Thursday, July 16, 2020

Dialogue with the Reverend

As you may have seen, Stuart Campbell took a little time off from poker and Gaelic-bashing last night to leave a comment on this blog about his views on 'gaming the voting system', and went on to demand a point-by-point reply from me. There's been a bit of a recurring pattern in the past that if I accede to his demand for a detailed reply, he then uses the fact that I replied as evidence that I am "dementedly obsessed" with him. I asked for an assurance that he would not play the same tedious game again, and he gave it. I have every confidence he will stick to his word this time (ahem). Here goes...

"But you're quite right, I have changed my mind. I don't regard that as being anything to be ashamed of when circumstances change."

But circumstances haven't changed.  The arguments against 'gaming the system' in 2011 and 2016, including the arguments that Stuart advanced himself, were based largely on the nature of the voting system and the laws of arithmetic.  Neither of those things have changed.

"The difference is that unlike Mike [Small], I've clearly and repeatedly explained WHY I've taken a different position this time - tiny wee parties nobody's ever heard of have no chance. But Wings has very high recognition with the Scottish public, especially among Yes voters - in the real world, not on social media"

This appears to mean that the "changed circumstances" Stuart is referring to essentially amount to his exceptionally high opinion of himself - and, if so, a few unkind souls might say those circumstances haven't changed much either.  But he seems to be deadly serious about this point, so I'll give a serious answer.  As far as I can see, he's convinced himself that he's super-famous largely on the basis of Panelbase polling which asked the general public whether they've read or have heard of his website.  As I've explained many times before, that's the sort of question on which online polling is bound to produce a less reliable result than telephone polling, simply because volunteer online polling panels contain far more politically engaged people than you'd find among a random sample.  Every single time there's a Panelbase poll in the field, at least two or three readers of this blog mention that they were among the 1000-strong sample who took part.  The chances of that happening during the fieldwork for a telephone poll would be much slimmer - in fact, in the whole twelve years I've been blogging, I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times someone has mentioned being polled by telephone.  Conclusion: people who respond to online polls are considerably more likely to have heard of Scot Goes Pop than the population at large, which almost certainly means they're considerably more likely to have heard of Wings too.  In a nutshell, Stuart has a distorted notion of his own fame due to polling numbers that he should have taken with a heavy dose of salt.

"So either of us might actually have a shot, and I also regard it as something worth doing for other reasons, which I've also explained at length."

The "either of us" refers to himself and Alex Salmond.  Many people will be utterly incredulous that he's mentioning himself in the same breath as the former First Minister of Scotland, but that does seem to genuinely be the current state of his thinking.  All I can say is that, to put it mildly, I disagree with him that his own name recognition is even vaguely comparable with Mr Salmond's.

"And even more so because I don't share your apparent complacent certainty that current polling will continue until next May. I remember the SNP being on 62% about this far out from the last election, and then dropping about 15 points and losing their majority, and that was WITHOUT the trainwreck that the Salmond inquiry is going to be."


That's a straw man argument on a couple of counts.  Firstly, if he's read what I've written on this subject (and presumably he's implying that he has) he'll know that, far from being complacent, I've repeatedly stressed that an inflated SNP lead is unlikely to come through a bruising election campaign totally unscathed.  It's also the case that I was one of the few people in 2016 itself who flagged up the danger that the SNP might lose their overall majority if they shed too many list votes.  That warning was greeted with disbelief in many quarters.

But the more important point is that the dangers of mucking about with attempts to game the system would be much greater if the SNP poll lead dips sharply.  Stuart seems to be implying that we should be more willing to take risks with the pro-indy majority if the polls tighten, whereas self-evidently the reverse is true.

"This isn't a very remarkable opinion - you completely agree with it in principle, and you think it could work for Salmond"

I've said that it might work for Alex Salmond due to the public's massive familiarity with him, but that it would not work for any other person I can think of.  To characterise that crystal-clear assessment as "you agree in principle that a Wings party would work apart from some minor detail" is so grossly misleading as to be indistinguishable from outright dishonesty.

"you just think that because I swear sometimes and I'm 'controversial' nobody would vote for a Wings party. You're perfectly entitled to that view, however obviously stupid and wrong it is - controversy and being disliked by a lot of people didn't seem to stop Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump winning. Nor Alex himself, come to that. And I do still find it hilarious that you think the Scottish public has great fainting fits over swearywords like you do, because you're apparently from 1932."

