Saturday, December 6, 2014

Constituency spotlight : Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

A few hours ago, I received an email revealing that our local SNP candidate for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East has been selected (Stuart McDonald, in case you're wondering).  It reminded me of a vague plan that I had of doing occasional blogposts to assess the SNP's chances of winning individual constituencies.  So where better to start than with my own home patch?

Within my lifetime, the SNP have always put up Westminster candidates here more in hope than expectation.  That's in spite of the fact that there is actually a very long-standing SNP tradition in the town of Cumbernauld.  Perhaps because of its status as a New Town, Labour have never been able to weigh the votes here as they've customarily expected to do in most nearby towns.  The SNP even controlled the old Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Council for a spell in the 1970s, and were very unlucky not to regain control in 1988 (Labour and the SNP won an equal number of seats, but Labour retained power after a cut of the cards).  Hopes of SNP control were dashed for a generation as a result of the Tory gerrymandering of local authority boundaries in the 1990s, which saw Cumbernauld and Kilsyth chucked into the huge North Lanarkshire authority, even though neither town had historically been part of Lanarkshire.  Logically Cumbernauld should have become part of East Dunbartonshire, and Kilsyth should either have returned to Stirlingshire, or gone with Cumbernauld into East Dunbartonshire.  But at the time John Major's colonial government was still deluding itself that Stirling and East Dunbartonshire were going to be Tory fortresses, which meant that the inclusion of large working-class towns without Tory representation was unthinkable.  So a cacophony of protests was totally ignored, and the whole area was conveniently chucked into a "big Labour dustbin" - albeit a Labour dustbin that was destined to vote in favour of Scottish independence twenty years later!

Cumbernauld's former Dunbartonshire connection meant that it was part of the old East Dunbartonshire constituency until 1983.  As a result, Cumbernauld (but not Kilsyth) does have a past history of being represented at Westminster by the SNP - Margaret Bain (later to become Margaret Ewing) was the MP for four-and-a-half years after winning by just 22 votes in October 1974.  In Holyrood terms, Labour won the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth seat comfortably enough in the first election in 1999, but thereafter came under severe pressure due to the success of the SNP's list MSP Andrew Wilson in providing a high-profile "shadow" constituency service.  In 2003 he defied gravity by almost snatching the seat on an enormous swing, but his failure to make it over the line meant that he was out of parliament altogether.  Four years later the SNP fielded the lesser-known candidate Jamie Hepburn, who suffered a small swing in the wrong direction against the national trend - although in truth that was probably just an inevitable unwinding of Wilson's extraordinary personal success.  In 2011, the dam finally burst, and Hepburn became the first SNP constituency representative in the area since Margaret Bain lost her seat in 1979.

(While I'm on the subject of Jamie Hepburn, I must just mention how impressed I was that he turned up on my doorstep on referendum day in a sharp suit, asking me if I'd voted Yes yet!)

When you bear in mind that pedigree, it's a bit startling - and sobering - to recall just how far back the SNP will be starting from at the Westminster general election next May.

Swing required for the SNP to gain the constituency from Labour = 16.7%

Any other parties in realistic contention? = No

Now here's the good news, which explains why the SNP are standing a candidate in expectation and not just hope for the first time in decades...

National swing from Labour to the SNP implied by the most recent Poll of Polls = 19.9%

So if an election was held tomorrow, it's logical to conclude that the SNP would probably win the constituency with a bit to spare - an outcome that would have seemed utterly impossible until very recently.  Unfortunately, though, the SNP wouldn't have to drop back very much over the next five months for the national swing to be too low, meaning they would have to 'over-perform' locally to still have a chance.  Could that be achieved?  Well, this was one of the highest Yes-voting areas in the whole country (I believe the result was Yes 58%, No 42% within the Holyrood constituency boundaries), so if anywhere is going to produce a significantly bigger Labour-to-SNP swing than the national average, you'd think this would be the place.

And I also don't think Labour are going to enjoy that much of an incumbency bonus - I'm not an avid follower of local politics, but Gregg McClymont doesn't seem to have made an impact since taking over in 2010, and in spite of his recent stint on the Smith Commission is probably still less well known than Jamie Hepburn.

Overall verdict = I'm cautiously hopeful.

