Friday, December 29, 2017

Jo Swinson CBE - is this some sort of joke?

More than a few eyebrows were raised when the news leaked out that Nick Clegg was to be knighted in the New Year's Honours list.  He is, after all, the man who inherited a party that won a post-war record of 62 seats under Charles Kennedy in 2005, and somehow managed to reduce that to just 8 by the time he stepped down in 2015.  There was also a touch of scepticism as to whether Britain's fourth party collectively deserved the bumper number of knighthoods they have received of late.  But at least you can make a semi-plausible case for Clegg getting some sort of recognition from the honours system - he was party leader for seven-and-a-half years, Deputy Prime Minister for five years, and he was also the first Liberal or Liberal Democrat to lead his party into government at Westminster level since the wartime coalition of the 1940s.

No such excuse can be made for Jo Swinson, who I've just seen has been given a CBE.  Does anyone have the faintest idea what she's supposed to have done to deserve that?  She hasn't yet been party leader, she's only been deputy leader for a few months, and in the coalition government she never made it beyond junior ministerial rank.  Perhaps more to the point, she's only 37 years old, which in all likelihood means the meat of her political career is still ahead of her.  Honouring her at this stage is an unfathomable decision, and one that surely brings the system into further disrepute.  The obvious suspicion is that the Lib Dems, who pose as radicals but are establishment to their bones, have given up on collecting votes and are getting their kicks by collecting undeserved gongs instead.

Ironically, this development coincides with an article in the Guardian the other day which suggested that senior Lib Dems are increasingly looking towards Layla Moran as their party's future.  Swinson's name wasn't even mentioned.  That's an astonishing turnaround from a few short months ago when it looked like Swinson would only need to wait a couple of years for Vince Cable to step down, and then enjoy a coronation.  She may have miscalculated very badly by sitting out this year's leadership contest.  And that could well be a stroke of luck from our point of view, given that home-grown leaders tend to produce at least a modest vote boost in Scotland.

Not that I'd want to take sides in a matter that doesn't concern me, of course, so here's my totally unrelated Eurovision video of the day.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Was the SNP's victory in June 2017 the last time Scotland will participate in a UK general election?

You might remember that a few months ago Alastair Meeks royally entertained us by claiming, in all apparent seriousness, that the SNP could never even hope to 'recover' from the terrible setback of comfortably winning the general election in Scotland unless it ditched Nicola Sturgeon as leader.  Quite honestly, even if the narrative of 'SNP crisis' hadn't been so obviously bogus, Alastair's advice would still have been pretty dreadful because the alternatives to Nicola Sturgeon would all - at least for the moment - be a step backwards.  Humza Yousaf is presumably the long-term heir apparent, but he's still a bit too young and inexperienced if a vacancy were to occur any time soon.  Angus Robertson would be the best available replacement for now, but he doesn't currently have a seat in the Scottish Parliament and trying to engineer one for him via a constituency by-election would be fraught with danger.  That would probably leave us with John Swinney as a safe pair of hands - but we know from his own track record as leader between 2000 and 2004 that he'd be unlikely to prove more of an electoral asset than Nicola Sturgeon.  In a nutshell, regardless of your interpretation of the election result in June, the SNP would be completely nuts to change leader.

Alastair still seems to be banging the same drum today, albeit with a tad more circumspection: "The SNP meanwhile...[lost] seats to both Labour and the Conservatives in a unionist pincer movement. The risk of this being extended at a future election is obvious to all. The SNP need a strategy for dealing with this, and fast." That's fair comment as far as it goes, but it is, of course, only one side of the coin.  The SNP now hold a number of ultra-marginal seats that could be lost on a tiny swing, but exactly the same is true of the two main unionist parties, and especially of Labour, who could find themselves once again facing a near-wipeout if they suffer the kind of modest swing to the SNP that was being suggested by a couple of opinion polls in the early autumn.  Presumably Labour need a strategy for dealing with that risk - and fast - every bit as much as the SNP do.  For some strange reason we don't hear as much about Labour's extreme vulnerability, though.

As far as the SNP's electoral strategy is concerned, it's surely pretty obvious that they made a tactical error in May and June by downplaying their own USP.  People who voted Tory believed they were voting "against Indyref 2", and people who voted Labour reckoned they were voting for a real Labour government of the type that hadn't been seen since at least the 1970s, if not earlier.  The SNP weren't offering anything that could compete with the clarity of those pitches - which is ironic, given that the party's whole raison d'etre is as radical and inspiring as you can possibly get.  They did make a half-hearted attempt to mobilise the pro-independence vote by suggesting that if they won a majority of Scottish seats, that would constitute a triple-lock mandate for a second independence referendum - but then mystifyingly gave the impression of backtracking a little on that pledge for the first few days after the majority was duly achieved, which will have sent the dangerous message to some indy supporters that their vote for the SNP was not the vote for a referendum that they were explicitly told it was.  What is needed is the rectification of those tactical mistakes - not a change of leader.

However, all of the above assumes that the SNP will actually have to face another national election prior to independence, and it's by no means clear that they will.  The only one that is sort-of-scheduled to take place before May 2021 is the European election of 2019, which will not go ahead in the UK if Brexit happens on the planned date (although to be honest I don't have a clue if it'll go ahead if Brexit is delayed by a few months).  There is no better strategy for avoiding any risks attached to the next UK general election than making sure that Scotland is an independent country by the time it is held.  As I've noted many times, the SNP will have no option but to do their best to help bring about an early general election if the opportunity arises - but at the moment no such opportunity is on the horizon, and if that continues to be the case, a Yes vote in a 2019 indyref would ensure that the last ever Scottish contribution to a UK general election was the handsome SNP victory of June 2017.  Now, there's a thought to conjure with.

*  *  *

Five new Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls have been published since my last update...

BMG: SNP 36%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 22%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 7%, UKIP 2%

ICM (a): SNP 34%, Conservatives 29%, Labour 23%, Greens 6%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 3%

YouGov: Conservatives 37%, SNP 34%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 4%, UKIP 2%, Women's Equality 1%

Opinium: SNP 37%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 25%, Greens 5%, UKIP 2%, Liberal Democrats 2%

ICM (b): SNP 41%, Conservatives 27%, Labour 26%, Greens 2%, Liberal Democrats 2%, UKIP 1%

No cause for alarm in any of that.  The YouGov results are a bit of an oddity, because since the election YouGov subsamples have more or less consistently put the Tories in third place, and yet this time the Tories are suddenly in the lead - but that just demonstrates what a large margin of error any individual subsample has, even when it's correctly weighted (as YouGov subsamples apparently are).

Across all firms, thirty-one of the last thirty-four subsamples have put the SNP ahead.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Momentous Panelbase poll suggests Brexit could lead to majority support for independence

You've probably seen by now that Wings has a new Panelbase poll out.  It looks like this is merely the first of several questions from the poll that will be published over the coming days (making it an almost unique example of a political poll that was commissioned with the specific intention of keeping people entertained over Christmas!).

The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU in March of 2019.  If a referendum on Scottish independence was held around this time, and if a Yes vote meant that Scotland would definitely stay in the EU when the UK left, which way do you think you would vote?

I would vote for an independent Scotland in the EU: 49%
I would vote for Scotland to stay in the UK and leave the EU: 51%

For the avoidance of doubt, this can't be taken to indicate a recent increase in support for independence, because the poll asks a non-conventional and hypothetical question, and indeed offers a choice between two non-conventional and hypothetical answers.  It's not directly comparable with more standard independence polls, which over the last few months have had the Yes vote hovering between 43% and 47%.  Nevertheless, it's an extremely interesting finding because it directly contradicts a narrative that is almost beginning to be regarded in some quarters as indisputable fact - namely that the SNP leadership made a serious miscalculation in 2016 and early 2017 by assuming that Brexit could in itself bring about majority support for independence.  The theory is that the Yes side has lost as many (or perhaps more) votes as it has gained, because too many people who voted Yes in 2014 and Leave in 2016 do not regard continued membership of the EU as a price worth paying for independence, while not enough Remain voters regard independence as a price worth paying for EU membership.  This poll suggests the opposite is the case - that explicitly tying independence to EU membership actually produces a net gain in Yes support, which is precisely what the SNP leadership thought would be the case all along.

As it happens, the proportion of Remain voters in the poll who say they would vote against independence (32%) is significantly higher than the proportion of Leave voters who say they would vote in favour of independence (21%).  But because there are far more Remain voters than Leave voters in Scotland, that's still enough to produce a net boost for Yes.

Of course, some will argue that the results of the poll are meaningless because the hypothetical scenario presented by the question will never come to pass - ie. if there's an independence referendum in early 2019, voters won't have absolute 100% certainty that an independent Scotland would remain in the EU (or rejoin after a short hiatus, which amounts to the same thing).  But if EU leaders are interested in the unexpected bonus of retaining one-third of the UK's land mass after Brexit, and it's not hard to see why they might be, it's quite conceivable that they could find a way of dropping sufficiently heavy hints about how easy an independent Scotland is likely to find it to remain a member.  That might produce much the same effect on public opinion as absolute certainty would.