This is something I've noticed with Stuart before - when he imagines Scotland, he imagines a pub full of male, working-class football supporters.  A very substantial minority of the Scottish electorate does indeed look like that - but the operative word is "minority".  As it happens, though, I think Stuart is getting a bit muddled here.  I believe he's harking back to the iScot article from a few months ago that he had such a meltdown over.  As far as I can recall, what I actually said in that article is that Stuart's online persona would make it difficult for the SNP to work with him if he held the balance of power at Holyrood.  I do not regard that scenario as remotely likely or even plausible, but the point I was making is that if it does happen, that could lead to the SNP doing a deal with a unionist party instead - which would be the worst of all worlds.

Oh, and you'll note that having previously mentioned himself in the same breath as Alex Salmond, he's now doing it again with Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.  No comment.

"Still, be as mental as you like. But to pretend that I'm the same as Mike Small is a bit below the belt even for you."

Count your blessings, sunshine.  I could have compared you to David Leask.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The brass neck

A Wings-style title for today's blogpost in tribute to the great man himself - who I think may be getting a touch paranoid.  A few hours ago, in the comments section of his site, he made this characteristically angry remark about me - 

"Not if he’s going to lie about me, no. I’m not an 'ISP-supporting blogger'. I’ve admired them for actually getting off their arses and doing something, but to the best of my recollection that’s as far as I’ve gone."

There's just one snag about that accusation of lying - the 'ISP-supporting blogger' I was referring to was in fact Barrhead Boy, not Wings.  (And now Barrhead Boy will doubtless have an even bigger meltdown because I've just identified him directly, but hey-ho.  Such fragile egos we deal with.)

Stuart's comment was beneath the latest of countless furious blogposts and social media posts he's written over the last year attacking me and my views on "gaming the system".  In it, he moans that I've written "literally dozens" of "hysterical articles" on the subject.  I do feel it's just possible there might be a certain irony about that complaint, but I'll bring you confirmation as soon I have it.

He also lumps me in with an array of commentators, pundits and politicians who have attacked the idea of 'tactical voting on the list', but who generally wouldn't agree with each other on other topics - such as my Labour MSP namesake, Bella Caledonia's editor Mike Small, and the controversial journalist David Leask.  The implication is that this means we must all be arguing disingenuously.  I'm quite sure Stuart is right about that.  For example, he himself has criticised JK Rowling over many years as a "litigious bully", and it would therefore be utterly unthinkable for him to now find himself on the same side as the Harry Potter author on, let's say, the trans issue.  He'd know that would totally deprive him of all credibility, and he'd make very, very sure it never happened.  He's refreshingly consistent and non-hypocritical in that way.

He has particularly strong words for Mike Small, who he points out has appeared to do a complete U-turn on the desirability of tactical voting since the last Holyrood election.  And, indeed, I can testify to the truth of that better than most people.  One night, in early 2016, I was one of several Twitter users who pointed out to Mike that Bella had turned into a propaganda site urging people not to "waste" their list vote on the SNP and to tactically vote for RISE instead.  Mike was insistent that wasn't the case, and that Bella was open to publishing all views.  I asked him whether he'd therefore run a piece by me putting forward an alternative view, and he encouraged me to go ahead and write something.  So I did it straight away, in fact I stayed up half the night doing it, and to put it mildly I was not best pleased when he wrote back immediately and indicated that he had no intention of publishing it unless I completely rewrote it to change the central message.  I didn't keep quiet about what had happened, and eventually Mike published our entire correspondence to supposedly set the record straight - but instead all he succeeded in doing was removing all doubt that he had declined the article simply because it argued against the feasibility of tactical voting on the list.  A number of his regular readers were quite shocked.

So, yes, it's true that Bella doesn't have a leg to stand on when they now attack parties like the ISP for trying to game the system.  Their position seems to boil down to "gaming the system is workable and constructive when the beneficiaries are radical left parties, but impossible and destructive when the beneficiaries are non-woke parties".  And of course Stuart is the ideal person to draw attention to this hypocrisy, because he has in no way done a complete U-turn himself since correctly stating in 2016 that attempts to vote tactically on the list were "a mug's game" that could cost us pro-indy seats at Holyrood.  

Speaking as one of the few people who is actually saying exactly the same thing now that I said in 2016, and who isn't arguing that the laws of arithmetic somehow change depending on how woke or non-woke a political party is, I must say I can only look on in total bemusement at the way Bella and Wings have swapped sides on the subject but seamlessly continued to argue with each other.  What makes it even more comical is that very few of their followers seem to have clocked what has happened.

