Theresa May felt compelled to resign as a result, the most likely outcome would be a Tory Brexiteer such as Michael Gove becoming PM, rather than Jeremy Corbyn. And then the new Brexiteer PM would have his hands tied by the pro-customs union arithmetic in the Commons anyway.
I think what this ignores is that staying in the customs union would cross enough of a red line for anti-European Tory MPs that they might actually prefer taking their chances with a snap general election, in the hope of getting a rebel-proof Tory majority that could overturn what had been decided. So if Gove or Boris Johnson stood in a leadership contest, they could find themselves under tremendous pressure to indicate that they will call an election in short order. And as we learned last year, if a Tory PM asks parliament to approve an early general election, the Labour opposition does not say no. What that means in the first instance is that pro-European Tories will know that rebelling on the customs union might lead to a general election that would carry not one but two possible risks - a) that Corbyn might win, or b) that the parliamentary arithmetic might become much more favourable for a Hard Brexit than is currently the case.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
Every test? What? If the two most recent opinion polls on independence do not qualify as 'tests of public opinion', what the hell is he even talking about? Pete can't be allowed to get away with this false claim indefinitely - he's been proved factually wrong on the 'indy-gap' point, and as the old saying goes, he's entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.
The alarm bells in the cynical part of my brain were ringing when I saw that Pete had started his post by noting that it was a good thing that the SNP depute leadership contest looked set to be dominated by the issue of indyref timing. Pete of course pondered the idea of standing himself for depute on a "delay" platform, but decided against it because he didn't have enough support to mount a credible challenge. I do hope that he isn't now planning to misrepresent a hypothetical victory for Keith Brown as an endorsement of "delay". It's true that Mr Brown had until recently come across as the most sceptical of the three candidates about an early indyref, but he was always a long way from Pete's position of actively campaigning for the current mandate to be allowed to expire. Personally, I'll be voting for Chris McEleny because I want to give the most emphatic thumbs-up possible to an early referendum, but regardless of which candidate wins, there will be no endorsement of the Wishart position. I believe the Wishart position is essentially an unelectable one, and I also believe that Pete clearly acknowledged that fact by pulling out of the race. You can't stand aside because of lack of support and then still claim a proxy victory later on.
In the second paragraph of his post, Pete says this: "We are so close to securing our historic objective that to throw away a victory that we’ve so patiently and constructively worked for over the decades through impatience would be the worst type of defeat." Would that really be the worst type of defeat? What about if we opt not to use our mandate for a referendum, and then fail to secure another mandate for another twenty years? (Twenty years is, after all, a mere four elections, and given the way the Additional Member System works, it's far from implausible that the pro-indy parties in combination could repeatedly fall just short of the magic number of 65 seats, even if the SNP itself remains relatively popular and manages to stay in minority government.) And what if over that interminable period, there are prolonged spells where the polls make obvious that a referendum could have been won, but we're powerless to do anything about it because we don't have the parliamentary arithmetic to call a referendum? That's a defeat every bit as real as a defeat in an early referendum. It takes independence - you know, the prize we've so patiently and constructively worked for over the decades - off the table for a generation, and it does so because we threw away a golden opportunity out of fear. How is that sort of defeat any better than one that we might suffer by having the moral courage of using our mandate and actually trusting the verdict of the electorate? It plainly isn't any better. It's a million times worse. Democracy is something we should be running towards, not away from.
Pete says: "I want to see evidence [the referendum] can be won." That's a bit disingenuous, isn't it? He doesn't want evidence that it can be won, because we already have that. He actually wants evidence that it definitely will be won, which is a lovely idea, but in the real world no such evidence is even possible. Huge and rapid swings in public opinion happen frequently during the official campaign stage of referendums around the world, so even if Yes started out with 65% support, there would be no guarantees of victory at all.
He also says: "I want [the referendum] held at the time of our choosing when the optimum conditions are in place for success." Again, the certainty of being able to hold the vote at the time of our own choosing is a beautiful thought, but is completely impracticable unless he's planning to abolish parliamentary elections. The main barrier to being able to hold a referendum at the best possible moment is the possibility that there will be no pro-independence majority at Holyrood after 2021. It's Pete who is arguing we should just recklessly take our chances with that, and his only justification is the absurd claim that if we can't win a pro-indy majority at Holyrood, we wouldn't have been able to win a referendum anyway. Really? If we win 48% of the seats in the 2021 election, it would be completely impossible to win 51% of the vote at any time between then and 2026? A seven-year-old child would be able to spot the flaw in that argument.
