Saturday, March 11, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn calls it right - but can he stand his ground in the face of Scottish Labour's intransigence?

I truly struggle to comprehend Scottish Labour, who seem to be in an unprecedented state of open revolt against their own London leadership (good) for an incredibly stupid and destructive reason (bad).  One thing that everyone seems to privately agree upon is that an independence referendum is now virtually inevitable, and that the only question mark is over the timing.  If it's coming anyway, what possible benefit is there to Scottish Labour or the future No campaign in being seen to have implicitly threatened using English MPs at Westminster to try to prevent a democratic vote taking place?  It would be an albatross around their necks, and Jeremy Corbyn is actually doing his level best to rescue them from their own stupidity. 

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with the assessment that Corbyn is "weak", but the test of that in this case will be whether he now backs down from his sensible and strategically sound comments today in the face of boneheaded Scottish Labour intransigence.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A bit more about that Ipsos-Mori poll

A second 'quick note' of the night, the time to let you know that I have an analysis piece at The National about the remarkable new Ipsos-Mori poll, reflecting in particular on the complete transformation of the Yes camp's fortunes in telephone polls since three years ago.  You can read it HERE.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Theresa May's assault on devolution risks making her the midwife of independence

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about the unprecedented threat the Scottish Parliament faces from a hostile Tory government, and how that may prove to be the decisive factor in a second independence referendum.  You can read the article HERE.

Support for independence soars to 50% in sensational Ipsos-Mori telephone poll

There was a time, in the run-up to the first indyref, when we used to dread the "Hi, I'm John MacKay" telephone polls conducted by Ipsos-Mori for STV - they were typically much worse for Yes than the online polls conducted by other firms (with the exception of YouGov).  Those days are long gone, though, and today brings word of an extraordinary STV/Ipsos-Mori poll that should finally lay to rest the myth beloved of the mainstream media that support for independence is falling.  It also raises genuine question marks over whether John Curtice was right to assume that the Yes surge in the recent BMG poll was most likely an illusion caused by sampling variation.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 50% (+2)
No 50% (-2)

Yes actually have a slender lead on the unrounded numbers, by 50.4% to 49.6%.  There's also a Yes lead even with rounding on the version of the figures that leave Don't Knows in : Yes 47%, No 46%, Don't Know/Refused 7%.  (It's the turnout filter that pushes Yes in front, though - without it, there's a small No advantage.)

This means all three of the most recent independence polls - from BMG, Panelbase and Ipsos-Mori respectively -  have shown some sort of swing to Yes.  In the case of Panelbase the change was not significant, but the fact that all three have shown movement in the same direction, and that two of the three have shown Yes support above the typical range of recent months, suggests that it's perfectly possible (albeit not certain) that we're looking at genuine progress for Yes as opposed to margin of error 'noise'.  If so, the breakthrough could scarcely be better-timed, with Nicola Sturgeon seemingly edging ever closer to making an announcement about a second independence referendum.  It'll be a tad difficult for the UK government to maintain the fiction that no-one in Scotland wants a referendum when two of the last three polls suggest that either 49% or 50% of the population would vote for independence itself.

Ipsos-Mori are unusual in choosing not to weight by past vote recall, and relying on demographic weightings only.  That means it's impossible to tell whether Yes are making more headway with anti-Brexit former No voters than has been the case in other recent polls.  There is, however, a supplementary question that asks whether an independent Scotland should remain fully inside the EU, or should retain "full access" to the single market from outside the EU, or should sever ties with Brussels completely.  Professor Curtice has leapt on the fact that "only" 48% of respondents support full EU membership, but a couple of points need to be made about that - it's actually an outright majority (52%) once Don't Knows are stripped out, and it's likely that the three-option format will have led some people without a strong view to gravitate instinctively towards the middle, 'compromise' option.  I strongly suspect that a straight Yes/No question on full EU membership would have produced a more decisive majority.

