Monday, December 28, 2015

VOTE : What is your favourite type of dictatorship?

Some more festive fun for you, ie. I'm feeling too lazy to do a proper post.  If Britain had to abandon its democracy tomorrow (OK, semi-democracy, semi-aristocracy), what system should we replace it with?  The options are...

1) Marxist-Leninist one-party state
2) Fascist one-party state
3) Dominant-party state
4) Authoritarian presidential republic 
5) Jackie Baillie
6) Theocratic state
7) Absolute monarchy
8) Military rule
9) Anarchy

You can find the voting form at the top of the sidebar (desktop version of the site only).  Voting for multiple options is enabled, in case anyone is feeling particularly indecisive.  But for heaven's sake don't abstain because you don't like any of the options - we can't let fascism win by default, can we?  Hilary Benn will be having a stern word with you, and quite possibly dropping a bomb on your mother-in-law's cottage.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Seven things that will happen if Britain votes to leave the EU in 2016

1) The cause of a united Ireland will be back with a vengeance.  We've become used to polls showing that a large chunk of the nominally 'nationalist' community in Northern Ireland are content to remain in the UK for the time being.  That may change rapidly if the Irish border becomes the frontier of the EU.

2) The centre of gravity in what remains of the EU will shift a little to the left.  That's simply a question of basic arithmetic - the bulk of British members of the European Parliament are right-wing (more UKIP than Tory), and Britain casts a right-wing vote in the Council of Ministers, which is effectively the second chamber of the EU legislature.  (It used to be said that even New Labour was the most right-wing government in the EU, although admittedly that was before the admission of the former Eastern Bloc states.) Our representative on the European Commission is also a Tory.

3) Much of Labour will become totally disorientated, because a belief in Britain's European destiny is part of their DNA.  Their instincts will be screaming at them to campaign to get back into the EU as soon as possible, but they won't want to be seen to overturn the referendum result straight away.  They may settle on a compromise position of going all out to keep Britain in the European Economic Area, on the same basis as Norway and Iceland.  That would at least make it easier to return to the EU in future decades.

4) David Cameron will resign as Prime Minister.  I was never entirely convinced by the claim of John "the Gardener" McTernan that Cameron's position would have been untenable if there had been a Yes in the indyref - but this vote is one of his own choosing.

5) The Tory party will not split.  Ironically, there's much more likely to be a schism if Remain wins by a narrow margin.  Most Tories who vote to Remain will be easily reconciled to a Leave outcome, because they're mild Eurosceptics anyway.  The handful of genuine pro-Europeans in the party will probably feel that Cameron did his level best.

6) The powers of the Scottish Parliament will effectively increase.  There may be a Sewel Convention preventing Westminster legislating on devolved matters, but that doesn't apply to the EU - and indeed EU law always has primacy.  The Scottish Government's freedom to act on devolved matters will therefore be much less constrained if Britain is outside the EU.

7)  There will be a second independence referendum in Scotland.  I make no prediction about the outcome of that referendum, and clearly there are one or two people in the SNP (such as Kevin Pringle) who think it will be harder to make the case for independence if Britain has decided to withdraw from Europe.  But as long as Scotland votes to Remain and finds itself outside the EU against its will, the case for a referendum will be unanswerable, because we were endlessly told last year that a No vote was a vote to stay in the EU.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Should the SNP support Cameron's plans to weaken the powers of the Lords?

Here's an interesting discussion point, given that I know how most of you feel about the House of Lords.  At some point next year, the Commons will probably be invited to vote on whether to abolish the power of the Lords to block secondary legislation.  If so, we'll enter into Alice Through the Looking Glass territory, because we'll have the Tories posing as modern-day Asquiths and Lloyd-Georges and trying to transfer power from unelected peers to the elected chamber, while the constitutional 'reformers' in the Corbyn-led Labour party and the Liberal Democrats will be standing up for the ancient rights of the Barons and the Bishops.  To be fair, there's a pragmatic case to be made that almost any check on the power of a government "elected" on just 37% of the vote has to be better than nothing.

But for the SNP, there isn't such a straightforward conflict between principle and pragmatism.  Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, they have no stake at all in the Lords (through their own choice), so it's arguably in their interests to see the Lords stripped of more powers, and for the focal point of opposition to the government to be in a chamber where the SNP are the third-largest party and hold almost a tenth of the seats.

The decision they make could be crucial, because there is a smattering of right-wing libertarians on the Tory backbenches who will be instinctively mistrustful of an executive that is trying to make itself too powerful.  If the SNP and the DUP join with Labour and the Lib Dems to vote the plans down, it would only take a handful of Tory rebels for the government to be defeated.  Even without the DUP, the Tory rebellion wouldn't have to be huge.

So what do you think the SNP should do?  Should the priority be to chip away at the powers of the Lords, even if in the short term that further empowers the Tory government?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

YouGov poll suggests SNP voters oppose the bombing of Syria by an overwhelming margin

Thanks to my namesake James on the previous thread for drawing my attention to the fact that a full-scale Scottish YouGov poll seems to be on its way.  It was conducted between Thursday and yesterday, and Joe Twyman has already revealed the results of a supplementary question in order to make a rather dubious point.  He notes that 97% of Scottish MPs voted against the bombing of Syria, but that Scottish voters are "much more divided" on the issue, including "even SNP voters".  In reality, the poll shows that SNP voters oppose the bombing by an overwhelming margin of 56% to 31%.  If the London establishment can call a 55% to 45% margin "decisive" when it suits them, I'm not sure they're going to get away with implying that 56% to 31% is a relatively even split.

Overall, 44% of Scottish voters support the bombing, and 41% are opposed.  That's a statistical tie, meaning that the standard 3% margin of error makes it impossible to know for sure whether most people are in favour or not.  It does, however, suggest that we probably weren't being led astray by the two YouGov subsamples at the time of the Commons vote, both of which reported that public opinion in Scotland was finely balanced.

Incidentally, there's clear opposition to putting British and American ground forces into Syria or Iraq - and that opposition is strongest in respect of Iraq, even though the conflict in Syria is more complex.  It's probably safe to say that there's now something of a stigma attached to any form of military action in Iraq.

We'll have to wait and see whether Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers from YouGov appear overnight.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Despair for Dugdale as SNP soar to 34% lead on the Holyrood list in tumultuous TNS poll

It's been a long time since we've had a full-scale Scottish Parliament poll.  The most recent one was the Ipsos-Mori phone poll which completed its fieldwork in mid-November, and showed a slight drop in the SNP lead.  Since then, one or two of our unionist friends (naming no names, but Aldo) have got carried away with the odd glimmer of hope in subsamples and a local council by-election in Blantyre (I know, I know), and convinced themselves that there are finally signs that Labour are closing the gap.  I fear that today's new TNS poll is going to be something of a hammerblow for them. 

Constituency ballot :

SNP 58% (n/c)
Labour 21% (-3)
Conservatives 12% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 4% (n/c)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 54% (+2)
Labour 20% (-5)
Conservatives 12% (+1)
Greens 9% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 4% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-1)

A poll from TNS isn't the ideal way of breaking a long drought, because the firm's face-to-face fieldwork takes place over a period of weeks, and is always somewhat out-of-date by the time we see the numbers.  So there's still a theoretical possibility that there's been a very recent change in fortunes that this poll was unable to detect.  However, many of the interviews took place after the closure of the Forth Road Bridge (the latest in a long line of supposed turning-points for the unionist parties), and there's no sign of that having had any negative effect on the SNP's standing.  The Natalie McGarry controversy is also partly factored in.

As you may recall, the SNP scored 60% or higher on the constituency ballot in the first three monthly TNS polls after the general election.  They've been consistently below 60% since the late summer, so it looks like there was some genuine slippage after the post-May hoo-ha died down a little.  But it seems that the position has stabilised in recent months - the further drop to 56% in September now looks very much like a blip caused by normal sampling variation.  Weirdly, the SNP's 54% on the list ballot is a joint post-election high - it equals what they had when they were on 62% in the constituencies, and betters what they had when they were on 60% in the constituencies.  I can't think of any obvious explanation for that, unless SNP supporters are simply coming to the view that they don't want to split their two votes.  But, even now, almost half of the Greens' 9% support on the list is coming from people who plan to vote SNP on the constituency ballot.

There's no doubt that this poll will give the Greens a lot of heart after a string of disappointing findings for them (only Survation have offered them any comfort in recent months).  However, until their apparent bounce-back is confirmed by other polls, there remains the possibility that it's just an extreme example of margin-of-error noise.  And I'd certainly advise people to pay only limited heed to the excitement on Twitter about the Greens' 24% share of the list vote in Lothian, which is based on a regional subsample of just 85 people.

The biggest story of this poll is that Labour's mini-recovery since the spring seems to have been completely wiped out.  They were consistently on 23-25% of the list vote in the last three TNS polls, which was a few points higher than their showing in the early post-election polls.  But all of a sudden, they seem to be practically back to square one -  20% is just 1% higher than what they had in the May TNS poll.  Again, though, that may be a sampling blip - we'll just have to wait and see.

No such comfort for the Tories, who find themselves languishing on a dismal 12% of the constituency vote for a fifth consecutive month - that's 2-3% lower than they managed in the first two post-election TNS polls.  The pollsters are divided on whether or not the Tories are in a competitive race for second place, but if TNS are even vaguely close to being right, a few right-wing commentators are going to have egg on their faces after their recent musings about how their favourite party must be in line for a long-overdue breakthrough because Ruth Davidson is just so funny, so ballsy, and...ooooh, so smashing!

