Monday, December 10, 2018

Crisis deepens for Tyrannical Theresa as bombshell Panelbase poll shows support for independence at a two-year high

OK, I admit it, I've obviously been living down a hole today, because I've only just noticed this rather significant new poll, which apparently was published early this morning.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (+2)
No 53% (-2)

So you might remember the SIF-funded Panelbase poll from a few weeks ago, which I was first to publish (a bit of a contrast from today) and which I mentioned was an eighteen-month high for Yes?  Not anymore, it's not.  A further two-point boost has taken Yes well above its recent normal range in Panelbase polls.  47% would not be unusually high if this was a Survation or Ipsos-Mori poll, but Panelbase have over the last couple of years become noted for being firmly on the No-friendly end of the spectrum.  The last time there was a result as good as this in a Panelbase poll was way back in the autumn of 2016.

Of course it's possible that the high Yes vote may just be an illusion caused by sampling variation, although if that was the correct explanation you might expect the poll's sample to be unusually favourable towards the SNP as well, and that isn't really the case.  There's no improvement at all for the SNP on Westminster voting intentions (which will be a disappointment to those who hoped recent YouGov subsamples were the first sign of a breakthrough), and although there's a 2% boost on the Holyrood constituency vote, that simply takes the party back to where they were in the Panelbase poll before last.  It's only on the Holyrood regional list vote that the SNP are clearly doing better than the recent Panelbase norm.

Scottish voting intentions for the next Westminster general election:

SNP 37% (n/c)
Labour 26% (+1)
Conservatives 26% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 41% (+2)
Conservatives 25% (-2)
Labour 23%  (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 38% (+1)
Conservatives 26% (n/c)
Labour 22% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Greens 6% (n/c)

Although seats projections from polls need to be taken with a heavy dose of salt, on a uniform swing these figures would give the SNP and Greens 62 Holyrood seats in combination - just 3 short of a majority.  So even if the next Scottish Parliament election was a lot less than two and a half years away, there would still be a fighting chance of retaining the pro-independence majority.

It's not the headline voting intention figures from the Panelbase poll that are making the headlines, though - it's the results of supplementary questions that ask respondents to make a straight choice between independence and two different Brexit scenarios.  Independence is slightly preferred to remaining in Brexit Britain even if there is a negotiated deal (and the wording doesn't specify that the deal has to be Theresa May's deal - it could just as easily mean a better Norway-type deal).  But there is an overwhelming majority in favour of independence if the alternative is a no deal Brexit.  Although we've seen majorities for independence on this type of hypothetical question before, a majority on the scale of 59-41 is unusual.

Do you believe Scottish independence or a no deal Brexit would be better for Scotland?

Scottish independence: 59%
No deal Brexit: 41%

Do you believe Scottish independence or remaining in the UK but outside the EU under a negotiated Brexit deal would be better for Scotland?

Scottish independence: 53%
Remaining in the UK but outside the EU under a negotiated Brexit deal: 47%

The snag, of course, is that the results of hypothetical polling questions can't be regarded as being quite as credible as the results on the standard independence question.  People can very easily overestimate how big an impact a hypothetical event will have on their own voting intention.  We might find that, if and when no deal Brexit becomes the status quo, people's instinctive passivity and small 'c' conservatism will kick in and there won't be much of a boost for Yes at all.  However, it's interesting that people clearly feel that Brexit ought to increase their support for independence, and that might be a point of some significance in the heat of an indyref campaign.

Last but not least, there is a sizeable majority in favour of a snap general election if Theresa May's deal is voted down by the Commons - something that should happen this Tuesday (yikes!), unless the vote is cancelled.

If the Prime Minister fails to secure a majority in a vote in the House of Commons for the Brexit deal, would you favour another general election being held?

Yes: 61%
No: 39%

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Wondrous SNP wangle wizard win in windy Wester Ross

I was up to my neck yesterday, so apologies for being a bit late with this excellent news from the Highlands. In a break from the pattern of the recent past, the SNP have not underperformed expectations in a local council by-election - quite the reverse, in fact.

Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh by-election result (first preferences):

SNP 33.1% (+7.0)
Conservatives 26.0% (+7.6)
Independent - Greene 15.6% (+1.4)
Greens 9.0% (-2.2)
Liberal Democrats 8.0% (-5.4)
Labour 4.4% (-0.7)
Independent - Davis 3.3% (n/a)
UKIP 0.4% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.2% (n/a)

Technically, this was an SNP gain from the Liberal Democrats, but that's just one of the familiar quirks of the STV system - in fact the SNP topped the poll in the ward last time around, and the Lib Dems trailed in fourth. Nevertheless, by any standards this was a dismal attempt from the Lib Dems at defending the seat - they suffered a net swing to the SNP of more than 6%. We probably shouldn't get as excited about the SNP surge as we would do if it had happened in a central belt ward - there's much more of a tradition in Highlands local politics of electing an individual, rather than a political party. But a splendid result for the SNP is always preferable to the alternative.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Congratulations to the Independent for the silliest, most misleading headline about polling since...well, since the last one

The Independent is a digital-only newspaper these days, but it still nominally publishes a "front page", and today it bears the following headline: "Just two constituencies back May's deal...and 600 of the 650 want to remain in the EU, poll finds".  That gives the strong impression of a dramatic swing to Remain, because there would have to be a very large gap between the two sides for Leave to only be ahead in 50 seats.  But you perhaps won't be surprised to hear that things are not quite as the Independent are presenting them.  In fact that's the understatement of the millennium - incredibly, the headline is in fact referring to a poll which shows that there would be a very significant risk that a second EU referendum would produce the same outcome as the first, even if the question offered a stark choice between Remain and No Deal.

YouGov asked an enormous sample of more than 20,000 people to choose between different Brexit options, and found that there was a 50/50 split when the choice was between May's deal and Remain, and that there was a razor-thin 52-48 margin in favour of staying in the EU when the choice was between Remain and No Deal.  In other words, almost regardless of the question asked in any referendum, the public is essentially split down the middle and it's anyone's guess what would happen.  The only choice that doesn't produce a virtual dead heat is between May's deal and No Deal, but as either of those options would mean leaving both the EU and the single market, that's no great comfort.

So how on earth did the Independent manage to turn this Leave-friendly poll into a headline that implies a renaissance of Europhilia in the English shires?  Well, YouGov also invited respondents to make a three-way choice between Remain, the May deal, and No Deal.  46% chose Remain, and 54% chose one of the two Brexit options - meaning that the Independent's claim that the vast majority "want to remain in the EU" is the polar opposite of the truth.  But because support for the two Brexit options was split down the middle, that technically means Remain's 46% was enough for a handsome lead on a first-past-the-post basis, and that's what the Independent are getting at.  I've no idea what the relevance of that is supposed to be, given that there isn't a cat in hell's chance that any multi-option referendum would actually be conducted by first-past-the-post.

The Daily Record would have been proud of this one.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Why a no deal Brexit may still be more likely than a "People's Vote"

There's an anonymous commenter on this blog who keeps trying to get a narrative going that a second EU referendum is "almost certainly" going to happen.  The latest event which has supposedly made this almost certain outcome even more almost certain is the confirmation from the DUP that they will rescue the government on any no confidence motion that follows the rejection of Theresa May's Brexit deal, which should mean that Labour then revert to supporting a so-called "People's Vote" (if they stick to their word).  With Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Tory rebel support, the theory goes, there would be majority support for a referendum and it would be bound to happen.  And yet, if you check the betting markets, you'll find that punters currently rate the chances of a referendum next year at significantly less than 50%.

As long-term readers know, I don't share Neil "Alligators" Lovatt's faith in the betting markets as some sort of predictive God.  But in this case, I've no doubt that they're a lot closer to being right than our "almost certain" friend.  First of all, although it's true you get to a majority if you add up all Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Plaid Cymru MPs and add on the likely Tory rebels, it's far from being a comfortable majority.  It's inevitable that there will be a Labour counter-rebellion against a referendum, meaning that it's very difficult to know which way the vote would go.  Self-evidently, if there's a reasonable chance that a pro-referendum amendment will not be passed, there's also a reasonable chance that a referendum will never take place.