By the way, don't be dismayed by the fact that the No side are slightly ahead even on the hypothetical question.  This poll is the quintessential statistical tie - meaning it's not possible to know which side is really ahead due to the standard 3% margin of error.  Looking at the raw numbers in the datasets, the result appears to be fractionally closer than even the headline numbers suggest - something like Yes 49.2%, No 50.8%.

One slight reason for caution is that people minded to vote No on a standard independence question seem to have been disproportionately likely to have said "Don't Know" to the question tying independence to EU membership, and thus many are excluded from the headline figures.  But that in itself is an intriguing finding.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Catalan election dramatically reinforces mandate for independence

With almost all the votes in, this looks like being the result -

Pro-independence parties: 70 seats
Anti-independence parties: 57 seats
Neutral party: 8 seats

Pro-independence parties: 70 seats
All others combined: 65 seats


The statistic that the Spanish government and EU leaders will cling to for dear life is that the pro-independence parties didn't quite manage 50% of the popular vote, but don't be fooled by that - the pro-indy camp have a lead of around four percentage points over all of the unionist parties combined.  The neutral party's votes are the fly in the ointment, but there's no reason to doubt that they would break in both directions in the event of a binding independence referendum, making it overwhelmingly unlikely that the fabled "silent majority for Spanish unity" actually exists.  The turnout was exceptionally high, so there's no excuse there - it's not so much a silent majority as a 'vanished from the face of the earth majority'.

Obviously it would have been preferable, and would have removed the last tiny vestige of uncertainty, if the three pro-indy parties had won an absolute majority of the votes.  But let's be honest - even if that had happened, Spain would still be saying that independence is illegal, and the EU would still be sticking their heads in the sand.  An absolute majority of seats is the far more important thing from a strategic point of view, because it leaves the Spanish government in a right old pickle.  The election was called so that the Catalan parliament would no longer be a 'rebel' body, but instead that status quo ante has been reinstated - the parliament will presumably at least nominally continue to regard itself as the legislative body of an independent republic.  Will Spain now turn a blind eye to that?  Or will it call yet another election, and perhaps another one after that, and make itself look utterly ridiculous?  Or will it indefinitely suspend the Catalan democratic institutions?  All of those three options look untenable, and yet if Rajoy doesn't want to grant a binding independence referendum (or indeed to recognise the independence declaration that has already been issued) he'll have to select one of them.

There was a minor surprise in the battle between the two main pro-independence parties, with Carles Puigdemont's centre-right grouping Junts per Catalunya just pipping the left-wing ERC, despite having trailed in the pre-election polls.  However, once the small CUP party is taken into account, the pro-indy camp has a slight left-wing majority, making it a very different beast from the Catalan nationalist movement of old.  On the unionist side, Rajoy was utterly annihilated - his ironically-named Partido Popular seems to have finished seventh in the popular vote, and probably seventh in terms of seats as well.  (And you thought the Scottish Tories paid a heavy price for opposing devolution in the 1990s?)  His natural support seems to have defected en masse to the supposedly 'liberal and centrist' (but in reality right-of-centre and conservative) Ciutadans party, perhaps because that's more of a home-grown unionist outfit.

A modest and sincerely-intended suggestion for the EU: if they don't want to look ludicrously one-sided and anti-democratic, they ought as a minimum to call on Spain to grant Puigdemont an amnesty and allow him to resume his role as president without any further risk of imprisonment.  He is, after all, a newly re-elected head of government, and not a serial killer.

UPDATE: I see that the Madrid-based El Pais newspaper is not grouping the parties into the three camps of 'pro-independence', 'anti-independence' and 'neutral', but instead lumping the anti-independence and neutral parties together in order to claim that the 'No Independentistas' defeated the 'Independentistas' in the popular vote.  I suppose you have to admire their creativity if nothing else.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fresh blow for Leask as "Kremlin-backed alt-Nat TV show" conquers the ratings

You might be interested to know that the Alex Salmond Show have issued a press release that deals robustly with a couple of taunts that have been directed against the programme - firstly that it hasn't been a ratings success, and secondly that it's struggled to attract prominent guests because of the reputation of RT.  On the latter point, it's stressed that over the first few weeks the show has already interviewed two heads of state (President Michel Aoun of Lebanon and President Carles Puigdemont of the new Republic of Catalonia), two knights of the realm, a former member of the Scottish Cabinet, four Westminster MPs, and also Alastair Campbell, who has recently reinvented himself as one of the leading anti-Brexit commentators.  I'm not totally convinced that the BBC's Andrew Marr or Sky's Sophy Ridge could claim to have beaten that line-up over an equivalent time-frame.

As far as the ratings are concerned, they've actually increased significantly since the triumphant headlines about "Alex Salmond's Kremlin TV show getting the same number of viewers as a Taggart repeat" (which on the face of it struck me as an accolade rather than a mark of failure).  The 6.30pm showing on 7th December attracted 19,000 viewers, up around 20% since the first episode in November.  If anything, the improvement is a surprise, because a programme launched in a blitz of publicity will often lose viewers after the initial novelty wears off.  Presumably it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of the show's UK audience live in Scotland, which means roughly 1 in 300 of the entire Scottish population were watching at just one moment in time - pretty healthy for a minority TV channel that not everyone has heard of, and that some don't have access to.  But more to the point, the 19,000 figure doesn't even include viewers for the other two broadcasts on the same day, or those who saw some or all of the programme on YouTube - which in reality is most people's point of contact with RT.

By the way, if like me you have a TV package like Virgin Media that doesn't include RT, the channel is live-streamed for free on the website HERE.  The next Alex Salmond Show is tomorrow at 7.30am, 6.30pm, and 11.30pm.

*  *  *

It looks like the Catalan election tomorrow is going to be a frighteningly close-run thing.  Barring widespread voting irregularities (which admittedly can't be ruled out), there's not much risk that the anti-independence parties will win a majority between them - but of course this is not really a fair contest, because the pro-independence parties effectively need to clear a tougher hurdle than their opponents do.  It's not enough simply to be the bigger of the two camps - only an absolute majority of seats will be interpreted as reinforcing the mandate for independence.  The estimates of seats in most recent opinion polls suggest that the majority is on a knife-edge, with potentially just one or two seats tipping the balance in either direction.

There's also an intriguing battle within the pro-indy camp - both the left-wing ERC and Puigdemont's centre-right Junts per Catalunya are vying the be the largest single grouping.  Puigdemont has made up ground recently, but still hasn't quite drawn level with the ERC.  It's possible (perhaps even probable) that the split in the pro-indy camp will allow the virulently anti-independence Ciutadans to come through the middle and claim 'victory' - although that won't really matter as long as Junts per Catalunya, the ERC and the smaller CUP have a combined majority between them.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A gentle word in the ear of Tommy Sheppard: let's get real

My jaw has just dropped to the floor upon reading an article in The National in which SNP MP Tommy Sheppard argues that if Kezia Dugdale defects from Labour to the SNP, she should be required to stand down and fight for re-election under her new colours.  Now, for the avoidance of doubt, I do not believe for one moment that Kezia Dugdale is going to defect - I think the idea that she must be a secret SNP sympathiser because of her father and her partner is a paranoid fantasy put about by the Ian Smarts of this world.  But let's say for the sake of argument that she (or more likely somebody else entirely) were to make the jump.  Are we really supposed to accept that the SNP should turn down the golden chance to move closer to overall majority status at Holyrood, and to make the pro-independence majority in parliament more emphatic, just on some point of principle that no other party is signed up to?  Are the SNP going to treat politics as a game of cricket when other parties would be completely ruthless if the circumstances were reversed?

At Westminster, there have been instances of Labour MPs defecting to the Tories or Liberal Democrats without a by-election, Tory MPs defecting to Labour or the Liberal Democrats without a by-election, and even one instance of a Labour MP (Dick Douglas in 1990) defecting to the SNP without a by-election.  Why would we suddenly get squeamish at a time when the stakes are so much higher?  If we assume that Mark McDonald can still be relied upon to informally follow the SNP whip, just one more MSP would take the party to exactly 50% of the seats in Holyrood (excluding the non-voting Presiding Officer), thus making it much harder for the opposition parties to inflict any defeats.  By contrast, if Ms Dugdale or any other Labour list MSP were to simply resign, the SNP wouldn't even have a chance to win the seat in a by-election - a slavishly loyal replacement Labour MSP would simply be appointed from lower down the list, and we'd be no further forward.

I'd suggest to Tommy Sheppard that if we're going to win independence, it might be an idea not to turn our noses up at golden opportunities, especially any that may fall gift-wrapped from heaven.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ruth Davidson set for "future of demeaning irrelevance" as yet another Scottish poll puts the SNP on course for Westminster gains from the Tories

Stuart Campbell of Wings has tweeted the following Survation polling figures, which appear to be from a new full-scale Scottish poll.  I can't find any other reference to them yet, so I suppose there's an outside chance they may turn out to be from a subsample or something like that, but I doubt it.  If it is indeed a full poll, it's the fifth to be published since the general election, and the fourth of those to suggest that the SNP's support is higher than it was on polling day.  (The exception was the previous Survation poll a few days ago that had the SNP on exactly the same 37% vote share they managed in June.)