Irritatingly, TNS are still offering their respondents the SSP as an option, rather than RISE.  However, given that the SSP have once again scored a big fat zero on the list (or strictly speaking 0.2%), and given that RISE enjoy weaker brand awareness than the SSP, there is no particular reason to suspect that RISE would have registered any support in this poll.

There's more grim news for those who adhere to the Kenny Farquharson/Fraser Nelson worldview that Scottish public opinion is near-enough identical to English public opinion (once you strip away the inconvenient fact that the two countries keep voting for different parties).  One of the supplementary questions in the poll is about Britain's nuclear weapons, and the percentage of respondents who say that Trident should not be renewed significantly exceeds the percentage who say it should be.  (29% support renewal, 38% don't).  That's the opposite of what we know to be true about English public opinion on Trident, and it's a finding that should be taken very seriously, because this is not an online poll with a sample that is potentially skewed by having too many politically aware people - it's a 'real world' poll with a sample found by knocking on people's doors.

We can, citizens

If the Portuguese election result a couple of months ago was a touch complicated, tonight's Spanish election result is truly epic.  Once again, we have the conservatives emerging as the largest single party, but without any real prospect of forming a stable government in the absence of a deal with the socialists.  Unlike Portugal, however, this state of affairs has come about in spite of the combined centre-right forces having the slight upper hand in the parliamentary arithmetic.  If the preliminary results are correct, this is how it works out...

Right and centre-right : 178 seats
Left and centre-left : 172 seats

The reason why the centre-right majority is meaningless is that eight of those 178 seats will be held by a "separatist" Catalan party, which for obvious reasons is not about to reach an accommodation with the incumbent Madrid government.  So a more realistic way of looking at the result is this -

Right and centre-right : 163 seats
Left and centre-left : 172 seats
Catalan centre-right nationalists : 8 seats
Basque and Canarian centre-right nationalists/regionalists : 7 seats

I've no idea what attitude the Basque and Canarian centre-right take towards Mariano Rajoy, but even if you hypothetically assign those seven seats to the combined centre-right forces, the left still can't (quite) be outvoted.  So, on the face of it, it seems almost inevitable that the socialists will be involved in the next government - either as the junior partner in a grand coalition, or as the senior partner in a left-wing coalition involving Podemos and others.  The only possible alternative is that the current government might limp on for a few months on a caretaker basis until a new election can be held, but that would probably only happen if there is genuine deadlock in the negotiations.  Unfortunately, deadlock isn't inconceivable, because the socialists will need to cobble together an absolute majority (ie. 176 seats) to override any vetoes from the Senate, which remains firmly in the hands of the conservatives. 

Whatever arrangement is reached, it's already clear that this election won't in itself resolve the Catalan dispute, because the anti-"separatist" centre-right have the blocking minority they need to prevent any constitutional changes.  (The current constitution outrageously precludes even the theoretical possibility of Basque or Catalan independence.)

All the same, those of us with radical left sympathies should certainly keep our fingers crossed for a socialist-led coalition, because if that happens, there'll never have been a time when the radical left have held such influence within the European Union.  We'd have Podemos as junior coalition partners in Spain, Syriza as senior coalition partners in Greece, and a  Portuguese government that owes its position to a formal deal with the communists and the Left Bloc.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Just forget about Scotland", part 2

I've been having a listen to the Polling Matters round-up of 2015, in which Rob Vance has once again been doing his "just forget about Scotland" routine.  He doesn't use those exact words this time, but the basic sentiment hasn't changed at all from his last offering on the subject a few months ago.  It's very telling - and rather amusing - that he starts out by saying that Labour can't take power without putting together a majority in the "British parliament".  That of course is absolutely right, but he actually means the opposite, ie. that Labour need an English rather than a British majority, and therefore that the Scottish component of the British parliament can be largely ignored.  He doesn't even properly correct himself after 'mis-speaking', which tends to confirm my theory that certain London commentators are literally incapable of differentiating between an English and a British parliament, between English and British public opinion, between an English and a British party system, etc, etc.  To them, it's inconceivable that Scotland could ever matter in a British general election, because Britain is England.

The problem for Vance is that arithmetical laws and basic constitutional principles don't really yield to what is essentially a chauvinistic cultural conceit.  You kind of sense that the rational part of his brain knows this, which explains why he feels he has to hang his assumptions on the vague notion that English Votes for English Laws will progress in such a way as to render SNP MPs practically irrelevant in the formation of a British government.  He adds almost as an afterthought that he's not sure of how that will happen.  But here's the thing - if he can't at least make one or two realistic suggestions of how it's even possible for Scottish voters to be disenfranchised to quite such an extreme extent, what he's saying is effectively gibberish.  The moment that Scottish MPs are barred from voting on motions of confidence (and thus helping to determine who forms the government) is the moment Scotland has ceased to be part of the United Kingdom.  We'd essentially have the same status as Gibraltar or Bermuda or any other dependent territory that lacks representation in the UK parliament.  That just isn't going to happen.

A fairer point to make is that a more radical form of English Votes for English Laws could leave a Labour-led government that has a British but not an English majority in the position of being 'in office but not in power', ie. without the ability to drive through its programme on English health, education and possibly even taxation.  But the bottom line is that it would still be in office, which is not nothing.  And in any case, there is no sign so far of such a radical version of EVEL emerging - all we have to date is a very casual change in the House of Commons' Standing Orders, which an incoming Labour government could easily change back in the space of a single day.

What this is really about is that Vance finds it emotionally impossible to accept that Labour will either have to defeat the SNP in Scotland to take power at Westminster, or else do a deal with the SNP.  But barring an implausibly enormous pro-Labour swing in England, that's exactly the position.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The state of play in the EU referendum remains as clear as mud

I've been meaning to update the EU referendum Poll of Polls for quite some time, but because I had settled on a method that gives equal weight to telephone and online data collection, it wasn't possible to do it in the absence of any recent telephone polls. But it seems that phone polls are like the proverbial London buses - you wait months for one, and then two come along at the same time.


Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?


Remain 50.1% (+1.4)
Leave 37.6% (+0.4)


Remain 43.1% (-0.7)
Leave 41.7% (+3.4)


Remain 57.0% (+3.5)
Leave 33.5% (-2.5)

(All polls conducted at least partly within the last month are taken into account. The online average is based on nine polls - four from ICM, two from Survation, one from ORB, one from BMG and one from YouGov. The telephone average is based on one poll from ComRes and one from Ipsos-Mori.)

As you can see, the trend is far from clear.  If only online polls existed, we'd probably be halfway towards convincing ourselves that Leave have made significant progress in recent weeks and have practically drawn level.  But the two new telephone polls suggest public opinion is moving in completely the opposite direction, so much so that in the 50/50 average, the online trend is more than cancelled out, and the Remain lead has slightly increased.

I'm fairly confident that the method I'm using is the best one available, because almost any alternative you can think of would give too much weight to online polls, which are conducted far more frequently.  That might not be such an issue if the gulf between the results produced by the two types of poll was not quite so huge and consistent, but it is.  However, the problem with what I'm doing is that each telephone poll is given a disproportionate amount of weight, and so if there's any specific problem with an individual poll, it becomes greatly magnified.  Unfortunately, I'm a bit sceptical about the approach Ipsos-Mori are using for their phone polls, because they ask about referendum voting intention in two different ways, and they use the actual referendum question second, not first.  Logically, I have to use the results from the real question, but I can't help wondering if the first set of results are more meaningful.  If we used those instead, the average Remain lead in telephone polls would be significantly lower, at 54.5% to 35.5%, and the 50/50 average would be Remain 48.8%, Leave 38.6%.  If that's a better reflection of reality, it could be that Leave have indeed made some modest progress of late.

UPDATE :  I see from John Curtice's analysis that I've misunderstood Ipsos-Mori's approach slightly - they don't ask respondents the question two different ways, but instead split the sample in two and ask each half of the sample one of the two versions of the question.  That makes the numbers for the actual referendum question much less problematical, but quite what the value of the exercise is escapes me.  OK, it helps Ipsos-Mori make a comparison with the question they've been asking for years, but surely that consideration is more than outweighed by the detrimental effect of cutting the sample size in half.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Genuine question for Dan Hodges : if Jeremy Corbyn has already killed the Labour party four times, how can it possibly die again?

Merciful Dan Hodges has at last given Jeremy Corbyn some respite.  Just for once, it's Hodges' own fellow travellers in the PLP who are responsible for "killing" the Labour party, because (you've guessed it) they're not doing enough to get rid of Corbyn.  However, regular readers of Hodges' column may be a tad puzzled as to exactly how, in practical terms, it's even possible for these "spineless" parliamentarians to be killing the Labour party - an organisation which has apparently already been put to death by Corbyn on no fewer than four separate occasions since August.

Dan Hodges, 31st August : "Labour has ceased to be a real political party...we’ve now reached the point where it isn’t really possible to call Labour a political party at all."

Dan Hodges, 12th September : "The day the Labour party died. The Labour Party as we know it – and as some people once loved it – died today. Each and every one of us will be touched by its passing."

Dan Hodges, 5th October : "The Labour movement is dead."

Dan Hodges, 25th November : "The Labour party has ceased to exist."

Hmmm. I think we can only conclude that a key part of the cruel Corbyn/McDonnell masterplan is to keep bringing the Labour party back to life every few weeks, just so they can kill it all over again. Will this non-singing, non-bowing, Albanian-quoting, party-going, peace-loving Marxist madness never stop?

