Wednesday, October 1, 2014

You really couldn't make this up

So let me get this straight.  Gordon Brown has said "the vow" wasn't worth the parchment it was written on, has accused David Cameron of reneging on his promise of more powers to Scotland, and has therefore naturally called for people to sign a petition demanding that the Tories deliver even less powers than they are actually planning to.

Oh-kaaaay.  My head is hurting.  No disrespect, but I think those of us who actually want the vow on "Devo SUPER Max"/"near federalism" to be honoured might just be able to find a more useful petition to sign.

Give Gordon his due, though - if you want to make the union absolutely secure, what better way of doing it than to have the front man of a solemn "vow" that saved the union tell everyone only a few days after the vote that Alex Salmond was right all along about the promise being a "trap", and that all we can do now that we've been conned into throwing away our chance to decide our own future at the ballot box is to sign a stern-looking petition and cross our fingers really tightly.  The sophistication of Brown's claim that Cameron is somehow trapping us by devolving too many powers will not detract from the genius of this intervention one iota.

Ruth Davidson apparently said earlier today that she would be "astonished" if the SNP won an extra 20 seats at the general election.  I wonder if she's quite so sure now?  Next it'll be "Willie Rennie says : Without Your Help We'll Never Get Nick Clegg to Listen."

UPDATE : It gets even better - as Rolfe and Illy point out in the comments section below, the petition Brown wants people to sign isn't his petition at all, but one that was set up after the referendum and largely signed by Yes supporters to demand that Cameron keeps his promise of more powers.  Brown has hi-jacked it after tens of thousands of people have already signed, and tried to retrospectively claim those signatures as backing a "stop Cammo from delivering too many powers!" message.

I believe the word is 'cynical'.  Or perhaps even 'desperate'.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Advantage Sturgeon

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.  You can read it HERE, or at Yahoo News HERE.

Incidentally, the datasets from the Opinium poll are now out, but I still can't add it to the Poll of Polls, because irritatingly there's no breakdown given for Scotland!  However, the SNP are on about 3.8% across Great Britain, which almost certainly means they have the lead in the Scottish subsample.

SNP open up 9.6% lead in Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

I've been mulling over how I can best keep track of Scottish voting intentions for next year's Westminster general election.  Full-scale Scottish polls are likely to be thin on the ground, so any method is inevitably going to rely heavily on Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls.  That's far from ideal, but an even bigger problem is the distortion caused by the fact that YouGov produce far more polls than anyone else (five per week), and that they tend to be much less favourable to the SNP than any other firm.  However, I don't really see any way round that if I want to keep the figures as up-to-date as possible.  So this is what I've come up with for the new version of the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls -

1) All polls entirely conducted within the last seven days will be included, as long as the datasets have been published.

2) Any newly-published full-scale Scottish poll will be included even if the fieldwork falls partly outside the seven-day period, and will be given ten times the weighting of a subsample.

Putting that into practice for the first time, this is what it produces...

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 39.9%
Labour 30.3%
Conservatives 15.6%
Liberal Democrats 6.8%
UKIP 4.4%
Greens 2.4%

That's based on eight subsamples - four from YouGov, two from Populus, one from Ashcroft and one from ComRes.  Incredibly, every single one of those subsamples has the SNP in the lead.  However, it's worth bearing in mind that the only full-scale Scottish poll to have been conducted since the referendum (from Survation) actually had the SNP behind in Westminster voting intentions, albeit narrowly and within the margin of error.  That poll isn't included in the above figures because the fieldwork ended more than seven days ago.

There should also be an Opinium poll in the mix, but unfortunately I can't include that because the datasets haven't been published yet.

