Thursday, April 18, 2019

Is Davidson PLUNGING towards CALAMITY? Second YouGov poll in as many days shows Ruth's Tories facing MELTDOWN

How the mighty have fallen.  Just two years after her 'spectacular triumph' in the general election (ie. 'only' losing to the SNP by 8%), it genuinely does now look possible that Ruth Davidson is about to lead the Scottish Tories to an all-time electoral low.  A second YouGov subsample in as many days has the Tories on just 10% of the Scottish vote for the European Parliament, which even with the help of proportional representation wouldn't be quite enough to retain the one seat they currently hold.

Britain-wide voting intentions for the European elections (YouGov):

Brexit Party 23% (-4)
Labour 22% (n/c)
Conservatives 17% (+2)
Greens 10% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 9% (n/c)
Change UK 8% (+2)
UKIP 6% (-1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 42%, Greens 13%, Labour 11%, Conservatives 10%, Brexit Party 9%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 6%, Change UK 4%

Now remember these are just subsamples, and can't be regarded as reliable estimates of Scottish public opinion.  But the pattern of low numbers for the Tories has been so consistent that it's hard to believe it doesn't reflect something real - and in any case YouGov appear to structure their Scottish subsamples more carefully than other firms do.

You know the drill by now - just regard this as "a bit of fun", but here is what the seat allocation would look like if the subsample happened to be exactly accurate...

SNP 4, Greens 1, Labour 1

The Tories would miss out altogether after being pipped for the final seat by the SNP.  For what it's worth I think it's pretty unlikely that the SNP will take four seats in the real world.  In past European elections they've tended to underperform what the opinion polls suggested, so it's easy enough to imagine them ending up in the low 30s, which hopefully would still be enough to take three of the six seats - the most they've ever had.

At Britain-wide level, the four-point drop in Brexit Party support in the space of one day looks a bit odd.  It could just be random sampling variation, but I wonder if it was caused by respondents for today's poll only being asked the Euro-election question after being asked for their Westminster preferences.  That might have put them into more of a 'Westminster mindset', which would be less favourable for Farage's mob.  If the datasets are to be believed, yesterday's poll didn't appear to ask for Westminster voting intentions.

Strangely, there's also a ComRes poll out today that has the Brexit Party lagging in third place for the Euro elections.  When I first saw it I wondered if it was a phone poll, because that would have been the most obvious explanation for such a wide disparity between two firms.  But no, it's an online poll just like YouGov's, so the true position is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

DEVASTATION for Davidson as BOMBSHELL YouGov poll suggests the Scottish Tories could be WIPED OUT in the European elections

As they say on reality TV shows, I've "been on a journey" over the last few days.  At the start of the weekend I was stating quite confidently - and I think with a fair bit of justification - that the Tories were likely to take two of the six Scottish seats in the European elections.  Now it appears the limit of their realistic ambitions is to hold the one seat they currently have, and it's far from clear they will even manage that.  The reason?  Simply that voters who would probably be solidly Tory in Westminster, Holyrood or local elections appear to be deserting the party in droves for the Euro-vote, to send a message about Brexit.

Britain-wide voting intentions for the European elections (YouGov):

Brexit Party 27% (+12)
Labour 22% (-2)
Conservatives 15% (-1)
Greens 10% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
UKIP 7% (-7)
Change UK 6% (-1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 4% (-2)

Scottish subsample: SNP 35%, Labour 16%, Greens 13%, Brexit Party 13%, Conservatives 10%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 4%, Change UK 3%

Now, of course no individual Scottish subsample can be regarded as reliable, but this is the latest of several in a row to put Ruth Davidson's party at an abysmally low level for the European elections, and well below what they routinely score in Westminster subsamples.  That's unlikely to be a coincidence, so it seems that Tory support - even in Remain-dominated Scotland - is heavily dependent on a hard Brexit vote that is now ready to punish the party for a perceived betrayal.  It's rather satisfying to see Davidson finally get some long-overdue comeuppance for her near-comical flip-flops over the Brexit issue, although in all honesty this would probably still be happening no matter what she had done.