But it doesn't end there, because even if a pro-referendum amendment is passed, that still doesn't guarantee a referendum will actually happen.  It would take primary legislation to bring about a referendum, and it's phenomenally improbable that would happen without government support, or at least acquiescence.  The bottom line is that the government may not have the ability to get its own preferred option through, but it's certainly in a strong position to prevent anyone else's option getting through if it's determined to do so.  If we assume that Theresa May will remain Prime Minister through to the spring, and most people do seem to make that assumption, the question we should be asking ourselves is which undesirable option she would be most able to live with.  She doesn't want Remain, she doesn't want a referendum of any sort, she doesn't want No Deal, and she doesn't want a soft Brexit that would entail the retention of free movement.  But only three of those four possibilities would constitute an outright betrayal of what she has been saying to her political base.  The one exception is No Deal.

Some people are nursing the fond belief that No Deal simply can't happen, because there's a natural parliamentary majority against it, and parliament would therefore eliminate it as a possibility.  But this gets back to the old joke about parliament voting against bad weather - there are some things that MPs are simply powerless to do anything about.  If a deal isn't approved, the default position is not Remain, and it's not a second referendum.  The default is No Deal, and that's the case even if parliament passes a non-binding amendment "ruling out No Deal".  Positive action would have to be taken to change that default, and that means action by a government which may have no inclination to do any such thing.

There's a new article by Ian "Smug? Moi?" Dunt, which lambasts Brexiteers for suggesting a non-binding parliamentary vote could simply be ignored.  He suggests that this would be as outrageous as Remainers ignoring the outcome of the 2016 referendum, which was also technically non-binding.  But I'd suggest the government will have a pretty straightforward answer to that point - they could say that however important the will of parliament is, it can't be allowed to overrule the will of the people as expressed in the referendum.  So this, they could argue, is the one narrow circumstance in which the government has a democratic justification for disregarding an instruction from parliament.

That's not to say that No Deal would in any sense be a pain-free option for May - it would trigger yet another wave of resignations and once again threaten to topple her government.  But she may well still do it, because what other option is there that wouldn't unleash similar chaos?

Incidentally, on the subject of parliament not being able to legislate to change the weather, I was struck by the DUP's logic for committing to prop up the Tories in a confidence vote.  Nigel Dodds said that it would be odd to bring down the government if his party had only just achieved its objective of forcing the government to negotiate an alternative deal.  But rejecting the current deal doesn't actually have that effect.  It doesn't require the government to take any particular course of action, and it certainly doesn't require the EU to play ball with any renegotiation.  I just wonder what the DUP's attitude would be if Labour were to delay the confidence motion for long enough that it became clear that the government were planning to put the original deal (perhaps with a few cosmetic modifications) to the vote for a second time.

But even if the DUP never pull the plug on the Tories, there would still be a decent chance of an election at some point in 2019.  If a government simply can't get its business through, there comes a point where it has to take its chances and seek a fresh mandate at the most promising available moment.

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Be warned: the remainder of this post is a self-indulgent stats post.  Here is the latest ranking of Scottish alternative media sites, based on estimates of unique visitors over the last 30 days from Traffic Estimate.  (I was going to post this on Twitter, but I came up against the character limit.)  As you can see, Scot Goes Pop is sitting pretty in a very creditable fourth place.

1) Craig Murray: 291,200 unique visitors
2) Wings Over Scotland: 181,400 unique visitors
3) CommonSpace: 103,100 unique visitors
4) Scot Goes Pop: 73,900 unique visitors
5) Wee Ginger Dug: 71,800 unique visitors
6) Talking Up Scotland: 68,500 unique visitors
7) Bella Caledonia: 57,400 unique visitors
8) Random Public Journal: 43,500 unique visitors
9) Indyref2: 40,900 unique visitors

Monday, December 3, 2018

Is a new route-map to independence starting to take shape?

The Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter today rebuked those who were pushing for alternatives to an independence referendum by pointing out that a referendum is firm SNP policy, and that she personally does not believe that there is any route to independence without a referendum.  That argument troubles me a bit, because the vast majority of people who are talking about alternatives are not doing it because they oppose a referendum - quite the reverse, in fact.  A referendum is their preferred option, but they feel it has now been closed off.  If the referendum policy must be regarded as gospel, then by all means let's hold a referendum - but even the dogs on the street know that will entail going ahead without a Section 30 order, which both the Tories and Labour appear to be committed to refusing for the foreseeable future.  We're told that Nicola Sturgeon would never go ahead without a Section 30, which is exactly why there needs to be an alternative to a referendum.  It would be intellectually dishonest to maintain that you're in favour of a referendum if you're implacably opposed to actually taking the steps necessary to bring a referendum about in the real world.  That would be a strategy for not even really seeking to obtain independence, while having a good excuse with which mollify your supporters.

Fortunately, however, it appears that other senior SNP people disagree with Mhairi and are giving serious thought to possible methods by which an outright mandate for independence can be secured by an election, rather than by referendum.  An article in the Sunday Times suggested that the next Westminster election could be used to reinforce the current mandate for an independence referendum, and if that was ignored a subsequent Westminster election could then be used to obtain an outright mandate for independence itself.  It was implied that the second mandate would require some kind of super-majority in terms of seats won, but not necessarily an absolute majority of votes cast.

I must say that sounds unnecessarily convoluted to me.  We already have the mandate for a referendum, that mandate has already been ignored, so the obvious next step is to seek an outright mandate for independence at the next appropriate election - which I think logically should mean the next Holyrood election.  Even if we did end up seeking yet another mandate to hold a referendum, it seems a bit odd to say that we need a majority at Westminster for that, given that the 2014 indyref was held when the SNP had only 6 out of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons.  The much more natural arena for settling these questions is the Scottish Parliament.

On the plus side, though, at least there's a chance that the next Westminster election could only be a few months away - that's largely outwith our control, but it could well happen.  If that's the way it pans out, at least we wouldn't be mucking about indefinitely.  And even if I'm slightly dubious about the exact details of this strategy, I'm very glad that consideration is being given to credible options for breaking the logjam.

There was a unionist chap on Twitter yesterday who described any suggestion of abandoning the referendum idea in favour of an election as "fundamentalist".  If that's true, the source of the fundamentalism is a newly-radicalised British nationalist establishment that has made the holding of a referendum either difficult or impossible, and has left us with no option but to find an alternative.  Taking the best available option within the constraints that others have placed on you is a form of pragmatism, not extremism.  (The alternative course of action, which I fear Mhairi Hunter is agitating for, would be impotent utopianism.)  One thing I've started to do is delete comments on this blog which gloat that "there isn't going to be a referendum", not on the basis that the Scottish people don't want one, but simply on the basis that Westminster will block it regardless of circumstances.  If the only argument you've got is "you're living in a dictatorship, suck it up", you haven't really got an argument at all.

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

How the dice could be loaded in favour of Brexit in a "People's Vote"

There's been a lot of talk over the last few days about the increasing possibility of the ludicrously-dubbed "People's Vote" actually taking place, partly because Sam Gyimah has resigned to support it, and partly because John McDonnell has been making unusually positive noises on behalf of Labour.  I still don't think it will happen, because there would inevitably be a substantial Labour rebellion against it, and even if it got to the point where it looked like the arithmetic was there, the Prime Minister would then come under Tory pressure to preempt the issue with a snap general election.

If by any chance it does go ahead, though, everything would hinge upon the format.  McDonnell seemed to be hinting at a multi-option referendum, which presumably would include the May deal, remaining in the EU, and no-deal.  But how would a three-option vote actually work?  Nobody would ever seriously contemplate a first-past-the-post rule, because that would be like settling the constitutional future of the UK on a lottery (although of course that does beg the question of why we routinely choose governments that way).  A bit more plausible would be a preferential voting system or a French-style run-off, which I suspect would be Remain's best realistic hope.  But my guess is that we might instead end up with a two question format - the first question would ask whether the May deal should be approved, and the second question would give a straight choice between no-deal and Remain if the answer to the first question is "No".  (The result on the second question would be voided if there was a majority 'Yes' on the first question.)