The million dollar question is whether the SNP can possibly maintain this extraordinary level of support as we move further away from the referendum.  But for the time being at least, the state of play is causing a rather amusing degree of concern among the Nat-bashing usual suspects in London.  This is perhaps the most intensely satisfying tweet I've read over the last two weeks -

John Rentoul : "Alarming analysis by Peter Kellner suggesting SNP might win 26 of 59 Scottish seats, up from 6"

It's incredible, isn't it?  Before the referendum, all Rentoul cared about was keeping Scotland within his beloved country, come hell or high water.  Well, he got what he wanted, but he's still scared witless, because he's suddenly realised that the Scotland he "kept" is Scotland as it actually is (a "region" that votes in large numbers for the SNP and for self-government), rather than the "British" Scotland of his imagination.

Alex Salmond always used to say that independence would lead to England losing a surly lodger and gaining a good neighbour.  Well, it became abundantly clear during the campaign that the London establishment wanted to keep their surly lodger at all costs - they lied, bribed and bullied to achieve that objective, and now they're going to get exactly what they asked for.  If the SNP end up holding the balance of power at Westminster for the next five years as a direct result of the anti-independence terror campaign, it would be one of the most delicious ironies in human history.  More pertinently, it would also take us a big step closer to Devo Max.

That's the prize, if we can all keep our focus for the next seven months.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ruth Davidson and the 300 year Reich : never let it be said that the anti-independence brigade are losing the plot

Inevitably there has been a subtle battle underway over the last ten days to establish a narrative of what the relatively narrow No vote in the referendum means in terms of time-scale.  Jack Straw wants to abolish democracy by retrospectively defining the referendum as a forever decision, David Cameron merely wants to hold Scotland hostage for "a generation, perhaps a lifetime" before we'll be generously permitted another chance to decide our own future, while the SNP are taking the more realistic view that the Scottish people themselves will set the timetable for their next exercise in self-determination.  Another referendum will take place if and when there's demand/support for one, and the result of any such referendum will be respected just as last week's was.  Indeed, that's the only view that it's possible for a democrat to take - it was democracy that got us to this point, and you can't just stop the clock when it suits you.

But if you're going to try it on like Cameron did, you at least have to try to keep your bid at a vaguely plausible-sounding number.  Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson apparently didn't get that memo, and has today well and truly jumped the shark by setting out her plans for the next "300 years" of glorious union that we seemingly have ahead of us (whether we like it or not).

Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Ruthie.

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There was an unfortunate disagreement on the previous thread, which led a couple of people to suggest again that I disable anonymous commenting.  The reason I'm reluctant to go down that road is that it seems to automatically disable the "Name/URL" option as well, meaning everyone would have to sign in to comment.

However, I would strongly urge people not to post anonymously if at all possible.  It's really easy to post under a specific name - just select "Name/URL" and leave the URL section blank if you don't have a website or profile you want to link to.

I do fully appreciate how frustrating it must feel to be wrongly accused of trolling.  But we've had a severe problem over the last few weeks with concern trolls (people pretending to be "terribly worried" independence supporters in order to sap morale), and most of them have posted anonymously.  It can be very difficult to distinguish between genuine commenters and the trolls.

A suggestion for Labour : why not let George Galloway deliver the "Devo SUPER Max" that he promised to the voters on your behalf?

I gather that Labour are the only one of the five main Holyrood parties that still haven't announced their two nominees for Lord Smith's devolution commission.  I therefore have a constructive suggestion to make.  Given that Labour showed such inspiring ecumenicism by nominating George Galloway of all people to directly speak on their behalf at the big referendum TV debate at the Hydro, and given that Galloway used that platform to solemnly promise the viewing public that Labour and the other London parties would deliver "not just Devo Max, but Devo SUPER Max" in the event of a No vote, and given in particular that no correction was subsequently issued by the London parties and that we are therefore entitled to conclude that they are perfectly serious about delivering "Devo SUPER Max", why not nominate Galloway as Labour's representative once again, and allow him to get on with the task of delivering Devo SUPER Max in person?  I know I speak for all of us when I say that we're beside ourselves with excitement at the thought of finding out what Devo SUPER Max will actually look like - presumably it'll involve the devolution of some of the foreign affairs or defence powers that we wouldn't get with plain old Devo Max.