Just for "a bit of fun", here is what the Scottish seats allocation would look like if the YouGov subsample happened to be bang-on accurate.

SNP 3, Labour 1, Greens 1, Brexit Party 1

Yup, that's right.  Zero for the Tories.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Whisper it gently, but there's a chance that, just this once, Ruth Davidson won't be winning the Scottish Politician of the Year award.  Indeed it's very hard to imagine how her adoring fans in the media would cope with the discovery that it's actually possible for the Tories to go backwards on Ruth's watch.  For example, this would be a significantly worse performance than Annabel Goldie managed in 2009, when the Scottish Tories took 17% of the vote and one seat.  In terms of the popular vote, it would be the worst Scottish Tory performance in any Euro-election ever - not even John Major and Ian Lang managed to fall this low.

Although the Brexit Party surge has largely come at the expense of the Tories, it's also a cause of concern for the SNP in an indirect way, because it's possible that the SNP will be in a dogfight with an anti-Europe party for the final seat (as happened last time around).  It would have been far more helpful if the Brexit vote had remained split down the middle, but it looks like the BBC's lavish coverage for Farage last week has done the trick, and from now on the previous UKIP vote will move across wholesale to the Brexit Party.

There's good news and bad news for the Scottish Greens: this subsample shows them winning a seat, but as it shows the Brexit Party winning a seat as well, it directly contradicts the careful messaging that there's some sort of straight choice between a Green MEP and a far-right MEP (with the implication presumably being that supporters of other parties should 'lend' their vote to the Greens to stop Farage).  Ironically, the last YouGov subsample showed neither the Greens nor the anti-Europe parties winning a seat.  The reality is that, because of the way the voting system works, it's very difficult to tell for sure which party is best-placed to prevent the Brexit Party taking a Scottish seat - assuming it's even possible to do that at all.

Probably the media line on any Scottish Tory collapse will be that this is a freakish one-off caused by unusual circumstances, and voters will come home to the Tories for the general election.  That's true, but perhaps only up to a point - we know from past experience that Farage is capable of carrying over at least a portion of his European Parliament successes into a general election.  That may not win him any Westminster seats under a first-past-the-post system, but it's certainly possible that it could cost the Tories a lot of seats, including in Scotland.  Things might suddenly be looking up for the SNP in their former heartland of the north-east.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Equating a Westminster veto with "legality" is a dangerous game

Like most of us, I hold Michael Russell in the highest regard, but I'm rather troubled by his article over the weekend calling for "patience".  Apart from anything else, it seems to rewrite history by suggesting that the only reason the 2014 independence referendum was ever held was because David Cameron agreed to it.  What actually happened was that the Scottish government spent the initial period after the 2011 election planning for a referendum that it believed it could hold within Holyrood's existing powers, but eventually entered into negotiations with London to put the legal position beyond dispute and to ensure a direct question could be put on the ballot paper.  The Edinburgh Agreement did not constitute some sort of acknowledgement from the Scottish side that London had been right all along and that there had never been any power to hold a referendum without permission.  Given that we were never forced to concede that point at the time, it seems more than a touch odd that we'd be needlessly and voluntarily conceding it now.

Now OK, we get it, the current SNP leadership is not attracted to the idea of a consultative referendum held without a Section 30.  That much has been plain for some time.  But unless you can be absolutely sure that neither you, nor any leadership that succeeds you, will ever need to keep that option in reserve, why would you adopt unionist language by essentially saying that a referendum can only be "constitutionally" or "legally" held if it is approved by Westminster?  I suspect the leadership are so preoccupied with curbing the enthusiasm of their own side that they're forgetting that others are hearing their words and are preparing to quote them back in future, in much the same way that happened with "once in a generation opportunity".  The most important reason of all for not recklessly stating or implying that a consultative referendum would be illegal is the simple fact that it wouldn't be.  The UK is not Spain, and people do not go to jail in this country for organising democratic consultations.

Russell's argument also drives a coach and horses through the principle of self-determination.  It's rather reminiscent of the people who used to say that everyone in Britain should have a vote in the independence referendum because it was a matter for the whole UK, or the people who used to say that of course Catalonia could become independent just as soon as the whole of Spain voted in favour of it.  The ultimate counsel of despair is to say that Scotland will be independent when the SNP gains control of Westminster.

