Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Let's state the obvious again: waiting until Yes support is at 60% is a recipe for Scotland never becoming an independent country

You might have seen that I was name-checked the other day in an article by Iain Macwhirter about a supposed danger of SNP disunity after Nicola Sturgeon makes her long-awaited decision in the autumn.  I think the first thing to say here is that any implication that there could eventually be a threat to Ms Sturgeon's own position as leader is faintly ludicrous.  She's by some distance the party's greatest asset, and it's obvious that any replacement in the foreseeable future would be a step backwards.  The two most credible alternative leaders are Humza Yousaf, who is probably the long-term heir apparent but needs more experience, and Angus Robertson, who has left active politics for the time being.

Nevertheless, Iain claims that Ms Sturgeon "wants to see support for Yes heading in the direction of 60% before she acts".  And it's quite true that, if this reading is correct, I and a great many others within the SNP would believe she's about to make a terrible mistake.  But my question is the same one I've asked of the BBC's Sarah Smith: how does Iain actually know that Ms Sturgeon intends to 'wait' for the impossible 60%?  Is he guessing?  Does he have a reliable source?  Has he had direct conversations with Ms Sturgeon on the matter?  He doesn't tell us, and doesn't even give us any clues.  I'll be more open and concede I have absolutely no private insight into Ms Sturgeon's thinking, but I do find it incredibly hard to believe that she would be foolish enough to set herself a fanciful target for pre-campaign Yes support that every scrap of logic suggests will not and cannot be met.  Even amidst the initial shock after the Brexit referendum result, Yes support only reached the low 50s.  Bearing that precedent in mind, how can anyone expect to get close to 60% without even campaigning?  The only people who would seriously set a 60% target are those who don't want an independence referendum to take place, and who don't want Scotland to become an independent country within their political lifetimes.  I believe Ms Sturgeon does want independence as soon as humanly possible.

Iain also suggests that Ms Sturgeon might use her autumn statement to abandon an independence referendum in favour of a push for a second EU referendum, but that sounds even less plausible than the 60% claim (which makes me suspect the whole thing may be wishful thinking on Iain's part).  In doing that, she would be endorsing the right of the UK electorate as a whole to overrule Scotland's own constitutional preference.  In short, she would be embracing the logic of unionism.  That is quite simply unthinkable for any SNP leader.  She could of course stipulate that the SNP would only support another EU vote if a double mandate was required (ie. the UK as a whole would only leave the EU if Scotland voted Leave), but as that would mean she would remain opposed to any referendum that might actually take place in the real world, what would be the point?  It would just be a monumental distraction from the real task in hand, which is to keep Scotland in the EU by means of independence.

I was interviewed about this subject on Radio Sputnik a few days ago, and you can read a transcript HERE (the audio file is also available at the bottom of the page).  Of course when you speak off the cuff you always forget to mention one or two things - basically the point I was trying to make is that the whole purpose of delaying a decision until the autumn of this year was to make sure there was clarity on the shape of Brexit at the time a referendum is called, and to demonstrate that the SNP had sincerely tried (but failed) to keep Britain as a whole in the single market and customs union before turning to an independence referendum as a last resort.  If the necessary clarity arrives on schedule this autumn, a decision can still be made at the planned time.  If it doesn't arrive, a nonsense would be made of the SNP's strategy if they pushed ahead immediately with an indyref just because of a date on a calendar, and I suspect most of the party membership would have no great problem with Ms Sturgeon deciding upon a very short further delay of a few weeks or months until we know whether there is going to be a no deal Brexit or not.  But what would not be accepted is any suggestion that the delay will be open-ended and could lead to the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum expiring altogether. 

And I just don't believe that the membership will be asked to accept any such thing.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

John Curtice is wrong: the Yes rank-and-file would not accept the independence referendum being "kicked into the long grass" this autumn

"Ask John Curtice" was a Twitter meme a few years ago.  It was based on the BBC's endless attempts to get their money's worth out of Curtice's role as a studio pundit by asking him about topics that went quite a way beyond his true expertise as a psephologist.  People started to wonder only half-jokingly if Gordon Brewer might eventually invite Curtice to give relationship advice to viewers.

I was reminded of that earlier today when I saw that Ruth Davidson had jumped on a Courier article in which Curtice is quoted as saying that the odds are against a second independence referendum being held within the next five years, but "probably only marginally".  Needless to say, Davidson didn't mention the "only marginally" bit, which presumably should be taken as meaning that Curtice thinks there is at least a 40% chance of an early referendum.