Scottish voting intentions for the next Westminster general election (Survation):

SNP 38% (+1)
Labour 29% (+1)
Conservatives 24% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)

Note: the percentage changes listed above differ from the ones in the Sunday Post graphic tweeted by Stuart, because I'm using the most recent Survation poll as the baseline, whereas the Post are using the last Survation poll but one.

We've now had three Survation polls since the election, and the sequence of results for the SNP has been 39-37-38.  That's the kind of minor fluctuation that is easily consistent with margin of error noise, so it could well be that SNP support bounced back a little after the general election aftermath and has remained steady over the last two or three months.  It's also worth recalling that the two non-Survation polls in the early autumn had the SNP in the low 40s, which leaves open the possibility that SNP support has been running steady at an even higher level than Survation are suggesting.

It's easy to become distracted by the eye-catching detail of Labour overtaking the Tories to reclaim second place, but the bottom line is that the SNP are the challengers in all of the Scottish seats held by the Tories.  What will determine whether the Tories can hold what they have is the lead held over them by the SNP - and, according to this poll, that lead has increased from eight points at the general election to a whopping fourteen points now.  And the direction of travel could be the most troubling thing of all for Ruth Davidson - if the lead grows to twenty points or more, the Tories could be facing carnage at the next election.

As for the SNP v Labour battle, it's much harder to judge.  This poll, just like the last Survation poll, implies a trivial net swing of 0.5% from SNP to Labour, which because of the large number of ultra-marginal seats would be enough to move several to the Labour column.  But the snag is that no poll can really be that precise due to the margin of error.  The figures are also perfectly consistent with a small swing from Labour to SNP, which could see the SNP regaining seats from Labour as well as the Tories.

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions:

SNP 39% (n/c)
Labour 28% (+3)
Conservatives 24% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-1)

Unlike the Survation poll a few days ago which dented the "progress for Labour" narrative by suggesting Labour's Holyrood support was absolutely static, this one does suggest a bit of an advance.  Obviously it's unlikely that anything significant has changed over such a short time-scale, so the difference can probably be explained by the margin of error, and we'll have to wait for more information to discover where the truth lies.

Voting intentions for next Scottish independence referendum:

Yes 46% (-1)
No 54% (+1)

No statistically significant changes on independence, but what very much is significant is that this is the third Survation poll in a row to put Yes support higher than the 45% recorded in the September 2014 referendum, and indeed substantially higher than the 43% recorded in the post-election Survation poll in June.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Confirmation from Stuart on Twitter - "It's a full-size poll. 1006 respondents, 1-5 December."  It looks like Survation didn't send out the usual embargoed information about the poll (perhaps at the Sunday Post's request), because even several hours later it's barely been mentioned anywhere online.  Britain Elects haven't reported it, and it hasn't made it onto the Wikipedia list yet. 

*  *  *

UPDATE II: The regional list results from the poll have now been revealed, and oddly enough Labour's step forward on the constituency ballot hasn't been mirrored at all on the list.

Scottish Parliament regional list voting intentions:

SNP 32% (-1)
Labour 24% (-1)
Conservatives 21% (-1)
Greens 10% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)

Friday, December 8, 2017

It's IMPOSSIBLE for a devolved parliament to have a Brexit veto (except when it's in the Tories' own interests, in which case it's obviously totally possible)

In my last blogpost, I posed the question: given the entrenched positions of the DUP, the Irish government and anti-European Tory MPs, how was it even possible for a deal to be reached?  Ireland required no hard border, which meant either that Britain as a whole had to remain closely aligned to the EU (ie. a soft Brexit), or there had to be a special status for Northern Ireland.  The DUP's red line was no special status for Northern Ireland, which left no other option for Theresa May but to concede the principle of a soft Brexit right now - except, of course, that would be totally unacceptable to anti-European Tory MPs.

The circle has theoretically been squared today by allowing Tory MPs to retain hope that a soft Brexit can be averted by means of a special status for Northern Ireland, while also keeping the DUP on board by giving the Northern Ireland Assembly a veto on such a deal (which, given the cross-community voting arrangements in the Assembly, amounts to a DUP veto).  Essentially, it's a temporary truce that hinges on the stupidity of Tory MPs - they have to believe it's possible that the DUP will eventually sign off on Northern Ireland becoming a "special administrative region", which is plainly never going to happen.  When that realisation hits home, it's not hard to imagine how everything could quickly unravel, and an extreme 'no deal' Brexit could be back on the cards.

As far as the consequences for Scotland are concerned, arguably today's developments leave the Tories in an even worse position than the proposed agreement on Monday would have done.  The Monday text merely conceded that one part of the UK could remain more closely aligned to the EU than other parts if it so wishes, which the Tories had previously said was impossible for Scotland.  Today's text goes further and gives a devolved legislature a veto on one aspect of Brexit, which was also supposed to be completely impossible.  The SNP are quite right to scent blood.

*  *  *

Two new Scottish subsamples have been published since my last update -

ICM: SNP 33%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 24%, Greens 8%, Liberal Democrats 6%, UKIP 1%

YouGov: SNP 38%, Labour 30%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 2%, BNP 2%, UKIP 1%

Across all firms, twenty-seven of the last twenty-nine subsamples have put the SNP in first place.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A paradox: did Tory losses at the general election make a hard Brexit more likely?

There was a great deal of speculation back in June about whether the election resulting in a hung parliament - albeit, crucially, one in which the Conservatives and DUP held a majority between them - made a hard Brexit significantly less likely.  The theory was that Labour would wield much more influence, and that even the DUP would help steer the government towards a softer Brexit because of their pragmatic desire for a 'frictionless frontier' with the Republic.  Well, the latter point is now looking distinctly ropey, because the one and only reason a hard Irish border even remains a possibility today is because the DUP vetoed the deal yesterday.  It's still the case that the DUP would probably sign up quite happily to a soft Brexit as long as there were explicit guarantees that the degree of 'softness' would be uniform throughout the UK, and that Northern Ireland wouldn't end up in a 'one country, two systems' scenario.  But any such guarantees would trigger a mass Tory rebellion and quite possibly bring the government down.

The trouble with trying to bounce people into an agreement they wouldn't ordinarily sign up to is that you have to move so fast that they don't know what's hit them until it's too late.  The gambit almost worked yesterday, but a miss is as good as a mile, and Theresa May's game has now been well and truly rumbled.  Having taken such open satisfaction in foiling Dublin's plans, the DUP will presumably only be able to get back on board if the Irish government are seen to publicly back down on points of substance, and that's surely very unlikely.  Meanwhile, Tory Eurosceptics are now wise to May's willingness to concede a soft Brexit if that's the only way of squaring the Northern Ireland circle, and they'll move over the coming days to close that option off.   Where else is there to go?

Right at this moment, it does appear that the loss of the Tory majority has - against all expectations - created a dynamic that makes a hard Brexit more likely, not less so.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Schrodinger's No Regulatory Divergence

I've just been catching up with the fudge on Northern Ireland that looks set to save the Brexit negotiations - but at what price?  My first reaction was that it would bring down the Tory government because the DUP would withdraw support, but it looks like what we're actually moving towards is a situation where the EU and Ireland insist that a special status has been agreed for Northern Ireland, while the DUP insist the deal doesn't mean any such thing.  Or to put it another way, the DUP have seemingly decided to "explain" a sellout to their own voters, rather than oppose it.  I'm not sure that's sustainable, but if the DUP leadership do try to hold the line, they could quickly find themselves facing the same fate as David Trimble and Reg Empey.

And what of Scotland?  It seems to me there is one answer, and one answer only, to the question of why Scotland can't have the same deal as Northern Ireland.  That answer is "because it would create a border on the island of Great Britain".  But the moment the Tories actually say that out loud, the unionist population of Northern Ireland will hear the message loud and clear that a border is being created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the DUP leadership will be toast.

There are two political parties that are suddenly in a pickle today - and the SNP isn't one of them.

Ruth Davidson faces "utter humiliation" at next election as Scottish Tories slump to third place in landmark Survation poll

Scottish voting intentions for next Westminster general election (Survation):

SNP 37% (-2)
Labour 28% (+2)
Conservatives 25% (-1)

Note that the percentage changes listed above are from the last Survation poll a couple of months ago, rather than from the general election result itself.  The SNP's vote share is unchanged since the general election, while the Tories have slipped four points.  Curiously, Labour haven't taken much advantage of that - they're only up a statistically insignificant one point since June.  No word yet on the Lib Dems' showing in the poll as far as I can see.

Across all firms, this is the fourth full-scale Scottish poll since the general election, and it's the first of the four that hasn't been unalloyed good news for the SNP - ie. it's the first that hasn't shown the SNP with a higher vote share than they achieved at the election.  However, in my view it remains truly remarkable that the SNP's vote isn't down since the election. The momentum seemed to be totally against them during the summer, and yet the ship has since been steadied and they now enjoy a slightly greater lead over the second placed party than they did in June - albeit the identity of the second placed party has changed.  The most satisfying point is that there has been a net swing of 2% from Tory to SNP since the election, which ought to put the SNP in line for modest gains from the Tories if there were to be a hypothetical election tomorrow.