Melissa Iacone pointed out on Twitter that there's a contradiction between Russell's stated belief that Theresa May is only refusing a referendum because she thinks Yes would win, and the apparent insistence of SNP strategists that an indyref cannot be held too soon because Yes would lose.  Is Theresa May wrong to think there's a majority for independence?  If she isn't wrong, why don't we get on with holding a referendum?  And if a referendum can apparently only be brought about if there's a majority for Yes but without anyone in Westminster actually noticing, how is Russell proposing to thread that needle?  If he wants us to be patient, I'd suggest he needs to offer us a means of achieving independence that has somewhat better odds than a lottery ticket.

I really fail to understand what would be so wrong with the clarity of the message that an exercise in self-determination is going to happen, we'd much rather it happened with London's agreement, but sooner or later it's going to happen anyway.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Are the European elections about to hand Ruth Davidson a major setback?

First things first - I've got an article in the Sunday National today about the voting system for the European elections.  You can read it HERE.  As you can see, one point I made at the end, which at the time of writing I thought was fairly uncontroversial, was that the Tories were likely to win two of the six Scottish seats, and that the SNP were likely to win either two or three.  I'm already going to have to downgrade my level of certainty on that prediction, because two fairly remarkable opinion polls appeared over the course of yesterday which suggest that all bets could be off.  This, for example, is YouGov's estimate of Britain-wide voting intentions for the Euro-elections...

European Parliament voting intentions (Britain-wide, YouGov):

Labour 24%
Conservatives 16%
Brexit Party 15%
UKIP 14%
Greens 8%
Liberal Democrats 8%
Change UK 7%
SNP / Plaid Cymru 6%

Scottish subsample: SNP 49%, Conservatives 12%, Labour 11%, Brexit Party 8%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 5%, Greens 3%, Change UK 3%

If that subsample were to be taken seriously, it would mean the SNP are on course to win an incredible four of the six seats, and Labour and the Tories are set to take one apiece.  Now, of course, it's only a subsample, and no individual subsample should be assumed to be reliable.  I'm particularly sceptical about the SNP's very high vote, especially bearing in mind that they've tended to underperform expectations in European elections over the last twenty years.  But what I think we do need to take seriously is the possibility that the Scottish Tories could fall well short of their performances in the local and Westminster elections of 2017, simply due to massive numbers of their pro-Brexit supporters switching to either UKIP or Nigel Farage's new party for one day only, just to send a message.  As the same trend can be seen in the Britain-wide numbers, there's no particular reason to think that the Scottish subsample is leading us astray about it.  I had assumed that the Scottish Tories might be more resistant to the Faragist menace than their colleagues south of the border, because that was the case five years ago, but it appears that things have changed.

The SNP, meanwhile, don't show any sign of leaking pro-Brexit votes, so this could be a perfect storm for Ruth Davidson - if the Tory vote share actually goes sharply down while the SNP gain in terms of both votes and seats, it would be a stunning reversal of the narrative of the last couple of years that the media have fallen head over heels in love with.  It could be the beginning of the end for the myth of Ruth and her magic powers.

It's hard to work out whether Farage's intervention in this race is counterproductive from his own point of view - the poll figures seem to suggest that all he's succeeded in doing is splitting the hardline Brexit vote, and preventing UKIP from emerging once again as the largest single party, thus squandering the chance of saying that the establishment have been punished for their "Brexit betrayal".  But it's possible that the lavish coverage he's been given by the broadcasters in recent days is just the start of a bandwagon effect that will help squeeze the UKIP vote and propel the Brexit Party into first place.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Someone in the comments section queried the seats projection from the YouGov subsample and suggested that the SNP would need to be at nearly 65% to win a fourth seat.  That's categorically untrue.  As explained in the Sunday National piece, the D'Hondt formula is effectively slanted in favour of larger parties, which means the SNP would have a chance of winning four seats even on 40% of the vote.  At 65% they'd be more likely to win five seats, although that would depend on how the remainder of the vote is split between the other parties.

