Thursday, November 23, 2017
All we know about the Perth South by-election so far comes from Pete Wishart, who says it's a two-horse race, with the SNP as one of the two horses. My guess would be some sort of Tory victory, but we'll see.
UPDATE: I'll double-check the figures when I get a chance, but this appears to be the result from Rutherglen -
Labour 38.5% (+7.5)
SNP 27.4% (-12.0)
Liberal Democrats 18.2% (+8.9)
Conservatives 12.1% (-4.2)
Greens 2.9% (-1.1)
UKIP 0.9% (n/a)
If true, there's no way of putting a positive gloss on that - it represents almost a 10% swing to Labour since May, and if extrapolated across the country would point to a clear Labour lead. That obviously seems highly unlikely based on opinion poll evidence, so perhaps Labour are doing much better in some geographical pockets than in others, or perhaps they were simply better organised than the SNP in a low turnout by-election. (Only about one-quarter of eligible voters took part.)
The only good thing is that the media, with their customary cluelessness about the quirks of STV by-elections, will report this in one-dimensional fashion as a Labour hold - which technically is what it is, but that doesn't tell the real story of Labour overtaking the SNP in the ward.
UPDATE II: As I suspected, the Tories have won Perth City South. However, this one is much better news, because the SNP actually 'won' the by-election on first preference votes - an improvement from their second place in the ward in May. The Tories only took the seat after the lower preferences of eliminated unionist candidates were redistributed.
The full result doesn't appear to be available online yet. Ruth Davidson seems to be suggesting that the Tories took 31% of the first preference vote - which would mean that the SNP must have done at least as well as that, pointing to an increase in the SNP vote of 5% (or more) since May. A highly creditable result by any standards.
In the case of Perth, the media's cluelessness about STV by-elections will not work in the SNP's favour. The result will be reported as a "Conservative hold", but the real story is the SNP jumping from second place to first (on first preference votes, that is), the Tories jumping from third place to second, and the Lib Dems slumping from first place to third.
UPDATE III: According to Pete Wishart, this is the full result on first preferences -
SNP 32.1% (+6.4)
Conservatives 31.2% (+6.0)
Liberal Democrats 28.8% (-5.9)
Labour 5.7% (-0.7)
Greens 1.8% (-1.3)
Leaving aside the annoying fact that there's going to be a Tory rather than an SNP councillor, this is a cracking result for the SNP - it really is. It looks like both the SNP and the Tories have been flattered by the drop in Lib Dem support (presumably caused by a popular Lib Dem councillor not being on the ballot paper this time), but even allowing for that, there has been a slight swing from Tory to SNP - which is not really what you'd expect given the greater tendency of Tory supporters to make it to the polls in local by-elections. It's not a disastrous result for Ruth Davidson, and she'll obviously spin the 'victory' for all she's worth, but privately she must be less than thrilled with yet another second place finish in Perth.
There's also a reality check for Labour here - they may have done extremely well in Rutherglen, but it could be that they're being squeezed in traditional SNP-Tory battlegrounds.
* * *
It was statistically inevitable that the SNP's extraordinary run of being ahead in twenty-one consecutive subsamples would eventually be brought to an end, and it finally happened earlier this week with the publication of Kantar's first poll since the general election. It's a weird poll all round - not only are the Tories several points ahead across Britain (a finding that is completely out of line with what all other firms have been showing for the last two months), but there's also a substantial Tory lead in the Scottish subsample. As this is the most recent poll to be conducted, we can't completely exclude the possibility that it's picking up something new, but it's probably more likely that it'll prove to be a freakish result. I'd be a little more concerned if the Scottish subsample had put Labour substantially ahead, but a Tory surge in Scotland just doesn't have the smell of truth at the moment.
Bizarrely, Kantar appear to be unaware of the change in Scottish Labour leadership. According to their datasets, one of the voting intention options they offered to respondents in Scotland was "Labour party (led by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Kezia Dugdale in Scotland)".
* * *
We should get more of a clue of the state of public opinion overnight, because there are two important local by-elections in Scotland today - one in Perth City South, and one in Rutherglen Central & North. On paper, the SNP should have a decent chance of gaining the seat in Rutherglen, because they topped the poll in the ward in May, with an 8% margin over Labour. However, the ward is in one of the six parliamentary constituencies that Labour gained in the general election, and the arithmetic also looks very similar to a seat that the SNP failed to win in a Glasgow by-election a couple of months ago. In practice I'd say Labour are slight favourites - which obviously means it would be a huge psychological boost if the SNP were to pull it off.