* * *

Meanwhile, Hodges' even more unhinged Blairite brother John "the Gardener" McTernan has excelled himself with possibly the most hypocritical paragraph that has ever been written in the history of the English language. Indeed, if McTernan's name hadn't been at the top of the article, I might have assumed it could only have been written by the Professor of Hypocrisy at Hypocrite University.

"This strategy of ridiculousness – so ridiculous, to adopt the immortal words of Blackadder, it could only be thought up by the Professor of Ridiculousness at Ridiculous University – has as its current emblem the proposal to make Ken Livingstone a peer of the realm. Pause for a minute to savour the delicious irony – and total stupidity – of that concept. The "new politics" is about making appointments, rather than electing parliamentarians and then making them Shadow Cabinet members? New precisely when? The mid-eighteenth century?"

Tell me, John - in which parallel universe did the Labour Prime Ministers you worked for appoint only elected politicians to the government? Is it a figment of my imagination that, for example, Gordon Brown appointed the ultra-right-wing Digby Jones of the CBI (who wasn't even a member of the Labour party, let alone the House of Commons) as Trade Minister, and then immediately made him a Baron so he could continue in the job?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Corsica follows in the footsteps of Scotland and Catalonia by electing a nationalist administration

Understandably, the mainstream media in the UK have been most interested in the French regional elections because of the failure of the National Front to make a really telling breakthrough and seize control of at least one council.  But we shouldn't lose sight of the historic result in Corsica, which represents the biggest challenge for decades to the French state's Neanderthal notions of absolute sovereignty.  Of the large European states, France is the most backward in that respect, even more so than Spain, which at least allows nations like Catalonia a very substantial measure of autonomy.

Corsican Assembly second round election result (vote shares, changes are from second round in 2010) :

For Corsica 35.3% (-0.4)
French Centre-left 28.5% (-8.1)
French Centre-right 27.1% (-0.6)
National Front 9.1% (n/a)

Seats :

For Corsica 24 (+9)
French Centre-left 12 (-12)
French Centre-right 11 (-1)
National Front 4 (+4)

It may seem slightly bizarre that the nationalists have achieved victory in spite of their vote edging down slightly, but the explanation is that the National Front didn't make the second round last time, so the presence of the far-right has had an impact on all of the other three parties/alliances - but the nationalists less than the others.  In any case, the nationalist vote was split last time between two parties in direct competition with each other.

The constituent parties of the alliance are the Party of the Corsican Nation, which is actually anti-independence but in favour of significantly increased autonomy, and the pro-independence Corsica Libera.  It would be interesting to know whether the Party of the Corsican Nation have come under fire for deciding that the most natural alliance is with other civic nationalists, and not with other 'unionists'.  It certainly makes perfect sense that they've taken that view, because as long as Corsica Libera have a pragmatic understanding that autonomy within France is the necessary first step towards their goal, the two parties' immediate constitutional priorities coincide entirely.

As you can see, the alliance has fallen just short of an absolute majority (they have 24 seats, and the combined opposition have 27), but there doesn't seem to be much doubt that they will form the new administration.  What this result reminds me of most is the SNP's minority victory in 2007, when unionist parties in combination retained an overwhelming majority of the popular vote.  The big question now is whether the Corsican nationalists will be able to use their limited power as a springboard to greater things, as the SNP did so successfully.

UPDATE : The UK media's early reporting of the results in mainland France was disappointingly ill-informed.  For example, the presenter on the BBC news channel wrongly told viewers that the National Front's vote had "collapsed".  In reality, the far-right party achieved its highest ever raw popular vote in any election, and seemed in terms of vote share to be fractionally up on the 27.7% achieved in the first round.  The fact that it didn't win outright in any region can be entirely explained by massive tactical voting, and in a few cases by the complete withdrawal of the centre-left from the contest.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ten things that Scotland should be grateful to Donald Trump for

America's leading Hitler impersonator Donald Trump reckons that Scotland should stop criticising him for Islamophobia, and should instead get on with being grateful to him for all he's done for us.  And, you know, he's got a point.  Here are the top ten ways in which he improved our country...

1.  "Stabilised the doons."  (Translation : Destroyed one of Scotland's last great wildernesses - the most extensive and scientifically important area of shifting sands in the UK.)

2.  Made the destruction worthwhile by delivering only a tiny fraction of the 6000 jobs he promised.

3.  Made the destruction even more worthwhile by delivering, as promised, the "greatest golf course in the world".  (Actually, the most authoritative list rates it as only the 65th best golf course in the world, but what's 64 places between friends?)

4.  Entertained the nation with repeated spectacular failures to prevent an offshore wind farm "spoiling the view" from the 65th greatest golf course in the world.

5.  Gave us such an easy answer whenever anyone says that SNP supporters are just automatons who mindlessly agree with everything the leadership does.  "Well, we didn't agree with them letting Trump stabilise the doons."

6.  Helped Martin Ford see the light about the Liberal Democrats.

7.  Allowed us to spend so much quality time with the delightful George Sorial, and thereby made us realise that Alastair Campbell is not (quite) the most odious spin doctor of all-time.

8.  Changed the name of Turnberry golf course, which has hosted four Open championships since 1977, to "Trump Turnberry".  Perhaps people will start taking it seriously now.

9.  Gave us a timely reminder of our recent political history, ie. that Jack McConnell was First Minister for five-and-a-half years.  (How did we forget that?)

10.  Transformed Katie Hopkins overnight into a respected columnist.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Corbyn's top priority for internal reform should be changing the nominations system for Labour leadership elections

Some of Stephen Bush's political predictions this year have proved uncannily accurate (admittedly he didn't call the general election correctly but was much closer than most), so we should probably take heed of his claim that Corbynistas are increasingly confident of being able to remain in control of the Labour party for the next decade, and that anti-Corbynistas are increasingly despondent about their chances of averting that fate.  If that's true, the first thought that occurs to me is that it makes an SDP-style split highly likely at some point between now and 2020.  The only reason that Blairites are still rubbishing the idea of a breakaway party is that they're still trying desperately to convince themselves that Corbyn is just a passing nightmare.  To use a Daisley-esque analogy, it's a bit like the Arab reaction immediately after the Six Day War - it's initially hard to believe that something that happened so quickly can possibly have such lasting consequences.  But it only took Mrs Thatcher a couple of weeks to seize control of the Conservative party from Edward Heath, and nothing was ever the same again.  The Tory "wets" eventually accepted that harsh reality, and if the Labour right start to do the same now, it's hard to see how they will reach any other logical conclusion than that their future lies in a different party.  It might take a few years to emotionally reconcile themselves to that logic, however.

The second thought that occurs to me is that Bush's belief that Corbynism is safe depends entirely on Corbyn himself not voluntarily standing down.  He'll be almost 71 by the time of the next general election, so it's hardly inconceivable that a health or stamina issue might crop up.  If he does decide to step aside for any reason, it's far from certain that whoever he anoints as his preferred successor will even get onto the ballot paper in the subsequent leadership election, because he or she would require nominations from 15% of Labour MPs, who won't feel under the same obligation to 'play fair' that they might do if it was a question of renominating Corbyn himself.  So I would have thought the left's most urgent internal reform priority should be to give themselves an insurance policy by changing the nomination system.  Perhaps the most elegant solution would be to allow nominations from constituency parties to be taken into account.

*  *  *

You might be interested in Alasdair Soussi's article about the Scotland Bill on the Al Jazeera website, which includes quotes from myself, James Mitchell, Paul Cairney, and (brace yourselves) Duncan Hothersall.  You can read it HERE.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

SNP secure 8% swing in bilious Blantyre by-election brawl

Just for once, we have an STV by-election in which the party 'defending' the seat actually won the popular vote in the ward last time around. (So no need for any 'confusion' over at Liberal Democrat Voice or Stormfront Lite.)  Labour have clung on in Blantyre, but as you'd expect their 23% lead over the SNP from 2012 has been slashed.  It's interesting to see that Labour people on Twitter think that this result is "great", "AMAZING", "fantastic", "one hell of a hold", etc, etc - just how low are their expectations these days?

Blantyre by-election result (10th December) :

Labour 47.2% (-7.1)
SNP 39.6% (+9.0)
Conservatives 4.5% (+0.6)
SSP 3.9% (n/a)
Liberal Democrats 2.9% (+2.2)
UKIP 1.9% (n/a)

The SNP of course had a 1% nationwide lead in the 2012 local elections, so an 8% swing in a local by-election is considerably better than an 8% swing at the general election in May would have been.  This is the rough equivalent of a 19% or 20% swing at the general election - which admittedly is lower than the SNP actually achieved in most former Labour heartlands, but is still extremely impressive.

Even though Labour weren't far short of 50% on first preferences, the full five counts were required for their candidate Mo Razzaq to reach the quota.  That means we can see the whole picture of how the smaller parties' votes transferred, and not for the first time Labour have suffered the embarrassment of proving rather popular with Tories.  53 Conservative votes transferred to Labour on the final count, and just 13 to the SNP (107 were non-transferable).  Predictably, SSP votes broke more for the SNP, although not as overwhelmingly as you might think - 55 went to the SNP, 32 to Labour, and an eccentric 1 to the Tories!  UKIP transfers were fairly evenly spread, which will surely be something of a disappointment for the Tories, who would have hoped to capture the lion's share.