If you think it through, the dice would be loaded in favour of Brexit on that format.  There would be extensive polling on both questions, and if the second question polling showed a clear majority for Remain (as you'd intuitively expect it to), Brexiteers would have every incentive to make a tactical switch in favour of campaigning for a Yes vote on the question about the May deal.  With government, media, and Brexiteer support, the deal would in all likelihood be approved, and Britain would leave the EU as a result.

Incidentally, it's impossible to know whether there is already a natural majority in favour of the May deal without that sort of tactical switch.  A Survation poll the other day showed a narrow majority in favour of the deal for the first time, but a new YouGov poll conducted at roughly the same time continues to show a massive majority against.  That sort of difference can't be explained by the standard margin of error - either one firm is getting it completely wrong, or they both are.  The YouGov poll also continues to show that Scotland is less supportive of the deal than any other part of Great Britain...

Support for the Brexit deal by region:

London: 22%
Rest of South: 29%
Midlands & Wales: 27%
North of England: 23%
Scotland: 20%

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

If Ruth Davidson, David Mundell and Theresa May "hate" the Common Fisheries Policy, why did they all vote Remain?

There has been a lot of disquiet in recent days about how the mainstream media is effectively allying itself with the Tory party in either falsely claiming that the SNP want Scotland to remain in the Common Fisheries Policy, or that the SNP's opposition to the CFP is some sort of farcical sham.  For the avoidance of doubt, SNP policy is that the CFP should be scrapped, or comprehensively reformed (which amounts to the same thing).  But because the SNP aren't Brexiteers, this would have to be achieved by agreement with our European partners.  It couldn't be done unilaterally.

"Unilaterally" is an interesting word, because it calls to mind the issue of nuclear disarmament.  Thirty years ago, the Labour party abandoned the cause of unilateral nuclear disarmament, but insisted (as it still does today) that this didn't mean it wasn't still committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons.  It just wanted to achieve that objective by multilateral means.  In other words, the implementation of the policy depended on the agreement of other medium-sized nuclear powers such as France and China, in much the same way that the SNP's hopes of abolishing the CFP depend on the consent of our European partners.  But, as you've probably noticed, the media have never seemed to find the concept of multilateral disarmament inherently ridiculous.  So it seems more than a touch odd that journalists and TV presenters are inviting us to to accept that no political party can be regarded as truly opposing the CFP unless they want to scrap it unilaterally.

The irony is, of course, that Labour's support for nuclear disarmament is a sham in a way that the SNP's opposition to the CFP isn't.  Labour are hiding behind multilateralism because it's too awkward to admit that they want to retain Trident, come what may, as a national status symbol.  By contrast, nobody can seriously doubt that the SNP genuinely loathe the CFP and would make the case for reform as an independent Scottish government, however likely that might be to fall on deaf ears in other European capitals.  And if journalists honestly believe, as they are forever telling us, that Nicola Sturgeon privately wants to kick Indyref 2 into the long grass and is therefore reconciled to Brexit occurring in some form, what would be so hard to understand about the SNP saying: "Withdrawal from the CFP is the one and only part of Brexit that would actually be in the Scottish national interest, so you'd damn well better at least deliver that if we're going to have to suffer the rest"?

A final point: someone quite reasonably asked in this blog's comments section the other day why journalists don't challenge the hypocrisy of Ruth Davidson, Theresa May and David Mundell, who all voted Remain in 2016, and therefore by their own standards (and by the media's standards) were all voting and campaigning for Scotland to remain within the "hated" CFP.  Why did they support the CFP back then?  Why have they changed their minds now?  They can scarcely argue that the Tory government would have agitated for reform of the CFP in the event of a Remain vote.  David Cameron had a golden chance to prioritise fishing in his pre-referendum renegotiation, but failed to do so.