Scottish Parliament voting intentions

Constituency vote:

SNP 39% (-3)

Regional vote:

SNP 33% (+2)

Yup, that's literally all we have on the Holyrood voting intentions in the poll so far - the Record haven't bothered to mention the figures for any other party!  They do note that the SNP and Greens wouldn't have an overall majority between them based on the poll, but that's a statement of the obvious and isn't a change from the last set of Survation numbers.  It's reassuring at least that the SNP's list vote has bounced back from the unusually low 31% in the last poll.

John Curtice is quoted in the Record piece making the vitally important point that although the SNP now face much stiffer competition at both Westminster and Holyrood than was the case a year or two ago, that change in the political weather hasn't been accompanied by a drop in support for independence - far from it.  As we saw last night, Yes support in the Survation poll is back up to 47%, an improvement of some four points since the post-election poll from the same firm in June.  It strikes me that a minority of people within the SNP were determined to learn the wrong lesson from the general election result - they thought the party had talked about independence too much, but it seems far more likely that the opposite is true.  Quite plainly independence is significantly more popular at the moment than even the SNP, so it's hard to see what the harm would be in campaigning on independence more vigorously.  Remember that holding the first referendum in 2014 was the key to unlocking vast support for the SNP from ex-Labour voters who might not otherwise have ever made the jump. The recollection of that lesson now that the dust has settled on the general election may explain why the SNP leadership seem much more bullish about a pre-2021 referendum than they were a few months ago.

UPDATE: Survation have confirmed the full figures from the poll, which are as follows...

Westminster voting intention:

SNP 37% (-2)
Labour 28% (+2)
Conservatives 25% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intention:

SNP 39% (-3)
Labour 25% (n/c)
Conservatives 24% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)

Scottish Parliament regional list voting intention:

SNP 33% (+2)
Labour 25% (n/c)
Conservatives 22% (+1)
Greens 8% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)
UKIP 3% (n/c)

No wonder the Record didn't want to say too much about the Holyrood figures, because it turns out that Labour's support is absolutely static - putting the wild claims that Labour have made great strides under Richard Leonard in a somewhat different perspective.  It's perfectly possible the party haven't made any real progress on the Westminster front either - their 2% boost could easily just be a margin of error illusion.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ruth Davidson SHUDDERS as support for independence increases to 47% in long-awaited Survation poll

We're getting a bit closer to solving the mystery of the elusive full-scale Scottish poll from Survation - it turns out it was commissioned by the Record.  Given that publication's virulently anti-SNP, pro-Labour and anti-independence stance, it's intriguing that the first detail they've chosen to reveal is not Holyrood or Westminster voting intention, but as David Clegg himself puts it, "Indyref 2 voting intention".  He's probably correct to anticipate Indyref 2 on these numbers, which suggest support for independence is higher than at the 2014 referendum, and is within just three percentage points of victory.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (+1)
No 53% (-1)

The percentage changes I've listed above assume this is an online Survation poll, which it probably is.  If that's right, it's the second consecutive increase in support for Yes, which has bounced back from the low of 43% recorded just after the general election in June.  If by any chance it's a telephone poll, the recovery for Yes is even more dramatic, because the last Survation phone poll was conducted just before the June election, and had Yes on only 39%.

An indyref is much more likely to take place in 2019 or 2020 than next year

First things first: a Survation-Watch update.  Stuart Dickson has spotted an article in the Sunday Post about a Scottish poll conducted by Survation between the 27th and 30th of November.  It was commissioned by an organisation called 38 Degrees and asks whether EU powers over devolved areas should be transferred direct to Holyrood after Brexit (as would happen automatically if it wasn't for the UK government's power grab in the Great Repeal Bill).  The results are predictable, albeit devastating for the UK government - almost two-thirds of the Scottish public want the powers to go to Edinburgh, not London.

The poll looks for all the world like a bolt-on question added to a full-scale poll commissioned by a different client.  So it looks like Survation have carried out the Scottish poll they promised - but so far the voting intention results are nowhere to be seen.  Maybe those will still appear over the coming hours or days - and if they don't, there'll be the tantalising possibility that maybe, just maybe, the client is holding them back due to disappointment with the numbers.  Something like that happened a couple of months ago, as you may recall.

What did turn up last night was a UK-wide Survation voting intention poll, which caused a sensation because it puts Labour in overall majority territory for the first time in years.  The Scottish subsample shows the following: SNP 34%, Labour 29%, Conservatives 23%, UKIP 8%, Liberal Democrats 7%.  That's not to be sniffed at - any sort of SNP lead in a poll that puts Labour on 45% at UK level is pretty good going.  Across all firms, twenty-five of the last twenty-seven subsamples have shown the SNP in first place.

To turn to a different subject, this month's issue of iScot magazine features Peter A Bell and myself making entirely opposite points about the timing of the second independence referendum, and doing so with equal confidence.  For reasons that I find hard to pin down, Peter is certain that the referendum will be held in September 2018, whereas I think a 2018 referendum is close enough to being impossible as makes no difference - although of course I do firmly believe that it should (and probably will) be held before the current mandate expires in May 2021.  Yesterday, Peter claimed that Nicola Sturgeon had dropped a heavy hint that 2018 was going to be The Year in remarks to the SNP National Council.  Others disputed that she had done any such thing, and I'm not surprised, because I'm baffled as to how Peter thinks a 2018 referendum is even feasible in practical terms.

If the UK government were prepared to pass a Section 30 order without fuss upon request, then of course holding a snap referendum at almost any time would be a trivial matter.  But all the indications are that they intend to persevere with the "now is not the time" tactic for a few years, which means any vote in 2018 would have to be of the consultative variety, held without Westminster's permission.  That makes it harder to do on a tight timetable, because the following steps would have to be followed -

1) Nicola Sturgeon would need to allow ample time for a renewed Section 30 request to be considered, in order to demonstrate that she isn't just going through the motions in making it.  She'll want to establish in the public mind that she bent over backwards to reach an agreement, and wasn't hellbent on going it alone.

2) She'll then need time to explain to the public why an "unauthorised" consultative referendum has become necessary - not least because the media will point out she's changed her own mind on that subject.

3) The Scottish Parliament will then need to go through the process of legislating for a referendum, which from a legal perspective will not necessarily be that easy.  The Presiding Officer's legal advisers will have to be satisfied that the proposal is within the parliament's current powers, which will require very careful wording.  If that is achieved, it'll still be important that the SNP are not seen to railroad such controversial legislation through parliament - there'll have to be proper time for reflection and debate.

4) There may then be legal challenges to overcome.

5) Last but not least, Ms Sturgeon will need to allow an appropriate length of time for the campaign proper.  I don't think anyone would want a campaign anything like as long as the one that preceded the 2014 vote - but any attempt to cram it into a few short weeks would look like a cynical tactic and might backfire badly.

I would suggest the last realistic date for a 2018 referendum is late October - anything beyond that would lead to concerns about the weather.  (Alex Salmond initially proposed that the first indyref should be held on St Andrew's Day 2010, but fate proved that wasn't such a great idea - there was heavy snow and traffic chaos on that day.)  So basically we're talking about a little under eleven months from now.  If Ms Sturgeon got the ball rolling right now or very soon, there might be just about enough time.  But that clearly isn't going to happen.  There'll be no announcement this side of Christmas, and probably not until well into the New Year.  That means the 2018 option will be effectively timed out, and we'll be looking at a probable date of 2019 or 2020.  I'm not at all downhearted by that, because it wasn't very long ago that siren voices within the SNP were seemingly trying to use the general election result as an excuse to "park" any talk of a referendum until beyond the 2021 election.  They now appear to have comprehensively lost the internal debate.

Does the near-impossibility of a 2018 vote mean that the referendum will be held after Britain officially leaves the European Union?  Quite possibly, yes.  Is that sub-optimal?  In my opinion, absolutely.  But if we wanted a September 2018 referendum, the time for making that case was during the summer.  It seems to me we lost that particular battle, but won the wider war to keep a pre-2021 vote firmly on course.  Speaking personally, I'm more than satisfied with that outcome.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Never make predictions, especially about the future

Just a quick note to let you know I have a new article in the December issue of iScot, pondering whether it's even worth the bother of making political predictions for 2018, given how difficult it's proved recently to forecast election results and other major developments even a few hours in advance.  If you're not a subscriber to the print edition of iScot, you can see a preview of the article on Twitter HERE, and a digital copy of the magazine can be purchased HERE.

*  *  *

Still no sign of the full-scale Scottish poll from Survation that we were told would arrive this week - so unless the timing has slipped, it's probably for one of the Sunday papers, which means we ought to hear about it tonight.  It'll be the first full Scottish poll for almost two months, so it's best to be braced for the possibility that there may have been a significant change since the huge SNP leads of September and October.  That said, the Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls are still mostly telling a good news story.  The latest is from Ipsos-Mori and shows the following: SNP 45%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 17%, UKIP 6%, BNP 3%, Liberal Democrats 2%, Greens 1%.  Bear in mind the sample size was extremely small, even by the normal standard of subsamples.  Across all firms, twenty-four of the last twenty-six subsamples have put the SNP in first place.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"So you don't think minor roadworks are a news story? Are you nuts, or just a member of the SNP?"