Doubtless the #LibDemFightback fantasists will be beside themselves with excitement at quadrupling their vote share and reaching the dizzying heights of 2.9%, but in all likelihood that can be explained by the lack of competition from independent candidates this time (there were two in 2012).  And there's certainly nothing very special about the Tory performance - we normally assume they benefit from differential turnout in local by-elections, so an increase of less than 1% is par for them, at best.

*  *  *

Alastair Meeks (the artist formerly known as Antifrank) claimed on SL this morning that most of the divergences that the Scottish Government has made from UK government policy over the years have been 'negative' rather than 'positive', and he offered the decision not to introduce tuition fees as an example.  That of course isn't correct - the Labour government at Westminster had already introduced tuition fees on a Britain-wide basis by the time devolution started in July 1999.  The Lib-Lab Scottish Executive had to make a 'positive' decision to replace them with the graduate endowment (with the Lib Dems insulting the intelligence of a generation by insisting that the endowment wasn't a back-end tuition fee, because it "didn't pay for tuition").  The SNP government later made another 'positive' decision to scrap payments altogether.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How to tell if you're a Dalek

I'll keep this very brief because I'm in the middle of a technological apocalypse.  I suppose I always had a vague instinctive understanding that tomato sauce and computer keyboards don't really mix, but now I have the irrefutable proof.

I just wanted to make a passing comment on the notorious Loki article at Bella -

"Yes, you, the morally certain, reactionary branch of the dead Yes campaign...If Scotland is a cheap haircut you are its puritanical fringe...You intend to vote SNP twice next year because you love democracy.  You call the First Minister Nicola.  You think Braveheart is a documentary.  You have The National delivered directly to your ego and you live in a world where the next referendum is always around the corner – should the right crisis occur."

I'll have to plead guilty to at least two of those charges, although oddly enough calling the First Minister Nicola isn't one of them.  I may have done it once or twice, but in general I don't because it just feels wrong somehow.  (Although I do sometimes refer to Kezia Dugdale as "Kezia", so I'm not quite sure what the difference is.)

So, yes, I'm one of the people Loki is referring to, and did you notice how blatant his implication is that simply voting SNP on both ballots is enough to make us fanatics?  I'm not sure that actually understanding how the electoral system works, and realising that the list ballot is not a second preference vote, is something that should trouble our consciences or cause tortured soul-searching in front of the mirror at the dead of night.

You, of course, may reach a different conclusion, but my own view is that as long as you don't think Braveheart is a documentary, you're probably not a Dalek.

Kevin Williamson launched into a partial defence of Loki by claiming it is "FACT" that Nicola Sturgeon will not be proposing a second referendum in the SNP manifesto.  That's a "FACT" of the non-fact variety, because I'm aware of no evidence that there won't - at the very least - be wording in the manifesto that leaves open the possibility of a referendum in the event of Brexit.  Indeed, it would be a contradiction of everything that has been said so far if that isn't the case.

(And I know people are always itching at this point to say "Brexit won't happen", but try to restrain yourselves.  In a two-horse race it's always a good idea to consider the possibility that either horse may win, unless one of those horses is being ridden by John McTernan.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

YouGov subsample suggests Scotland is opposed to bombing Syria

When YouGov produced its dramatic poll on the eve of the Commons vote on Syria showing that support for air strikes had slumped, the fieldwork was impressively bang up to date. So it's rather frustrating that the follow-up poll is based on fieldwork that is several days out of date, and that partly preceded both the vote itself and Hilary Benn's "better than sex" intervention. However, for what it's worth, as of Wednesday and Thursday the scepticism about military action had reached record levels.

Approve or disapprove of air strikes? (Britain-wide)

Approve 44% (-4)
Disapprove 36% (+5)

Among the Scottish subsample, there was a similar swing in opinion, but as support for air strikes had been lower in the first place, that proved sufficient to push 'Disapprove' into a clear lead -

Approve or disapprove of air strikes? (Scottish subsample)

Approve 39% (-5)
Disapprove 45% (+4)

We were all slightly dubious about the political composition of the Scottish subsample in the previous poll, because it looked like there were a little too many Tory voters and far too many UKIP voters. That probably would have led to opposition to military action being underestimated. No voting intention question was asked in the new poll, so there's no way of knowing whether that problem has repeated itself.

In the case of the Iraq conflict in 2003, public opinion suddenly swung in favour of war in the immediate run-up to the Commons vote, and that support (temporarily) became overwhelming once British military action was actually underway.  The first part of that pattern has been clearly broken by this poll, but we'll need polls with later fieldwork to discover whether the second part of the pattern has been broken as well.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The STV political correspondent who thinks that "Scottish nationalists need not concern themselves with the troubles of foreigners"

There can be little doubt that STV are delighted to have Stephen Daisley as an online correspondent, and in some ways that's perfectly understandable.  Few would deny that he's a finer prose stylist than most journalists twice his age.  His opinion pieces are so provocative that they function brilliantly as clickbait, driving lots of juicy traffic to the STV website.  No broadcasting regulations on impartiality are being breached, because (to the best of my knowledge) the regulations don't apply to websites.

And yet, and yet.  There comes a point where some of the things said by Daisley are so totally bloody outrageous that they must start to affect his employer's reputation for balance and fairness, particularly given that his political commentary is not clearly separated out from the "news" section of the STV website, and is labelled as "analysis" rather than "opinion".  ("Analysis" is the word the BBC website uses for commentary by the likes of Laura Kuenssberg, so the reader's expectation is that insight will be offered in a politically neutral way.)  Visitors to the STV website could be forgiven for thinking that this is a broadcaster with an official editorial view that the man elected as Labour leader only three months ago should be deposed as soon as possible by an elitist coup, that extra-judicial killings are commendable and should be carried out more often, that torture is a good thing as long as it's branded as enhanced interrogation, that Israel has the right to claim sovereignty over land seized by brute force, that Scottish nationalists don't care about foreigners, and that the way "internationalist socialists" should show they care about foreigners is by dropping bombs on them.  Even a small-print disclaimer at the bottom of each article that "this is a personal view and does not necessarily reflect the views of Scottish Television" would, I suspect, be a great comfort to concerned and often offended STV viewers who simply don't share Mr Daisley's simplistic "centre-right, Zionist" worldview (that's his own description), with its good guys who you must only ever speak of with "songful joy" in your heart (Blair), and bad guys who you must torture and kill (or at the very least expel from the Labour party). In fact, the most accurate disclaimer would be "please note that this article forms part of an extended audition for Fox News".

The 2% of the Scottish population who are card-carrying members of the SNP, and indeed the 50% of the Scottish electorate that voted SNP in May, have a particular right to feel deeply hurt at Daisley's suggestion in his latest article (his maddest to date) that "Scottish Nationalists need not concern themselves with the troubles of foreigners". In true Hothersallite fashion, he contrasts our insularity with the much-vaunted "internationalism" of Labour. But just hang on a minute here. Which party was it that put its total faith in the international system and the United Nations to certify Iraq as free of weapons of mass destruction in 2003? And which party was it that turned its back on both the international system and international law to invade that long-suffering country in pursuit of weapons that didn't even exist?

It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone that the SNP have proved time and again to be the true internationalists. They were co-founded by R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Britain's first socialist member of parliament, and a man who shrewdly noted that nationalism (by which he meant civic nationalism) was a necessary prerequisite for internationalism. To be fair, there are plenty of people within Labour who share the SNP's vision of genuine internationalism rooted in democracy and the rule of law, but they're not to be found in what you might call the "Ernest Bevin tendency", which Daisley zealously professes to be the one true faith. Bevin's idea of internationalism was nuclear blackmail by the strong against the weak, the neo-colonial system of veto-wielding powers on the Security Council, and industrial-scale violation of the sovereignty of others when it suited our own selfish interests.

By the way, the funniest line in Daisley's new article is this -

"When I talk to sensible Labour people, they despair but assure me things will be better when Corbyn is replaced by Dan Jarvis or Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umunna. I don’t have the heart to tell them they’re wrong."

I'm sure Labour right-wingers are suitably grateful for the kindness of an omniscient 29-year-old journalist who has elected to spare them the burden of too much knowledge.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The RISE case for "tactical voting" becomes ever clearer...

Jim Sillars has today backed the claims of RISE that it is somehow possible to vote "tactically" on the Scottish Parliament list ballot, which I think should comprehensively settle the matter for all of us, given that he was the man who thought thwarting devolution in 1997 was the best tactic for achieving independence.  In the wake of this intervention, I've had a long and illuminating exchange on Twitter with Craig Paterson of RISE, who has been one of the primary proponents of the "tactical voting" wheeze.  This is what I've learned about the RISE position -

1)  We can say with confidence that the SNP will win almost every single constituency seat (and therefore won't need any list votes), because there are only five months to go, and nothing much can possibly change in such a short period.

2)  It is absolutely LUDICROUS to point to opinion polls showing RISE with zero support, and suggest that this means they are unlikely to win any seats.  Don't you know there are still five months to go?  Anything could happen!  Anything!

3)  Voting RISE on the list cannot possibly put the SNP's overall majority at risk.  It's a completely risk-free thing to do.

4)  The only reason SNP supporters don't like RISE's "tactical votes" pitch is because it might put the SNP's overall majority at risk.  It's narrow-minded to care about that.

5)  People who prefer the SNP should vote for the SNP.  RISE have made absolutely clear - and always will make absolutely clear - that they are not seeking "tactical" votes from SNP supporters, but only from independence supporters. 