To demonstrate the point, here is how the D'Hondt calculation would play out for each individual seat if the YouGov subsample is right. 

First count: SNP 49, Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win first seat

Second count: SNP 24.5 (49 ÷ 2), Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win second seat

Third count: SNP 16.3 (49 ÷ 3), Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win third seat

Fourth count: SNP 12.3 (49 ÷ 4), Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win fourth seat

Fifth count: Conservatives 12, Labour 11, SNP 9.8 (49 ÷ 5), Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

Conservatives win fifth seat

Sixth count: Labour 11, SNP 9.8 (49 ÷ 5), Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, Conservatives 6 (12 ÷  2), UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

Labour win sixth seat

Final tally: SNP 4 seats, Conservatives 1 seat, Labour 1 seat

Friday, April 12, 2019

It's another bonzer by-election breakthrough: Sunshine on Leith Walk for surging SNP, but darkness falls on Labour and the Tories

It's happened again - the SNP have notched up an impressive local by-election win in a formerly Labour-dominated area of the central belt, which is exactly the sort of place where they were constantly losing by-elections to Labour on worryingly sizeable swings in the aftermath of the 2017 general election. It does feel like something fundamental has changed.

Leith Walk by-election result (11th April 2019):

SNP 35.7% (+1.4)
Greens 25.5% (+5.9)
Labour 15.5% (-7.0)
Conservatives 10.7% (-3.7)
Liberal Democrats 8.6% (+4.8)
Independent - Illingworth 1.5% (n/a)
UKIP 1.2% (n/a)
Socialist Labour 0.8% (-0.1)
Independent - Scott 0.2% (n/a)
For Britain Movement 0.2% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.2% (n/a)

Technically this was an SNP gain from Labour, as the vacancy was caused by a Labour councillor's resignation, but psephologically that's a meaningless point because the SNP comfortably topped the poll in the ward last time around. Nevertheless the swings speak for themselves - there was a swing of more than 4% from Labour to SNP, and of roughly 2.5% from Conservative to SNP.  The Tories must be particularly disappointed, because it's not all that common for them to go backwards in local by-elections - very often their vote share actually increases due to the greater motivation of their supporters to get out and vote.

To return to the subject of the previous post, I know some people will say that by-election results like this, along with the trend in recent opinion polls, suggests that the SNP's parking of the indyref issue over the last couple of years has paid dividends, and can continue to do so.  I'd just point out that a strategy that makes it more likely that the SNP will remain the dominant party is not necessarily the same thing as a strategy that brings us closer to independence.  Even if we have another twenty years of SNP rule at devolved level, we'd still look back and wonder what it was all about if we weren't an independent country at the end of it.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Now is the time to decisively move up a gear in preparations for an independence referendum

I was heartened to see Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil pressing the case so forcefully today for an independence referendum this autumn.  In the wake of the six-month Brexit extension, we now stand at another crossroads for the independence movement, and as was the case in the early summer of 2017 it's very much time for all of us to "speak now or forever hold your peace".  Once Nicola Sturgeon makes her next statement on the way forward, the die will be cast once again.  The worst case scenario is that she'll say "the expected clarity on Brexit has not arrived, so we'll have to wait yet another six months for clarity".  That would surely be a dreadful error, because it would be doing exactly the same thing we correctly accuse Theresa May of - forever kicking the can down the road.

It's not hard to imagine the reasons Ms Sturgeon's most ultra-cautious advisers will be giving her for thinking that the idea of an indyref this year is a non-starter.  They'll be saying that the endgame of Brexit is the wrong time to get bogged down in potential legal challenges to a Referendum Bill passed without a Section 30, and that in any case the whole initiative might be overtaken by events if a People's Vote is somehow brought about or if (more likely) a snap general election is called.  But there's surely a middle path that can be followed that would leave us with a degree of flexibility while avoiding any deeply damaging sense of drift.