Alternatively, they could appoint Gordon Brown and let him get on with delivering the "near federalism" that he promised.  Before the referendum, the message to London was very short : "True Love Isn't Possessive".  Now, it's even more straightforward : "Words Have Meanings".

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A high information island

A guest post by Bibbit Blair

I was a YES polling agent on 18th September, in Kilmory Hall, Arran. I was there at 6.45 to witness the (empty) ballot box put in situ. I was there at 10.05 pm when it was sealed. Another YES person and I took turns being at the polling station all day. We decided to do our own very unofficial exit poll, between us. We reached our tallies based on: people volunteering info, seeing badges, people taking our leaflets, people not taking our leaflets (including people glaring as if we were trying to hand them a dead rat), one woman shouting that I was breaking the law, as I could not ‘electioneer’. When I explained that my presence had been checked at 6.45 that morning by Council officials, and offered to show her my polling agent card she went off grumbling. Her husband simply looked embarrassed. Shrill Home County (that’ll be a NO then). By the way there was no ‘NO’ polling agent at our polling station.

I asked the council officials number of voters and they advised that, barring postal votes, a maximum of 340 voters could turn up to vote. We counted 300ish voters. The overall vote we reached in our very imperfect way was 67% YES 33% NO. So we were feeling confident YES were going to win for many reasons, as our wee demographic should have been a strong NO area, ie. the vast majority of our voters seen were over 55, with a good number over 65. (Of course the 16-17 year olds would have been away at college by then and voting postally or by proxy but very few 16-17s sighted). We are in a rural area, traditionally Tory farming types and finally, a very high proportion of non ‘Scots-born’ reside on Arran. So we were pretty stunned at what we were tallying up. Before tea-time it was the NOs ahead by about 52-48. but there was a big surge of voters between 5-7 pm which turned it round for YES. We reckoned the non-Scots, very surprisingly, voted by a very narrow margin in favour of YES. The farmers also surprised us, as their vote was also split 50-50. The story seemed to be repeated across the island and people at the count on the mainland advised us that again unofficially (as Arran is in a ward with Ardrossan) that the ballot boxes from Arran were a YES win by about 55% YES to 45% NO, the opposite of the Scotland-wide result...

So why did we buck the trends with our older population (hundreds retire to Arran, very few young families can afford to stay here), non-native Scots population? Well it was probably offset by a very high proportion of artists/creative types who predominately vote YES, a very well organised Arran for YES group, but I think the clincher was simply that the Arran population educated itself online rather than relying on papers. You see we often can’t buy papers, so as an island we have slipped into a habit of not doing so. Ferry service in winter months means papers don’t get put in shop shelves until 1 o’clock, so people go online for news, far more than other demographics who can buy papers anytime, all day. We also had a star studded cast of Yes celebrities coming to Arran all through the campaign and the public really engaged with that process in halls, etc. (Dr Whitford, John Swinney, Kenny Gibson, Patrick Harvie, Lesley Riddoch, the two boys who did the Scotland Yet documentary, among others.)  All the 16-17s were for YES. As I said most of their Tory/Labour grannies were NOs.

So no doubt about it when the truth is sought the people vote YES. We really need a Scots news channel on Freeview and also a paper even if the latter is just for a short period before an election or referendum.

What do the parties' choice of nominees to the devolution commission tell us?

The short answer to that question is that it looks very much like the SNP are the ones who are serious about successfully reaching a genuine compromise - John Swinney and Linda Fabiani both strike me as natural conciliators who members of other parties find it difficult to dislike.  By contrast, I can't even imagine what sort of message the Lib Dems' appointment of Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott, and the Tories' appointment of Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!!" Tomkins, is supposed to be sending out.  Both men are noted for their irrational tribal loathing of the Scottish national movement.  In the case of Tomkins, you can kind of see the logic for having him there (even though he isn't, to the best of my knowledge, a member of the Conservative party), because he was the architect of the party's blueprint for greater devolution, and they'd want someone with a mastery of the details in on the discussions - although the snag is that he has a self-image of being an infallible God-like figure, so how flexible he'll be when he discovers that others think his blueprint can be (gasp!) improved upon is open to question.