6)  Don't bother asking for any evidence that they've ever made that clear, because they haven't, and it's a totally natural thing that they haven't, because it's not their responsibility to make that clear and nobody in their right mind would expect them to.

7)  There is no such thing as an SNP supporter.  There are only independence supporters.  People who prefer the SNP because they support independence should vote for RISE instead.  This does not mean RISE are seeking the votes of people who prefer the SNP, because no such people exist.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm starting to think they've got a point.  I just don't know what it is.

Corbyn's success in Oldham confounds the media narrative

All the early indications are that Labour are set for a much easier victory in the Oldham West and Royton by-election than anyone thought possible.  This might be a useful moment to flag up an obvious but under-appreciated fact from the recent GB-wide YouGov voting intention poll - namely that Labour under Corbyn have exactly the same share of the vote (30%) that they actually achieved under Ed Miliband at the general election.  There's no particular reason to think that YouGov are still overestimating the party's support, because quite radical methodological changes have been made to address the previous errors.  So in spite of Corbyn's truly horrific personal ratings, Labour have stood completely still.  How can that be?

The answer is that they haven't stood still.  They've lost significant support to the Conservatives and other parties, but have completely offset it with support gained from elsewhere.  The best clue as to how they've managed to achieve that comes in two of the poll's supplementary questions.  Among people who actually voted Labour in May, Corbyn has a negative rating of -6, but among people who are currently planning to vote Labour, he has a positive rating of +31.  Labour voters from May were only opposed to bombing Syria by a margin of 42% to 35%, but current Labour voters were opposed by a whopping 57% to 23%.  In essence, Corbyn has replaced the previous Labour coalition of support with a different coalition more in his image, and the new one is just as big.  That's not quite the narrative we've been fed, although admittedly if Labour support is draining to the Tories (to some extent) and is being replaced mainly by support from the Greens, Lib Dems, UKIP and previous non-voters, that does still result in an increased Tory lead, which is a huge problem under first-past-the-post.  Even so, Oldham may be the first concrete electoral indication that the state of play is much more nuanced and interesting than we've been led to believe.

I have a helpful suggestion for anyone in the mainstream media who may be struggling with a headline for tomorrow -

"Hilary Benn's wonder speech saves Labour's bacon in Oldham"

Go on, I dare you to be that brazen!

UPDATE : It appears John "the Gardener" McTernan has already attempted that line.  He's literally beyond satire now.

UPDATE II : Here is the full result...

Oldham West and Royton parliamentary by-election result (3rd December) :

Labour 62.1% (+7.3)
UKIP 23.4% (+2.8)
Conservatives 9.4% (-9.6)
Liberal Democrats 3.7% (n/c)
Greens 0.9% (-1.0)
Official Monster Raving Loonies 0.5% (n/a)

Obviously a 1% drop in the Green vote can't fully explain a 7.3% increase in the Labour vote, but nevertheless it's consistent with the notion that Corbyn is putting together a slightly different coalition of support.  What's even more interesting is where the lost Tory votes have gone.  I can't think of any reason to suppose the Tory abstention rate would be significantly higher than that of other parties, and it seems unlikely that many Tory voters would be interested in lending a tactical vote to a Corbyn-led party to keep UKIP out.  So the most plausible explanation is that the unfaithful Tory voters went to UKIP, but they were mostly offset by working-class UKIP voters from the general election returning to the Labour fold.

The Oldham campaign hasn't been as dramatic as Darlington in 1983, but at this very early stage the outcome does appear to have a Darlington-esque feel about it, because it's radically changing perceptions about Corbyn's "life expectancy" as leader.  It's now significantly more likely that he'll still be around at the time of the Scottish Parliament election in May, and I stand by what I said a few days ago - that's a good thing for the SNP, because it means that the chaos within Labour will carry on unabated.  Tony Blair gave the game away during the leadership election - ultimately, the problem he and his supporters have with Corbyn is not electoral, but ideological.  Even if Labour continues to hold its own in elections, the Blairites and others on the right still won't be able to live with Corbyn as leader, so we can look forward to the sniping and poison continuing.

I suppose the only downside of tonight's result is that we've been robbed of the chance of finding out what would have happened if the Blairites had been emboldened to make an early move to depose Corbyn, but failed.  Would they have talked themselves into a position where they couldn't remain in a party with a radical left leader?  Most of the MPs who defected to the SDP in 1981 couldn't have envisaged such an eventuality just a few months earlier.  A split of that sort really would have been a dream outcome for the SNP, but I'm sure we can make do with the Labour shambles we've actually got.

There had been some suggestions that a UKIP breakthrough in Oldham might have indirectly been a good thing for the independence movement, because it would have increased the chances of Brexit.  I'm not so sure about that.  We've seen in recent years that the fortunes of "Leave" in the opinion polls have had an inverse correlation with the fortunes of UKIP, probably because moderate Eurosceptics are appalled by Farage and co.  It may well be a good thing for the Out campaign if the Oldham result increases the sense that UKIP are becoming an irrelevance, thus allowing Eurosceptic Tory and Labour MPs to take the lead in future.  It's also arguably a good thing for them that Jeremy Corbyn's position has been stabilsed, because although he'll probably be campaigning to remain in the EU, he won't be doing it with quite the full-blooded enthusiasm that a more centrist successor might have done.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What we've learned tonight

1)  The idea that has been doing the rounds in the London media that Hilary Benn is a credible caretaker "unity" Labour leader is now dead in the water.  Becoming so visibly the darling of the Tory benches has completely put paid to any hopes he may have harboured in that direction.

2)  Sustained clapping in the House of Commons is, it turns out, perfectly OK and will not be ruled out of order by the Speaker, just so long as it's not the Jocks doing it and as long as it's expressing support for the dropping of British bombs on a faraway country.  (We already know from a previous episode that clapping is to be positively encouraged as long as it follows a speech in favour of John Bercow remaining as Speaker.)

3)  The Westminster elite are quite capable of getting over the solemnity of having just voted to end people's lives.  It only takes a matter of seconds for them to start chortling at the ludicrous thought of being expected to hang around for a late night debate about child abuse.

4)  Labour's Stella Creasy was either pro-fascism or fascism-neutral until roughly 9.30 this evening.  Or at least she was if we believe her fatuous statement that "Hilary Benn's speech persuaded me that fascism must be defeated".

YouGov subsample suggests Scotland is evenly split on air strikes

A new YouGov poll conducted over the last 48 hours suggests support across Britain for air strikes on Syria has dropped sharply in the last week, albeit with a plurality remaining in favour -

Would you approve or disapprove of the RAF taking part in air strike operations against Islamic State/ISIS in Syria? 

(Respondents across Britain) :

Approve 48% (-11)
Disapprove 31% (+11)

There has been a lazy assumption among the right-wing commentariat in Scotland that public opinion north of the border is not especially divergent on this topic, and that the SNP are therefore essentially going against the grain of their own constituents' wishes by voting against air strikes. With the usual caveats about the statistical unreliability of subsamples, this poll suggests that may not be the case, and that Scotland is basically evenly split -

Would you approve or disapprove of the RAF taking part in air strike operations against Islamic State/ISIS in Syria? 

(Respondents in Scotland) :

Approve 44% (-7)
Disapprove 41% (+12)

Very unusually, YouGov have also asked a voting intention question.  I can't remember exactly how many times they've done that since the polling disaster in May, but the number can certainly be counted on the fingers of one hand.  The SNP lead in the Scottish subsample is unusually "low" : SNP 41%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 20%, UKIP 8%, Liberal Democrats 4%, Greens 2%.  Although on the face of it that's bad news, it leaves open the possibility that there are too few SNP voters in the subsample as a result of normal sampling variation, in which case it's perfectly conceivable that Scottish opposition to air strikes is being underestimated by the above figures.  The fact that a wildly implausible combined total of 28% of the subsample are Tory or UKIP voters would tend to support that theory.

Labour right-wingers have been given something of a headache in advance of tomorrow night's parliamentary vote, because until now they've been able to draw a distinction between anti-war party members, and Labour voters who are supposedly in favour of air strikes.  YouGov are suggesting that people who voted Labour across Britain in May are in fact opposed to military action by 42% to 35%.

The paradox of this poll is that it shows opinion moving in the direction of Jeremy Corbyn's stance on Syria, but also suggests public confidence in Corbyn himself is collapsing.  In the space of just a fortnight, his net personal rating has slumped from -22 to -41.  Intriguingly, he seems to be doing just as badly in Scotland, where he stands at -38, although that figure should be treated with caution given the over-representation of Tory and UKIP supporters in the sample.  Doubtless Corbyn's critics within Labour will leap on these figures, but the reality is that this is their own handiwork - if you systematically brief against your leader, it harms both him and the party's standing.  Labour's deficit in this poll has increased from six points to eleven.

I'm coming even more firmly to the conclusion that a Labour win in the Oldham West and Royton by-election on Thursday would be in the SNP's strategic interests.  Although it's still unlikely that a UKIP gain would in itself be sufficient to topple Corbyn, that no longer looks totally inconceivable. It would be best for us if Corbyn's position is stabilised by a narrow electoral success, thus allowing the chaos within Labour to continue for the next five months.  The last thing we need is for the run-up to the Scottish Parliament election to be dominated by a second Labour leadership contest.  OK, that could exacerbate the divisions even further, but it might just prove a unifying experience for them if they happen to stumble across a credible candidate from the soft left.