We now at least have partial clarity on Brexit - we have fairly strong indications that the extension to October is the last one of any substantial length that is likely to be granted.  Which leaves us with the binary possibilities of Brexit this year, or complete revocation.  And if Brexit does happen this year, it seems clear that it will be a relatively hard Brexit, because the Tory and Labour leaderships are united in their determination to leave the single market and end freedom of movement.  The sole point of compromise might be on the customs union.  The only way I could see a softer Brexit happening would be if Labour win a snap general election, and pro-EU backbenchers then use their leverage to pull Corbyn in a more moderate direction.  So it would be perfectly possible for Ms Sturgeon to tentatively name a date for an indyref, perhaps early 2020, and make clear that will remain pencilled in unless there is a general election before Halloween, or unless Article 50 is revoked.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The case for a consultative independence referendum

I've been having an exchange on Twitter with Iain Macwhirter over the last 24 hours about the possibility of holding a consultative referendum on independence in the absence of a Section 30 order.  I think it might be worth expanding on some of my points here, because 280 characters is a rather limiting format.

* First of all, there seems to be a perception that those of us who advocate a consultative referendum are arguing that it would somehow be superior to a Westminster-approved process.  That's not the case at all.  Of course a Section 30 order would be preferable, because it would dispense with any uncertainties caused by the possibility of a legal challenge, and would give voters greater confidence (albeit not absolute certainty) that their decision would be enacted.  So by all means Nicola Sturgeon should renew her request for a Section 30 order and await Theresa May's answer.  But if May once again says "no", a consultative referendum is an answer to the question "what then?"  And there does actually have to be an answer to that question - it's not as if we're going to say "thank you so much for considering our request, Prime Minister, and we humbly accept your decision".  And nor is it credible for us to keep seeking mandates for referendums at successive Holyrood elections if we know that the answer is still going to be "no" and if we have no intention of taking any further action.

* There also seems to be a perception that proposing a consultative referendum is synonymous with preparing the ground for UDI.  That'll be news to Alex Salmond and John Swinney, because under their leadership the SNP went into no fewer than four Holyrood elections (1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011) committed to holding an independence referendum within the Scottish Parliament's existing powers, and without any requirement for a Section 30 order.  The purpose of such a vote would not have been to provide a justification for UDI, but rather to secure a mandate for the Scottish government to enter into negotiations with the UK government on an independence settlement, which would then have been legislated for by strictly constitutional means.  Of course in the event of a future Yes vote the ball would be in the UK government's court - no-one can force them to respect the Scottish people's decision or to negotiate.  But I think Iain and others seriously underestimate just how difficult it would be for Westminster to completely ignore such a vote, as long as the turnout was at least respectable.  Psychologically it would be a game-changing moment, and the eventual outcome (albeit perhaps with a good few twists and turns along the way) would most likely be that either the mandate would be respected, or a compromise would be reached involving a further referendum held on an agreed basis.

* When I mentioned the possibility of a consultative referendum functioning as a gateway to a later Westminster-approved referendum, Iain reacted incredulously and suggested this meant I was conceding that a Section 30 order would ultimately be "needed" anyway, and that my argument was therefore a circular one.  Not at all: it would be infinitely preferable for the UK government to simply respect the outcome of a democratic vote, and that would very much be Plan A.  But if they remain intransigent, we'd then have a political dispute that can only be resolved by negotiation and compromise.  In other words, the Yes vote would then become very useful leverage.

* No matter how many times the claim is erroneously made, it is simply untrue to suggest that a consultative referendum would be "illegal", "non-legal" or "extra-legal".  This is not Spain - holding a democratic vote is not a criminal act in the UK, as Brian Souter proved by holding a private referendum on Section 28 in the year 2000, and as Strathclyde Regional Council proved by holding a consultative referendum in 1994 on the UK government's proposals to remove control of water from local authorities.  In fairness to him, Iain conceded that nobody would end up in jail for organising a referendum without a Section 30 order, but he insisted that "extra-legal" was appropriate language because the vote would not be legally binding.  That's a peculiar argument, because of course the 2014 referendum was not legally binding either, even with a Section 30 order.  David Cameron's government made a political commitment to respect a Yes vote, but there would have been no way of holding them to that commitment through the courts.  And if you think the distinction between a political commitment and a binding decision is a meaningless one, just look at the Supreme Court's refusal to uphold the Sewel Convention only last year.  There was actually a lot of concern in 2014 that a Yes vote might not necessarily lead to independence - I didn't share that view at the time, but the current uncertainty over whether Brexit will ever happen does illustrate the point rather nicely.  So essentially the only difference between a consultative referendum and the 2014 vote is that this time we probably wouldn't have a political commitment in advance that the result would be respected, but we'd nevertheless still be looking for that commitment once the UK government are confronted with the reality of a Yes vote.