The Perth contest looks much tougher for the SNP - they were nine points behind the Lib Dems (of all parties) back in May. Although it's perfectly possible the Lib Dem vote will prove to be soft, you'd think those people would be more likely to break for the Tories rather than the SNP. But you never know - Pete Wishart famously defied gravity in Perth at the general election, so let's hope history repeats itself.
If by any chance you live in either ward, don't forget to vote over the next few hours!
Monday, November 20, 2017
David Leask: Scotland's reputation 'damaged' by Alex Salmond's Russian TV show
Fenner: Absolutely pathetic that this is still being discussed.
David Leask: It's the defining story of our age. Are you with Trump, Brexit & Putin lie machines or with, among others, the SNP who oppose them. Your choice.
Jim Gibson: It's "the defining story of our age". Yes! Leask actually did write those words. Forget Brexit, Cataluña, Trump, child slavery, refugees, wars, the Middle East, climate change, Greggs sausage rolls. Forget all of them! The Alex Salmond Show defines our age.
Lyn/SNP member: I am much more interested in Theresa May's relationships with Duterte, Salman, Erdogan and Netanyahu. As we break away from the EU these partnerships will tighten. May herself is no fan of democracy or human rights. She is in office. Salmond is not.
David Leask: So you're an SNP member. Why do you think the party boycotts RT?
Lyn/SNP member: I am. I can't answer that. I haven't spoken to the party about RT. So you're a journalist. Why wait until Salmond has his own show before jumping on the bandwagon? Others sat before him including Corbyn. Why is RT AVAILABLE in UK? Who sanctioned it?
David Leask: People who want to make sure the BBC isn't jammed in Russia. You still haven't explained why you oppose the SNP on this. But alas inn (sic) guessing you're not gonna. Best.
Now let's just hit the rewind button for a moment, and treat the first sentence of that final tweet with the seriousness it warrants. Leask's response to the question "Who allows RT to broadcast in the UK?' was "People who want to make sure the BBC isn't jammed in Russia". For the avoidance of doubt, the "people" he is referring to are collectively known as Ofcom - the regulatory body that gave RT a licence to broadcast in this country and so far have not revoked it. The only reasonable way of interpreting his words is as an allegation that Ofcom ignored their legal duties, and awarded a licence to a broadcaster that did not meet the very strict criteria laid down. Furthermore, Leask is alleging that Ofcom broke the rules for political reasons (ie. to prevent retaliatory action against the BBC in Russia). There may even be a hint in there that they took the decision under external political pressure.
If those allegations turned out to be true, it would be a bombshell that would undoubtedly lead to the resignation of Ofcom's management. Which begs the obvious question: why hasn't Leask written in the Herald about this outrageous Ofcom scandal? He would of course require evidence before going into print with it, but doubtless he wouldn't have made such an extraordinary claim in the first place unless he had plenty of proof.
(That said, he does now routinely imply that anyone who speaks in support of Alex Salmond must be in the pay of the Kremlin, and is perhaps even Russian themselves. He's also in the past advanced a crackpot conspiracy theory that Wings Over Scotland and Wee Ginger Dug were set up by dark forces to discredit the independence movement. So perhaps he isn't quite as much of a stickler for evidence as you might expect from someone of his profession. In case you're wondering how on earth two immensely popular pro-independence websites are supposed to have discredited the movement, he appeared to mean that they hadn't shown sufficient deference to the mainstream media, which as we all know is the sole determinant of credibility.)
* * *
You might remember that a couple of months ago, there was a discussion on this blog about whether it was reasonable for the media to say that Angela Merkel had "won" the German federal election, given that she had only roughly one-third of the seats in the Bundestag, and that if she remained as Chancellor that would be a decision of other parties, not of the voters. It was argued by some that yes, it was reasonable, because voters had delivered a result that everyone knew would result in a fourth term for Merkel. That theory went out of the window yesterday when the FDP pulled the plug on three-way coalition talks with Merkel's party and the Greens, meaning there is no longer any viable majority coalition available to Merkel. Germany thus reverts to the raw arithmetic the voters actually delivered in September, which won't in itself be sufficient to sustain Merkel for a fourth term. And yet the BBC reiterated today that Merkel "won" the election. So here's my customary question - if that non-victory (33% of the votes and 35% of the seats) must be described as a "win", what possible excuse is there for not acknowledging that the SNP won the general election in Scotland with their superior 37% of the vote and 59% of the seats?