*  *  *

It looks like internal trouble is brewing for the Liberal Democrats as well.  Of the comments left so far by grassroots members and activists on Liberal Democrat Voice, only 13 are in favour of Tim Farron's decision to support the Tories and air strikes, and 23 are opposed.  It may be even worse than it appears, because some of the supportive comments are in the mould of "the leader is right because it's hard to be the leader and make hard decisions and we must support the leader because he is our leader and he has made a hard decision".

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How many MPs will vote to bomb Syria?

The conventional wisdom at the moment seems to be that only 30 or 40 right-wing Labour MPs will go into the Tory lobby tomorrow night to vote in favour of bombing Syria.  That's a suspiciously low estimate, and is in the same ball-park as the number that might have defied Corbyn's whip if he had bothered to impose it.  So I'll believe it when I see it, but for the sake of argument let's take the upper figure of 40 at face value, and let's also assume that the Lib Dems will vote with the Tories (which inexplicably they seem to be moving towards), and that there will be around 10 Conservative rebels.  That leaves us with -

Voting for air strikes :

Conservatives 319
Labour 40
Liberal Democrats 8
Independent 1

TOTAL : 379

Voting against air strikes or abstaining :

Labour 189
SNP 54
Conservatives 10
Plaid Cymru 3
Independents (suspended from SNP) 2
Greens 1

TOTAL : 262

I'm making some other guesses there, because the last I heard Douglas Carswell of UKIP and the independent Northern Ireland unionist Sylvia Hermon were both claiming to be genuinely undecided.  But given their political orientation I find it hard to believe they won't come down in favour of British military action in the end.

As you can see, there's no realistic way Cameron can lose this vote.  The most that can be hoped for is that as few as possible Labour MPs cop out by abstaining.  If something close to 262 MPs actually vote against air strikes, that would at least severely undermine the claim that there is any sort of broad consensus.  It looks like 57 out of 59 Scottish MPs will be voting against, so it certainly can't be claimed that the UK as a whole is united behind military action.

Housekeeping note

To save anyone else having to look at the train-wreck of a comments section on the previous post, could I just make a few points -

1) The frequency of extreme swearing is becoming ridiculous.  I don't mind swearing as long as it's used sparingly (Mick Pork is the master of using it for comic effect), but there were parts of the last thread where almost every post had an extreme swear-word in it.  I issued several polite warnings, and predictably that just led to people pushing against me with even more extreme swearing.  I eventually had to delete two comments containing the 'C' word.  This really cannot go on, and I'll delete more comments if I have to.  I'd rather not have to.

2) Please don't keep asking me to "ban" Glasgow Working Class (or anyone else).  As I've explained umpteen times, it is not possible to "ban" individuals on this platform.  It is only possible to delete individual comments.

3) I am not going to introduce pre-moderation.  That would be far, far, far too time-consuming, and more importantly it would kill any possibility of a flowing debate.

4) I am not going to switch to an expensive alternative comments platform simply to ban Glasgow Working Class.  Every platform has its drawbacks, and I've heard too many horror stories about people who have made the switch and lived to regret it.

5) Glasgow Working Class is not "killing the blog", and no matter how many times people make that melodramatic claim, it won't become any the more true.  There was a predictable drop from the all-time peak of 40,000 unique readers in the month leading up to the general election, but the numbers have been stable since June.

My advice is simply to scroll past GWC's comments.  I have the dubious pleasure of receiving every single one of them through to my inbox, and for the most part they've just become meaningless noise.  I've actually found some of Aldo's comments (for example on the victims of the Hiroshima bombing) much more offensive, because they were clearly said in deadly earnest.

Monday, November 30, 2015

For as long as unionism has 50% support, the main opposition to the SNP is bound to be a unionist party

There's a new article at Bella Caledonia by Jonathon Shafi of RISE, which is - at least in part - yet another attempt to bang the drum for the bogus idea that "tactical voting on the list" is viable.

"The SNP’s electoral supremacy is so complete that all recent polls show a consistent pattern: the party can almost certainly win the Scottish election on the constituency seats alone."

That strikes me as a very slippery choice of words. Most people would concede on the basis of the current polling evidence that it is possible the SNP may win at least 65 out of the 73 constituency seats, which is what they would need to do to retain their outright majority in the unlikely event that their supporters are foolish enough to abandon them in large numbers on the list ballot. So yes, the SNP "can" do that, but what do the words "almost certainly" add? It's hard not to conclude that Jonathon is trying to convey the impression that the SNP "will" almost certainly win on constituency seats alone, but without making that claim directly. He's wise to avoid such an enormous hostage to fortune, because the most recent Ipsos-Mori and YouGov polls have the SNP on 50% and 51% of the constituency vote. That means if they slip only a few percentage points over the next five months (or indeed if the polls are overstating their support slightly), they will require a large number of list seats to win an overall majority - just as they did in 2011.

"Once we embrace this fact, the Scottish elections could suddenly become very interesting. For independence supporters, voting SNP twice becomes counter-productive to maximising independence MSPs."

When RISE issued their notorious "tactical voting" press release the other week, they prayed in aid a TNS poll that showed the SNP were on course to win "only" six list seats. Simple question : how is it counter-productive to prefer to hold onto those six pro-independence seats, rather than wasting list votes on a party that at the moment has almost literally zero support in the polls, and no credible prospect of taking any seats at all?

I was contacted by a reader a couple of hours ago, who asked this -

"How reasonable are [Jonathon Shafi's] claims?

I know you have written about this more than once, but the myths in this narrative refuse to die. Why?

Jonathon makes a broader appeal to support RISE as part of a new opposition to the SNP, one that replaces Labour and is independence-minded. This, for many independence-minded progressives, has great appeal and is, I suspect, one reason why the myths refuse to die.

Many of us would like to see Labour replaced by a progressive independence-favouring opposition that will hold the SNP to account.

To kill these myths, that if I understand you properly are more likely to undermine rather than enhance the chances of independence-minded parties being in a majority, it may be worthwhile exploring what the realistic possibility of a pro-independence opposition is and, critically, how it might realistically come about.

My guess is that Jonathon forgets there remains significant support for Unionist parties in Scotland and that, whilst we might applaud his ambition, his prescription is flawed."

The last sentence gets to the nub of it. Unionism has roughly 50% support in Scotland. For as long as that is the case, it's almost inevitable that the main opposition to the SNP will be a unionist party - and in spite of the current horror show, it's highly likely to be Labour. Jonathon Shafi is of course implying that it's possible to exploit a "bug" in the electoral system and get an overwhelmingly pro-independence parliament without actually doing the hard work of increasing support for independence. For reasons we've discussed many times on this blog, that's either a delusion or a con.

I'm trying to imagine what a viable pro-independence opposition to the SNP would look like, and I struggle to see it looking much like RISE or even the Greens. Where there is considerable scope for growth in support for independence is on the centre-right, so in theory there's a gap in the market for a popular pro-independence party with a very different outlook to the SNP - but I don't think that's the kind of alternative opposition that the "tactical voting" brigade are looking for.

There's also a very small chance that Labour might eventually attempt to triangulate themselves out of the pickle they're in by embracing independence, in which case we might end up with a pro-independence opposition automatically, as long as the die-hard "cultural" Labour voters keep the faith.  Highly unlikely, I admit, but still more likely than Colin Fox as Leader of the Opposition.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

There are no consolation prizes for getting it wrong because you erred on the side of caution

As you may have seen, Derek Bateman commented yesterday on my post about his views on the timing of a possible second independence referendum.  I won't try your patience with a full dissertation by way of a response, but there are a few points that I'd particularly like to pick up on.

Firstly, very loud alarm bells started ringing in my mind when I saw Derek's suggestion that demographics are working in favour of the independence movement.  That's a slightly softer version of the refrain we often hear in the comments section of this blog that "more No voters die every day", and that the main thing we have to do is wait for the slow passage of time to weave its inevitable effect.  I don't think that's so much a complacent view as just entirely misconceived.  If you trawl through the archives of Scotland on Sunday from fifteen or so years ago, you'll find a headline story about a poll of teenagers showing that people who hadn't reached voting age yet were strongly in support of independence.  SoS concluded (somewhat provocatively) that the SNP were entitled to take the same view as Sinn Fein : "Our day will come."  All they had to do was be patient, wait for a generation to pass, and independence would fall into their laps.  In fact, a generation did pass, those teenagers became voters, and yet by 2012 the independence movement had a larger deficit in the polls than for many years.  It took a referendum campaign to turn that around, not a further dose of patience.

As I alluded to in my post the other day, there were a number of polls in 2005/6 (including one from YouGov) showing a lead for independence.  Indeed, there was a famous poll in the run-up to the 1992 election giving 50% support for independence, even though a three-option question had been asked.  It's very difficult to track down datasets for old polls, but if we could, it's highly likely we'd discover that the strongest support for independence was among the younger age groups, just as it is now.  So the believers in demographic inevitability could easily have said in 1992 or 2005 : "Aha!  All we have to do is wait for ten or twenty years, and Yes will be completely out of sight."  If anyone did say that, they must have been scratching their heads slightly at the state of play in 2012 and 2013.

The flaw in this whole line of thinking is, of course, that the independence movement does not "own" people who say they support independence at any given moment in time.  The biggest changes in public opinion are not caused by older voters dying or by younger people becoming old enough to vote, but simply by people changing their minds - and that can happen in either direction.  The idealistic teenagers of 1999 are today's working-age adults with bills to pay and a different set of priorities.  The bullish fifty-somethings of September 2014 will be the pensioners of 2029, and may well develop the same fears as their forerunners.  Demographic shifts are not our enemy, but they're not our friend either - they shouldn't affect our thinking on the timing of a second referendum.  Whether that vote is held in five years' time or thirty years' time, it will have to be won through hard persuasion.  There are no short cuts.