* I'm puzzled by the automatic assumption that a consultative referendum would be boycotted by unionists.  The most likely way for a vote to come about would be for the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a Referendum Bill, which would then be probably be challenged in the Supreme Court, where it would either be upheld or struck down.  Would unionist parties really boycott a referendum that had been upheld as the law of the land by the United Kingdom's highest court?

* The main thrust of Iain's argument is that, as a result of the Edinburgh Agreement, it is now the established "constitutional position" that a referendum can only happen as the result of a Section 30 order.  That's self-evidently untrue, because the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement didn't in itself alter the British constitution one jot.  It's fair to say it did create a political precedent, but the British constitution is comprised of constitutional law and not of political precedents.  In any case, Theresa May has already binned the precedent of the Edinburgh Agreement by refusing to even enter into discussions on a Section 30 order when the elected Scottish Parliament voted to request one.  Clearly if one precedent no longer applies, something else has to take its place.

When I challenged Iain on his claim that a Section 30-approved referendum is required by "the constitution", he prayed in aid the fact that the current policy of the SNP leadership is that a Section 30 order must be sought.  I must say I'm bemused by the notion that SNP policy carries some kind of weight in British constitutional theory!

* Iain talked in reverential terms about "applying for a Section 30 order" as if that is a recognised constitutional procedure.  As far as I can see, what happened in 2017 is that Nicola Sturgeon sent a letter and it was completely ignored, which tells a rather different story.  There is pretty obviously no formal "application" process recognised by the UK government.

* As I understand it, Iain's alternative to a consultative referendum is to wait until 2021 and then seek yet another mandate for a referendum at the scheduled Scottish Parliament election.  That implicitly suggests he expects the UK government to cave in to democratic pressure - and yet he ridiculed the idea that the democratic pressure of a Yes vote in a consultative referendum could possibly yield any results.  That seems somewhat contradictory.  Essentially, any non-UDI route to independence depends on the belief that London will not behave like Madrid, and will ultimately respond to the verdict of the voters.  So the only question is which "democratic event" would be the most appropriate and effective way of securing the necessary leverage.  The case for a consultative referendum is that it avoids a needlessly long delay that clearly would suit the UK government down to the ground, and it also avoids creating a precedent that London can simply say "no" to a mandate for a referendum at its own whim.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Is Theresa May unwittingly making independence even more likely by implicating Labour in a hard Brexit?

Brexit seems to be taking us into a game of three-dimensional chess.  We have Jacob Rees-Mogg talking about how the UK could take advantage of a long Brexit delay by vetoing the EU budget or deeper integration, but that probably isn't what's in his mind at all - he's more likely hoping that decision-makers on the continent will hear his words and be spooked into thinking that British membership of the EU is more trouble than it's worth, and that they should just veto the extension.  It's a long shot, but the ERG have got nothing to lose by trying.  Meanwhile, Theresa May has turned her back on No Deal, not because she actually cares about the economic well-being of the country she leads, but apparently because of her obsession with "the precious union" and her belief that No Deal might lead to Scottish independence and/or a united Ireland.