*  *  *

Andrew Gilligan (he of Hutton Inquiry fame) claimed a couple of days ago that the Scottish Government had left its plans for gender self-identification open to legal challenge by changing its Twitter cover photo to the words "Dear transphobes, we have a phobia of your hatred.  Yours, Scotland".  This was clearly intended to coincide with the publication of the outcome of a consultation on self-ID, in which 60% of respondents were in favour of the proposal.  I would be amazed if there is any prospect of a legal challenge succeeding, but I do think the timing of that change of cover photo was deeply ill-advised.  Imagine how it must have made opponents of self-ID feel, especially if they participated in that consultation in good faith.  One perfectly plausible interpretation was that the 40% who didn't support self-ID were being implicitly branded as transphobes.  If so, the consultation was not a genuine listening exercise, but was instead a presentational stunt that always intended to make an example of ideological undesirables.

Where does this identity politics zealotry end?  We've had the newly-elected SNP Equalities Convener openly use the dehumanising slur "TERF" against her ideological opponents on the self-ID issue, and express her generic distaste for the male gender.  In years to come, will people who persist in opposing self-ID find themselves expelled from the SNP on the grounds of "transphobic hate-speech", in the same way that Grouse Beater has just been expelled on a highly questionable charge of anti-Semitism, having had his guilt prejudged weeks in advance by the aforementioned Equalities Convener?  And if the SNP are ever foolish enough to go through with their relatively new policy of implementing the Nordic model on prostitution law in Scotland, thus defining certain types of consensual sex as "violence against women", will those who oppose the law be shunned by all right-thinking people as "enablers of violence"?

If you've ever wondered what Robespierre would have been like if he'd been an avid fan of A Thousand Flowers, we could be about to find out.  Let's reinject a bit of common sense before we meet that ghastly fate.  Let's debate those we disagree with, and not attempt to destroy them.  Politics, not pulverisation.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Sky News are hellbent on undermining Scottish democracy - they must be challenged, and stopped

You may have seen today that SNP depute leader Keith Brown has written to Sky News chiding them for their apparent plan to exclude Nicola Sturgeon from the proposed TV debate on the Brexit deal.  Now, it's possible that Sky may argue that this is not a general election debate, we're not in a regulated general election period, and therefore all that is needed is the leading representative from the pro-deal side (Theresa May) and the leading representative from the anti-deal side (Jeremy Corbyn).  But that won't wash, for the simple reason that Sky News are right in the middle of a bizarre months-long crusade to exclude Scotland's leading party from future general election debates as well, so their plans for the Brexit debate are clearly fuelled by exactly the same Anglocentric mindset.

Not that they're being upfront about their desire to exclude the SNP, of course - they're simply badgering viewers to sign an innocuous-sounding petition to "make leaders' debates happen".  But the very few explanatory words at the top of the petition set out exactly what Sky's definition of a "debate" is, and it's nothing short of extraordinary.

"Genuine leaders' debates took place in 2010, but in the next two elections didn't happen."

What?  What?  What?  The "genuine debates" in 2010 excluded the SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Greens.  Whereas in 2015 there was an immaculately inclusive debate on ITV that included the leaders of all of those parties, alongside the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  According to Sky that was not a "genuine debate".  Why?  Presumably because the Jocks and the Taffies were cluttering up the set and making it hard for viewers to concentrate on the "real choice" between the terribly important London-based parties, who are terribly important because they're based in London.

Make no mistake - Sky's agenda is to destroy Scotland's political distinctiveness and to impose a one-size-fits-all London model on the entire UK.  They must be stopped.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

YouGov poll suggests that Scotland is even more opposed to May's Brexit deal than the rest of the UK

"The British people want us to get this done!" says Theresa May, implying that they want parliament to endorse her Brexit deal.  The only snag: opinion polling suggests they want no such thing.  Here are the latest GB-wide numbers from YouGov...

Support the deal: 23%
Oppose the deal: 45%

In fairness that represents an 8% increase in support for the deal, which mean things have gone from catastrophic to merely disastrous for May.  But if the Scottish subsample of the poll is to believed (and yes, there are the usual caveats about the reliability of any individual subsample) things are even worse for her here.  Only 14% of Scottish respondents support the deal, and 51% oppose it - more than a 3 to 1 margin against.