That said, Stuart does take a moment to deny that he even wants to game the system - he innocently claims that his support for the concept of a list-only party is simply about making sure that the views of a particular segment of the electorate are represented in a way that isn't currently the case.  And naturally he's in a good position to make that claim with a straight face, because at no point has he published lengthy blogposts explaining that one of the main purposes of a list-only party is to win far more pro-indy seats on the list than the share of the vote would otherwise warrant.  Nor has he at any stage published a pseudo-scientific analysis by Gavin Barrie setting out how this would supposedly work in practice.  Nope, none of that happened.  If you think it did, you imagined it.  Stop imagining things.

Oh and by the way (as Bernie Sanders would say), it's categorically untrue that I've been "frantically punting the both votes SNP line".  I lost count of the number of times in 2016 that I had to point out that "both votes SNP" was not my message, even though people kept erroneously ascribing those words to me.  All I've ever done is point out that the list vote is the more important of the two votes, because it determines the overall composition of parliament.  It doesn't lend itself to tactical voting, and people should therefore vote for their first-choice party on the list, regardless of which party that happens to be.

It's particularly odd that Stuart should mischaracterise my argument as "both votes SNP" just one day after I wrote a blogpost saying I would have a big decision to make if Alex Salmond sets up a new party.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Let's inject some sanity into the "gaming the system" debate

On the day that yet another breakaway pro-indy party is launched, I'm becoming more and more concerned that the "tactical voting on the list" lobby are displaying cult-like tendencies.  There's one particular ISP-supporting blogger who is increasingly extreme in his personalised denunciations of anyone who takes issue with his quasi-religious certainties - if you don't think it's possible to game the Holyrood electoral system, you must be a liar, or in league with "the Yoons", or every other unhinged accusation under the sun.  One of his fellow travellers took it a step further today by asking me in all apparent seriousness if I was only arguing that the idea isn't feasible because I had been paid to do so.  That's the moment at which you know people are losing touch with reality - when they cannot conceive of any reason why someone might disagree with them other than bribery or corruption.

It's an uphill struggle, but let's try to re-inject some sanity into this debate.

1) Part of the reason the "game the system" brigade have become so militant is because they've genuinely convinced themselves that the list vote system is some kind of conspiracy to reduce pro-indy representation.  As I pointed out in my recent National Extra piece, that simply isn't the case.  Both the SNP and the combined pro-indy camp are in fact slightly over-represented in the Scottish Parliament as compared to the votes they received in the 2016 election.  The purpose of list seats is to bring the overall composition of parliament more into line with the percentage of votes cast for each party - sometimes, as was the case in 1999, 2003 and 2007, that leads to a correction in favour of pro-indy parties, and sometimes, as was the case in 2011 and 2016, it leads to a correction in favour of unionist parties.  But whichever way it goes, the effect of list seats is always to make the result more proportional.  In other words, to make the outcome fairer.  There really isn't anything to be angry or concerned about in that.

2) The system is actually biased against one type of party, though - namely, very small parties.  Almost every system of proportional representation around the world is intentionally loaded against tiny fringe parties - for example in national list systems, there's often a 5% threshold to attain any sort of representation at all.  The Holyrood system achieves a similar effect by being conducted on a regional basis, which in practice ensures that any party will need 5-7% of the vote in a region before it will win any seat.  So if you're thinking of voting for a small party, you need to be very hard-headed and realistic about its chances of securing the required number of votes.  There may well be good reasons for giving your vote to a party that isn't going to win any seats.  But if your main reason for choosing a small party is to "game the system" and to win a truckload of extra seats, your logic has gone wrong somewhere.

3) The only way to game the system is with a large party, not a small party.  And the only way a "pop-up party" is going to be large enough is if it's fronted by Alex Salmond. I literally cannot think of any other person who is capable of pulling it off.  I suppose it's possible that Dave Thompson's initiative today might be part of pre-planned choreography that is paving the way for a Salmond-led party.  But if that isn't what's going on, Mr Thompson is just adding to the collection of very small parties who will be scrapping over the small number of people who want to vote "tactically".  The more of those parties there are, the more distant are the hopes that any of them will win even one seat.