Scott is a different matter.  His own personal loathing of the SNP famously extended to refusing even to enter into the most preliminary of discussions on a possible coalition after the 2007 election, even though his party had happily compromised for eight years to sit in coalition with the Labour party.  If these negotiations are to have a chance of succeeding, they will surely require the (nominally) federalist Lib Dems to act as the bridge between the Devo Max-supporting SNP and Greens on the one hand and the Devo Minor-supporting Tories and Labour on the other hand.  Is Scott the man to achieve that, or will he turn his back on his own party's policies so that he can do what every instinct in his body will be telling him to do, ie. side with Labour and the Tories?

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I went to the Ryder Cup yesterday.  I bought the ticket last year when the random draw was held, and suffice to say that one day was all I was ever going to be able to afford.  With such ridiculous prices, it's unsurprising that there wasn't the same kind of democratic crowd we saw at the Commonwealth Games - it was mostly dyed-in-the-wool golf aficionados, plus a lot of corporate-looking people.

From my own point of view, the timing wasn't ideal, because for obvious reasons I'm still feeling a bit shell-shocked.  So I spent most of the day just trying very hard to concentrate on what I was actually looking at!  It was fun, though - there aren't many sporting events where you can turn around at any moment and find someone like Justin Rose sitting right next to you in a buggy.  The crowd was infectiously raucous, and of course Gleneagles itself is absolutely stunning.

The place was drenched in tartan, and kilts, and slogans about Scotland being "a land of #brilliantmoments".  I couldn't help wondering if international visitors thought this display of Scottishness-not-Britishness was a bit peculiar from a country that has just decided (albeit perhaps only for the time being, and only by a relatively narrow margin) not to be a proper country, and that was even grotesquely "congratulated" by the US President for voting not to join the global family of nations.  I'm sure the contradiction won't seem so strange once a few months have elapsed - after all, we've lived with it all of our lives.  But right at this moment it does feel very, very odd.  When the train pulled in to Gleneagles station, we were welcomed by a piper - surely in the light of the No vote, it should have been Bernard Cribbins singing Right Said Fred?

This is one side of their decision that I think a lot of No voters are in denial about.  How many times during the campaign did we hear Scott Hastings wax lyrical about how the union gave him the best of both worlds, by allowing him to proudly play for Scotland?  The problem is that the union didn't do that - it's just a freakish accident of history that allows Scotland to play as a country in its own right in rugby and in a handful of other sports (including golf).  In most sports, last week's vote has directly robbed athletes of their chance to play for Scotland, and has subsumed the country into a uniform Great Britain identity in which the waving of saltires Shall Not Be Tolerated.  Perhaps the most poignant moment of the last week-and-a-bit was Andy Murray's declaration of support for the Yes campaign being followed just a couple of days later with him issuing a statement about how he was looking forward to playing for Great Britain for "the rest of my career".  Now, I'm sure he genuinely is looking forward to it - he seems entirely comfortable with either identity.  But the point is that, even if he wasn't so comfortable, he wouldn't actually have a choice.

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If you think the conspiracy theories about the referendum being rigged are a bit silly, you should have heard the woman that was sitting opposite from me on the train back to Glasgow last night...

"I always thought that G-Mac was gay and that the girlfriend was just for show.  But then they got married and had a baby.  They could still just be pretending, though."