The truly 'pragmatic' thing to do is recognise that we have a mandate, that it's a precious thing that may not come our way again for a very long time, and that it therefore shouldn't be lightly squandered. That doesn't mean holding a referendum next week - it means choosing the best available moment between now and May 2021, when the mandate expires. That's where the centre of gravity for pragmatism lies - and not in the pie-in-the-sky notion that there will be some ideal moment in the distant future where the stars will align perfectly for a nailed-on victory, and that all we have to do is wait long enough for this magical process to occur.
Pete claims: "[Optimal conditions] are not when we are less than one year away from having lost over one third of our independence supporting MPs to candidates who had as their main campaigning message ‘No to a second referendum’". The problem with this theory is that we don't know what would have happened if the SNP had stood up to the uncompromising nature of the Tory message with an equally uncompromising "Say Yes to an Indyref" message of their own. It's possible that a third of the MPs wouldn't have lost if that had been done. Pete has previously claimed he has canvassing evidence that there was no appetite for a stronger pro-indy message from the SNP, but you'll have to forgive me if I'm a tad sceptical about anecdotal claims from a less-than-objective source. What we do know from polling evidence is that large numbers of people who voted SNP in 2015 went on to abstain in 2017. That suggests to me that there were a lot of people out there who wanted to be inspired, but didn't hear what they were looking for.
Pete says: "Optimal conditions are also not when a majority of our fellow Scots continue to tell us they still oppose independence by a significant margin when public opinion is tested." Sorry, but what is a "significant margin"? It's only a few weeks since an Ipsos-Mori telephone poll produced figures of Yes 48%, No 52%. Is Pete seriously arguing that four percentage points - a lead that is within the standard margin of error - is a "significant margin"? (It's true that Panelbase have shown a bigger gap since then, but that's simply a 'house effect' of a different firm's methodology. Nobody knows the true state of play in exact detail, and it's perfectly conceivable that Ipsos-Mori is right and that public opinion is split roughly 50/50.)
Pete claims: "That last five percent we need to win over in a renewed referendum will be the hardest five percent we have ever had to convert. It is a five percent that is deeply dug in with over five years of intense debate about our countries constitutional future." Hang on, hang on. If these No voters are as hopelessly entrenched as Pete claims, why have there have been several polls since 2014 (including one as recently as last year) showing Yes with more than 50% of the vote? It doesn't make sense, does it? In reality, polling trends since the last referendum clearly show that there is sufficient fluidity and volatility among the electorate for either side to have a realistic chance of winning. It just depends on who fights the most effective campaign.
Unfortunately, if Pete gets his way, we'll run away from the battle and we'll never find out what would have happened. But when another twenty years have passed and no referendum has been held and independence is further away than ever, at least we'll be able to console ourselves by saying "we didn't lose a second time". (So what?)
Friday, April 20, 2018
Highland ward (Perth & Kinross) by-election result:
Conservatives 46.7% (+1.2)
SNP 35.9% (-0.6)
Independent - Taylor 6.9% (n/a)
Labour 5.8% (n/a)
Greens 2.5% (-1.4)
Liberal Democrats 1.9% (-1.6)
Independent - Baykal 0.3% (n/a)
For my money that's a very solid result for the SNP. Of course they were talking up their chances of winning outright, which any party with even an outside chance always has to do, but the reality is that they would have needed a hefty 4.5% swing from the Tories, which was always improbable given the greater tendency of Tory voters to turn out in lower profile contests. Essentially what we have is a no change outcome - there's been a tiny swing to the Tories, but nothing of any real consequence. That's consistent with the message of the national opinion polls, which suggests that despite all the media hoo-ha over the general election result, the SNP vote has actually held up admirably since June.
* * *
I think someone at Time magazine has a sense of humour - either that, or (and this is more probable) they're just completely clueless. The publication has named Ruth Davidson - I'm not making this up, Ruth Davidson - as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Well, let's put that seemingly improbable claim to the test, shall we? She's an MSP, so the main arena for her influence really ought to be the Scottish Parliament - but she doesn't have much there, even as the leader of the second-largest party. Yes, the SNP government is just short of an outright majority and is sometimes forced to seek arrangements with other parties to get legislation through, but for obvious reasons parties other than the Tories are the usual port of call for any deal-making. So if Davidson is frozen out of power in Scotland, the only conceivable influence she could possibly have would be indirect influence on her fellow Tories in government at Westminster. But what evidence is there that she even has that? She's made two main boasts about what 'her' bloc of MPs at Westminster would achieve over the last year - 1) that the devolution settlement would be protected with amendments made to the EU Withdrawal Bill at the Commons stage, and 2) that powers over fisheries would be repatriated to the UK immediately after Brexit. Both of those claims came to absolutely nothing, and all we've heard from Davidson is how "frustrated" she is that she can't do anything about it. As a general rule, the most influential people in the world get what they want, rather than whinge about being "frustrated" that the opposite of what they want is happening because other people are calling the shots.