I was surprised earlier today by a number of angry reactions I received when I made what I thought was a pretty obvious point on Twitter - that while I admired Richard Leonard's honesty, it was likely that his admission that he supports England against Scotland at football would be quoted back at him a million times. One point that a few people made was "he's English, so why is this surprising." Well, is he English? Or is he someone with a more complex identity because he's lived in Scotland for longer than he lived in the country of his birth? Presumably that was one of the points the question about football was intended to illuminate, and I'm not sure that's totally unreasonable. Imagine the reaction if a New Zealand party leader said they weren't supporting the All Blacks against the Springboks, for example. In Australia, political leaders aren't even allowed to have dual nationality - the implication being that wherever you originally come from, seeking political office means that you're a fully paid-up member of Team Australia now. I personally think that takes it way too far, but it's scarcely an uncommon attitude. How long would a US presidential candidate of any national origin last if they didn't show sufficient American patriotism?
As frivolous as it seems to many, it's become one of the ritual duties of political leaders to speak on behalf of those they represent by offering encouragement and congratulations/commiserations to national sporting teams. I think that may prove to be a little awkward for Leonard in certain circumstances, because the media won't be shy about reminding their readers and viewers that he's an England supporter. However, as I said - good for him. I think it reflects well on him that he answered the question honestly, even though there may be a political cost.
* * *
The Scottish subsample from the latest Britain-wide Opinium poll: SNP 38%, Labour 30%, Conservatives 29%, Greens 3%. This is the twenty-first subsample in a row, across all firms, to put the SNP ahead.
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Hothersall faces bushtucker trial of the soul as everything he thought he could rely on turns to dust
Scottish Labour leadership election result:
Richard Leonard 56.7%
Anas Sarwar 43.3%
I'm trying to decide whether that margin of victory justified the extreme 7/1 odds on a Sarwar win. Probably not quite, although it looks like the result was never in that much doubt, in spite of what we had been led to believe.
I'll be completely honest about this - faced with the very limited options available to them, I think Labour have made the right choice (just for once). We've seen enough of Anas Sarwar over the years to know that he would have been a disaster area, and that no-one would have taken him seriously as a potential First Minister. I thought Leonard came across reasonably well in the STV debate with Sarwar - it sounded like he was actually thinking about his answers rather than reading from a script, which is quite rare in this day and age. If he can keep that up when debating with opponents from the SNP rather than his own party, he might do OK...but that's a big "if". He seems to have exactly the same irrational rage towards the SNP that all of his immediate predecessors have displayed.
I saw Christopher Silver say on Twitter earlier that the "pro-indy left" will have to drop their "instinctive dismissal" of Labour in the light of this result - well, that rather depends on how serious they are about the "pro-indy" part of the equation, doesn't it? Leonard seems to be an absolute dinosaur on the constitutional issue.
It'll be interesting to see what the significance is of Leonard putting off any decision about suspending Dugdale for a few days. The expectation that she's going to be cut adrift is now so strong that it'll be hard to pull back from that, but on the other hand a few days' grace will give her a chance to actually appear on the programme and mutter "for the many, not the few" as she devours assorted insects. Maybe we'll hear some waffly excuse about how they can't suspend someone who may have been unwise, but who is nevertheless "reaching out to young people".
If she does go, it'll mean that the people who were leader and deputy leader of Scottish Labour in late August will both no longer even be members of the party just three months later. A totally unprecedented state of affairs.
Friday, November 17, 2017
Where he probably was speaking on behalf of many of his colleagues was in his extraordinary "heads I win, tails you lose" attitude to the regulation of broadcasters. When it was pointed out to him that RT is regulated by Ofcom in much the same way that the BBC is, he argued that this meant that RT was probably going to lose its licence - in other words the fact that RT won and has so far retained its licence is somehow proof that the channel is just about to be taken off the air. If anyone made a claim like that about the BBC, you'd question their sanity, and rightly so. When it was pointed out to him that the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg had been censured by a regulatory body in much the same way that RT has occasionally been censured by Ofcom, he reacted as if someone had just defended a serial killer. "Laura Kuenssberg is a very fine journalist", he said quietly, with the subtext being that an attack on Laura Kuenssberg (even by the BBC's own regulators) is an attack on journalism itself. In other words, RT being censured by their regulators is proof that RT is a Kremlin propaganda machine, and the BBC being censured by their regulators is proof that BBC journalism is the victim of persecution. Yup, that all seems pretty clear-sighted and fair.
