Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More about the TNS poll

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a short article at The National about yesterday's amazing TNS poll, which reported an unprecedented SNP vote of 54%.  You can read it HERE.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Stupefyingly staggering Survation survey shows SNP 25% ahead

Crikey, what a day.  No sooner had I finished pointing out the significance of the fact that only non-online pollsters have been registering an SNP vote of more than 50%, along comes an online pollster registering an SNP vote of more than 50%.  This is the monthly Survation poll for the Record -

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Survation, 22nd-27th April) :

SNP 51.2% (+4.1)
Labour 25.6% (-0.5)
Conservatives 14.3% (-1.2)
Liberal Democrats 5.4% (+1.4)
UKIP 2.0% (-2.3)
Greens 1.4% (-0.8)

The point about the divergence between online and non-online polls still holds true, though, because even 51.2% from Survation falls short of the 54% reported by TNS earlier today, and also the 52% reported by Ipsos-Mori in their most recent poll (which was way back in January, so logically the figure would probably be significantly higher in an Ipsos-Mori poll conducted now).

The general direction of travel now is blindingly obvious - all four polling firms that have produced full-scale Scottish polls in the last few weeks have shown a record SNP lead, and in most cases the previous record has been broken by quite some distance.  Survation have actually only broken their own record by 1% - their poll in December had the SNP ahead by 24%, although in retrospect that looks like an outlier.  The strong impression that there has been substantial additional movement towards the SNP recently was also bolstered by the Ashcroft constituency polls, which showed further swings across the board in seats that had previously been surveyed.

It's also the case, of course, that half of the pollsters that have been active in April are now showing that an absolute majority of the electorate plan to vote for Nicola Sturgeon's party.  That's a pretty startling position to find ourselves in with just ten days to go until the election. OK, the TNS fieldwork is a little out of date, but the Survation fieldwork isn't - it started last Wednesday and finished today.  The 50% barrier may be a purely psychological one, but it's massive all the same - how many times have you heard a unionist politician or commentator attempt to downplay the significance of the SNP's mandate in 2011 by pointing out that less than 50% of voters backed the party?  That simply may not be possible this time around - the moral authority of a manifesto that commands the support of an absolute majority of voters would be overwhelming.  Only one other party in post-war Scottish history has achieved that feat, and it wasn't Labour.

Most important of all would be the unambiguous demonstration of majority support for the SNP's policy of full fiscal responsibility.  If the incoming government (of either complexion) failed to respect that mandate by delivering enhanced devolution that goes well beyond the Smith proposals, the legitimacy of Westminster rule could quickly be called into question once again.

*  *  *


There's about a million and one other things to say about both the Survation and TNS polls, but I've had a long day, so instead I'm going to buy you off with the long-awaited (sort of) return of the Poll of Polls.  This update is based on the full-scale Survation and Panelbase polls (TNS is excluded because the fieldwork is too far out of date), plus thirteen Scottish subsamples from Britain-wide polls - five from YouGov, two from Populus, two from Survation, one from ComRes, one from ICM, one from Ashcroft, and one from Opinium.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 47.7% (+4.1)
Labour 26.4% (+0.9)
Conservatives 15.1% (-1.0)
Liberal Democrats 6.0% (-1.6)
UKIP 2.3% (-1.0)
Greens 1.8% (-1.6)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

It's an SNP avalanche : Sturgeon's party leads by THIRTY-TWO points in new TNS poll

It looks like Rolfe's informant at the street stall the other day was bang on the money - just as he suggested, the start of the week has seen the publication of a poll showing the SNP vote rising by another two points.  What we couldn't have dared hope for, though, was that it would turn out to be a poll from TNS - which prior to today had already been the joint most favourable firm for the SNP, alongside Ipsos-Mori.  They now claim that mantle all for themselves.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (TNS, 1st-19th April) :

SNP 54% (+2)
Labour 22% (-2)
Conservatives 13% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2%  (-1)
UKIP 2% (+1)

The 32% lead is comfortably the biggest that the SNP have enjoyed in any poll since the referendum - the previous record was 29% in the famous October poll from Ipsos-Mori that first alerted us to the new political reality.  What makes this even more extraordinary is that the new high watermark has been recorded by a firm that just a few weeks ago looked relatively Labour-friendly.  The 16% gap that TNS reported in their first poll of 2015 was very much at the lower end of the scale, but has now doubled.