I think GA Ponsonby has it nailed - the bogus narrative of 'Ruth the Powerful' is a fairy-tale dreamt up from scratch by the media, and has somehow gained so much traction that even a few people in other countries have started to believe it. This accolade for Davidson will in a few short years look as mind-bogglingly silly as Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Not for the first time, David Halliday has hit the nail on the head with this tweet -
"If not having an independence referendum before 2021 is sensible then why has Ruth Davidson been fighting so hard to make sure that that's what happens?"
If you find yourself doing (or considering doing) exactly what your opponents want you to do, it's always worth stepping into their shoes and considering why they want you to do it so badly. From a Tory perspective, there are a number of very good reasons why an early independence referendum is something to dread -
1) The imminence of Brexit means that Project Fear would work in both directions this time. It will be easy enough for the Yes campaign to produce a steady stream of "There were warnings tonight about the impact of Brexit on..." stories. (How easy it will be to get the broadcasters to give those stories equal prominence is another matter, but an official campaign can help set the news agenda to some extent.) If voters are convinced that there are credible reasons to fear the uncertainty of Brexit, the effect of fear in the campaign may be neutralised in a way that was never possible in 2014.
2) Theresa May is absolutely the worst person to be a figurehead for the No campaign. She is tone-deaf in respect of Scotland. She could single-handedly lose the referendum for No.
3) Jeremy Corbyn clearly has some appeal in Scotland, but an independence referendum would not be his natural terrain. As was the case during the EU referendum, he probably wouldn't look terribly interested. He would also say random things about "SNP austerity" that just wouldn't have much resonance for people in that particular context.
4) Given that the Tories are now Scotland's second party at almost every level of representation, it would be hard to justify sitting back and allowing Labour to be the cuddly public face of the No campaign once again. And yet the alternative - an identifiably Tory-led No campaign - carries enormous risks. Notwithstanding Ruth Davidson's much-vaunted "popularity", the Tories remain the most disliked of the major political parties in Scotland. In a binary-choice referendum, there's not much use having 25% of the population solidly behind you if another 65% hate your guts.
5) The Vow may be a trick that was only ever going to work once. On the pro-independence side, we tend to think of what could go right or wrong in a referendum purely in terms of victory or defeat, but for the Tories, giving too much ground on devolution is a fate almost as bad as defeat. If a Yes vote looked like a realistic possibility with a few days to go, they would have to decide whether to make very painful concessions of new powers, or whether (and this is more probable) to offer absolutely nothing and just hope for the best. Neither option looks too appetising for them in advance.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Because the candidates are perhaps a little less well-known than would usually be the case, I had planned to take my time before making a final decision about who to vote for in the SNP depute leadership race. However, the three remaining candidates have now all expressed clear views on the timing of a second independence referendum. Unless those views change, I think the decision to vote for Chris McEleny has effectively been taken for me.
These are the positions of the candidates as I understand them -
Chris McEleny: There should be an independence referendum within the next eighteen months.
Julie Hepburn: We have a mandate for a referendum. But the timing of the referendum is not what members should be thinking about right now. We should trust Nicola Sturgeon to make the right decision.
Keith Brown: The SNP is not yet ready to fight an independence referendum, and we need to get ready before a referendum can be called.
Now, I know some people will argue that this contest should not even be about the timing of a referendum. Julie Hepburn's exhortation to "just trust Nicola" is superficially seductive. But here's the thing: although Nicola Sturgeon will ultimately be the person who makes the decision, she will do it after factoring in the views of other key players within the SNP. It would be perverse if the voice of the membership is the only voice that is not heard in that decision-making process. What "trust Nicola" really amounts to is saying that you'll be equally happy regardless of what is decided, and there can't be many of us who truly feel that way. Even if a decision goes against you, it's a lot easier to accept the outcome if you've had a chance to express your view and to be heard. This election is taking place at a time when the SNP is facing one of the biggest forks in the road in its history, and the idea that we should all just be ignoring that and choosing who to vote for based solely on other factors seems to me naive and unrealistic.