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Introducing the Scot Goes Pop Subsample Aggregator

OK, I probably won't be updating this one quite as religiously as I did the referendum Poll of Polls, but it might be interesting to have a look at now and again.  In the absence of regular full-scale Scottish polls of Westminster voting intentions, it's possible to get a very rough idea of trends by adding up the Scottish subsample figures from the daily GB-wide YouGov polls.  It's not an ideal method by any means, because YouGov weight their GB-wide figures by Westminster party ID, meaning they usually produce a much worse result for the SNP than other pollsters.  But as it happens, in the four polls that have so far taken place entirely after the referendum, the SNP have been doing extraordinarily well...

Westminster voting intention (average of four YouGov subsamples) :

SNP 40.3%
Labour 29.5%
Conservatives 17.3%
Liberal Democrats 5.5%
Greens 4.0%
UKIP 2.8%

We really can't rely on this lasting - it's only happening because the SNP have been in the spotlight so much recently.  Where we end up will depend on how resilient the vote proves when publicity from the London media melts away in the heat of a general election campaign, and especially after the broadcast of another round of rigged leaders' debates that completely exclude the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

The main hope will be that the debates don't capture people's imaginations in quite the same way this time.  Even if Clegg performs reasonably well, he's so distrusted now that he won't get much credit for it.  And I think we can safely assume there isn't going to be any "Mili-gasm".

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I gather that Alex Massie wrote a snide article the other day about how Yes supporters were going through the classic "stages of grief".  Well, he's half-right, but what we're actually grieving for is the loss of those halcyon days when we thought Massie was an "undecided voter" (ahem), and when it didn't even occur to us for a moment that he was misleading people by blagging his way on to a BBC referendum debate as a "Don't Know".  And then it turned out just days before the referendum that he'd been some kind of Tory unionist all along.  The shock!  The devastation!  How could we not have noticed?

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Stewart Hosie for deputy leader

I wasn't expecting to take a view on this so quickly. If it had simply been a choice between the personal qualities of Stewart Hosie and Keith Brown, I'd probably think it was quite evenly balanced.  But I must admit I've been much more impressed by what Hosie has been saying so far, and in particular the refreshing clarity of his call for the devolution of all powers other than foreign affairs and defence.  Brown seems to be somewhat more focused on the managerial side of the deputy leader role, which is undoubtedly important, but given that we're looking at a coronation of the leader, it's only natural that members will want to use the only competitive election to express a view on policy direction.

Obviously there's nothing to stop the Westminster SNP group pushing hard for maximum devolution anyway, but there may well be something in Hosie's point that it would be helpful if he was there in London with the full weight of the deputy leader role behind him.

Lastly, I'm a bit disappointed that Brown seems to have gone out of his way to play down any chance of the much-needed electoral pact between the parties that will be pushing for Devo Max.  For all I know Hosie and other senior SNP people may take exactly the same view, but it seems depressingly "tribal politics as usual" to be rushing to rule things out at this early stage.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The enthusiasm gap, part two

Margo MacDonald always used to say that the SNP's biggest mistake was constantly deferring the task of convincing people that independence (as opposed to an SNP government under devolution) could make their lives better in a concrete sense.  I'm not sure we'll ever know whether she was right or not, because it's possible that if independence hadn't been largely set to one side in the 2007 and 2011 election campaigns, we'd never have got to the point of having a referendum campaign in which the case could be made to such an attentive audience.  Either way, we are where we are, and we now have a large segment of the electorate that is newly-politicised in precisely the way that Margo always said was possible.  Tens of thousands of those people have decided to directly transfer their energies from the Yes campaign into party politics, with all of the pro-independence parties enjoying mind-boggling increases in their memberships since Friday.  The SNP have understandably been the biggest beneficiary, with a membership that stood at roughly 25,000 only a few days ago now having soared to roughly 65,000 - meaning they have overtaken both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats to become comfortably the third-largest party in the entire UK.  (If you've been thinking about joining but haven't got round to it yet, here's the form.)