Friday, December 5, 2014

SNP and Plaid Cymru soar to Britain-wide vote of 6% in mesmerising YouGov poll

Apologies to Labour spin doctor John "I'm a gardener" McTernan, but your latest bright idea of using a column in an ex-fascist newspaper to brand the SNP as fascists doesn't appear to have worked terribly well.  Who'd ever have thunk it?

For the second day in a row, YouGov are putting the SNP and Plaid Cymru just 1% behind the Liberal Democrats across Britain - but this time with an almost unbelievably high 6% share of the vote.  You might remember there was a recent Ipsos-Mori poll in which the SNP had a Britain-wide vote of 8%, but it's much harder for the party to achieve abnormally high showings in YouGov polls, because YouGov don't take any account of differential turnout - ie. the number of Scottish-based respondents is fixed at the correct population share in the headline voting intention numbers.  So today's poll is the real deal - to get to this result, the SNP have had to reach 50% in the Scottish subsample, while also picking up some residual support in London and the rest of the south (possibly from people who expect to be casting their vote in Scotland next year).

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Labour 32% (+1)
Conservatives 31% (-1)
UKIP 15% (-2)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 6% (+1)
BNP 1% (+1)

Two other extraordinary things remain true for a second day in a row - the Liberal Democrats are languishing in a humiliating fifth place, and the combined share of the vote for the two so-called "major parties" is a dismally low 63%.

The enormous divergence between Scotland and the rest of the UK is illustrated in supplementary questions that ask about underlying attitudes towards the parties.  For example, 44% of respondents in Scotland say they would not apply the statement "The kind of society it wants is broadly the kind of society I want" to the Conservatives, Labour or the Liberal Democrats, whereas the equivalent figure in the other regions of Britain ranges from 22% to 26%.

61% of respondents in Scotland say that none of the three above-mentioned parties are "led by people of real ability", whereas there is no other region in which more than 47% say the same.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

SNP and Plaid Cymru are just 1% behind the Liberal Democrats in latest Britain-wide YouGov poll

These results are becoming positively commonplace, but it's always worth pointing them out, especially given that the broadcasters are still outrageously proposing to include the Liberal Democrats in two out of the three televised leaders' debates, but to wholly exclude the SNP and the Greens from all three.  That plan looks more untenable by the day.

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 32% (n/c)
Labour 31% (-2)
UKIP 17% (+1)
Greens 7% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 5% (n/c)

In case you're wondering, YouGov don't differentiate between the SNP and Plaid in their GB-wide polls at all, although the vast bulk of the combined vote for the two parties can be assumed to be for the SNP (indeed it's perfectly possible that the SNP on their own would be on 5% anyway, after rounding).

You know the drill by now - a general election result that was even vaguely close to the figures in this poll would see the SNP becoming the third largest party in the new House of Commons, comfortably ahead of both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.  The Scottish subsample has Nicola Sturgeon's party on 49% of the vote, and Labour on just 21%.  The fieldwork coincided at least partly with the confected "outrage" over the incident in Paisley, so it doesn't look like calling the SNP "Nazi book-burners" has done the trick for Labour any more than the Smith report itself did.

*  *  *


No great surprise to see the SNP's lead increasing again in the Poll of Polls, because the outlying Populus subsample which had Labour ahead has now dropped out.  This update is based on seven subsamples - four from YouGov, one from Populus, one from Ashcroft and one from ComRes.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43.6% (+2.6)
Labour 26.0% (-1.1)
Conservatives 15.6% (-1.0)
Liberal Democrats 6.3% (-0.7)
UKIP 4.6% (+0.7)
Greens 2.3% (-0.6)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Well, it burned while I cried, 'cos I heard it screaming out Smith's name, Smith's name...

To mark Bonfire Night last month, the people of Lewes in East Sussex decided to (and I quote) "blow the s*** out of" a giant effigy of Alex Salmond, who was depicted in a humiliating state of undress.  Despite a categorical assurance from the local police earlier in the day that the effigy would not be burned, the event went ahead exactly as planned.  Mr Salmond's immediate predecessor as First Minister, Labour's Jack McConnell, seemed to speak on behalf of unionist opinion when he dismissed the concerns of those in Scotland who found the incident deeply offensive, and suggested that the nation needed to recover its sense of humour.