4) To the best of my knowledge, Alex Salmond has not publicly denied suggestions that he might set up a new party.  That may or may not be significant.  If he eventually goes down that road, I and many other SNP members and supporters will have a big decision to make.  The reason for my current allegiance is that the SNP are the credible party that most closely represents my own views.  That might no longer be the case if there was suddenly a Salmond-led party, which would almost certainly be somewhat stronger on independence than the current SNP leadership, and less obsessed with "woke" identity politics.  But it would still be a very tricky decision, because I have fears about the long-term/medium-term consequences of fragmenting the independence movement.  And I would always vote for a party on the list because it's my first-choice party, and not for any "tactical" reason.  

5) If a Salmond-led party does not fight the 2021 election, the only other way of bringing about a stronger line on independence is to win the internal debate within the SNP - and the more people that desert the SNP to join fringe "game the system" parties, the less likely that is to happen.  I firmly believe Colette Walker made a tactical mistake by leaving the SNP.  It's less than a year since she almost won the Women's Convener vote, which meant that for as long as she remained in the SNP, she was a very real threat to the "woke" hegemony.  By walking away, all she's done is help to entrench that hegemony - as can be seen from the jubilation in certain quarters on social media.

6) Jason McCann recently wrote a blogpost about the Holyrood voting system that was misleading or inaccurate in a number of respects.  He stated that it was "a mathematical impossibility" for any one party to dominate the parliament - it "cannot be done", he added.  That is simply untrue.  If a party were to receive 100% of the votes, it would get 100% of the seats (as long as it put up enough candidates).  There is no artificial 'cap' on the number of seats that the SNP or any other party can win.  Jason conveniently neglects to mention that part of the reason the SNP lost list seats in 2016 is because its pecentage list vote fell.  If you get fewer votes, you get fewer seats - it's not rocket science.  On a point of pedantry, it's also wrong for Jason (and indeed the Solidarity account on Twitter) to refer to the Holyrood voting system as "the D'Hondt system".  AMS is a hybrid system and the D'Hondt formula doesn't apply to all of it.  It's ironic that the tactical voting lobby refer to it as "D'Hondt", though, because it's the very fact that it isn't a pure D'Hondt system that makes it (theoretically) suspectible to gaming.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

It was true in 2011 and 2016, and it's still true now - attempting to vote "tactically" on the Holyrood regional list is a mug's game















Thursday, July 9, 2020

The pro-independence majority has been mostly caused by people changing their minds, and not by 'demographic drift'

A reader emailed me yesterday to ask whether I thought there was any truth in the following comment. I'm not sure what the source of it is - the use of the word "independentista" made me think it might be Jason McCann, but I can't spot anything like this on his blog.

"None of the efforts of we independentistas, or unionists, to persuade others of the merits of our cause, makes any difference. The Brexit, COVID-19 incidents do not affect support for independence. The increase in those supporting independence since the first referendum in 2014, is entirely due to old people, who overwhelmingly support the Union, dying of old age, and young people, who overwhelmingly support independence joining the electoral role (sic)..."

This is just about the easiest question I've ever been asked - the answer is an emphatic "no", the comment is not true. You only need to look at the datasets of all recent polls to see that some people who voted Yes in 2014 are now in the No column, that some people who voted No in 2014 are now in the Yes column, and that significantly more people have moved from No to Yes than vice versa - hence the Yes majority. Last weekend's Panelbase poll suggested that 19% of 2014 No voters are now Yes, and that only 6% of 2014 Yes voters are now No.

There may have been some 'passive demographic drift' towards Yes over and above the direct swing, but people who think the answer to all our problems is just to wait a couple of decades are barking up the wrong tree. Even leaving aside the distasteful nature of the suggestion that we should wait for elderly No voters to die, the fundamental problem is that the passage of time also turns younger voters into older voters, a process that often changes their political views. There's a grain of truth in the suggestion that people become more conservative as they get older - it doesn't happen to everyone by any means, but it does happen to some.

Look at it this way - in 1992, there was a famous opinion poll that put support for independence at exactly 50%. You might remember it was the top headline on News at Ten (those were the days when News at Ten was actually a news programme). The "demographic destiny" brigade would have looked at that number and declared that all we needed to do is wait twenty years and we'd have a Yes vote of 70% - which makes it somewhat mysterious that 55% of people voted No in 2014. Probably some of the young-ish people who were pro-independence in that 1992 poll ended up voting No in 2014 because the Better Together campaign scared them witless about their pensions or whatever.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

If you think a 54% Yes vote 'isn't high enough', then your own support for independence is nominal at best






















Are some Conservative voters starting to warm to Scottish independence?