What made me raise my eyebrows, though, is that Curtice seemed to be basing his assessment mostly on a psychological analysis of Nicola Sturgeon - something that as a psephologist he is no more or less likely to get right than you or I.  He clearly believes that Ms Sturgeon cares more about keeping her job than she does about independence, and therefore won't risk calling a referendum because she supposedly knows that she would have to resign as First Minister if she lost.  If I was Ms Sturgeon, I would feel somewhat insulted by that assumption.  She did, after all, join the SNP at a time when Labour would have been the more natural option for a careerist.  I see no reason to doubt that her commitment to independence is genuine, and that she will judge the success of her career by whether she achieved independence or brought it closer, and not by the number of years she stayed in office.  So, for what it's worth, our knowledge of Nicola Sturgeon's motivations would lead me to the opposite conclusion to Curtice's - ie. that an early referendum is more likely than not.

Curtice also attempts a bit of Kremlinology by reading huge significance into the supposed lack of activity during the summer.  Well, maybe, but remember that the referendum announcement in the spring of 2017 was a complete bolt from the blue as far as the media were concerned.  If Ms Sturgeon wants the same element of surprise the second time around, she wouldn't telegraph a decision in quite the obvious way that Curtice seems to have been looking out for.

What's missing from Curtice's psychological analysis is the psychology of the SNP membership and the wider Yes movement.  Expectations that the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum will be used are sky-high, and it's hard to understand why Curtice thinks the rank-and-file would just shrug their shoulders if the announcement this autumn is a decision to kick the referendum "into the long grass", as he thinks is marginally more likely.  They might accept a very short further delay if the shape of Brexit was still not known, but not a decision to let the mandate expire.  They would quite reasonably ask: if the double-whammy of the destruction of the devolution settlement and Scotland being dragged out of the EU is not sufficient grounds for a referendum, what on earth would be?  What magnitude of disaster would we actually be waiting for?

Lastly, I'm bemused by the Courier alleging that SNP depute leader Keith Brown had "signalled" that a referendum would not be announced this autumn, and then providing a quote from him in which he signals no such thing.  I suspect there's a touch of journalistic wishful thinking in there.

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Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser 2018: You can find information about the fundraiser HERE, or you can make a donation HERE.

Independence remains the only viable Brexit parachute

You may have seen that Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity has written a blogpost in which he turns conventional wisdom on its head by suggesting that Magnus Linklater's notorious article in The Times (claiming that "the SNP's dithering" on EU membership is turning immigrants "angry") makes a perfectly logical argument which he largely agrees with.  In fairness, it's true that the generous interpretation Thomas puts on the article is not irreconcilable with the actual text, but I think most people would say that the operative words are "by Magnus Linklater".  This is not a man who wants Scotland to become an independent member state of the EU or who believes such an idea is even worthy of consideration, so the obvious conclusion is that he is indulging in sophistry by very vaguely giving the impression that the SNP can somehow secure Scotland's place in the EU without independence being required.

Thomas notes that it is correct to say that he, as an immigrant from another EU state, is angry about the SNP's alleged "dithering".  I think what we're seeing here is the tension between an EU citizen who puts the prize of continued EU membership above all else and sees Yes as a means to that end, and those of us who may be extremely pro-European but who nevertheless would be Yes anyway, and indeed probably would have been Yes even in the 1970s when the independence cause was associated with Euroscepticism.  I remember Thomas reacting with horror when I listed a number of extreme concessions that the UK government could theoretically make that I thought might be sufficient to justify the SNP dropping its opposition to Brexit in return for a deal.  One of my suggestions was Devo Max (genuine Devo Max, obviously, not the Jackie Bird version).  Thomas wanted to know why on earth I thought any deal that didn't involve staying in the single market or customs union could possibly be acceptable, and my answer was simply that genuine Devo Max would be such an enormous concession from London that it would be worth making our own sacrifice for.  That makes sense to me as someone whose primary goal is Scottish self-government.  (I think most of us, if forced to make such an improbable binary choice, would prefer an independent Scotland outside European structures to non-independence inside the EU.)  I can easily appreciate why it doesn't make any sense at all to someone for whom the whole point of Scottish self-government is as a means to remain in Europe.

That said, I think Thomas is dead right to point out again that the SNP has at least partly lost sight of the moral obligation it owes to EU citizens after persuading them to stay in Scotland in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum on the basis that an indyref was coming and that it would secure full EU membership for Scotland.  Somehow the clarity of that pledge has got lost as the SNP fret about the votes shed to the Tories in places like Moray.  But those lapsed voters in the north-east were always unlikely to back independence in a referendum anyway, so there really oughtn't to be any tactical conflict between those who prioritise EU membership and those who prioritise independence - the most promising way to achieve both goals is to push ahead unapologetically with an indyref, either next year or the year after.