Earlier this evening, STV News asked an engineering expert about the repairs on the Queensferry Crossing, and his firm verdict was that they just weren't a major issue.  That was rather inconvenient, given the almighty song and dance the media have been making about the subject, and the STV reporter's follow-up question was nothing short of astonishing -

"You're not a member of the SNP or anything like that?"

That sort of question is just not asked.  When you have some economic expert from the "independent and respected" Institute for Fiscal Studies on TV to cast a critical eye over Labour's tax plans, you don't demand to know whether they're privately a Tory sympathiser (even though in most cases they probably are).  I'd suggest that STV either have to apologise for this episode, or regard it as a precedent that must be followed for all future interviews of experts, including experts who are making points that are favourable to unionist parties. 

Somebody suggested on Twitter that the reporter might have been trying to be helpful - ie. he knew the expert was non-partisan and was just trying to emphasise that fact for anyone who might be sceptical.  But by asking the question and broadcasting it, the clear implication was that incredulity is the natural reaction, and that it's somehow amazing that an expert with no political agenda would dare to disagree with unionist parties' claims that minor roadworks on a bridge are the end of civilisation as we know it.  It also implies that if the expert had been a member of the SNP, his insight would have been rendered worthless.

The next time an SNP politician is given a hostile grilling on STV, it's hard to see how there can be any complaint if they choose the optimal moment to ask the interviewer: "You don't have any links with the Labour party, do you?"

*  *  *

We were told to expect a full-scale Scottish poll from Survation at some point this week, but there's no sign of it yet as far as I can see.  There was a GB-wide ICM poll a few days ago, though, and the Scottish subsample showed the following: SNP 38%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 25%, Greens 3%, UKIP 2%, Liberal Democrats 1%.  Across all polling firms, twenty-three of the last twenty-five subsamples have shown the SNP in the lead.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Yeah, about that "double-standard" thing...

You may not be aware of this unless you're active on political Twitter, but there's been a heated spat over the last few days about a Yes East Kilbride event that took place last Thursday.  David Hooks (aka PoliticsScot) was on the panel, and had spoken in advance about what a big step it was for him to give a presentation in front of an audience, something he had never done before.  As you'd expect, there was enormous support and appreciation for him putting himself out there and conquering his fears in aid of the Yes movement...or at least there was until a bunch of radical left zealots came along and told him he was a disgrace for having been part of a "manel" (a thoroughly dehumanising word for all-male panel), and that he should have refused to participate unless there had been female speakers.  The organisers pointed out they had approached seventeen women, but every single one had declined to take part in the event.  The response from the radical left?  The event should have been cancelled.

Not surprisingly, David was extremely upset, and I can't say I blame him.  In his shoes, I'd have felt hurt and betrayed.  You do something way outside your comfort zone, you do it for no reward, you travel at your own expense...and then you're told that you should have just stayed at home because your presence on that panel was offensive.  Nothing to do with the content of what you said - just who you are, your anatomy, made you offensive, and everyone would have been much better off if you hadn't been there.  Do the people who come out with this sort of stuff have even an ounce of human empathy?  Are they not aware of how directing cruel comments of that sort to someone at a moment of vulnerability can reinforce phobias or a general lack of confidence, and thus cause a lifetime of harm?  Or do they know exactly what they're doing and just don't care, because the individual in question happens to be a man?

As for the notion that the event should have been completely called off, or that financial inducements should have been offered to potential female speakers until at least one agreed, it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.  Local Yes groups are not the BBC - if they can't organise events on a shoestring budget, they can't organise events at all.  They can do their level best to achieve diversity, but they've got a right to expect that their level best should be considered good enough.  In any case, just how many boxes are they expected to tick before the zealots say it's OK for an event to go ahead?  On a panel of five, should at least one person always be gay or bisexual?  Should at least one person always be transgender?  Should at least one person always be a citizen of another EU country?  Should at least one person always be non-white?  Should at least one person always be a wheelchair user?  Should there always be at least one person with autism?  If it's not possible to achieve all of these things all of the time, should no events ever take place?  Should Yes campaigning cease completely?  This is absolute lunacy.

The controversy reached the pages of the Herald today with an article by Shona Craven suggesting that the real issue is that male Yes activists somehow have an inbuilt funding advantage and are subject to less nastiness than their female counterparts, and that women therefore shouldn't really be asked to put themselves forward for panels without monetary compensation.  Here's the key paragraph, which has since been quoted approvingly by the radical left's self-appointed "enforcer" James McEnaney -

"Women in the movement who are prominent in the media – especially if they refuse to toe a pro-SNP line – are regularly accused of using the 2014 referendum to carve out nice little careers for themselves. There's a suggestion this is at best grubby and unseemly, and at worst a cynical ploy by scheming, opportunistic women who refuse to wheesht for indy like good girls. Meanwhile, prominent Yes men rake in thousands via crowdfunding campaigns and are defended to the hilt, even when their behaviour causes embarrassment to the movement as a whole. There is a glaring double standard here, and women notice it."

You don't need me to point out that most of that is based on a false premise.  I would guess that "women are regularly accused of using the 2014 referendum to carve out nice little careers for themselves" is at least partly a reference to GA Ponsonby, who has indeed regularly made that criticism of women like Angela Haggerty - but the snag is that he's also regularly made an identical criticism of men like Loki.  It's never been an attack based on gender, but rather on his personal belief that for certain individuals of both genders, career advancement within the mainstream media comes before the best interests of the Yes movement.  If gender equality means anything, it surely means that women are individuals with the capacity to make free choices and that criticising a specific woman's actions is not synonymous with hating women.

By the same token, it's deeply disingenuous for Shona to imply that only "Yes men" have raked in thousands via crowdfunders for alternative media websites.  CommonSpace is edited by a woman, has many female columnists and reporters, and is generously funded by donations from Yes supporters.  Bella is edited by a man, but its fundraisers have benefitted both male and female writers.  NewsShaft had a mixed gender team when it ran its very successful fundraisers.

What interests me most, though, is this bit:  "There is a glaring double standard here, and women notice it."

Well, I'm a bloke, and I've noticed a glaring double-standard in all this.  Here it is in pictorial form -

That was posted only a few weeks ago by one of the people who argued that the Yes East Kilbride event should have been cancelled if no female panellist could be found to take part, and that it was the responsibility of the male panellists to pull out if the organisers refused to cancel.  So what does she do when faced with an all-female panel?  Does she demand cancellation?  Does she pressurise the panellists to withdraw?  Does she argue that financial inducements should have been offered until at least one man agreed to attend?

Nope, she punches the air in delight.

And, yes, we all know what the excuse is - all-female panels are good because they're a blow against the patriarchy, and all-male panels are bad because they reinforce the patriarchy.  But that's Orwellian doublethink, pure and simple.  It uses ideological blind faith to deligitimise discussion of a blatant contradiction that everyone knows can't be justified in any rational way.

Put it this way - even if you think that positive discrimination is still needed to advance gender equality, there will surely come a point when the goal has been broadly achieved and these double standards can no longer be defended.  At that point, either the celebration of all-female panels will have to be accompanied by the celebration of "manels" - or both all-male and all-female panels will have to be shunned.  Which is it to be?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Nick Robinson: you don't even have to set traps for him

The myriad of ways in which BBC Today presenter Nick Robinson has just mutilated his own credibility by writing an article for the Mail on Sunday are so obvious that they barely need to be stated, but let's just run through some of them anyway.

* Two weeks ago, Robinson argued that the problem with The Alex Salmond Show was not that the programme itself would contain "Kremlin propaganda", but rather that it would lend credibility to the propaganda found elsewhere on the RT channel.  It's therefore reasonable to conclude that Robinson always pauses to think deeply about the credibility he might be lending to the output of any media organisation he associates with, and that he's decided he's more than happy to give his personal stamp of approval to the Mail's demonisation of immigrants, relentless body-shaming of women, and sexualisation of girls under the age of consent (among the many other delightful things we know and love about that publication).  At the very least, it's clear that he simply doesn't think these things are important enough to compel him to withhold credibility from them.

* It's a statement of the obvious that the Mail has a political agenda, and tries to shape the news as much as report it.  If Robinson thinks a politician should have nothing to do with a propaganda media outlet, what does it say about him as a public service broadcaster with a duty of complete impartiality that he has freely chosen to associate with the right-wing, British nationalist political platform of the Mail?

* In contrast to Alex Salmond, who has total editorial control over his RT programme, it's clear that Robinson was content to cede a degree of editorial control over the presentation of his article to the Mail.  Indeed, it's pretty much impossible to write a newspaper article without doing that.   The Mail have taken advantage of that with, for example, a strategically-placed and carefully captioned photo of Alex Salmond that emphasises the ways in which Robinson's piece is in tune with the newspaper's own familiar anti-SNP (and indeed anti-Scottish) propaganda.  It's tantamount to saying "You see?  It's not just us.  The neutral BBC think it as well."  Robinson has given them full licence to use his status for their own ends.