I'm therefore slightly baffled by the reactions we've heard over the last few hours to the decision of three SNP councillors to burn a piece of paper bearing the words "The Smith Commission".  According to Scottish Labour's former deputy leader Anas Sarwar, it was "disgusting and disrespectful behaviour", while Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said that "this type of behaviour harms our nation" and demanded to know what Nicola Sturgeon planned to do about it.  Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie branded the three councillors as "extremists", and the BBC reported that their actions had been described as "offensive".

Hmmm.  We do seem to have stumbled across a particularly complex and nuanced area of unionist morality.  To sum up, it appears to work like this...

Burning a giant effigy of a living person, who is depicted in a humiliating state of undress = A jolly jape! Lighten up, fella!


Every day is an education in post-referendum North Britain.

*  *  *

Crazed unionist politicians may be well on their way to elevating Lord Smith's report to the status of a religious artefact that is worthy of more reverence than the Turin Shroud, but the man himself has continued to exude bonhomie as he sells his rather unimpressive product to the nation.  He's conceded that the plan to write into UK law that the Scottish Parliament is "permanent" fails to provide any constitutional guarantee.  We already knew that, but he may live to regret laying down the following challenge -

"But if you knew a way of making it permanent tell me, because that is the will of the Scottish people."

Simple answer, Lord Smith : replace the UK's unwritten constitution with a written one which restricts Westminster's sovereignty to reserved matters only.

However, assuming that isn't going to happen, I'd like to see wording in the legislation which is as close as possible to the 1980s laws which finally relinquished Westminster's right to legislate for Australia and Canada (yes, believe it or not that didn't happen until the 80s).

These, therefore, are the benchmarks we should be looking out for...

Canada Act 1982 :

"Termination of power to legislate for Canada

No Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the Constitution Act, 1982 comes into force shall extend to Canada as part of its law."

Australia Act 1986 : 

"Termination of power of Parliament of United Kingdom to legislate for Australia.

No Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to the Commonwealth, to a State or to a Territory as part of the law of the Commonwealth, of the State or of the Territory."

Obviously in our case there would have to be conditional wording to make clear that we're not talking about reserved powers, or about instances where Westminster is legislating with Scotland's consent after a Sewel Motion.  But the use of the word "termination" and a close variant of the phrase "no Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall extend" would be very helpful.

I raised the Australian example with Lallands Peat Worrier last year, and he pointed out that in theory, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that Westminster could abolish Australian independence and start legislating for Australia again at will, in spite of the above wording.  But the reality is that only the UK courts would even pay lip service to the constitutionality of that action - the Australian courts would cheerfully ignore it, and regard the 1986 Act as irreversible.  Having our own version of the Australia Act or the Canada Act would therefore be a very strong declaration that there is no going back.

*  *  *

I do worry sometimes that our unionist opponents seem to be struggling with their grip on reality.  I spotted this comment on a Reddit thread yesterday, which refers to my good self -

"He's really lost it since it turned out his endless 'all the polls point to a decisive Yes victory' type posts proved to be so decisively wrong."

Can anyone recall even one occasion when I made a comment on this blog roughly approximating to "all the polls point to a decisive Yes victory", let alone an endless stream of such comments?

Nope, me neither.

*  *  *

Many thanks to Sandy Brownlee, who has been regularly updating a graph depicting the trend in the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls.  I keep forgetting to post it, but at long last, here it is!

Caution needs to be exercised, though - with almost every twist and turn in that graph, I can think of a methodological factor which offers a more plausible explanation than any real change in public opinion.  For example, the dramatic narrowing in the SNP's lead in early October was caused by the sample being temporarily dominated by a Panelbase poll with very dubious methodology (it was weighted by 2010 vote recall, which is known to be unreliable).  Then an Ipsos-Mori poll (with no weighting by recalled vote at all) came along and swung things to the opposite extreme.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about the inadequacy of the Smith recommendations - you can read it HERE.

First post-Smith telephone poll shows SNP remain firmly on course to become the third-largest party in the new House of Commons

The first telephone poll to have been conducted since the Smith recommendations were announced has been published by Ashcroft.  Once again, it shows the SNP within a hair's breadth of both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens across the whole of Britain.