Unfortunately Thomas himself is now departing from that script by effectively abandoning independence as the most effective Brexit parachute, and is instead pinning his hopes on another UK-wide referendum to reverse the outcome of the last one.  That's not something the SNP can realistically be expected to campaign for, because they'd be conceding the right of the rest of the UK to overrule Scotland's constitutional wishes.  As it happens, I don't think it's a viable way of furthering Thomas' own priority either, because I cannot see any circumstance in which a Tory government would allow a referendum in which Remain was a possible outcome.  It would be electoral suicide for them to do so.  A snap general election followed by a second referendum held by an incoming Labour government is just about possible, but there would still be the formidable obstacle of Jeremy Corbyn's private but well-documented Euroscepticism.

The bottom line is that there is a far greater percentage chance of maintaining EU membership because of an indyref than there is of maintaining it because of a second UK-wide vote.  So although Thomas' priorities may differ slightly from most of the Yes movement, I can't see any reason why there should be a corresponding divergence on strategy.  We should still be marching in the same direction down the same road.  I do understand why Thomas feels misled and let-down, though, and I hope that Nicola Sturgeon's long-awaited decision in the autumn will remedy that.

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Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser 2018: You can find information about the fundraiser HERE, or you can make a donation HERE.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser 2018: An Update

Click here to go straight to the fundraising page.

There are times in life when you realise you're in the middle of making an incredibly stupid mistake, and you have to decide whether to see it through or to try to reverse what you've done, no matter how awkward and embarrassing that might be. As regular readers will be aware, I've been trying to fundraise over the last few weeks to help keep this blog going for another year, but I've been doing it in a fairly low-key way as a sort of bolt-on to last year's fundraising page. That was a really daft idea, because the £7000 target on that page was met twelve months ago and the money has since been completely used up, so there was no proper indication of how much I was trying to raise this year or how far away the new target was from being met. A significant amount was raised during July and the first couple of days of August - more than £3000, in fact, and a million thanks to everyone who has contributed. That's not quite halfway towards the rough target, though, and I began to realise that I was potentially going to have to bore people to tears with reminders about the fundraiser for months to come if I didn't bite the bullet and set up a new page with a more meaningful target figure. I was just in the middle of doing that when I suddenly noticed that it was perfectly possible to edit an existing fundraiser and adjust the target! Remind me to actually check these things in future. So I've now adjusted the target to £15,500. For the avoidance of doubt, that does not mean I'm seeking to raise anything like that amount during the current fundraising period - the running total stood at £7,800 after last year, so if/when the £15,500 target is met, that will mean that just over £7,500 has actually been raised this year.

Here are a few questions and answers about the fundraiser...

What's the plan for Scot Goes Pop over the next twelve months?

The mind boggles as to what might happen over that period. A Tory leadership contest? A snap general election? A referendum on the terms of Brexit? The calling of a second independence referendum? Any or all of the above could happen at any time and at very short notice. The beauty of these fundraisers is that it gives me the flexibility to drop everything and provide extensive polling analysis when called for, even if that temporarily becomes a task almost on a par with a full-time job. That was very much the case during the 2014 independence referendum, the 2015 and 2017 general elections, and the 2016 EU referendum. (Oddly enough, there was no spike in visitor numbers during the EU referendum in the way that there was for the other three votes, but I still gave you the round-the-clock polling analysis whether you wanted it or not!)

What gap in the market does Scot Goes Pop fill?

We generally only ever see opinion polls through a unionist filter. The vast majority of Scottish polls are commissioned by anti-independence clients in the media, and even if the results are favourable for the SNP or Yes, that's rarely the story that people actually read about. Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage is a pro-independence corrective to that bias, although I would stress that it isn't about propaganda or wishful thinking - I also spend a fair bit of my time correcting misinformation about polls put about by Yes people.

How many people does Scot Goes Pop reach?

I have to sheepishly admit at this point that I'm not quite sure. I've had Google Analytics installed for years, but it suddenly dawned on me a few months ago that I've had it set up incorrectly all along, and that the figures I was seeing completely excluded visitors to the mobile version of the site. So any traffic/visitor numbers I mentioned until the end of the last year were likely to be a very significant underestimate.  According to the latest figures from Traffic Estimate, the blog reached a combined total of 55,400 unique visitors across two domains over the last 30 days (48,400 for scotgoespop.blogspot.com, and 7000 in the early part of the month for the now-defunct scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk domain).  I've no idea how accurate that is, but to give you a rough guide, it compares to an estimated 39,500 unique visitors for The Ferret, and 74,100 for Bella Caledonia.