The second assertion of Derek's that I want to take issue with is that a second referendum defeat would be "the end".  What does that mean?  Does it mean the end for a generation?  If so, I'm struggling to understand how we'd be in a worse position, because we're effectively being asked to put off holding a referendum for a generation in order to, killing the issue for a generation.  Why is the generational wait less bad if it's self-imposed?

Of course, Derek could mean that a second defeat would be the end for all-time.  If so, I just think that's wrong.  Twenty or twenty-five years is an eternity in politics, and voters won't be impressed by the idea that they can or should be bound by something that happened such a long time ago.  You only have to look at the arguments that were put in favour of the in/out EU referendum : nobody under the age of X has ever had a say, and nobody could have foreseen in 1975 what Europe would look like today.  Very similar arguments will apply in respect of the independence question once enough time has elapsed, irrespective of whether there has been two previous referendums or only one.  And if you want to be reassured that there's no supernatural law preventing a country holding a third (or even fourth) independence referendum, I'd point you in the direction of Puerto Rico.

Thirdly, Derek has reiterated (and indeed amplified) his point that it's an insult to all Scots who voted in the referendum last year to be even talking about the possibility of another referendum so soon.  I must say I struggle with that line of argument.  The way that the Labour party show respect for the democratic process is by accepting that the Conservatives are the legitimate government at present, and that there can be no change of government until there is another general election.  They don't do it by saying that there shouldn't be another general election, or that the next election should be postponed indefinitely, or that they won't put up candidates in the election.  By the same token, we show our respect for the people's verdict in the referendum by accepting that we are part of the United Kingdom at present, and that we won't and shouldn't cease to be a part of the UK unless the electorate freely decide to reverse their decision.  That would be a two-stage process - firstly, they would give a parliamentary majority to a party or parties with a manifesto commitment to a referendum, and secondly they would vote Yes in that referendum.  If either or both of those things never happen, last year's result remains in force indefinitely and we remain part of the UK.  Our respect for democracy is total and impeccable because we accept that.  We aren't going to declare UDI.  The more interesting question is how respect for democracy can be reconciled with the view that the Scottish people should be denied a referendum even if they vote for one.

Derek's objection seems to be that a referendum would just be one manifesto commitment out of many, and that the mandate for it wouldn't be clear or binding.  That's fine as a debating point, but it falls apart when you think about it in a real-world context.  If the SNP have any mention of a referendum in a future manifesto, the opposition parties will ensure that it completely dominates the election campaign.  For heaven's sake, they ensured that it dominated the 2015 general election campaign even though the SNP manifesto DIDN'T propose a referendum!  So there's not much danger of a mandate for a referendum being won by accident.

The broader point I would make about the need to respect the voters' verdict is that Derek seems to view the referendum outcome as totally self-contained, whereas I think most of us now see it as merely the first act in a two-act drama.  It was said more than once in the days after the referendum that something truly extraordinary would have to happen for an early second opportunity to come around, but the fact is that something truly extraordinary has indeed happened - the SNP won all but three Scottish seats at the general election, and pro-independence parties won an absolute majority of the votes cast.  OK, that isn't sufficient in itself to trigger a referendum, but the idea that it changes absolutely nothing is, I think, quite difficult to sustain.  David Cameron sought a No vote on the basis that all options for further devolution were on the table and all were possible.  The Scottish people took him at his word by voting No and then using the general election to express their wish for maximum devolution to be granted.  Cameron has cheerfully ignored the second part of that mandate, and indeed has retrospectively redefined the No vote as precluding the possibility of maximum devolution.  That cynical sleight of hand has not gone unnoticed, and I would suggest the average voter would not find it unreasonable that the prospect of a second referendum has been brought at least somewhat closer as a result.  I also think most voters will have been nodding along when Sally Magnusson put it to Jim Murphy that, irrespective of what the SNP themselves said, it was just a statement of common sense that an SNP landslide was bound to reopen the question of independence.

Paul Kavanagh has said that the correct time to hold a referendum is when we're going to win.  I almost agree with that, but with a slight modification : the correct time to hold a referendum is when we have a better chance of winning than we will at any future time.  If the chances of winning in 2019 are 40%, but we have good reason for thinking they would rise to 70% by 2027, the right thing to do is wait.  But if we think a 40% probability is likely to prove our high watermark, it's absolutely rational to go early even though the odds would be slightly against us.  Derek thinks it would look "desperate" to push ahead because of a fear that the political seasons will change.  I'd call it realism.  I'm not sure whether it would have looked desperate for James Callaghan to call an early election in 1978, but there can't be many people on the Left who don't think that would have been a price worth paying for averting Thatcherism.  It also seems highly probable that the Yes vote in the first devolution referendum would have been higher if the ballot hadn't taken place just after the winter of discontent in 1979.  Seasons do change, unfortunately.  It really shouldn't be a controversial point to say that the time to make the next push for independence is when the SNP are still in the ascendancy, not when they're in a long spell of opposition and Nicola Sturgeon has been long since replaced by a less popular successor.

Of course, it's impossible to know for sure whether your stock is going to rise or fall in the near future - it just comes down to instinct, or educated guesswork at best.  But there are no consolation prizes for getting the timing wrong because of over-caution rather than rashness.  If you succeed in arguing for a twenty year delay, and if at the end of that period First Minister Dugdale (or whoever) is at 50% in the polls and independence has reverted to being a pipe-dream, I'm coming looking for you.  I don't have your address, but Maryhill isn't that big.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Daisley Commandments (even God only had ten)

1. Thou shalt give daily thanks to the United States of America, the greatest force for good in the modern world.

2. Thou shalt give daily thanks to the State of Israel, which sitteth at the right hand of the United States of America, and is the second-greatest force for good in the modern world.

3. Thou shalt referreth to the Israeli invasion and annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem as "the liberation".

4. Thou shalt calleth the West Bank by its true name of "Judea and Samaria".

5. Thou shalt commit extra-judicial killings.  (Note : This commandment only applieth if thou art a member of the American, British or Israeli security forces.)

6. Thou shalt torture.  And thou shalt make damn sureth thou calleth it "enhanced interrogation techniques".

7. Thou shalt speaketh of the achievements of the Lord thy Blair with songful joy in thy heart.

8. Thou shalt honour the memory of thy Blessed Mother, the Lady of Finchley, for restoring thy love of freedom.

9. Thou shalt unreservedly idolise any billionaire children's author in thy midst, even if she does imply thou art a Nazi.

10. Thou shalt vote Liz Kendall.

11. Thou shalt titter at my hysterical anti-Palestinian one-liners, on pain of being mocked by all right-thinking men for lacking intelligence and a sense of irony.

12. Thou shalt perceiveth no contradiction in my claims to be both a traditional Labour man and a centre-right commentator.

13. As thou profess my Gospel, thou shalt say to unbelievers : "We are right.  You are wrong."

14. This last one's for you, Tatchell : A lifetime of campaigning for human rights and equality is no excuse for supporting a Palestinian state, m'laddio.

SNP live the high life in Fife as they soar to two by-election wins on big swings

There were two by-elections in Fife yesterday - and they both featured the familiar STV paradox (so lovingly misunderstood by Lib Dem commentators when it suits them) of a party 'defending' the seat in spite of having lost the popular vote in the ward last time around.  Labour would have technically 'gained' both seats from the SNP simply by standing still - but to put it mildly, they failed to do so.

Rosyth by-election result :

SNP 45.2% (+9.4)
Labour 34.5% (-13.2)
Conservatives 9.1% (+3.3)
Liberal Democrats 3.6% (-3.5)
UKIP 3.3% (+0.7)
Independent - Macintyre 2.5% (n/a)

Dunfermline North by-election result :

SNP 43.5% (+11.9)
Labour 29.6% (-19.7)
Conservatives 12.5% (+5.9)
Liberal Democrats 9.5% (-4.1)
Greens 2.6% (n/a)
UKIP 2.4% (n/a)

(Note : I've already had to make a slight adjustment to the above figures based on my own calculations, because there was a small error in the Twitter reports of the Dunfermline North percentage changes.)

The swing from Labour to SNP in Rosyth was 11.3%, and in Dunfermline North it was 15.8%.  To make sense of those numbers, you have to bear in mind that the SNP start from a much higher baseline in local elections than they did at the general election.  So the average swing of 13.5% in the two wards is the rough equivalent of a 25% swing in May - which is very much within the range of swings we actually saw across former Labour heartlands, albeit not at the top of that range.

It looks as if the SNP are performing almost exactly as well in this part of Fife as they did at the general election (the swing in Dunfermline and West Fife in May was 27.1%).  That will give them enormous heart after one or two recent Scottish by-elections in which they did OK rather than spectacularly well.  And there's certainly no sign in these results of any electoral fallout from the Natalie McGarry controversy.