Britain-wide voting intentions (Ashcroft) :

Labour 32% (n/c)
Conservatives 30% (+3)
UKIP 16% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)
Greens 6% (-1)
SNP 5% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)

But of course those figures are before the "magic" of the first-past-the-post voting system kicks in.  In terms of seats, this poll points without a shadow of doubt to the SNP becoming the third-largest party in the House of Commons, way ahead of the Liberal Democrats in fourth.  It's not clear whether UKIP would even make it into fifth place, because they'd be in a battle with the DUP, who can be expected to remain in the same ball-park as their current tally of eight seats.  And in spite of the Green surge (which is now a well-established phenomenon), it's impossible to know how the lower placings would work out either.  Plaid Cymru might win anything between two and five seats, the SDLP might win anything between one and three, and the Greens might win anything between zero and four. Sinn Féin should win at least four, but of course they don't take up their seats.

For a man who has such love in his heart for Belize, Mr Ashcroft (he's not Jesus so I won't call him "Lord") has a strangely London-centric perspective.  Or at least he must do, because I can't think of any other reason why someone whose polls have consistently shown that the SNP are on course for third place would devise a question last week which asked respondents whether they expect a Labour majority government, a Conservative majority government, a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, or a Tory-Lib Dem coalition - or whether they don't know.  At the very least, it ought to be blindingly obvious that a Labour-SNP deal (either a coalition or a confidence-and-supply arrangement) is now much more probable than a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, so how Ashcroft felt he could justify excluding that from the list of options is anyone's guess.

However, this week he's come up with a variation on the question, and with a much more exhaustive list of options.  Rather than being asked what they expect to happen, respondents were invited to say whether they would be happy or unhappy if each of a number of parties were to become a coalition partner at Westminster.  To be blunt, the results reveal the sick, black heart of public opinion south of the border, with a borderline far-right party (UKIP) being clearly preferred to two mainstream centre-left parties (the SNP and the SDLP).

Happy or unhappy to see this party in coalition government?  (Respondents across Britain)


Happy 40%
Unhappy 55%


Happy 32%
Unhappy 60%


Happy 29%
Unhappy 60%

The only alibi I can see for this disgraceful finding is that voters in England might be ignoring the SNP's progressive policies and worrying about constitutional instability instead (not that they'd get that from UKIP, of course!).  Well, whatever the explanation is, the message from Scotland must surely be "tough luck".  It's all very well waxing lyrical about how "loved" Scotland is as a partner in the United Kingdom, but that means taking us as we actually are - and at the moment we look very much like a country that votes SNP in sufficient numbers to potentially give that party a share of power in London.

*  *  *

Peter Kellner has penned an article which seeks to end our mystical faith in the concept of Uniform National Swing.  It's caused quite a stir, but what I found most interesting was this line -

"However, we now know that the SNP is currently thrashing Labour in Scotland."

Regular readers will remember from the independence referendum campaign just how conceited YouGov were in pretending that only their own polls had any merit.  (For example, Laurence Janta-Lipinski notoriously claimed that Yes needed a "game-changer" at a time when several pollsters were already showing a very close race.)  So Kellner's absolute certainty about the state of play in Scotland at the moment seems a bit odd if he's only relying on the one full-scale Scottish poll YouGov have conducted over recent weeks.  I'm wondering if this might be an indication that they've privately analysed their own Scottish sampling from GB-wide polls, and have concluded that the big SNP lead is an established pattern.

*  *  *


We can now more or less exclude any possibility that the publication of Smith had any immediate detrimental effect on the SNP's level of support, because all four Scottish subsamples from polls conducted on Thursday or later have put the SNP ahead, and three of them have done so by a handsome margin.  Today's update of the Poll of Polls is based on seven subsamples - four from YouGov, two from Populus and one from Ashcroft.  There should also be a ComRes poll in there, but as far as I can see the datasets haven't been published yet.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 41.0% (+2.4)
Labour 27.1% (-0.5)
Conservatives 16.6% (-3.0)
Liberal Democrats 7.0% (+1.8)
UKIP 3.9% (+0.3)
Greens 2.9% (-1.5)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Do UKIP's threats to scupper the Smith package with an "Axis of EVEL" have the slightest credibility?

UKIP's David Coburn, aka "the Pride of Scotland", renowned for brilliant insights such as his claim a few months back that the No-supporting Herald is "an SNP paper", has now decreed that the Smith package is already "dead" because UKIP will block it if they hold the balance of power.  This does of course imply that UKIP are best-placed to hold the balance of power in the event of a hung parliament, as opposed to the reality of current seat projections which show them limping to a distant fifth place in the next House of Commons - behind both the SNP (who are projected to be in third place) and the Liberal Democrats (who are projected to be in fourth place).