Are the fundraisers your sole income?

No, of course not, and I really must stress that point for the benefit of our resident troll who likes posting comments along the lines of "get out of bed and do a proper job, you Jocknatsis scrounger". I have other writing-related income, and I'm glad to say I also do some work that has absolutely nothing to do with either writing or politics. However, I simply wouldn't be able to devote anything like as much time to the blog if it wasn't for the fundraisers.

Does the fundraiser help towards running costs?

Strictly speaking no, because the blogging platform I currently use is free.  However, there are a few miscellaneous expenses that are indirectly associated with blogging - for example travel costs if I'm asked to go somewhere for a podcast or rally or whatever, so the fundraiser does help with that.  In the past I've also experimented with using a portion of the funds on Facebook advertising, which is hopefully a win/win for all concerned - promoting this particular blog while also widening the reach of the wider pro-indy alternative media and its message.

Why don't you use the funds to commission an opinion poll?

In an ideal world I'd love to do that (if I can find a polling firm that is still willing to speak to me, that is!).  However, polls are expensive and I'd realistically only be able to do it if the target was significantly exceeded.  I've found in the past that fundraisers tend to only just about reach their target, so it's probably unlikely that I'd ever be able to take the idea forward, but I'll certainly keep an open mind about it.

What happens to the funds if you can't keep blogging?

That point always troubles me, because fundraisers are effectively there to cover a mountain of work that hasn't actually been done yet, and it's impossible to know when personal circumstances might suddenly change and get in the way.  As I've said in past years, if I wasn't able to keep going for any reason I would pass any remaining funds on to other pro-independence alternative media.

If everyone who has read this blog in the last month donated just 50p, would the target be met straight away?


Click here if you'd like to donate.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Questions for the BBC on the YouTube controversy

A great deal has been written about the closing down of the Wings and Moridura YouTube accounts, but there are a few points that I don't think have received enough attention yet.  The BBC suggested in their statement that the initiative for targeting the two accounts did not come from themselves, but rather that they always take action on copyrighted content when they receive a sufficient number of complaints.  This implies, somewhat implausibly, that dozens if not hundreds of public-spirited citizens have been spontaneously sending in complaints in an attempt to protect the BBC's copyright.  If there's any truth at all to it, much more likely is that any complaints sent to the BBC were malicious and politically motivated.  That would drive a coach and horses through the BBC's insistence that they take action on copyright regardless of the political views of the alleged "infringers", because self-evidently their own policy means that they would be taking more action against one side of the constitutional debate if it was the other side that happened to be putting in the bulk of complaints.

It may be, of course, that the "we take action whenever we receive complaints" thing is just a face-saving PR cover story anyway.  It has that sort of ring to it, a bit like Radio 1 pretending recently that they pulled an interview because it "wasn't good enough", and not because of the sea of outrage about the interviewee.  One obvious question is: how would someone actually go about alerting the BBC to a copyright infringement?  If there is an established procedure for doing that, is it really likely that large numbers of ordinary people would know about it?

The BBC appear to be alleging that the copyrighted material on the two channels was extensive enough to negate the "limited" fair use exemption.  That's a subjective argument, and one that a court might well disagree with.  But even if the BBC truly believe that their copyright has been technically infringed, it doesn't automatically follow that a state-owned and publicly-funded broadcaster always has to seek redress, or that it would be in the interests of those they serve for them to do so.  If it was drama or comedy, it would be an entirely different matter - they would be protecting the creative work of actors, writers, comedians, etc, who have a right to receive revenue when their product is viewed.  But who is being protected when the words of a politician who just happened to be speaking on the BBC are censored?  If there's a public interest in these videos being removed, why can't the BBC articulate what it is?  Why have they not even attempted to do so?

There's also an issue here about BBC centralisation and disrespect towards Scotland.  We were told a few months ago that BBC Scotland were about to make a conscious effort to build bridges with Yes voters and to win back the trust in the corporation that was lost during the independence referendum.  What looks like a political attack by the BBC in London on two leading pro-independence bloggers makes that task ten times harder.  Shouldn't it have occurred to the people responsible to clear such an enormously sensitive move with BBC Scotland, who after all were best placed to understand the repercussions?  If it didn't occur to them to do so, what does that tell you?