Superficially, you can kind of see her point.  I certainly believe that it's naive of some Yes supporters to think that the SNP's two key objectives of revoking Article 50 and securing independence somehow complement each other.  In reality, revocation would probably lead to independence going on the backburner for a good few years.  Indy is only an immediate issue because of Brexit - so take Brexit away and we'd almost inevitably be looking at a longer timescale.  Intuitively you'd think that must also mean a hard Brexit makes independence more likely than a soft Brexit would, with No Deal offering the biggest opportunity of a breakthrough.  But I'm not sure that's true anymore.  It could be that the one thing worse for the precious union than No Deal is a compromise Brexit jointly authored and jointly delivered by Labour and Tory.  It remains to be seen whether Corbyn and May can reach an agreement, and the odds are probably still against it, but if by any chance that happens it could be the death-knell for the union.  By that stage, the entire London political establishment (with the unimportant exceptions of the Lib Dems and Change UK) would be equally implicated in a relatively hard Brexit that takes us out of the single market and ends freedom of movement.  The SNP and independence would be the only game left in town for passionate Remainers.

In any case, I'm puzzled as to why Labour seem so tempted to close a deal, because it's surely obvious that there will be an incentive for budding Tory leadership contenders to pledge that they will rat on anything that is agreed with Corbyn.  Labour support for the Withdrawal Agreement could end up being banked in return for absolutely nothing.

*  *  *

I'm glad to see the Greens keeping the SNP leadership honest on independence by insisting on a pre-2021 referendum in line with the current mandate.  And it actually doesn't matter to me whether or not Iain Macwhirter is right that they're only doing so as a clever way of wooing SNP voters, because the fact that it makes such clear tactical sense for them is in itself a triumph for the Yes movement.  It wasn't all that long ago that the Greens had an anti-independence co-leader in the shape of Robin Harper, and I used to genuinely worry (I recall writing about it on this blog) that they might abandon their support for independence after a No vote in the indyref.  It's even more recently that the Greens were carefully positioning themselves as more moderate than the SNP on the Section 30 issue by stating that it would be irresponsible and unthinkable to hold a referendum without Westminster's agreement.  The fact that they've swung the other way now is testament to the power of the "Yes constituency".  Left-leaning politicians can no longer afford to ignore us and our aspirations if they want to be electorally successful.  (Labour have been ignoring us for years, and look what's happened to them.)

"Boost for May" as Tory vote drops like a stone

Mike Smithson, known and loved by thousands of East Dunbartonshire residents as a keen letter-writing impartial Liberal Democrat election expert, surpassed himself the other day.  After a parliamentary by-election in Newport West which saw the Tory vote plummet by 8%, Smithson's verdict in a Stormfront Lite headline was "Boost for May".  What he meant was that there had been a technical swing from Labour to Tory because the Labour vote had fallen slightly further, but it seems rather heroic to claim a "boost" just because someone else is doing even worse than you are.  Andrew Neil tried exactly the same game during the BBC's coverage of the vote, but for my money Labour's showing wasn't actually as bad as all that, or at least not in any way that could be considered unexpected.  It's pretty common for the Labour vote to slump in low turnout by-elections when everyone knows (or think they know) the result in advance.  OK, if this had been Tony Blair sweeping all before him in 1995 or 1996, there would have been a big swing to Labour, but we didn't need a by-election to tell us that Corbyn isn't in that sort of position.  If there's a general election this year Labour will start with a credible chance, but they're certainly not the pre-anointed winners.

In any case, if it's supposed to be good for the Tories that their vote collapsed in Newport West but not by quite as much as Labour's, it's only reasonable to point out that the Britain-wide opinion polls tell the opposite story - both of the two main London parties are sharply down on where they were at the start of the year, but the Tories have been slipping much faster of late which by default has brought Labour back to more or less level-pegging.  The latest YouGov poll is a prime example...

Conservatives 32% (-4)
Labour 31% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+1)
UKIP 7% (+3)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 6% (+1)
Brexit Party 5% (n/c)
Greens 4% (n/c)

Scottish subsample: SNP 48%, Conservatives 20%, Labour 18%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 3%, Brexit Party 3%, Greens 1%

The basement battle between the rump UKIP and Farage's new Brexit Party is genuinely fascinating.  My guess is that if it was widely known that Farage and his closest colleagues have decamped to a new party, the vast bulk of the UKIP vote would follow them across, but instead we have a situation where a small group of obscure far-right politicians have quietly inherited a well-known political brand and are reaping the benefits of it.  If the European elections go ahead (and it's overwhelmingly likely they will), the Brexit vote could well be split right down the middle.  I know some people will say that doesn't really matter in a proportional representation election, but it absolutely does.  In some electoral regions (including Scotland), it's likely that a split vote will leave both parties below the de facto threshold for representation.  Hopefully by now David Coburn will have some alternative employment sorted out.