Some people will argue that Chris McEleny does not have a high enough profile to be depute leader. The reality is, though, that because the SNP's big beasts are all sitting this contest out, the role of depute is going to be very different from before, regardless of who wins. Keith Brown is the only parliamentarian standing, but even if he wins, he's plainly not going to suddenly become the second most important person within the SNP, and probably not the third or fourth most important either. The new role of the depute could be as a bridge between the leadership and the grass-roots, and Chris McEleny is arguably best-placed to fill that role.
"Preparation and persuasion, not obsessing over timing" is another seductive argument, but my huge concern is that all the best preparation and persuasion in the world will count for absolutely nothing if the referendum never actually takes place. That would be the risk we'd take if we flirt with allowing the mandate for a pre-2021 referendum to expire. In fairness, Keith Brown isn't adopting the Pete Wishart/Jim Sillars stance - nothing he has said would specifically preclude a pre-2021 referendum. However, it does seem to me that he is effectively ruling out a referendum in the spring of next year - if he's saying that the SNP is not ready now, it's hard to see how he'd be able to argue that everything had been turned around by the autumn, when the starting-gun for a vote in early 2019 would have to be fired. I don't think that taking any option off the table is helpful at this stage. At least Julie Hepburn appears to be genuinely neutral on timing (and her emphasis that "we have the mandate" perhaps points to the likelihood of a pre-2021 vote), so on that basis I'm currently minded to give her my second preference vote, behind Chris McEleny. I'll continue to keep an eye on what is said, though.
Remember that even if Keith Brown wins due to name-recognition, a strong showing for Chris McEleny would still send a powerful message to the leadership about members' views on the urgency of a referendum. So from that point of view I feel that a vote for McEleny is an each-way bet that is well worth taking.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Renew the Section 30 request, put a deadline on it - and then if needs be go ahead and legislate for a referendum anyway
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Now of course I'm not going to pretend that a self-selecting Twitter poll is a scientifically rigorous exercise. Nevertheless I do think it's of some interest. Public opinion polls tell us about the views of the public, whereas a poll like this captures the views of the demographic that follows SNP parliamentarians on social media - ie. people who are the foot-soldiers of both the Yes movement and of the SNP. Their opinions do count for something. And at just over 5000, the sample size is impressive. Remember that Twitter only allows one vote per account, so it's unlikely that the result was distorted by widespread multiple voting. People's votes are also anonymous, so if they had wanted to quietly express a preference for letting the mandate expire, they could have done so without any fears. There just doesn't seem to be much appetite for that option within the movement.
So why would Sillars of all people want Scotland to remain subject to London rule? Quite simply he got a pleasant surprise when Britain voted to leave the European Union, and he's now emotionally tethered to the idea of Scotland leaving European institutions when the rest of Britain does. What's about to happen is a dream come true for a Eurosceptic, and he can't bear the thought of independence getting in the way of it. That has led him to take what is a perverse position for any Scottish nationalist by denying the legitimacy of Scotland's own democratic decision to remain in the European Union. Essentially he agrees with the grotesque Richard Leonard doctrine that by voting No in 2014, Scotland empowered a neighbouring country to take a decision on European membership on our behalf, and that we are now honour-bound to abide by the decision made for us even though we disagree with it.
For anyone who actually prioritises independence over Brexit, it would be an extremely good idea not to follow Sillars down this latest rabbit hole.
* * *
As you know, I was extremely hurt the other day to discover that Pete Wishart had blocked me for refusing to agree with him that the hard-won mandate for an independence referendum should be allowed to expire. I hadn't said anything that could be construed as abusive or insulting towards him, so it seemed clear enough that the blocking was simply because he couldn't tolerate any dissent. However, I've now had an explanation of sorts for his decision, and it is nothing short of extraordinary.