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On an unrelated subject, I just thought I'd bring the following to your attention.  Faisal Islam of Sky News has posted a screenshot of Pembrokeshire County Council's planning for Brexit, which makes an observation about devolution -

"There are powers in devolved areas which HMG [Her Majesty's Government] wishes to withhold from WG [Welsh Government] under the EU Withdrawal Bill that are currently implemented under EU law by Welsh local authorities.  How long they will be withheld, and for what purpose, is unclear.  This introduces some legal uncertainty for Welsh local authorities."

Perish the thought that there's any sort of power grab going on, eh? 

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

The Chequers shambles brought UKIP back from the dead - and May's fear of UKIP could increase the chances of a no deal Brexit

One of the paradoxes of last year's general election is that the Tories had to increase their vote sharply just to avoid going backwards any further than they did.  Theresa May took 42% of the popular vote and yet lost the overall majority that had been won by David Cameron two years earlier with only 37% of the vote.  It's easy to dismiss what happened as a form of general polarisation in which both the Conservatives and Labour were bound to see their support increase while smaller parties were inevitably squeezed out, but in fact the processes that led to the Tory and Labour increases were largely separate.  UKIP voters went home to the Tories because the issue of Brexit seemed to be settled (laughable in retrospect, I know), while Labour were only able to capture former abstainers and Green voters because Corbyn had become leader - something that had absolutely nothing to do with Brexit.  So if circumstances had been different it would have been perfectly possible for the Corbyn surge to occur without any corresponding swing back from UKIP to Tory - and we're now starting to see what the effects of that would have looked like.

As you probably know, for several months in the early part of this year, the Tories had re-established a small but significant GB-wide lead over Labour, but that was reversed at the time of the Chequers "deal"/shambles.  Labour briefly went into the lead, but we now seem to be back to roughly a neck-and-neck race.  Although Labour may have taken some support direct from the Tories, the most important impact of Chequers appears to have been to bring UKIP back from the dead.  In every poll published in May and June, UKIP had been somewhere between 2% and 4%, and in most cases they were on 3%.  Since Chequers, they've been hovering between 5% and 8%, with the most common figure being 6%.  So their support has essentially doubled, and needless to say a lot of the extra votes are coming from the Tories.  In the last two YouGov polls, 9% or 10% of respondents who voted Tory in 2017 said they would now vote UKIP, which compares to an equivalent figure of just 3% in the last YouGov poll of June.  Labour's position relative to the Tories could therefore have improved without any direct boost for Labour at all (and indeed after the reversal of a temporary bounce that is effectively what has happened).

The question that forms in my mind is whether what we're currently seeing is merely a staging-post.  UKIP's support may be double what it was a few weeks ago, but it's still only half of what it was at the 2015 election.  With talk of Nigel Farage just possibly returning as leader next year, there's surely scope for a much bigger swing back from Tory to UKIP if the narrative of "Brexit betrayed" is allowed to develop.  There's no particular reason to think Labour would lose support to smaller parties at the same time, which means that the polls could move firmly into Labour overall majority territory by default.  Fear of that happening could be another constraint on Theresa May that will make it less likely that she'll agree to any deal remotely acceptable to the EU - thus further increasing the chances of a disastrous no deal Brexit.

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Any Blairite breakaway from Labour could be Christmas for the SNP

Subscribers to iScot magazine might remember that for my December 2017 column, I made a series of non-predictions for the year ahead.  That is to say, I made the point that the range of possibilities was much wider than the conventional wisdom would have you believe, and that there were a number of perfectly conceivable events being prematurely ruled out by pundits because of what the mood music happened to be at the end of the year.  For example, it seemed silly to me that the possibility of a Blairite/"moderate" breakaway from Labour at some point during 2018 was being completely excluded.

The small minority of you who bother trying to get past the New Stateman's intensely irritating registration-wall may have seen a recent piece by Stephen Bush in which he suggested that the prevailing private view among many Corbynsceptics is that a new party may well be necessary.  Now, admittedly there are only five months left in 2018, so if a breakaway does happen it's likely to be in 2019 or later.  But nevertheless this gossip (which should be taken seriously given Bush's track record) does go some way towards vindicating my point that the cowing of the Blairite tendency at one particular point in time did not tell you a great deal about what the position would be a few months later.  The rebels have cynically used the issue of antisemitism to breathe life back into their cause, and the question has reverted to being how to fight back against Corbyn rather than whether to do so.