The likes of Kenny Farquharson, and May loyalists in the Tory government, have tried to get a narrative going that says the SNP should act responsibly and in the national interest by letting the deal through. But for as long as only 14% of the public actually support that notion of "responsibility", there will be absolutely zero pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to reverse her plans to vote the deal down - and with a bit of luck to bring the wretched May premiership to a long-overdue end.  Now is the time, Prime Minister, now is the time.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Putting a second indyref on pause for the last eighteen months may yet prove to have been beneficial, but only if that pause ends soon

Robin McAlpine has another article over at CommonSpace in which he castigates the leadership of "the movement" (by which he presumably means Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues) for inaction on an independence referendum, and for potentially letting a historic opportunity slip by.  I'm trying to work out how much of it I agree with.  There's one small part that I definitely disagree with, because it's factually inaccurate - Robin claims that it's been almost two years since an opinion poll last pointed to a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, but that's categorically not true.  A Survation poll as recently as July suggested that the SNP and Greens between them would have a fairly comfortable majority.  Obviously there are a number of different projection models, but there was another poll as recently as last month that might just about have translated into a pro-indy majority.  It's true that most recent polls have suggested the SNP and Greens would fall short, but not all that far short, and there are still two and a half years to go until the next election anyway.

I'm also inclined to disagree with Robin's call for the development of a detailed prospectus for independence.  Clearly the public need to be inspired by the possibilities of independence, but what we shouldn't do is require "the movement" to monolithically support something that closely resembles a party political manifesto for a post-indy election.  There needs to be space for centrist or centre-right indy supporters to say that they hope to take Scotland in a very different direction from the one Robin McAlpine has in mind.  For similar reasons, I'm agnostic about Robin's calls for the SNP to abandon the Growth Commission report, which is very much a radical left preoccupation.

But on the main thrust of the article, I'm just not sure.  As the old joke about the French Revolution goes, it's probably too early to tell. 

In the immediate aftermath of last year's general election, I was extremely worried that the SNP leadership might have lost their heads (over what was, after all, a clear victory), and were about to make a terrible mistake by putting an independence referendum on the backburner as a sop to voters in the minority of seats that were now held by the Tories.  I wrote blogpost after blogpost urging that the triple-lock mandate for a pre-2021 referendum should be honoured, and at one point I was even quoted in the Financial Times with words to that effect.  That attracted the anger of a number of fellow SNP members who loudly told me, in defiance of quite a bit of publicly-available evidence, that the leadership's position was absolutely unchanged.  "Just trust Nicola" was a common refrain.  When the new policy was eventually revealed, it of course turned out that there had been a significant shift, but I nevertheless breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I didn't personally agree with an eighteen month pause in the plans for a referendum, but as long as we were still headed towards the same destination, that was all that mattered.  And I could see that there was a plausible argument that voters would in the long run be more accepting of a second indyref if the SNP had spent a decent period of time concentrating on securing the least worst Brexit for the whole UK, and had been seen to fail in spite of their very best endeavours.

But of course everything hinges on the assumption that the SNP leadership were being honest that this attempt to improve Brexit is strictly time-limited, will come to an end soon and will give way to a renewed all-out push for independence.  If that's what happens, the delay could well have been beneficial and Robin will be proved wrong.  But if the pause was instead a cover story for the beginning of an indefinite delay and for the SNP's gradual transformation into a primarily anti-Brexit party, then Robin is right and those who "trusted Nicola" made a mistake.  I genuinely don't know which way it's going to go, but I still very much live in hope.

One thing Robin is undoubtedly right about is that it's not good enough for the leadership to say to the rank-and-file: "stop thinking and talking about process, just leave all of that to us, we know what we're doing, and you don't need to know what we're planning".  I am inclined to trust Nicola Sturgeon, but at the end of the day those of us who are members of the SNP joined because we believe in Scottish independence, and not because of a quasi-religious belief in the infallibility of one person.

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