* * *
I was all set to defend Kezia Dugdale's decision to take part in I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! until I remembered that she's still a sitting MSP and that it's therefore a completely ridiculous thing for her to be doing. She's supposed to be representing the voters of Lothian in parliamentary votes and debates, and helping them if they contact her with a problem. She will self-evidently be neglecting those responsibilities for the entire duration of her stay in Australia. I trust the mainstream media will muster at least twice as much hysteria for Kezia as they managed for Alex Salmond, because there's no doubt over which of those two has made the truly indefensible decision in pursuit of attention.
Whether deservedly or otherwise, Kezia had until now looked set to emulate David Steel by "passing from rising hope to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever" (as Michael Foot famously put it). But I suspect she may have permanently destroyed her credibility with this single act.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
A gentle hint: this kind of behaviour doesn't just bring journalism into disrepute, it turns journalism into a laughing-stock
Over the years I've been on Twitter, I've watched in genuine astonishment as practically everyone I know, across all shades of pro-independence opinion, has been blocked by Leask, often after interacting with him very respectfully on just one single occasion. Being aware of his antics, I began to regard it as a game to see if I could end up as just about the only non-sycophant left that he hasn't blocked, simply by permanently ignoring him. However, over the last few days he has lost the plot even by his own high standards. Because of his hardline views about Russian-funded media in the UK, he's taken to declaring that anyone who defends Alex Salmond's association with RT cannot by definition be part of the 'real SNP' or share the values of the 'real independence movement' (a jaw-dropping piece of conceit given that Leask is not actually in the indy camp). This naturally means that Salmond himself, the man who led the Yes campaign in the indyref and has been leader of the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence, is not 'real SNP' or 'real pro-indy'. I'd humbly submit that is quite possibly the most embarrassing argument ever put forward by any professional journalist who does not work for the Express.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Of course no individual subsample should be regarded as reliable given the small sample size, but for what it's worth the ICM poll is the first straw in the wind since we were all royally entertained by the affectations of outrage over Alex Salmond's TV show. So the very earliest indications are that the SNP's detractors may have to find a line of attack that is more promising than "Salmond is almost as bad as Kim Philby" (which is something that Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow actually said out loud last night!).
Friday, November 10, 2017
A new Britain-wide YouGov poll is out today, so this may be a good moment to round-up the Scottish subsamples that have been published since my last update. There have only been a couple...
Ipsos-Mori: SNP 43%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 9%
YouGov: SNP 36%, Labour 28%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 4%, Greens 1%
That means nineteen subsamples in a row have put the SNP in an outright lead. Just the usual reminder - any individual subsample should not be regarded as reliable, but an aggregate/average of a large number of subsamples can give you a rough indication of what is happening. The sheer consistency of the SNP lead in subsamples since early September is probably indicative of quite a healthy SNP advantage on the ground, and is very much in line with the message from full-scale Scottish polls (although admittedly we haven't had any of those for a few weeks).
Are there any clouds on the horizon? Obviously the hysteria over Alex Salmond's new TV show has only just happened, so we'll have to wait and see how that plays out. It goes without saying that the criticisms of Salmond are hypocritical bilge given that leading politicians from all major parties have been willingly interviewed on the same channel, but on the other hand it is unusual (probably unprecedented) for Nicola Sturgeon to put out a personal statement distancing herself from something Salmond has done. She and her advisers may have thought that was a safety-first approach, but I suspect the truly dangerous thing is for parties to allow themselves to look divided. However, it's a very polite division on a relatively minor issue, so in spite of the mainstream media's valiant demands that their readers and viewers should care about this, I expect the likelihood is that we'll look back on it as a 72-hour wonder.
This is my cue to use the immortal words "He didn't answer" (albeit with rather more accuracy than they were originally used).
I realised as I was writing those tweets that I am - somewhat to my surprise - a fan of Twitter's new 280-character limit. Until a couple of days ago, if I had tried to make points like those I would have given up in despair after realising that it's impossible to condense them into 140 characters.