If a new centre party emerges, would it be Christmas for the SNP?  Answer: probably, but not necessarily.  It's just possible that a fresh political force with a charismatic leader could ride the backlash against no deal Brexit and sweep all before it, including even the SNP in Scotland.  More likely, though, is that the new party would be strong enough to do severe damage to Labour, but not strong enough to come close to taking power itself.  The outcome would be a split and demoralised Labour and ex-Labour vote, which in a first-past-the-post Westminster contest would be a boon for any parties in competition with Labour in marginal seats.  That would obviously include the SNP.  There might even be limited benefits in a Holyrood election fought under proportional representation, because if either Labour or the new party fell below 5% of the list vote in any region, any votes they did receive in that region would be effectively wasted and would free up list seats for other parties.

It's worth bearing in mind, though, that the last time there was a breakaway from Labour, it was less widespread in Scotland than elsewhere.  It's no coincidence that George Robertson was one of only two members of the SDP's predecessor group in parliament who didn't ultimately join the new party.  Other Scottish MPs on the Labour right, such as John Smith, who would have been prime candidates to defect if they had represented constituencies south of the border, didn't even entertain the idea for a nanosecond.  There was a stronger cultural and emotional attachment to the Labour brand here than there was in parts of England.  Of course things have changed in the intervening few decades, and until the advent of Richard Leonard the Scottish party was almost starting to look like the last bastion of Blairism.  Many Scottish Labour MSPs will probably be sorely tempted to join a new party, but will sense deep down that by abandoning the Labour brand they would be giving up the one and only thing that makes them vaguely electable.  

Even if the history of the SDP breakaway repeats itself and Scottish Labour manages to basically hold together as English Labour falls apart, we can rest assured that the new party will still be beamed into Scottish homes courtesy of our wonderful homogenising broadcast media.  A split vote would effectively be imported from down south, and I suspect the SNP would still cash in quite heavily.

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Tonight (and every other night until the end of time) Scottish Labour are gonna whinge like it's Nine-teen-Se-ven-ty-Nine

It's always bemused me that there are two opinions about the SNP's history that seemingly nobody is allowed to express because the self-appointed experts have already long since decided that they are wrong.  Those opinions are:

1) That the SNP did the right thing by withdrawing from the Scottish Constitutional Convention after initial discussions.

2) That the SNP did the right thing by voting in favour of a motion of no confidence in the Callaghan government in 1979.

The first opinion is actually very easily defensible, and indeed in my view is probably correct.  Labour were refusing to even nominally allow independence to be considered by the Constitutional Convention as a valid possible outcome.  Therefore, by staying in the Convention, the SNP would have been endorsing an explicitly anti-independence endeavour.  That would have been a strategically foolish thing to do, because the constitutional proposals of all the main non-Tory parties would have become identical.  Why would anyone have bothered voting SNP when you could back exactly the same devolution policy by voting for a Labour government?  As it turned out, the SNP were electorally more successful in the 1990s than they were in the 1980s (their 32.6% share of the vote in the 1994 European election was at the time a new record high), which would tend to suggest that leaving the Convention and retaining their USP was extremely wise.  And of course devolution happened as quickly as it would have done if the SNP had been inside the Convention.  Indeed there's an argument that it happened more quickly, because external electoral pressure from the SNP helped keep Labour honest.

The 1979 question is more finely-balanced, because it's fair to say that neither the SNP nor Scotland gained anything by the decision to vote against Callaghan.  But here's the thing: it's not at all clear that anything would have been gained by not voting against Callaghan.  Which is probably why Tommy Sheppard said the unsayable a few days ago by noting that, even with the benefit of hindsight, he would have voted the same way if he had been an SNP MP in that position.  The Daily Record then provided a helpful reminder that they remain a completely unreformed Labour fanzine by leaping on that comment with the disgraceful headline "Senior SNP MP slammed for claims nationalists would vote for Thatcherism again".  Sheppard of course had said no such thing, because the SNP did not 'vote for Thatcherism' in 1979 or at any other time.  The vote against Callaghan was not a vote for a change of government, but was instead a vote for hastening a general election in which the British people could elect any government they liked.  The public could, for example, have significantly improved Callaghan's position by re-electing Labour with an outright majority.  If they had done so, would it have meant that the SNP had "voted for Callaghanism"?  No, it would still have meant that they voted for a slightly earlier election and for nothing else.

The subtext of Scottish Labour's decades-long whinge about the 1979 vote is that the SNP allowed the British people to overrule Scotland's wishes by installing Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.  It's hard to know where to start with hypocrisy like that.  Suffice to say that Labour believe as a matter of principle that the British people should be able to overrule Scotland's choice of government, and the SNP categorically do not.  When Labour campaigned for a No vote in the independence referendum, they were shamelessly campaigning to allow the 1979 scenario to play itself out again and again and again and again into infinity.  If we had a media worth its salt, that point would be put to Labour every time the subject is raised.