And can it be entirely a coincidence that the only two firms that have so far shown the SNP on the right side of 50% are also the only two that use a real world methodology, ie. with no reliance on a volunteer online polling panel?  You might remember the absurdly ill-informed article from ex-ICM man Nick Sparrow a few months ago in which he bemoaned how the political obsessives in online panels were artificially generating momentum for the SNP.  Even when he wrote that, Ipsos-Mori's telephone poll was already pointing to a bigger SNP lead than had been detected in any online poll.  Now that the same is true of TNS' face-to-face polling, it looks if anything as if online panellists are proving to be a drag on the SNP's numbers in online polls.  In other words, contrary to Sparrow's argument, the likes of YouGov and Panelbase could actually be artificially diluting the momentum behind the SNP (albeit not by much!).

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Miliband attempts the Harold Wilson strategy - but without Wilson's winning hand

To the best of my knowledge, today marks the first time that Ed Miliband has explicitly "ruled out" a confidence-and-supply deal with the SNP, as opposed to a full coalition.  (I'm using inverted commas, because at this stage in the game we can't completely exclude the possibility that he's making a Clegg Promise, one that he'll happily break and then "apologise for having had no choice but to break it".)  He's now left himself in a very unhealthy position if he's looking to form a stable government - the chances of Labour winning an absolute majority are microscopically small, and so his only remaining hope is that he might just scrape enough seats to give a potential Labour-Lib Dem-SDLP arrangement a small working majority (which ironically would include a party committed to "breaking up the United Kingdom"!).

In the more likely scenario that a stable Labour-led government is not possible without the SNP, what is Miliband's strategy for governing?  It seems that he's getting very close to the impossibly stubborn message that Harold Wilson sent out when the 1974 election resulted in a hung parliament : "we won't do deals, we'll just govern".  Remarkably, that strategy worked for Wilson, but he had several advantages that Miliband either won't have or may not have -

1) He didn't have to contend with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, and knew he could call a snap second election at the most favourable moment.

2) He was personally popular, and once he had got himself into power after the February election, people wanted him to stay there.

3) He had the supposed 'legitimacy' of leading the largest single party in the Commons.

It's quite possible that Miliband will be a personally unpopular Prime Minister, seeking to govern without the unofficial 'legitimacy' that comes from leading the largest party or from signing a formal deal that demonstrates he has more parliamentary support than the Tories, and without the clear option of calling a snap election in the unlikely event that a favourable moment presents itself.

Doesn't sound too promising, does it?  Labour haven't realised it yet, but they may well be pining for a deal with the SNP before this year is out.

*  *  *

The Panelbase datasets are now out, and a couple of things leap out at me.  Firstly, when asked to make a straight choice between a Labour-led and a Conservative-led government, Yes voters overwhelmingly prefer Labour, while No voters are virtually split down the middle (47% favour the Tories).  This once again demonstrates the indescribable idiocy of a Labour strategy that effectively says "we only want No voters" by aggressively opposing fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

Secondly, it's once again the case that people currently planning to vote SNP are more likely to have firmly made up their minds than anyone else, making it much harder to see where the Labour fightback is going to come from.  That said, it's probably worth being a touch sceptical about any kind of "certainty to vote" question in an online poll, because volunteer online polling panels contain a disproportionate number of politically committed people.


In light of the intervention of multi-millionaire Tory peer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the election campaign, I feel moved to point out that this song from Jesus Christ Superstar would make a highly suitable Tory anthem at the moment (if gender-adjusted, naturally).

Also, don't forget Scot Goes Pop's unofficial but wildly popular campaign song -

Chap every door for me
Banish Ed Balls from me
Children of Scotland are never alone
For we know we shall find
Our own peace of mind
For we have been VOWED
A land of our own!