* Much of Robinson's article relies on innuendo rather than fact, which is something he would never tolerate in respect of criticisms of either himself or the BBC.  For instance, he thinks it's enough to simply pose the question: why did Radio Sputnik set up a base in Edinburgh of all places?  Well, there could be many possible answers to that question, only one of which is "because breaking up the United Kingdom is a clearly-defined and overriding objective of Russian-funded broadcasting".  An alternative explanation is that Radio Sputnik and RT are both seeking niche ways of expanding their reach in a crowded market, and have identified the energy of the pro-independence alternative media in Scotland as an obvious gap in that market.  (Ironically, they wouldn't even have had the opportunity if it hadn't been for the failure of the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media to give the pro-independence side a fair crack of the whip.)  By the same token, there are many possible answers to the question: "what can we read into an extraordinarily misleading report by Nick Robinson on prime-time BBC News just before the indyref claiming that Alex Salmond didn't answer a question that he clearly did answer, and at great length?"  It's not compulsory to jump to the conspiracy theory conclusion, and Robinson clearly finds it offensive when people do.  If he wants them to stop, I'd suggest he should practice what he preaches.

* Two months ago, Robinson used his Reith Lecture to argue that the BBC needed to combat a loss of trust on social media by advertising its own impartiality proudly.  So does he really think a BBC presenter siding with a right-wing British nationalist newspaper against Alex Salmond, and doing so in the most brazenly hypocritical way imaginable, will help to win back that trust on social media?  Or will it, just conceivably, cause people to fall about laughing?  Or, indeed, to become extremely angry, because it confirms all of their worst fears?  Answers on a postcard, folks...

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Extraordinary Perth by-election result illustrates the limitations of anti-SNP tactical voting

In my post on Thursday night, I pointed out three remarkable things about the Perth City South by-election result: a) that, on first preference votes, the SNP had moved from second place into first, b) that the SNP share of the vote had increased by 6.4%, and c) that there was a slight swing from Tory to SNP.  Well, here's a fourth remarkable thing.  In spite of the surge they enjoyed, the SNP still 'only' took 32.1% of the first preference vote, and almost all of the remaining two-thirds of votes were cast for unionist parties.  Given the perception of a unionist bloc vote that wants to stop the SNP at all costs, you'd therefore expect the SNP to have suffered a lopsided defeat once the lower preferences of eliminated unionist candidates were redistributed.  But that simply didn't happen.  Even after several rounds of redistributions, the SNP were still agonisingly close to winning the seat - they were only beaten by 154 votes.

The simplest way of demonstrating what happened is to look at how the Lib Dems' votes transferred once it became a straight contest between SNP and Tory.  Apart from a very small number of votes that had been transferred from the Greens at an earlier stage, almost all of these Lib Dem votes can reasonably be described as 'unionist party votes'.

Liberal Democrat transfers :

Non-transferable 44.4%
Conservatives 35.7%
SNP 19.8%

So almost two-thirds of this supposed unionist bloc failed to express a clear preference for the Tories over the SNP, and almost one-fifth actually expressed a preference for the SNP over the Tories.  Obviously the high number of non-transferable votes can be partly explained by unfamiliarity with the voting system, but nevertheless, even among those Lib Dem voters who did use their lower preferences, more than one-third backed the SNP.  The fact that more Lib Dems broke for the Tories than for the SNP explains why the Tories managed to squeak a victory - but unless the original first preference result had been extremely tight, that wouldn't have been enough to swing the balance.  You're not going to see the Tories overcome first preference deficits of 8% or 10% on this pattern of transfers.

I'd suggest all of this could pose a problem for the Tories at the next Westminster general election.  Assuming the 29% of the national vote they managed this year proves to be 'Peak Tory' (and there are many reasons for thinking it probably will), they're going to be looking to buck the trend in seats they already hold by appealing to Labour and Lib Dem supporters to cast an anti-SNP tactical vote.  It may be that not enough people are going to be receptive to that message - and the problem could get a lot worse if the Tory government goes on to become anything like as actively disliked in the north-east and the south as the Major government was in the 1990s.  I'm increasingly optimistic that the SNP can win back at least some seats from the Tories, whenever the election is held.

In SNP-Labour battleground seats, it's obviously a very different story, because most Tory supporters are for the moment obsessed enough with the constitution to think Labour are preferable to the SNP.  But for how much longer will that be the case?  Richard Leonard's elevation to leader could prove to be something of a watershed for unionist tactical voting, because Tory supporters will no longer be able to tell themselves that Scottish Labour is more centrist than the Corbyn-controlled UK party, and thus 'safer' to vote for.

We know that Labour are going to take every opportunity at the next election to peddle the fiction that voters need to abandon the SNP for Labour if they want to see a non-Tory government.  Well, Tory supporters are going to hear that message as well, and some of them may even start to convince themselves that a tactical vote for the SNP could be the most practical way of preventing a Corbyn administration.  At the very least, they may become more conflicted about whether the SNP or Corbyn is the greater and more immediate threat, which could lead them to simply revert to a non-tactical vote for their own first-choice party.

*  *  *

After the SNP's 'curate's egg' performance in by-elections this week, I was hoping that the two new Scottish subsamples from YouGov would offer some clues as to what the state of play really is, but in fact they've just muddied the waters even further, because they're completely contradictory.

YouGov (a): Labour 36%, SNP 33%, Conservatives 22%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 3%, BNP 1%, UKIP 1%

YouGov (b): SNP 38%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 24%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 2%, Greens 1%

So we have the first YouGov subsample since the summer to put Labour in the lead...and then the first YouGov subsample since the general election to put Labour as low as third.  Across all polling firms, twenty-two of the last twenty-four subsamples have shown an SNP lead - but the two that didn't have both been published within the last week.  Make of that what you will.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

SNP vote surges in Perth by-election - but it's a tougher night in Rutherglen

It's already clear from gossip on Twitter that Labour have won the Rutherglen by-election.  That's a disappointing result for the SNP, who comfortably won the popular vote in the ward back in May, so clearly there has been a significant swing to Labour.  It's the third time over recent months that the SNP's performance in a west-central Scotland by-election has fallen well short of what the opinion polls would lead us to expect.  The obvious means of explaining that away would be to point to dismally low turnout - although it's not immediately clear why that would favour Labour so much (in contrast to the Tories, whose supporters are well known for flocking to the polls in low turnout contests).

All we know about the Perth South by-election so far comes from Pete Wishart, who says it's a two-horse race, with the SNP as one of the two horses.  My guess would be some sort of Tory victory, but we'll see.

UPDATE: I'll double-check the figures when I get a chance, but this appears to be the result from Rutherglen -

Labour 38.5% (+7.5) 
SNP 27.4% (-12.0)
Liberal Democrats 18.2% (+8.9)
Conservatives 12.1% (-4.2)
Greens 2.9% (-1.1)
UKIP 0.9% (n/a)

If true, there's no way of putting a positive gloss on that - it represents almost a 10% swing to Labour since May, and if extrapolated across the country would point to a clear Labour lead.  That obviously seems highly unlikely based on opinion poll evidence, so perhaps Labour are doing much better in some geographical pockets than in others, or perhaps they were simply better organised than the SNP in a low turnout by-election.  (Only about one-quarter of eligible voters took part.)

The only good thing is that the media, with their customary cluelessness about the quirks of STV by-elections, will report this in one-dimensional fashion as a Labour hold - which technically is what it is, but that doesn't tell the real story of Labour overtaking the SNP in the ward.

UPDATE II: As I suspected, the Tories have won Perth City South.  However, this one is much better news, because the SNP actually 'won' the by-election on first preference votes - an improvement from their second place in the ward in May.  The Tories only took the seat after the lower preferences of eliminated unionist candidates were redistributed.

The full result doesn't appear to be available online yet. Ruth Davidson seems to be suggesting that the Tories took 31% of the first preference vote - which would mean that the SNP must have done at least as well as that, pointing to an increase in the SNP vote of 5% (or more) since May.  A highly creditable result by any standards.

In the case of Perth, the media's cluelessness about STV by-elections will not work in the SNP's favour.  The result will be reported as a "Conservative hold", but the real story is the SNP jumping from second place to first (on first preference votes, that is), the Tories jumping from third place to second, and the Lib Dems slumping from first place to third

UPDATE III: According to Pete Wishart, this is the full result on first preferences -

SNP 32.1% (+6.4)
Conservatives 31.2% (+6.0)
Liberal Democrats 28.8% (-5.9)
Labour 5.7% (-0.7)
Greens 1.8% (-1.3)

Leaving aside the annoying fact that there's going to be a Tory rather than an SNP councillor, this is a cracking result for the SNP - it really is.  It looks like both the SNP and the Tories have been flattered by the drop in Lib Dem support (presumably caused by a popular Lib Dem councillor not being on the ballot paper this time), but even allowing for that, there has been a slight swing from Tory to SNP - which is not really what you'd expect given the greater tendency of Tory supporters to make it to the polls in local by-elections.  It's not a disastrous result for Ruth Davidson, and she'll obviously spin the 'victory' for all she's worth, but privately she must be less than thrilled with yet another second place finish in Perth.