But leaving Labour's nonsense aside, did the SNP make the right call in 1979?  Look at it this way.  For years, they had used their voting power within a hung parliament to attempt to bring about an elected Scottish Assembly.  They had done so by repeatedly backing the Labour government in confidence votes on the condition that devolution legislation would go ahead.  What actually happened is that dozens of Labour MPs sabotaged the Scotland Bill by inserting the 40% rule, and Callaghan let them get away with it by indicating he was not going to respect the majority Yes vote in the 1979 referendum.  (Contrary to popular belief, the Scotland Act 1978 did not say that a failure to reach the 40% threshold would automatically lead to repeal.  The Secretary of State was required to table a repeal order, but Callaghan could then have whipped Labour MPs to vote against it, which if done successfully would have meant devolution going ahead as planned.  He chose not to do that.)  The informal agreement between Labour and the SNP had therefore been broken, and it had been broken by Labour.  Were the SNP really supposed to react to that state of affairs by saying "oh it doesn't matter, we'll reward your broken promises and continue propping up your government in return for absolutely nothing?" 

Four decades on, Labour's answer to that question, and indeed the Labour-supporting media's answer to that question, is "yes".  I would suggest that's not remotely a realistic answer. 

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Latest figures suggest Scot Goes Pop is Scotland's fifth most-read alternative media site

Apologies for another self-indulgent stats post (in fairness I think the last one was in March!), but like other bloggers I do sometimes have to fight to make sure Scot Goes Pop gets the full recognition it's due.  Indyref2 have today published a ranking of Scottish alternative media websites based on monthly traffic estimates from the appropriately titled Traffic Estimate site.  Scot Goes Pop is on the list in sixth place with 44,400 visitors, but that's an underestimate because for some reason Traffic Estimate are now splitting the blog's traffic between two domains - scotgoespop.blogspot.com (44,400 visitors) and scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk (16,800 visitors).  Given that we're talking about unique visitors, can those two figures be treated cumulatively?  Not necessarily - there may be a little overlap, although I strongly suspect that most people who visit the blog multiple times in a month do so on the same domain every time.  So the correct figure is probably much closer to 61,200 than to 44,400.

When I first discovered Traffic Estimate a few months ago, the .com domain was showing zero visitors and the .co.uk domain was showing anything between 60,000 and 80,000 visitors.  Why the flipover?  I don't really know, although one possible explanation is that Facebook links to Blogger now seem to be automatically directing to the .com domain, no matter which address is manually added.

I've also noticed that John Robertson's and Jason Michael's sites are missing from Indyref2's ranking list.  Assuming there are no other omissions, and assuming that other sites aren't suffering from the same multiple domain problem, here is the correct top nine.  I've put an asterisk next to Scot Goes Pop's traffic to take account of the slight uncertainty over how to treat the cumulative figure.

Wings Over Scotland 211,400
CommonSpace 88,800
Wee Ginger Dug 80,000
Bella Caledonia 79,800
Scot Goes Pop 61,200*
Talking Up Scotland 59,000
Indyref2 48,600
Random Public Journal 42,200
The Ferret 42,100

Obviously these are very broad ballpark estimates, but if Scot Goes Pop really does receive in the region of 60,000 unique visitors every 30 days, what would that mean?  It would suggest that getting on for 1% of this country's entire population drops by every month.  Not too shabby for a one-man operation.  That being the case, it may be a good moment (ahem, cough, violent sneeze) to mention the ongoing fundraiser.  I've been using last year's fundraiser for the sake of convenience, although that may prove to be a mistake because a specific target figure can often be a motivating factor for donations.  Basically you have to subtract £7800 from the figure on the page to calculate how much has been raised so far.  That means just over £2000 has been donated in the current fundraising period, and a million thanks to everyone who has contributed.  I have £7000 in mind as a very rough target, so that will be reached when the page says £14,800.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The exclusion of the SNP from the summaries of poll results is arbitrary, Anglocentric and indefensible

As I've spent a fair bit of the last 48 hours having exchanges (sometimes downright surreal exchanges) about this subject on Twitter, I thought I might as well make the point here as well.  It's a very simple one.  Here is how the Britain Elects account reported the results of the new YouGov poll a couple of days ago...

I'm not having a go at Britain Elects specifically, because the above is absolutely typical of how most news/political outlets summarise such polls - ie. with no sign of the SNP (or indeed of Plaid Cymru).