There's also a question that asks about independence in a slightly different way, by inviting respondents to rate themselves on a 1-10 scale, with 1 representing total commitment to independence, and 10 representing total opposition.  The outcome suggests that Yes support may be somewhat softer than No support, because 52% of respondents put themselves on the anti-independence half of the scale, and only 46% on the pro-independence half.  Having said that, those numbers aren't filtered for turnout, so can't be directly compared with the headline voting intention figures.

Intriguingly, the two parties whose voters are most split on independence are Labour and the Greens.  They're the reverse mirror image of each other, with people who plan to vote Labour in the local elections splitting 2-1 for a No vote, and prospective Green voters breaking 2-1 for Yes.  That suggests (incredibly) that Labour could have even further to fall if Kezia Dugdale doesn't temper her hardline ultra-unionist "no surrender to the SNP" rhetoric.  It also underscores that the Greens may be able to reach the parts that the SNP can't in some select wards in the local elections, and that SNP voters giving lower preference transfers to the Greens might just conceivably help to elect a few unlikely pro-independence councillors in No-friendly wards.

Here are the full voting intention numbers for the local elections -

SNP 46%
Conservatives 19%
Labour 17%
Greens 8%
Liberal Democrats 6%

For my money, that will be more than a little worrying for the Tories.  They've been getting a tad complacent of late, imagining that a second-place finish is already assured (to be fair I've tended to make that assumption as well) and setting their sights instead on a strong enough popular vote to generate acres of "blow for the SNP" headlines.  A sub-20 showing won't be anything like enough for that - and remember that the Tories are at a disadvantage in local elections, because their areas of traditional strength often prefer independent councillors.  If the above figures are close to the true state of public opinion, they could suggest that the Tories are in danger of remaining in third place - which, weirdly, would actually be quite a story.

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Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48.3%
No 51.7%

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months.  The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG and Ipsos-Mori.  The aggregate YouGov figures for August to December are excluded, because they don't really constitute a standalone poll.  The most recent proper YouGov poll was completed just over three months ago.)

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sillars v Sillars

Jim Sillars, 2014 : On 18th September, between the hours of 7am and 10pm, absolute sovereign power will lie in the hands of the Scottish people. They have to decide whether to keep it, or give it away to where their minority status makes them permanently powerless and vulnerable.

Jim Sillars, 2018 : I've decided to give my absolute sovereign power back to London, because I'm anti-EU and I cannot accept the Scottish people's overwhelming majority decision to remain in Europe.  If Brexit needs to be imposed on Scotland by the votes of another country, so be it.  Getting out of the EU is more important to me than national sovereignty.

That sounds like a catty point, but it could hardly be more fundamental.  If you claim to believe in independence because you think the Scottish people's will should hold sway, even when it differs from an election result in England and Wales, then it follows that you must abide by majority decisions in Scotland even when your own personal views are more in line with Westminster.  If you don't do that, it could be argued that your commitment to sovereignty is every bit as shallow as the "ninety-minute patriotism" you once accused some of your fellow Scots of.

Monday, March 6, 2017

This will shock you, but it turns out the Express weren't telling the truth about that BMG poll yesterday

So you may have seen claims in the Express yesterday - and repeated on TV by Ruth Davidson - that a new BMG poll had found a 2-1 majority against an independence referendum taking place "before 2019" (after Don't Knows were excluded), that this marked a "sharp" decline in support for a referendum since January, and that this sudden "change" was proof of "referendum fatigue" setting in.  If so, you'll now undoubtedly faint with amazement at the discovery that all three of those claims were untrue.

It was always obvious that some sort of leading question must have been asked, because a) the results weren't easily reconcilable with other extremely recent polls, and b) the new poll was commissioned by an "Edinburgh-based Brexit campaigner" with a very open anti-independence and anti-SNP agenda.  As it turns out, though, the date 2019 wasn't even mentioned in the question, so that part of the reporting was a complete and utter lie.  This is what was actually asked -

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? "A referendum on Scottish independence should not be triggered until the UK & EU have completed their Brexit negotiations"

The plural in the word "statements" may look odd at first glance, but that indicates other questions were asked that haven't been published yet (and perhaps never will be if they produced less convenient answers for Mr Brexit of Edinburgh).