The datasets for last weekend's Panelbase poll were published a couple of days ago.  Regardless of whether Don't Knows are excluded or not, the headline figures on independence are identical to the other very recent Panelbase poll commissioned by Business for Scotland, so unsurprisingly the detailed numbers for different demographic groups haven't changed much either.  But there is one small point that marks the new poll out from all of the previous five Panelbase polls conducted in this calendar year.  Look at how the percentage of Conservative voters who say they support independence has changed over time...

Percentage of Conservative voters who support independence (Panelbase polls in 2020):

2% (28th-31st January)
2% (24th-26th March)
4% (1st-5th May)
3% (1st-5th June)
5% (15th-19th June)
9% (30th June - 3rd July)

Tory voters are the one group who in recent years have been virtually unanimous in their opposition to independence - you don't get anything like such lopsided numbers among other typically anti-indy groups such as Brexit supporters and people who were born in England.  But are things starting to change just slightly?  Not necessarily, because the number of respondents involved is small, and it's possible the unusually high figure of 9% was produced by random sampling variation.  This is well worth keeping an eye on for the future, though.  Remember in the poll that I commissioned a month ago, one of the supplementary questions found that Tory voters were split down the middle on whether the Scottish public would be more safe or less safe if the UK government's powers relating to the lockdown were transferred to the Scottish government, which is not what you'd normally expect at all.  The events of the pandemic may have caused some constitutional soul-searching in some very surprising places.

Monday, July 6, 2020

More on that astonishing Panelbase poll

Just a quick note to let you know I have a piece in The National today, with more analysis of Yes remaining on a heady 54% in the latest Panelbase poll.  In particular, I address the oft-heard claim on social media that "it's a lot higher than 54%!".  You can read the article HERE.

*  *  *

UPDATE: As I predicted yesterday (it's uncanny!), Stuart Campbell has published a breathless and wildly misleading commentary based on the results of an "Archie Stirling"-type poll question.  As it happens, I entirely agree with Stuart that a new party led by Alex Salmond would have an extremely good chance of winning seats, but this particular type of poll is simply incapable of producing a reliable estimate of the likely percentage support for a party.  You can read a fuller explanation HERE.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

This is the real deal: support for independence stays at record-breaking high of 54% in new Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times

When a poll shows something out of the ordinary, there's always a chance that the change is - either in whole or in part - an illusion caused by the margin of error, and that the next poll will show a reversion to the mean.  So after the highest ever Yes vote in a Panelbase poll last month, I would have happily settled for even the narrowest of Yes leads in the follow-up poll.  What we've ended up with is considerably better than that.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (Panelbase, 30th June-3rd July 2020):

Yes 54% (n/c)
No 46% (n/c)

This is the moment for unionists to stop deluding themselves that it's some kind of fluke that Yes are in the lead.  You don't get 54% twice in a row by coincidence.  This is also the third poll in a row to show a pro-indy majority, and the fourth in a row to show Yes on 50% or higher.  I would imagine that those still in denial will cling to the fact that all of the recent polls were conducted by the same firm.  But the reality is that YouGov and Survation polls in January were pretty much bang in line with what a Panelbase poll showed at the same time, so there's no particular reason to suspect that other firms would be painting a different picture now.  Of course in an ideal world we'd have polls from a wider range of firms just to be sure, but I very much doubt that would prove to be any sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for the unionists.  It should also be noted that the new Panelbase poll was not, unlike the last three, commissioned by a pro-indy client, so that nonsensical excuse for a low No vote can't be used in this case either.

If you think the independence numbers are extraordinary, wait until you see the party political voting intention numbers...

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 55% (+2)
Conservatives 20% (-1)
Labour 15% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 3% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 50% (+2)
Conservatives 18% (-1)
Labour 15% (-1)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Seats projection: SNP 74, Conservatives 24, Labour 17, Greens 9, Liberal Democrats 5

This means pro-independence parties would have 64% of the seats at Holyrood - I'm struggling to remember ever seeing such a high projected total.

The SNP have been riding at an exceptionally high level of support in recent months, but this takes it to a whole new plane - they haven't been as high as 55% on the constituency ballot or 50% on the list in any poll from any firm since the 2016 election.  Part of the explanation seems to be the space that has opened up as a result of collapsing support for the Conservative Party.  A substantial drop for the Tories was reported in the previous Panelbase poll (commissioned by Scot Goes Pop), and they've now slipped a touch further.  It's hard not to conclude that the change of political weather can be mostly explained by Boris Johnson's catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, and by Nicola Sturgeon's assured response to the crisis.  Respondents were asked to express approval or disapproval for various leaders' performance - Ms Sturgeon has a positive net rating of +60, and Mr Johnson has a negative net rating of -39.  That yawning chasm pretty much says it all.