How do you think any reasonable person would be most likely to interpret the absence of the SNP?  I'd suggest they'd reach one of two conclusions.  Either: a) respondents in the poll were not given the option of expressing a voting intention for the SNP, or b) the SNP were on less than the 2% of the vote enjoyed by the Greens, the lowest-placed of the five parties that were deemed worthy of a mention in the summary.  But both of those conclusions would be completely incorrect, meaning that by either accident or design people are being very seriously misled.  In reality, the SNP and Plaid Cymru received 5% of the vote in this poll, putting them in a clear fifth place ahead of the Greens, and only just behind UKIP in fourth place.  (Because YouGov lump the SNP and Plaid together as a single option for GB-wide polls, it's impossible to separate out the support for each of the two parties, but given what we know about their respective levels of support it's inconceivable that the SNP would have received less than 4% if offered as an option in their own right, and would still have been well clear of the Greens.)  Why, then, is the sixth most popular party reported as if it was the fifth most popular?  Why is the fifth most popular not even mentioned at all?

A mistake?

An oversight?

Nope, it's the intentional withholding of information, and it's done as a matter of routine.  Over the last two days, apologists for this downright weird practice have put forward a number of speculative justifications for it, and not one of them makes any sense.  I'll go through them individually.

"Not editing out the SNP's vote would give a misleading impression of the trend in Scotland, because trivial changes that might barely register at Britain-wide level would be enough to make a big difference in terms of seats."  This doesn't stack up, because essentially the same is true of both the Greens and UKIP - any seats that they might win depend on very localised contests, meaning that their national share of the vote is hardly even relevant.  In 2015, UKIP took 13% of the vote but won just a single seat.  If the media can 'take the risk' of revealing information about the popularity of the Greens and UKIP that has little or no relevance in terms of seats, it's murderously hard to understand why the public must be 'protected' from similar information about the SNP.  The bottom line is that in a first-past-the-post election, the number of seats won by each party is only very weakly correlated to the share of the vote.  The winner of the popular vote may or may not be the largest party in terms of seats.  A third party with 17% of the vote may win more than twice as many seats as it did a decade earlier with 23%.  The purpose of polls is not first and foremost to predict the number of seats for each party, but rather to estimate each party's absolute popularity in terms of votes.  In that respect, the fact that the SNP is on 5% of the vote in this YouGov poll is no more or less important than the fact that the Greens are on 2% or that UKIP are on 6%.

"The estimated vote for the SNP is less reliable than the vote for Britain-wide parties, because it is drawn from a tiny subsample, not the full-scale GB sample."  Not true.  YouGov allow respondents across Britain to select the SNP/Plaid as a voting intention option, as can be seen from the fact that the two parties between them have 1% support in London in this particular poll.

"Nevertheless, in practice the vast bulk of support for the SNP and Plaid comes from Scotland and Wales, so effectively is based on a subsample that is too small to be statistically reliable."  That's really an argument for not taking individual subsamples too seriously, which indeed they shouldn't be.  But the SNP's GB-wide vote is not a subsample figure - it's rounded to the nearest percentage point and therefore normally falls in a range between 3% and 5%.  If anything, the SNP's reported vote is more stable than the reported vote for the Britain-wide parties and isn't subject to random variations outside the standard margin of error - which is what you'd expect if the charge of an unusual level of statistical unreliability had any truth to it.

"The SNP's support is not only effectively drawn from a small Scottish subsample, but one that might be incorrectly structured - for example, it might have far too many pensioners, or too many women."  Not so.  YouGov indicated a couple of years ago that they had decided to start structuring and weighting their Scottish subsamples separately to improve the accuracy of their polls.  It seems highly unlikely that they reversed that decision at any point, because their subsample figures have become (relatively) more stable since then.

"The SNP should be edited out of poll results because not everyone in Britain can vote for them."  That's a British nationalist argument rather than a statistical one, but it doesn't even make sense on its own terms, because not everyone in Britain can vote for UKIP or the Greens either.  In the 2017 general election, the Greens stood in only 467 of the 650 constituencies, and UKIP stood in only 378 of 650.  Both figures were sharply down on the candidates for each party in the 2015 election.  Nobody has a clue how many candidates UKIP and the Greens will put up at the next election, which means that in all probability many respondents will have told YouGov in good faith that they plan to vote for one party or another even though they will not be able to do so.  If reporting the SNP's Britain-wide vote "lacks context", reporting the Green or UKIP vote must inevitably lack a great deal more context.  And yet nobody would dream of withholding that information (unless of course the numbers fell to a statistically insignificant level).

There is no possible logic to the exclusion of the SNP from poll summaries.  It's an arbitrary decision rooted in Anglocentricity.

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.