There's also a reality check for Labour here - they may have done extremely well in Rutherglen, but it could be that they're being squeezed in traditional SNP-Tory battlegrounds.

For the fame, not the many

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about Kezia Dugdale's ill-advised decision to take part in I'm a Celebrity.  You can read it HERE.

*  *  *

It was statistically inevitable that the SNP's extraordinary run of being ahead in twenty-one consecutive subsamples would eventually be brought to an end, and it finally happened earlier this week with the publication of Kantar's first poll since the general election.  It's a weird poll all round - not only are the Tories several points ahead across Britain (a finding that is completely out of line with what all other firms have been showing for the last two months), but there's also a substantial Tory lead in the Scottish subsample.  As this is the most recent poll to be conducted, we can't completely exclude the possibility that it's picking up something new, but it's probably more likely that it'll prove to be a freakish result.  I'd be a little more concerned if the Scottish subsample had put Labour substantially ahead, but a Tory surge in Scotland just doesn't have the smell of truth at the moment.

Bizarrely, Kantar appear to be unaware of the change in Scottish Labour leadership.  According to their datasets, one of the voting intention options they offered to respondents in Scotland was "Labour party (led by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Kezia Dugdale in Scotland)".

*  *  *

We should get more of a clue of the state of public opinion overnight, because there are two important local by-elections in Scotland today - one in Perth City South, and one in Rutherglen Central & North.  On paper, the SNP should have a decent chance of gaining the seat in Rutherglen, because they topped the poll in the ward in May, with an 8% margin over Labour.  However, the ward is in one of the six parliamentary constituencies that Labour gained in the general election, and the arithmetic also looks very similar to a seat that the SNP failed to win in a Glasgow by-election a couple of months ago.  In practice I'd say Labour are slight favourites - which obviously means it would be a huge psychological boost if the SNP were to pull it off.

The Perth contest looks much tougher for the SNP - they were nine points behind the Lib Dems (of all parties) back in May.  Although it's perfectly possible the Lib Dem vote will prove to be soft, you'd think those people would be more likely to break for the Tories rather than the SNP.  But you never know - Pete Wishart famously defied gravity in Perth at the general election, so let's hope history repeats itself.

If by any chance you live in either ward, don't forget to vote over the next few hours!

Monday, November 20, 2017

David Leask makes serious allegation against Ofcom - but does he have any evidence?

Because I'm now blocked on Twitter by the Herald's legendary David "Let's Block Everybody" Leask (as a result of just one polite interaction with him), it's harder for me to keep up with developments concerning his increasingly paranoid obsession with a 30-minute weekly TV show on Freeview.  Someone mentioned yesterday that he now believes The Alex Salmond Show is the "defining story of our age", which seemed a bit too unhinged to be plausible, so I naturally assumed it was a quote that had been taken wildly out of context for comic effect.  But, remarkably, it wasn't.

David Leask: Scotland's reputation 'damaged' by Alex Salmond's Russian TV show

Fenner: Absolutely pathetic that this is still being discussed.

David Leask: It's the defining story of our age. Are you with Trump, Brexit & Putin lie machines or with, among others, the SNP who oppose them. Your choice.

Jim Gibson: It's "the defining story of our age". Yes! Leask actually did write those words. Forget Brexit, Cataluña, Trump, child slavery, refugees, wars, the Middle East, climate change, Greggs sausage rolls. Forget all of them! The Alex Salmond Show defines our age.

Lyn/SNP member: I am much more interested in Theresa May's relationships with Duterte, Salman, Erdogan and Netanyahu. As we break away from the EU these partnerships will tighten. May herself is no fan of democracy or human rights. She is in office. Salmond is not.

David Leask: So you're an SNP member. Why do you think the party boycotts RT?

Lyn/SNP member: I am. I can't answer that. I haven't spoken to the party about RT. So you're a journalist. Why wait until Salmond has his own show before jumping on the bandwagon? Others sat before him including Corbyn. Why is RT AVAILABLE in UK? Who sanctioned it?

David Leask: People who want to make sure the BBC isn't jammed in Russia. You still haven't explained why you oppose the SNP on this. But alas inn (sic) guessing you're not gonna. Best.

Now let's just hit the rewind button for a moment, and treat the first sentence of that final tweet with the seriousness it warrants. Leask's response to the question "Who allows RT to broadcast in the UK?' was "People who want to make sure the BBC isn't jammed in Russia". For the avoidance of doubt, the "people" he is referring to are collectively known as Ofcom - the regulatory body that gave RT a licence to broadcast in this country and so far have not revoked it.  The only reasonable way of interpreting his words is as an allegation that Ofcom ignored their legal duties, and awarded a licence to a broadcaster that did not meet the very strict criteria laid down.  Furthermore, Leask is alleging that Ofcom broke the rules for political reasons (ie. to prevent retaliatory action against the BBC in Russia).  There may even be a hint in there that they took the decision under external political pressure.

If those allegations turned out to be true, it would be a bombshell that would undoubtedly lead to the resignation of Ofcom's management.  Which begs the obvious question: why hasn't Leask written in the Herald about this outrageous Ofcom scandal?  He would of course require evidence before going into print with it, but doubtless he wouldn't have made such an extraordinary claim in the first place unless he had plenty of proof.

(That said, he does now routinely imply that anyone who speaks in support of Alex Salmond must be in the pay of the Kremlin, and is perhaps even Russian themselves.  He's also in the past advanced a crackpot conspiracy theory that Wings Over Scotland and Wee Ginger Dug were set up by dark forces to discredit the independence movement.  So perhaps he isn't quite as much of a stickler for evidence as you might expect from someone of his profession.  In case you're wondering how on earth two immensely popular pro-independence websites are supposed to have discredited the movement, he appeared to mean that they hadn't shown sufficient deference to the mainstream media, which as we all know is the sole determinant of credibility.)

*  *  *

You might remember that a couple of months ago, there was a discussion on this blog about whether it was reasonable for the media to say that Angela Merkel had "won" the German federal election, given that she had only roughly one-third of the seats in the Bundestag, and that if she remained as Chancellor that would be a decision of other parties, not of the voters.  It was argued by some that yes, it was reasonable, because voters had delivered a result that everyone knew would result in a fourth term for Merkel.  That theory went out of the window yesterday when the FDP pulled the plug on three-way coalition talks with Merkel's party and the Greens, meaning there is no longer any viable majority coalition available to Merkel.  Germany thus reverts to the raw arithmetic the voters actually delivered in September, which won't in itself be sufficient to sustain Merkel for a fourth term.  And yet the BBC reiterated today that Merkel "won" the election.  So here's my customary question - if that non-victory (33% of the votes and 35% of the seats) must be described as a "win", what possible excuse is there for not acknowledging that the SNP won the general election in Scotland with their superior 37% of the vote and 59% of the seats?

*  *  *

I was surprised earlier today by a number of angry reactions I received when I made what I thought was a pretty obvious point on Twitter - that while I admired Richard Leonard's honesty, it was likely that his admission that he supports England against Scotland at football would be quoted back at him a million times.  One point that a few people made was "he's English, so why is this surprising."  Well, is he English?  Or is he someone with a more complex identity because he's lived in Scotland for longer than he lived in the country of his birth?  Presumably that was one of the points the question about football was intended to illuminate, and I'm not sure that's totally unreasonable.  Imagine the reaction if a New Zealand party leader said they weren't supporting the All Blacks against the Springboks, for example.  In Australia, political leaders aren't even allowed to have dual nationality - the implication being that wherever you originally come from, seeking political office means that you're a fully paid-up member of Team Australia now.  I personally think that takes it way too far, but it's scarcely an uncommon attitude.  How long would a US presidential candidate of any national origin last if they didn't show sufficient American patriotism?

As frivolous as it seems to many, it's become one of the ritual duties of political leaders to speak on behalf of those they represent by offering encouragement and congratulations/commiserations to national sporting teams.  I think that may prove to be a little awkward for Leonard in certain circumstances, because the media won't be shy about reminding their readers and viewers that he's an England supporter.  However, as I said - good for him.  I think it reflects well on him that he answered the question honestly, even though there may be a political cost.

*  *  *

The Scottish subsample from the latest Britain-wide Opinium poll: SNP 38%, Labour 30%, Conservatives 29%, Greens 3%.  This is the twenty-first subsample in a row, across all firms, to put the SNP ahead.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hothersall faces bushtucker trial of the soul as everything he thought he could rely on turns to dust

Fate has dealt Duncan Hothersall a cruel hand over the last eighteen hours or so.  Deep down, he probably always anticipated that mystery man Richard Leonard would take the Scottish Labour crown, bringing an end to the branch office's resistance to Corbynism.  But the news about Kezia Dugdale....well, it's a real Ramsay MacDonald meets the Chuckle Brothers moment for poor Dunc, whose idiosyncratic vision of "International Socialism" now lies in tatters.  He hasn't been seen on Twitter since the news broke, and many suspect he's pondering a new career as a Spanish public prosecutor - something he can really put his heart into.