*  *  *

Just to avoid it getting lost - a couple of hours ago I posted an analysis of the pros and cons of Alex Salmond fronting a new pro-indy party.  You can read it HERE.  

The pros and cons of Alex Salmond fronting a new pro-indy party

As I mentioned a few days ago, a reader very kindly sent me screenshots of the questions in the latest Scottish poll from Panelbase that has been in the field over the last week. It looked to me like another multi-client survey - some of the questions had Wings written all over them (yes, there's yet another trans question coming), but others were on subjects that it was hard to imagine RevStu asking about. Part of that theory has been proved right, because the first of the results has now been published on Wings - a very useful question that found overwhelming support for border restrictions between Scotland and England if they become necessary due to higher infection rates south of the border. However, it remains to be seen whether the results on the standard independence question, and also on the Westminster and Holyrood voting intention questions, will appear on Wings or elsewhere. One obvious possibility is the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times, which has been commissioning polls from Panelbase for many years. However, there was no sign of any results at midnight, which is often when they've appeared in the past.

But while we're waiting, let's take a look at the wording of one the other questions that probably come from the Wings section of the poll -

We'd like you to imagine a new pro-independence party was formed for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, contesting seats ONLY on the regional list, and that party was led by Alex Salmond. Do you think you might vote for the new party with your list vote?

Options:

* Yes, definitely
* More likely than not
* Possible but unlikely
* Definitely not


This is the "Archie Stirling"-type question that I've been warning about for the best part of a year -

"What is an Archie Stirling-type question? Just weeks before the 2007 Holyrood election, the wealthy businessman Archie Stirling (ex-husband of Diana Rigg and father of Rachael Stirling) commissioned a YouGov poll which asked respondents whether they would consider voting for his new centre-right political party, Scottish Voice, on the regional list ballot. 21% said they would. Mr Stirling sent the results to the newspapers, which breathlessly reported that Scottish Voice could be on course to win dozens of list seats and to hold the balance of power. But a few weeks later when the actual results came in, the party received only 0.3% of the list vote and didn't come remotely close to winning a single seat. It had won just one-seventieth (!) of the number of votes that the YouGov poll had implied was possible."

To get a meaningful sense of the likely support for a new party, you have to present it as merely one of a menu of options, alongside the established parties.  If you instead ask about it in isolation, as Stirling did, you're likely to get a massive overestimate.  So be on your guard for any breathless commentary in the coming days that suggests a new list party is on course for 20% or 30% or 40% or 50% of the vote, because that is the total number who tell Panelbase they would "definitely" or "more likely than not" vote for it.  Any such result cannot be considered reliable, simply because of the way the question was posed.

That said, the shortcomings of this particular polling exercise don't change what is already obvious - that a party led by Alex Salmond would stand a realistic chance of winning seats.  Is that a prospect we should be excited about?  Here are the pros and cons as I see them...

Pros: Any Salmond-led party would, almost by definition, be a lot bolder in its pursuit of independence than the current SNP leadership.  That could help to break the impasse on adopting a  Plan B in the absence of a Section 30 order.  If the new party held the balance of power, it could make Plan B a condition for supporting an SNP government.  And even if it didn't hold the balance of power, its success could still shock the SNP into becoming more daring.

Cons: There would be the whole psychodrama of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon being in direct competition with each other.  My guess is that Mr Salmond would play that aspect down and would portray his party as a complement to the SNP rather than a competitor.  But our unionist-dominated media would still have a field-day, and there would be a danger of the broader independence movement being damaged.  The broadcasters might also be tempted to bend their already flexible "rules" on who qualifies for TV debates in the hope of getting sparks flying between the former colleagues.  An additional concern is that some senior SNP parliamentarians foolishly launched thinly-veiled attacks on Mr Salmond in the wake of his acquittal.  That could make it psychologically harder for the two parties to work together if the parliamentary arithmetic makes cooperation necessary.

Looked at that way, it might appear that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.  But it really just depends on whether you think the current SNP leadership will ever take the steps necessary to give the people of Scotland a choice on their future.  If you genuinely don't think they will, then accepting the risks (and those risks are substantial) becomes much more logical.

I've no idea whether Mr Salmond is actively considering the possibility of fronting a new party.  But if he is, I don't envy him the choice, because it's very hard to judge the right course of action, and the future of Scotland could hinge on his decision.