As you can see, the statement presented to respondents could hardly be more leading.  It's deliberately designed to be extremely easy for supporters of a referendum (and indeed supporters of independence itself) to agree with, because the word "until" implicitly accepts that a referendum is definitely coming at some point - although of course you would never have guessed that from the reporting yesterday.  It doesn't mention a date, and therefore will have left supporters of a referendum feeling that it's not necessarily suggesting a postponement of much length.  And most importantly of all, it's framed in the negative (ie. "should not") which means that supporters of a referendum are being challenged to actively disagree with a statement that's falling over itself to sound reasonable and modest in its aspirations.  If respondents had been warned that their agreement with the statement would be reported as outright opposition to a referendum, I guarantee you that the results would have been totally different.

The question wording is also radically different from the one BMG asked in January, which was as follows -

"In 2014 there was an Independence Referendum in Scotland. In your opinion, should there be another Independence Referendum held prior to Brexit negotiations being concluded between the UK and the EU?"

As you'll have noted, on that occasion respondents were asked a straight question, rather than being challenged to disagree with a negative statement. The results of the two polls are therefore not comparable, and the claim in the Express that there has been a "sharp fall" in support for an independence referendum since January is utter garbage.

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A bit more on the value of using all (or most) of your preferences in the local elections

I've been having a polite dispute this morning with someone on Twitter who takes issue with my view (a view that is arithmetically indisputable, by the way) that ranking unionist candidates in the local elections cannot possibly do any harm as long as you rank all pro-indy and independent candidates ahead of them.   The objection raised was that SNP strategists have decided that it shouldn't be done, and that they must know what they're talking about.  Well, possibly, but I think it's more likely that we're dealing with a cultural issue here - we're just not used to preferential voting in this country, and as a result we don't know how to talk about it.  Party stalwarts instinctively fear that it's somehow the thin end of the wedge to even concede the possibility of giving a seventh preference to the Lib Dems, but it really isn't.  Indeed, giving a party a seventh preference is arguably more contemptuous than not ranking them at all.

Let's turn the argument around - is there any benefit whatsoever in instructing voters (or recommending to them) to only vote for the SNP and not to rank any other candidate?  I can only think of one - namely that it heads off the risk of voter error.  In other words, there's a danger that an SNP supporter might literally not even notice that there are two or three SNP candidates in the ward, and might jump ahead and accidentally rank other parties ahead of the second or third SNP candidates.  There's no denying that's a genuine issue, but to base your whole strategy around it smacks of being scared of your own shadow.  There's also an element of treating the voters like idiots.  Surely it's much better to properly educate people about how a preferential system works, and to get the message across that some parties have more than one candidate per ward?  If you don't do that, there's just as big a danger at the other extreme - that people will not even realise that it's a preferential system at all, and will simply put a big 'X' against the name of only one SNP candidate.  That's almost as bad an outcome if you're trying to get two or three people elected.

It's highly unlikely that all of the parties will stand in my own ward, but if they did, this is roughly how I would rank them -

1) SNP
2) SNP
3) Green
4) Other pro-indy parties
5) Independent candidates
6) Liberal Democrat
7) Labour
8) Labour
9) Conservative

Having ranked the two SNP candidates first and second, I would be sure - literally certain - that my vote will not budge from the SNP column until both of those candidates are either elected or eliminated.  But if it gets to the point where both have indeed been elected or eliminated, I have no intention of then abstaining in a straight contest between the Greens and Labour, or even between the Tories and Labour, for the final seat in the ward.  Abstaining is exactly what you're doing if you don't use your lower preferences.  More specifically, if you don't rank other parties ahead of the Tories, you're effectively saying you're cool with having a Tory councillor in some circumstances - and why on Earth would you be, when Theresa May is framing these elections as an unofficial vote on the constitution?

The person I clashed with this morning also voiced the worry that lower preferences for unionist candidates would somehow be misinterpreted as "unionist votes", and would be exploited by Theresa May.  That fear is completely baseless.  There is a long-standing convention under the STV voting system that the popular vote is calculated using first preferences only (indeed it's essentially impossible to do it any other way).

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