Sticking with the full-on sneer mode that he's preferred over the last couple of weeks (or arguably since he first learned how to scribble his name), Kenny Farquharson wondered aloud whether these new members were "natural gradualists", while Commentor yesterday expressed the hope that they wouldn't prove to be a "Scottish Tea Party".  I don't think we need have much fear on either score - the real fundamentalists will have signed up years ago.  The new members will largely be those who have only recently been fully persuaded that democratic control of our own affairs can bring about transformative social progress, and it's risible to suggest that such people will be shy about making the case for Devo Max if that's the best option on offer for the moment.

Commentor also poured cold water on the notion that the membership surge had any relevance to how the SNP and other pro-independence parties might fare in future elections.  I have slightly more sympathy for that reaction, because it's reasonable to assume that anyone joining the SNP would have voted for the party anyway.  But what's happening is obviously symptomatic of the enthusiasm gap that existed throughout the campaign between the Yes and No sides.  That didn't count for much last Thursday, because it seems that people who were scared of a Yes vote (and they were scared for a whole host of radically different reasons) were driven by their fear all the way to the polling stations.  With less at stake next May (a strange thing to say about a general election, but true) it could just be that enthusiasm will matter a lot more, and differential turnout might in itself be enough to deliver a 1% or 2% boost in vote share to the SNP, or more ideally to a pro-Devo Max electoral pact between the SNP, Greens and others.

Talking of which, it's fascinating to see Nicola Sturgeon stress that she won't be going into the devolution discussions "secretly hoping" for failure.  I think most of us are imagining that the SNP and Greens will fight the general election on the basis that the powers on offer from Westminster are inadequate, but is it possible that a deal could be negotiated that is sufficiently good that Sturgeon will think it's worth "banking" it?  If she does, the price will probably be putting her weight behind the new package in a wholehearted way, because from a Westminster point of view the biggest inducement for making a much more generous offer than they've hitherto contemplated might be that it would lead to a period of constitutional stability.  Would the SNP really be prepared to fight next year's election without seeking a mandate for further powers over and above the ones that have just been negotiated?  It's an interesting one.  If the talks do break down, probably the ideal scenario would be if Labour were seen to be the party that pulled the rug from under everyone else's feet, while the SNP had negotiated in good faith.  That's scarcely inconceivable, because even the Tories' proposals (which are ironically part-authored by Brit Nat fundamentalist Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!!" Tomkins) go considerably further than Labour's.

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Whichever exit poll you look at, the message is the same - under-55s voted Yes

I've been asked by a number of people to have a look at the YouGov exit poll, in the light of the Herald's provocatively-worded claim that it shows "the elderly did not rob the young of an independent Scotland".  In fact, it shows no such thing, and instead bears out Alex Salmond's claim that under-55s voted Yes.  It's not possible to make a direct comparison with the Ashcroft exit poll, because YouGov use different age categories, but here is the nearest comparison possible -

How under-55s voted, according to the Ashcroft exit poll :

Yes 54%
No 46%

How under-60s voted, according to the YouGov exit poll :

Yes 50%
No 50%

So in order to believe that Yes did not also enjoy a lead among under-55s in the YouGov poll, you'd have to argue that 55-59 year olds broke for Yes, which seems highly improbable.

Of course the two polls show very different pictures in individual age groups, but you'd expect that due to normal sampling variation.  By extension that means we'll never be 100% certain that under-55s voted Yes, but whether the Herald (and the increasingly deranged Huffington Post) like it or not, the limited evidence we have suggests that they probably did.

What that means in practical terms is harder to say.  We've had a couple of No supporters on this blog comforting themselves with the mantra that people become more conservative as they get older, and that the Yes-voting under-55 of today is the No-voting over-55 of tomorrow.  The snag is that there's no real evidence that the No-leaning tendencies of older people are driven by conservatism - the real culprits seem to be the groundless fears over pensions, and national identity (older people are more likely to have a lingering attachment to Britishness).  There may be some evidence that advancing age makes people more conservative, but I know of no evidence that it makes them feel less Scottish.