Once again the Conservatives have achieved tolerably good results, although the jury is out on whether that reflects a true increase in their popularity, or is simply caused by the greater motivation of their supporters in low-turnout contests.  And as for that all-conquering Scottish Lib Dem recovery we heard so much about a few weeks ago...well, at a minimum it doesn't appear to have breached the borders of Fife yet.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

There's a difference between disempowerment and democracy

Given the reaction to John McDonnell brandishing Mao's Little Red Book yesterday, it's probably not the best idea for me to start quoting Karl Marx, and actually I'm going to avoid that danger because I can't track down the exact quote anyway. But I seem to recall that he once said that the English (by which he meant the British) were only truly free for one day every few years, ie. on the day of a general election. For the intervening years, they revert to being slaves of an elective dictatorship. Whatever else we might think of Marx, it's very hard to disagree with that assessment, because for as long as the UK government has an absolute majority in parliament there is nothing it can't do. There is no constitution or court that can constrain it.

That line popped into my head when I watched the Altered State video yesterday. As you've probably seen, it finishes in rather provocative fashion with Derek Bateman arguing that a second referendum held too quickly would be "catastrophic" and "suicidal", because it would be an insult to people who voted No last year. After suggesting that a timescale of twenty years is quite possible (and indeed that it may never happen at all), his parting shot is : "Live with it, guys. It's called democracy."

As you know, I don't disagree with the view that the independence movement could easily find itself going nowhere for several decades. Paradoxically, that's one of the reasons why I think we have to be open to the idea of a relatively early referendum, perhaps within the next five years. There is a danger of catastrophe or suicide in being too hasty, but there is also a danger of catastrophe or suicide in squandering the momentum that has been built up. I don't quite understand why it's less bad to see a dream die quietly and gradually through inaction and over-caution than it is to see it spectacularly go up in flames as a result of rashness. In the long run, both of those outcomes amount to the same thing. When you're in the middle of a major historical event, it's easy to lose a sense of perspective, but the fact is that we're currently living through "our 1997". For the Blairites, it wasn't 1997 forever, and it won't be for us either. The time to act is when the sun is still shining.

I also disagree with Derek's claim that one of the reasons the first referendum was lost was that it was rushed into. There actually wasn't a campaign for independence prior to 2011 - nothing was happening, and the SNP were only going through the motions in putting forward the arguments. They were caught in a trap, because the first priority had to be to win and then retain power, and for as long as that was the case they couldn't afford to scare the horses too much. The only way to break out of that trap was to actually hold a referendum, and either secure a Yes vote in one push or build a platform for a second referendum. I see absolutely no reason to think that support for independence would have gradually crept up if Alex Salmond had played a more cautious game, and saved a referendum for a hypothetical third or fourth SNP term. The trend was actually in completely the opposite direction - opinion polls showed that independence became considerably less popular between 2005 and 2011. For some reason, SNP rule was making people more content with the Union - although thankfully that contentment proved to be fairly superficial when the question was put for real.

What I want to take issue with most of all is the idea that a second referendum would be somehow "undemocratic". To return to the Marx quote, that would mean it's more democratic that voters are enslaved to a decision they've already made. Even if circumstances change. Even if they conclude that they made the decision on the basis of a false prospectus. As we know, almost everyone (and certainly everyone in the SNP leadership) agrees that there can only be a referendum if a mandate is received for one at a Scottish Parliament election. So in a sense what Derek is hinting at is that it would be anti-democratic to give people a referendum even if they vote for it! I think that's a rather grotesque parody of what respect for democracy is all about.

If you take this through to its logical conclusion, the result of any quick second referendum should be regarded as null and void because the electorate has supposedly already voted to disempower themselves for an unspecified but very long period of time. We'd be saying to people who switched from No to Yes : "Sorry, we can't take any notice of your wishes now, because it would be disrespectful to the person you used to be." I don't think that's credible. Democracy is about giving people control over how they are governed on an ongoing basis, not using their past vote against them as if it constitutes some sort of lifelong marriage vow.

Derek also pours cold water on the idea that the EU referendum could be a trigger for a second independence referendum, partly because he doesn't think that the gap between the UK and Scottish results will be all that great. It's possible that it won't be, but for that to be the case there'll have to be a major convergence between now and polling day. Have a look at the gap between the results of recent Britain-wide polls, and the Scottish subsamples of the same polls -

ICM (20th-22nd November)

Britain-wide figures :

Remain 54%
Leave 46%

Scottish subsample :

Remain 67%
Leave 33%

ORB (18th-19th November)

Britain-wide figures :

Remain 48%
Leave 52%

Scottish subsample :

Remain 60%
Leave 40%

Survation (16th-17th November)

Britain-wide figures :

Remain 52%
Leave 48%

Scottish subsample :

Remain 63%
Leave 37%

ICM (13th-15th November)

Britain-wide figures :

Remain 53%
Leave 47%

Scottish subsample :

Remain 59%
Leave 41%

Survation (9th-11th November)

Britain-wide figures :

Remain 47%
Leave 53%

Scottish subsample :

Remain 59%
Leave 41%

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The State We're In

Episode 3 of Phantom Power's Altered State series is now out, featuring contributions from myself, Greg Moodie, Derek Bateman, Paul Kavanagh, Christopher Silver and Professor John Robertson. Bear in mind that I was interviewed about a week or so after the referendum, so the line "You would hope that the London government would be mature enough to move at the pace that the Scottish people clearly want" wasn't intended to be quite as ironic as it probably sounds now!

If the embedded video doesn't work, the direct link is HERE.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

To survive as leader, all Corbyn has to do is decide to survive

You know, it's on days like this that Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson utterly baffles me.  The title of his post on Stormfront Lite this morning was "You can get 11/8 on Corbyn being leader at general election. Why I’m not tempted."  For 11/8 to be a value bet, you merely have to think there is a better than 42% chance of Corbyn still being leader in May 2020.  So I was waiting with bated breath to hear why Smithson thinks the likelihood of that happening is in fact 42% or lower - but he didn't say anything at all. (Maybe he couldn't be arsed?)  The post simply consisted of four reposted tweets, two of which clearly support the idea that Corbyn is NOT likely to be deposed.  One is a link to a Stephen Bush article with the title "A new poll shows Jeremy Corbyn is going nowhere", and the other shows that Labour members questioned by YouGov think by a margin of 54% to 33% that it is more important for a party to put forward policies it really believes in than to make compromises that would allow it to win an election.

Bush is particularly worth listening to on this topic. He hasn't been right about absolutely everything this year, but he made a very confident call about the Labour leadership contest that proved to be spot-on, and he was much closer to being right about the general election than most people. There are two major question marks in my mind over whether Corbyn can cling on, and Bush deals with one of them very helpfully. He links to a post by a barrister offering a legal opinion on whether Corbyn would require to be nominated by 20% of the PLP to simply make the ballot paper if he is challenged for the leadership. Although it's conceded there is some ambiguity in the relevant part of the Labour rule-book, the answer is basically no. If that's correct, it removes any realistic chance of Corbyn being directly removed against his will, because any challenger would have to defeat him in a members' and supporters' ballot, and the latest polling evidence suggests that would be nigh-on impossible.

That still leaves the other question mark in my mind, though, which is to do with Corbyn's own commitment to the job. Would he, as Damian McBride implied recently, resign voluntarily at the first sign of a push against him? The fact that he never seemed to have any personal ambition to be leader or Prime Minister doesn't inspire huge confidence that he has the stomach to fight for his position. But the counter-argument is that he has shown plenty of ambition for his own wing of the party. He knows that what happened in September was a historic achievement for the left, and that it could be totally squandered if he walks away. For all the talk about him paving the way for a left-wing succession before the general election, he surely knows that it doesn't work like that. As soon as there is a vacancy, anything could happen. Even if the new leader was vaguely left-ish, who is to say it wouldn't be somebody from the soft left (such as Lisa Nandy) who would then "do a Kinnock"?

To survive as leader, all Corbyn really has to do is decide to survive. And if he's being rational (and receiving rational advice), that's the decision he'll take.

* * *

The SNP's motion calling for Trident not to be renewed was voted down in the House of Commons today by 330 votes to 64. There are 60 MPs from the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, so assuming there was a high turnout among those three parties, the vast majority of Labour MPs -including Jeremy Corbyn himself - must have abstained on the question of whether Britain should retain its nuclear weapons. Surely Corbyn's position as the vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is now untenable?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Labour MPs don't need a free vote to exercise the same freedom that Corbyn enjoyed

Amidst all the uncertainty about the position Labour will take on bombing Syria, one thing that intensely irritates me is the claim of the party's "moderates" that Jeremy Corbyn has no business imposing any kind of discipline on MPs, given his long record of rebelling against his predecessors.  The rules of the game are actually pretty simple -

1) You can't vote against the party line on a motion of confidence in the government.  (If you do, you'll be suspended or expelled from the parliamentary party.)

2) If you vote against the party line on a three-line whip, you have to give advance warning and explain yourself.

3) Except in unusual circumstances, you can't defy the whip if you're a minister or a shadow minister.  If you do, you'll be expected to leave the front bench.

To the best of my knowledge, Jeremy Corbyn has not broken any of these rules since he became an MP in 1983.  If he had, in all likelihood he would not be Labour leader now, because the whip would have been withdrawn and he would not have been eligible to put himself forward.

So if a whip is imposed on Syria or any other vote, Corbyn will simply be asking MPs to adhere to exactly the same rules he was bound by as a backbencher.  They'll have the same freedom to rebel that he had - although Shadow Cabinet members and other frontbenchers will have to pay a heavy price if they exercise that freedom.  And it might not be a bad thing for Corbyn in the long run if some of the "moderates" in his team force him into sacking them, because at the moment his ecumenicism is proving more of a weakness than a strength.