The usual health warning: no individual Scottish subsample should be taken too seriously.  All the same, Scottish Labour must be a touch alarmed by just how frequently they've gone sub-20 recently.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Is there any more ridiculous sight than a Tory commentator using a dud poll to weave a world of illusion in which the "precious Union" is safe?

So just a quick postscript to the previous post about the ludicrous misreporting of the independence figures from the Progress Scotland poll.  I was taking a peek at Conservative Home yesterday, and I stumbled across an article from the chap who mans their Colonial Desk (ie. he writes an occasional round-up of what might loosely be described as "news" from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so that no-one else has to acknowledge the existence of a UK beyond England).  Towards the bottom of the piece was a mention of a mysterious poll that purportedly shows a "collapse" in support for Scottish independence - and yes, it turns out that I was far too generous to the Sun newspaper the other day, because at the time I was only aware of an article in which they had falsely claimed that the poll shows a "drop" in Yes support.  Thanks to ConHome, I now realise there was another one that really did claim the poll shows a "dramatic collapse" for Yes.

The reality, as you'll recall, is that the Progress Scotland poll asked about independence in a completely new way, meaning there are no baseline figures to measure trends from.  It's literally  impossible to tell from the poll whether support for independence has gone up, down, or stayed static.  Claiming a "dramatic collapse" on that basis is rather akin to saying that Neil Armstrong was much fatter than the previous man to have walked on the moon.  But our plucky ConHome correspondent wasn't about to let troublesome things like facts get in his way - oh no, he was perfectly content to accept the Sun's outlandish claims as genuine, and gleefully seized upon the poll as proof that the "fragile Union" narrative is actually a "myth".  You reach the stage where all you can do is point and laugh at these people.  If the only comfort blanket they've got is a tabloid newspaper telling porkies about an opinion poll, they're really not in a good place.  It's no more or less risible than Anas Sarwar brandishing his famous "top secret document" prop when all else failed.

Someone called "CMac11" left a comment on the previous blogpost and effortlessly solved the mystery of why the question format used by Progress Scotland appeared to produce lower support for independence than what we're used to from more conventional polling.  He/she pointed out that no fewer than 17% of Yes voters in the poll rated themselves as ten on a scale of zero to ten, which supposedly indicated that they "completely support Scotland staying part of the UK".  Self-evidently, that is an utterly implausible figure.  In the whole five years since the independence referendum, I've met literally one single person who has converted from being a Yes voter in 2014 to being a committed Brit Nat now, and he only made that journey because of an idiosyncratic obsession with the named person scheme.  Much more likely is that people who are no longer sure about indy would place themselves somewhere in the middle of the zero-to-ten scale.  We can see how improbable a swing from one extreme to the other is from the fact that just 3% of No voters placed themselves at zero on the scale, meaning that they "completely support Scotland becoming independent".

Normally we can only speculate about the causes of seemingly illogical poll results, but this is an exception. It's blindingly obvious what's happened here.  A significant minority of Yes voters clearly misread the question and thought they were indicating total support for independence (rather than total opposition) by rating themselves as ten on the scale.  Why did only Yes voters make that mistake?  Because it's natural to think that the higher end of the scale is intended to represent the maximum support for your own preferred position.  No voters who made that assumption were correct, while Yes voters who made the same assumption were wrong.  If the figures are adjusted on the reasonable assumption that approximately 14% of Yes voters mistakenly rated themselves as ten on the scale, that in itself would mean the poll underestimated support for independence by around 5% - enough to take us into roughly the same territory as the conventional polls.

So it's not just that it's impossible to compare this poll with previous independence polls and detect a trend.  The poll itself is also an outright dud - albeit only in respect of the key question on support for indy, where something appears to have gone very badly wrong by complete accident.  The next time you see a journalist or unionist politician point to this dud poll as proof that their "precious Union" is safe, do please try to keep a straight face.