But projections are only projections, and the relative fortunes of the parties could still change in the five months between now and the general election.  So what are the real chances of Coburn being able to thwart our dreams (ahem) of full Smith implementation?  To be fair, there have been a couple of individual polls in recent weeks putting UKIP well into the 20s, which would be enough to secure them more than 100 seats.  If that turned out to be the result, all bets would be off - UKIP would have a very real chance of being able to dictate government policy to a significant degree.  But the polls that pointed to that outcome look like outliers, so to get there Farage would probably have to gain a few extra percentage points of support, perhaps courtesy of his potential inclusion in the TV debates.  It's just about plausible that he could pull that off, but the nature of first-past-the-post elections means that it's almost all-or-nothing for him - if he fails to get UKIP well into the 20s, they're not only likely to fall short of 100 seats, but will probably have no more than 12.

It's not impossible to have a big say over government policy with only 10 or 12 seats, but the window of opportunity is extremely narrow.  The only way it could happen would be if the Tories are the largest single party, short of an overall majority, but only just short.  There's no way that UKIP can engineer that outcome - they'll be relying on pure luck.  And even if it does happen, it's quite likely that the Tories' first port of call would be the Liberal Democrats, and would only turn to UKIP as a last resort if negotiations with the Lib Dems fail.

So when you take all of the above factors together, I'd say that Coburn's chances of being able to carry out his threat are probably 10% at best.  Whether that's a good or a bad thing for the Scottish national movement is obviously open to debate.  After all, it's hard to think of anything more likely to produce a decisive surge in favour of independence than a Tory/UKIP "Axis of EVEL" denying Scotland what had been firmly promised only a few months earlier.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Early straw in the wind suggests SNP's support has remained rock solid in the wake of the Smith report

It's still very early days, but it looks possible that the Labour wind-up merchant who graced us with his presence yesterday is going to be bitterly disappointed - the first test of public opinion to have been entirely conducted after the contents of the Smith report became known suggests that the SNP vote remains rock solid.  The Scottish subsample from today's YouGov poll (conducted on Thursday and Friday) has the SNP on 44% and Labour on 31% - very much in line with the results we've been seeing for weeks now.  As noted yesterday, the two earlier polls with fieldwork that straddled the Smith announcement also showed an entirely familiar picture.

Today's poll once again shows the SNP and Plaid Cymru on a combined vote of 5% across Great Britain - just 2% behind the Liberal Democrats, and 1% behind the Greens.

It could well be that the unionist parties were always barking up the wrong tree in thinking that Smith was going to lead to the Scottish public reverting to their former status as Labour-voting sheep.  There's at least an arguable case that any focus on the constitution is beneficial to the SNP - unless of course it involves Labour stunning us by going further than we ever thought possible, which simply hasn't happened in this case.

*  *  *

Never one to knowingly shy away from biting the hand that feeds, Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!" Tomkins has followed up his stint as a Tory representative on the Smith Commission by sending this extraordinarily arrogant and patronising message to English Tory MPs -

"What we need is a ­sensible approach and for some of the English Tory backbenchers to wake up and stop complaining. I don’t think the Union could withstand a surge in English nationalism."

Do you get the impression that he's telling them to "shut up and eat their cereal"? That line worked a treat north of the border, and I have a feeling it might have an identical effect in the Tory shires. Let's hope Tomkins is right about the end destination of the English nationalism he's helping to whip up with his characteristically tone deaf approach.

*  *  *

The latest application of the unionist black arts seems to consist of Labour spin doctors furiously trying to convince journalists that the SNP, for some unspecified reason, acted counter to their whole raison d'être by seeking to water down the Smith recommendations.  We're expected to believe that the SNP actively opposed the minor welfare powers that Labour heroically secured for Scotland, and that John Swinney privately let it be known that he didn't want the power over abortion law that Maggie Chapman and Linda Fabiani were pushing for.  That, of course, would make Swinney less keen on Scottish self-government than the Tories or the Lib Dems, both of whom were perfectly willing to transfer control over abortion law without the "further consideration" that is now required.

I'll be blunt with you - I'm not convinced.  Labour seem to have overlooked Rule 1 of concocting a Big Lie - it only works if people don't start laughing at it within the first two seconds.