Or, alternatively, there's the updated version of Lloyd Webber's Eurovision song from 2009 -

It's the SNP's time
It's the SNP's time
Our moment
We're not going to let go of it
It's the SNP's time
It's the SNP's time
And we'll stand proud
There's nothing we're afraid of
We'll show you what we're made of
Show you all it's Scotland's time now

Pivotal Panelbase poll pushes SNP to record-breaking 21% lead

I think I spoke too soon a few days ago when I observed that full-scale Scottish polls were coming thicker and faster as election day approached - there's been a frustrating silence over the last crucial week, which has seen people start to vote in huge numbers by post.  Tonight's Panelbase poll is likely to be the first Scottish poll conducted (at least in part) after some respondents had already voted.  The results are, therefore, rather encouraging for the SNP.  ***UNDERSTATEMENT ALERT***

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Panelbase) :

SNP 48% (+3)
Labour 27% (-2)
Conservatives 16% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 4% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-1)
Greens 2% (n/c)

This is the fifth Panelbase poll since the independence referendum, but the first and third used weird methodologies, which probably led to the SNP lead being understated.  So, assuming there hasn't been any more methodological changes, tonight's result can be most meaningfully compared to the second and fourth polls, which produced SNP leads of 17 and 16 points respectively.  In theory, the big leap to a 21 point gap could just be an extreme example of margin of error "noise", but it almost certainly isn't, because it replicates what we've seen from TNS and YouGov, both of whom also recently reported the SNP lead jumping to record-breaking levels.

And this isn't merely corroboration of the trend shown by other firms.  Because the fieldwork dates for tonight's poll are more recent, it also provides us with our first indication that the additional surge for the SNP hasn't gone into reverse over recent days.

Respondents were asked whether they favoured Full Fiscal Autonomy, and by an impressive margin of 53% to 33%, they said they did.  This should not be remotely surprising, given that previous polls have consistently shown that voters want Devo Max - which entails Full Fiscal Autonomy and a lot more besides.  However, Labour and other unionist parties have bet the ranch on the idea that people will be more scared by the sound of Full Fiscal Autonomy than they are by the sound of Devo Max.  It appears that hope is largely without foundation.

My guess is that Labour will always find it a lot harder than they think to frighten people about self-government within the UK, no matter how radical the proposal being made is.  After all, the anti-independence campaign repeatedly told us that they were offering "Devo SUPER Max", "near-federalism", "Home Rule" - and if they of all people claimed to be comfortable (and enthusiastic) about such a big transfer of power, why would anyone else be terrified by the prospect only a few short months later?

The independence question was also asked -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (-2)
No 51% (+2)

There hasn't been a consistent trend in favour of either Yes or No across the polling industry in recent times - some polls have shown Yes up a bit, and others have shown No up a bit, which probably means that sampling variation is disguising a largely unchanged position.  However, all of the polling firms with the exception of ICM are in agreement that the Yes vote increased by several points after the referendum, and hasn't slipped back to any significant degree since.  We know that the swing to Yes is real and not an illusion caused by methodology, because the results are now being weighted by recalled referendum vote.

All firms apart from ICM also agree that the race is now a 'statistical tie' - ie. because of the standard 3% margin of error, it's impossible to tell whether Yes or No are in the lead.

Rolfe mentioned on the previous thread that she had been approached at a street stall by someone who said they work for a polling company, and who claimed that a poll showing a further increase in the SNP lead was being sat on until the start of the week.  If that's true, I don't see how it can be the Panelbase poll, because that was commissioned by the Sunday Times, and has therefore been released at exactly the moment you'd expect.  Maybe it's the overdue monthly Survation poll for the Record?  (Mind you, it's Ipsos-Mori that have their call centre in Edinburgh, so it could just as easily be the quarterly "I'm John MacKay" poll.)

*  *  *

As part of an epic journey to the theatre in Edinburgh (it was Birdsong at the King's, since you didn't ask), I somehow found myself at the Hope Over Fear rally in Glasgow by complete accident.  I stayed for about five minutes and heard a little of Tommy Sheridan's speech, before I had to rush off and catch my train.  Here are some pictures...

(Click to enlarge.)