Scottish Labour leadership election result:

Richard Leonard 56.7%
Anas Sarwar 43.3%

I'm trying to decide whether that margin of victory justified the extreme 7/1 odds on a Sarwar win.  Probably not quite, although it looks like the result was never in that much doubt, in spite of what we had been led to believe.

I'll be completely honest about this - faced with the very limited options available to them, I think Labour have made the right choice (just for once).  We've seen enough of Anas Sarwar over the years to know that he would have been a disaster area, and that no-one would have taken him seriously as a potential First Minister.  I thought Leonard came across reasonably well in the STV debate with Sarwar - it sounded like he was actually thinking about his answers rather than reading from a script, which is quite rare in this day and age.  If he can keep that up when debating with opponents from the SNP rather than his own party, he might do OK...but that's a big "if".  He seems to have exactly the same irrational rage towards the SNP that all of his immediate predecessors have displayed.

I saw Christopher Silver say on Twitter earlier that the "pro-indy left" will have to drop their "instinctive dismissal" of Labour in the light of this result - well, that rather depends on how serious they are about the "pro-indy" part of the equation, doesn't it?  Leonard seems to be an absolute dinosaur on the constitutional issue.

It'll be interesting to see what the significance is of Leonard putting off any decision about suspending Dugdale for a few days.  The expectation that she's going to be cut adrift is now so strong that it'll be hard to pull back from that, but on the other hand a few days' grace will give her a chance to actually appear on the programme and mutter "for the many, not the few" as she devours assorted insects.  Maybe we'll hear some waffly excuse about how they can't suspend someone who may have been unwise, but who is nevertheless "reaching out to young people".

If she does go, it'll mean that the people who were leader and deputy leader of Scottish Labour in late August will both no longer even be members of the party just three months later.  A totally unprecedented state of affairs.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Andrew Neil: the mask slips

Amid the mindless hysteria about Alex Salmond's perfectly reasonable decision to run his show on an Ofcom-regulated UK television channel (it's on Freeview, for pity's sake!), there is also a slightly more thoughtful 'middle position' being taken by some.  Basically that position is: "No, of course Alex Salmond hasn't done anything terribly wrong, and of course it's not true that the mainstream British broadcast media is as pure as the driven snow while RT is evil incarnate.  But that's not to say there is no distinction between the two.  RT's news coverage deliberately pursues a political agenda, in contrast to the BBC and ITN, where any bias is usually unconscious or unintended."

That's quite a seductive argument, but for it to have validity, you'd be entitled to expect that the BBC would react with a degree of concern and reflectiveness if the more partisan channel ever succeeded in showing it up - by, for example, broadcasting an interview that was overwhelmingly in the public interest, but that the BBC had inexplicably neglected to conduct.  One of the most common observations on social media about Alex Salmond's interview with Carles Puigdemont was just how bizarre it was that no British broadcaster had previously shown a full-length interview with the exiled Catalan president.  You'd have hoped that the BBC bosses watching would have had a light-bulb moment and thought "Damn, we should have done that on the Andrew Marr Show.  It was an oversight and we'd better put it right now."  That would have been the reaction of an organisation that truly has only unconscious biases, and rectifies them when they're identified.

Troublingly, however, if Andrew Neil's extraordinary rant at an RT host on last night's This Week is at all representative of the wider BBC, their reaction seems to be entirely different and highly belligerent -

"The whole point of Russia all focused to undermine our faith in our democratic institutions, and to divide us....I went on to your website before we came on tonight and they're all stories that try to undermine our faith in our society.  They're all trying to divide us, you give prominence to Catalonia, to Scottish independence, you're trying to divide us."

So the reaction is not "we should have done that interview ourselves", but rather "no decent broadcaster should have given Puigdemont the oxygen of publicity because Catalan nationalism is bad". There, unwittingly, Neil has vindicated the argument that RT and the BBC are two sides of the same coin - ie. that RT pursues a political agenda by giving prominence to the Catalan and Scottish independence movements (thus "dividing us") while the BBC pursues the opposite agenda by starving those movements of attention where possible (thus "bringing us together").  That would of course be entirely in keeping with the BBC charter requirement that the corporation must operate in the interests of the United Kingdom's cohesion, but if that is what's going on, it's murderously hard to see how the BBC can ever cover the Scottish independence debate fairly and impartially.  For both the BBC's sake and for the sake of democracy, we must hope that Neil was speaking for himself only.

Where he probably was speaking on behalf of many of his colleagues was in his extraordinary "heads I win, tails you lose" attitude to the regulation of broadcasters.  When it was pointed out to him that RT is regulated by Ofcom in much the same way that the BBC is, he argued that this meant that RT was probably going to lose its licence - in other words the fact that RT won and has so far retained its licence is somehow proof that the channel is just about to be taken off the air.  If anyone made a claim like that about the BBC, you'd question their sanity, and rightly so. When it was pointed out to him that the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg had been censured by a regulatory body in much the same way that RT has occasionally been censured by Ofcom, he reacted as if someone had just defended a serial killer.  "Laura Kuenssberg is a very fine journalist", he said quietly, with the subtext being that an attack on Laura Kuenssberg (even by the BBC's own regulators) is an attack on journalism itself.  In other words, RT being censured by their regulators is proof that RT is a Kremlin propaganda machine, and the BBC being censured by their regulators is proof that BBC journalism is the victim of persecution.  Yup, that all seems pretty clear-sighted and fair.

*  *  *

I don't generally offer betting tips on this blog, and I'm not going to start now...but I maybe would have done if Ladbrokes hadn't just closed their books on the Scottish Labour leadership contest.  The 7/1 they were offering on Anas Sarwar earlier today just seemed like crazy odds.  All the mood music from both camps implies that Leonard is the more likely winner but that it's too close to call.  If you buy into the Neil Edward Lovatt theory that betting odds are a predictive God, you'd have to conclude that Ladbrokes or their punters know something we don't, but more likely is that they don't have any inside information and are just lazily assuming that a comfortable victory for the Corbynite is logical.  7/1 definitely looked like a value bet - but (perhaps thankfully) it's too late to put that to the test.

*  *  *

I was all set to defend Kezia Dugdale's decision to take part in I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! until I remembered that she's still a sitting MSP and that it's therefore a completely ridiculous thing for her to be doing.  She's supposed to be representing the voters of Lothian in parliamentary votes and debates, and helping them if they contact her with a problem.  She will self-evidently be neglecting those responsibilities for the entire duration of her stay in Australia.  I trust the mainstream media will muster at least twice as much hysteria for Kezia as they managed for Alex Salmond, because there's no doubt over which of those two has made the truly indefensible decision in pursuit of attention.

Whether deservedly or otherwise, Kezia had until now looked set to emulate David Steel by "passing from rising hope to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever" (as Michael Foot famously put it).  But I suspect she may have permanently destroyed her credibility with this single act.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A gentle hint: this kind of behaviour doesn't just bring journalism into disrepute, it turns journalism into a laughing-stock

Those of you on Twitter are probably well aware that there's a Herald journalist called David Leask who is notorious for being the least tolerant person you could ever encounter.  It's almost comical - he's literally blocked every single person who's ever interacted with him unless they've unreservedly agreed with his own worldview in each and every microscopic particular.  He has no self-awareness at all about how this behaviour reveals him to have a sinister, mildly fascist mindset (I use the word 'fascist' advisedly - defined in part as 'no tolerance for opposing opinions') and indeed he advertises what he is doing quite openly - after most blockings he 'names and shames' the offending person and states his 'reason' for blocking, which in most cases is silly beyond all belief.  He carries on doing this without any understanding of the immense harm he's doing to his own reputation - and by extension to the reputation of his profession - because, you've guessed it, he's already blocked anyone who is capable of being a candid friend to him and taking him to one side.

Over the years I've been on Twitter, I've watched in genuine astonishment as practically everyone I know, across all shades of pro-independence opinion, has been blocked by Leask, often after interacting with him very respectfully on just one single occasion.  Being aware of his antics, I began to regard it as a game to see if I could end up as just about the only non-sycophant left that he hasn't blocked, simply by permanently ignoring him.  However, over the last few days he has lost the plot even by his own high standards.  Because of his hardline views about Russian-funded media in the UK, he's taken to declaring that anyone who defends Alex Salmond's association with RT cannot by definition be part of the 'real SNP' or share the values of the 'real independence movement' (a jaw-dropping piece of conceit given that Leask is not actually in the indy camp).  This naturally means that Salmond himself, the man who led the Yes campaign in the indyref and has been leader of the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence, is not 'real SNP' or 'real pro-indy'.  I'd humbly submit that is quite possibly the most embarrassing argument ever put forward by any professional journalist who does not work for the Express.

So I finally cracked.  I decided a more interesting game than ignoring Leask would be to see if I could gently challenge him by making a point that is practically irrefutable, and come away without being blocked.  The result, I'm afraid, was all too predictable.

Remember that the above tweet is the only time, in eight years as a Twitter user, that I've ever interacted with the guy.

Try the game yourself.  Go on, it's fun.  Say to him: "It's Thursday, David", and ten seconds later he'll publicly execute you with the words "Blocked for denying it's always Wednesday".

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the one and only Mr David Leask.