As you can see, there is no insult in that tweet. I just accurately described what we can all see with our own eyes - that Scotland in Union had used him as a poster-boy. If he's so thin-skinned that he can't bear someone to state a fact when it's a wee bit embarrassing for him, then I suppose I just have to say "fair enough" - it seems a bit bloody silly, but people can make decisions about who to banish from their own social media space for the silliest of reasons, and that's up to him. The problem is, though, that the blocking wasn't the end of it - not even close. You've probably seen the gleeful articles in unionist newspapers such as the Daily Record that pick up on his complaints about abusive comments from his own side (ie. the pro-independence side). You've probably also noticed that one of the two main examples he offered of this "abuse" was the fact that he had been referred to as a unionist "poster boy". Incredibly, then, it appears to be the case that my totally innocuous tweet above is being cited by him as an example of vile Cybernat abuse.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a stunt. His pride has been hurt by the reaction to the poster, and he's getting revenge by deliberately conflating genuine abuse with a comment that he knows perfectly well is completely non-abusive. This is the second cynical stunt I've been on the receiving end from him over the last week or so (ie. after his so-called "right of reply" to me that was not a reply at all, and that just used me as a pretext to essentially regurgitate his original "let the mandate expire" article and get a second round of free publicity for it). As someone who has received a large amount of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic online abuse over the years, I find it an absolutely sick joke to see an innocent comment of mine being ridiculously cited as an example of the worst abuse. It trivialises genuine bullying and intimidation. I must say that once I wised up to the game Pete was playing, I stopped feeling hurt that he had blocked me, and realised that it would be entirely appropriate for me to block him.
I'd also just like to note in passing the slightly sinister 'thought-police' aspect of Pete's suggestion that it is somehow 'unacceptable' to retweet certain ideological undesirables or to state certain facts. Thank heavens he wasn't a TV censor during the original run of Catchphrase. Roy Walker's famous exhortation of "say what you see!" would have had to be replaced with "say what you see unless it's a poster featuring Pete Wishart, in which case give us a pretty lie instead".
One thing I do agree with Pete about is that we should be taking Scotland in Union on. But what I don't understand is how voluntarily adopting huge swathes of their programme and rhetoric is supposed to help us do that. Yes, they were being mischievous by using Pete's image on their poster, but there was a sort of inescapable logic to it as well. For example I'm struggling to see a huge difference between Ruth Davidson's stated reasons for opposing a referendum, and Pete's own views about Scotland supposedly being "weary of big constitutional decisions".
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Today brings word of a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, and not for the first time it illustrates beautifully the yawning chasm between the actual state of public opinion, and the fictional version of public opinion that the unionist media would rather we heard about. Ludicrously, the Times (who commissioned the poll) claim there is "little support" for a pre-2021 independence referendum, even though the poll actually shows that a whopping 42% of the electorate - the sort of percentage that governments are elected on - want a referendum within around twelve months, let alone within three years. 17% want it to be held while Brexit is still being negotiated, meaning within less than one year, and an additional 25% want it at the end of Brexit negotiations, meaning in about a year's time.
As I've noted in the past, the format of Panelbase's question on referendum timing isn't ideal. There is no obvious option provided for people who want a referendum in two or three years' time - anyone in that position is effectively forced to be more negative about a referendum than they really feel (by choosing the third option of "no referendum in the next few years") or to be more bullish about timing than they really feel. Which way such people are jumping in the poll can only be a matter of speculation. What I would point out, though, is that the relatively even split of 58% against a very early referendum, 42% in favour, has occurred in spite of a prolonged spell in which the SNP have not been openly making the case for a vote. If they had been, it seems at least conceivable that the numbers would be even more favourable.
Just as was the case in the Ipsos-Mori poll a few weeks ago, there is no sign whatever of Pete Wishart's so-called "indy-gap" - a claimed phenomenon of support for an early referendum running significantly below support for independence itself. In reality, support for an early referendum (42%) is once again essentially identical to support for independence (43%).
The Yes vote continues the trend of recent months by remaining static. Some pollsters have shown Yes essentially static in the mid-40s, some (like Panelbase) in the low 40s, and some in the high 40s. These are simply 'house differences' between the various firms, and it's impossible to know who is closest to the truth. It's a remarkable turnaround from the long indyref campaign that Panelbase online polling is now on the No-friendly end of the spectrum, and that Ipsos-Mori telephone polling is on the Yes-friendly end.
There are also Westminster voting intention numbers -
SNP 36% (-5)
Conservatives 28% (+1)
Labour 27% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)
The drop in the SNP vote may look alarming, but the 41% recorded in the previous Panelbase poll was the highest in any poll from any firm since the general election, so it may have been an inflated number caused by the margin of error. This is only the second post-election poll (out of nine) to put the SNP below the 37% recorded on election day, but there has been no reduction in the eight-point election gap between SNP and Tory, and only a statistically insignificant one-point reduction in the gap between SNP and Labour. So even if this poll was accurate, it's not clear that the SNP would be losing seats in an early election.
More details and analysis to follow...