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Ian Smart thing, that Ian Smart does

I've just been catching up with First Minister's Questions from yesterday, and I thought it was fascinating to see the effect of Nicola Sturgeon temporarily withholding the name of the vile Labour activist who had referred to the SNP as "fascist scum".  Some people have suggested that Kezia Dugdale was lying when she claimed not to know his identity, but I think she genuinely hadn't made the connection at that point - she would never have offered a hostage to fortune by implying that disciplinary action might be taken if she'd realised she was talking about the inexplicably untouchable Ian Smart.  I'm not quite sure how she would have talked her way out of the situation if Smart had been named up-front, but her inward reaction would have been : "Oh, that.  That's just the Ian Smart thing.  That Ian Smart does."  It was probably a very useful exercise (for Kezia's spiritual development as much as anything) to separate out the Ian Smart thing from Ian Smart, and then to recognise the inescapable logic that it doesn't become any less despicable after you've found out that it was your friend Ian Smart who did it.  The media pack may similarly be reflecting quietly on the rationality (or otherwise) of their long-standing belief that the simple fact of being Ian Smart grants an individual a broad exemption from the accepted principles of human morality.

I also thought it was rather amusing how Kezia begged Nicola Sturgeon to tell her the identity of the Labour culprit after First Minister's Questions was over.  It seems that it's OK for Sturgeon to be expected to answer for "SNP wrongdoing" (which turned out to be no such thing) in public, but if it's a Labour wrongdoer, suddenly the plea is : for heaven's sake let's sort this out behind closed doors, like civilised people.  Does Kezia think the public are too stupid to notice such a blindingly obvious double standard?

*  *  *

You've got to love Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson.  He's been gradually coming to terms with the new political reality by telling himself stories about how the SNP are going to win a landslide, but everything will be all right for unionists anyway.  A few weeks ago, he was trying to convince himself that the SNP would be powerless to act as kingmakers, because of some unwritten rule that he and Jim Murphy had just invented about the largest party having the moral right to form a government.  When Blair McDougall asked him on Twitter whether Alex Salmond had accepted the 'rule', he hilariously replied : "Not yet". Apparently it's only ever a matter of time before everyone else falls into line with our Kenny's way of thinking!

Now he's moved on to acknowledging that Labour may well govern with SNP support, but is comforting himself with the thought that this will somehow transform the SNP into "Brits" and make independence less likely.  Hmmm.  I don't want to ruin your breakfast, Kenny, but it's just possible that the SNP could win a landslide without it being a triumph for unionism in disguise.  Stranger things have happened.

*  *  *

Spare a thought for right-wing historian Andrew Roberts, who told the This Week programme that the massed ranks of Conservative supporters in Scotland were making nationalism look popular by voting tactically for the SNP to stop Labour being the largest party.  The poor chap seemed to be serious.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How will SNP supporters in the rest of the UK vote?

I know there are some readers of this blog who are either members or supporters of the SNP, but who live in other parts of the UK.  So which parties will you be voting for on May 7th?  Nicola Sturgeon suggested that people in England might want to consider voting Green, or for individual Labour candidates who have proved themselves to be on the progressive wing of the party.  Speaking personally, I wouldn't vote Labour if I was in England, irrespective of the candidate, because the Neanderthal attitudes towards Scotland run too deep within Ed Miliband's party, and afflict even those who are the voice of reason on every other topic.

The Guardian made a heroic effort the other week to suggest that those in England impressed by Nicola Sturgeon ought to vote Labour in order to maximise the chances of the SNP holding influence.  For the avoidance of doubt, that's complete drivel - a vote for Labour is just as likely to take Miliband to the point where he can govern without the SNP's help (probably in coalition with the Liberal Democrats).

So what are the attractive options in the rest of the UK for a typical SNP sympathiser?  Let's start with the easy ones, and then work down to the more problematical possibilities.

Plaid Cymru : Left-of-centre, anti-austerity.  Sister party of the SNP, and former junior coalition partner in the Welsh Government.  In favour of enhanced devolution for Wales, and of full independence as a longer-term objective.  Also very supportive of Scottish independence, and many members came north to work for the Yes campaign.  Held three Westminster seats at dissolution, and should have a decent chance of adding Ynys Môn and Ceredigion, both of which were previously Plaid-held for long spells.

Mebyon Kernow : Left-of-centre, anti-austerity.  Sister party of the SNP.  In favour of substantial devolution to a Cornish Assembly, and would doubtless be an ally of the SNP in decentralising power throughout the UK.  No realistic prospect of winning a seat this time around, but a serious party which has several local councillors.

Green Party of England and Wales : Left-of-centre, anti-austerity.  Natalie Bennett proudly noted that the Greens were the only major English party to support a Yes vote at last year's Scottish independence referendum, and she visited Scotland personally to campaign. They held one Westminster seat at dissolution, and may have an outside chance of gaining one or two more.

Yorkshire First : Technically a sister party of the SNP, because it's just become an observer member of the European Free Alliance - and it's the first EFA member party in the UK from outside the 'Celtic Fringe'.  Unlike Plaid and Mebyon Kernow, though, it doesn't identify as left-wing, but as centrist.  Supports Scottish or Welsh style devolution for Yorkshire.  If I lived in that part of the world, I would probably be torn between the Greens' lefty-ness, and Yorkshire First's emphasis on constitutional reform.

North-East Party : No affiliation to the European Free Alliance (not yet, anyway), but in every other respect appears to be very similar to Yorkshire First.  Supports devolution for the North-East of England.

Wessex Regionalists : Left-of-centre, pro-devolution.  A kind of "Plaid for Wessex" that has been around for ages, but with very little success.  They're standing against David Cameron in Witney.

SDLP : Left-of-centre, and in favour (at least in principle) of a united Ireland.  On the face of it, should be a perfect fit for any SNP supporter, but they're a sister party of Labour, not the SNP.  It's even sometimes been said that they "take the Labour whip at Westminster", although that never seems to have been a binding arrangement.  They famously helped to bring down the Callaghan government in 1979 - but strangely Labour seemed to forgive their Irish comrades within a week, as opposed to the 36 years they've been nursing a grievance over the SNP doing exactly the same thing.

Sinn Féin : Left-wing, anti-austerity, and in favour of a united Ireland - but carries a huge amount of historical baggage.

* * *

UPDATE : I overlooked the Northern Party, which only launched last month and is standing candidates in Lancashire. Seems to be very similar to Yorkshire First and the North-East Party, and is calling for "devo max", no less.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nicola's story

Yesterday the International Business Times asked me to write a profile of Nicola Sturgeon.  I think my hard-earned reputation as a propagandist may take a slight knock with this one - it's not an entirely one-sided hagiography!  Anyway, see what you think - you can read it HERE.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Enthralling YouGov poll sees SNP maintain massive 24% lead

The frequency of Scottish polling seems to be increasing markedly as we approach election day - YouGov have tonight released a new full-scale Scottish poll, just ten days or so after their last one.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (YouGov, 16th-20th April) :

SNP 49% (n/c)
Labour 25% (n/c)
Conservatives 17% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (+1)

This may look like a routine no change result, but in fact it's hugely significant.  The last YouGov poll saw both the SNP vote and the SNP lead over Labour soar to record-breaking levels.  The general rule of thumb is that no sudden change is meaningful until it's confirmed by a second poll showing much the same thing - in a sense we've already had that confirmation from TNS and Ashcroft, but it's still important to get a repeat poll from YouGov itself.  There can now be absolutely no remaining room for doubt that the SNP lead has increased still further over recent weeks, although pinpointing exactly when the additional surge occurred is quite difficult.

I'll have to wait until the datasets appear before I can say much more of any use, but the other obvious thing that leaps out straight away is that the bulk of the fieldwork for this poll appears to have taken place after the BBC leaders' debate on Thursday night.  So there doesn't seem to be any comfort for Polly Toynbee and her startling theory that Ed Miliband's performance in that debate would help turn things around a little for Scottish Labour.  Admittedly, we've been told that the poll does show a significant improvement in Miliband's personal rating, but he's still light-years behind Nicola Sturgeon, and for as long as that remains the case there's no rational reason to suppose that the leadership factor will help fuel a late Labour comeback.