Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Unsurprisingly, Nicola Sturgeon's party is by far the most popular of the three possible junior coalition partners among respondents in Scotland. Indeed, I suspect this number would be higher still if it wasn't for some SNP voters recoiling against the idea of their party being directly involved in government at Westminster.
Preferred junior coalition partner (respondents in Scotland) :
Liberal Democrats 27%
But even among respondents across Britain, the SNP attracts 15% support as the preferred junior coalition partner. When you consider that the party is largely ignored in the London media, and that when it isn't ignored it's demonised in a cartoonish way, that's a pretty impressive finding.
Preferred junior coalition partner (respondents across Britain) :
Liberal Democrats 35%
Presumably the explanation is that some voters south of the border (perhaps grudgingly, perhaps enthusiastically) have recognised that the SNP represent the only realistic hope for progressive governance.
* * *
SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS
For the first time in several weeks, the new Poll of Polls update includes one subsample that has Labour ahead of the SNP. However, as with all of the other post-referendum subsamples that have shown the same thing, it comes from a Populus poll, and the result can therefore probably be explained by that firm's illogical party ID weighting procedure. None of the other subsamples in this update (including another one from Populus) have Labour even close to the SNP.
Eight subsamples are taken into account - five from YouGov, two from Populus and one from Ashcroft. I've had to exclude the recent Opinium poll, because details of the Scottish subsample were not published.
Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :
SNP 42.6% (-1.5)
Labour 26.8% (+2.0)
Conservatives 18.0% (+1.3)
Liberal Democrats 5.5% (-0.8)
(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)
Monday, November 24, 2014
Perhaps to prove to myself that the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup weren't the only chances to see top-class international sport in this country, I spent the day at the Scottish Open badminton yesterday. Mind you, if I'd known Gordon Matheson and Craig Reedie were going to be given starring roles, I might have thought better of it. Luckily, Matheson was kept well away from the microphone (to the relief of all cats and dogs within a five-mile radius), but I was still presented with a huge dilemma when we were more or less instructed to give Reedie a rapturous round of applause for "everything he's done for the sport in Scotland". I mean, for pity's sake, isn't the knighthood and the vice-presidency of the IOC enough for the man? I decided to sit on my hands, because far from being a hero of Scottish sport, Reedie is notorious for strongly implying during the referendum campaign that he would wreak revenge on his own country if it voted Yes, by doing his level best to ensure that Scottish athletes would not be able to compete in Rio under their new flag.
My only previous exposure to badminton has been during the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, so I must admit that I didn't realise until yesterday that it's one of the sports in which Scotland generally competes as a nation in its own right (Reedie must have bloody hated that when he was a player). I said after the referendum that we had just (unthinkingly) voted to continue subsuming ourselves within a straitjacketed Great Britain identity in the vast majority of sports, but on reflection I may have been overstating the case slightly - GB representation is certainly the norm, but there are a reasonably significant number of exceptions. Here is the list of sports I can think of in which Scotland competes as a country - feel free to add to it if you know of any others...
Interestingly, there are a few sports on that list in which Scottish representation is a relatively recent innovation (ie. within the last few decades), so it just goes to show that these things aren't necessarily set in stone for as long as we're part of the UK - perhaps with Devo Max we might be able to make the case for representation in more sports.
And I'm certainly not going to give up on the Eurovision Song Contest, because the vaguely comparable Miss World (yes, it's still going, believe it or not) eventually saw the light in 1999. Fighting for world peace and kittens on our behalf this year is Ellie McKeating.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
As I'm sure everyone and his auntie knows by now, tomorrow (Monday) will see the launch of The National, which to the best of my knowledge will be the first daily pro-independence newspaper since the Scottish Sun was instructed to embrace Blairism in 1996/97. The new publication is only being given a trial run of five days, so obviously sales figures are going to be very important. It's possible to subscribe to the digital edition for the whole week for £1.50, by texting the word AYE, followed by a space, followed by your email address, to 80360. But even more important will be to buy hard copies from your local newsagent or supermarket (at a price of 50p). We're not short of pro-independence commentary on the internet, but what this country desperately needs is a viable pro-independence print newspaper that can reach out to the substantial minority of the population who are still reliant on the traditional media.
UPDATE : There seems to be some doubt over whether the subscribe-by-text option is still open - see the comments section below.
* * *
There's a bizarre story in the Herald about how Labour MPs are apparently predicting that the SNP will withdraw from the Smith Commission process at the eleventh hour. It seems Labour can't get their heads around how the SNP will be able to put their name to the Smith blueprint while at the same time arguing that The Vow has been broken and campaigning at the general election for full Devo Max.
It just goes to prove what I've always said - Labour have got no imagination. In all likelihood, the SNP will say something like this : "What has been agreed today is inadequate and falls well short of what was solemnly promised by the No campaign and the UK government. However, as Scotland's party we have a duty to ensure that Scotland is not left with nothing at all, and therefore we will be supporting these proposals as far as they go. We will of course campaign at the general election for the package to be built upon and brought fully into line with The Vow before it is finally implemented."
Pretty simple really.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
It's probably worth mentioning this poll individually, because I won't be able to make use of it for the Poll of Polls - for reasons only known to themselves, Opinium don't provide geographical breakdowns, so we never find out exactly what their Scottish subsamples show. However, on these figures there's little doubt that the SNP have a comfortable lead in tonight's subsample.
Britain-wide voting intentions (Opinium) :
Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 30% (+1)
UKIP 19% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-2)
SNP 5% (+1)
Greens 4% (n/c)
The appearance of yet another poll showing the SNP and Liberal Democrats very closely-matched in terms of Britain-wide support will further increase the pressure on the broadcasters to reverse their proposal to exclude the SNP from the leaders' debates - especially given that we know on these numbers that the SNP would be well ahead of both the Lib Dems and UKIP in terms of seats in the next House of Commons.
Not too much should be read into Labour's three-point lead, because fieldwork took place between Tuesday and Thursday, and therefore preceded #WhiteVanManDanGate.
"A Tory government supported by Scottish Nationalists and UKIP is a more plausible option. But the glue holding together such a coalition would be an EU referendum on membership terms that the rest of Europe would be extremely unlikely to accept."
Hmmm. 'Plausible' is not the first word that springs to mind, given that the SNP have explicitly ruled out any sort of deal with the Tories under any circumstances. And as for an in/out EU referendum being the "glue" of this impossible coalition, I'm not sure how we're supposed to square that notion with the SNP's absolute opposition to an in/out EU referendum.
"The Scottish National Party is sure to demand another Scottish independence referendum as its price for supporting a coalition"
That's not quite right - the real price would be a huge transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament, including the unambiguous power to call a constitutional referendum at any time. That isn't the same thing as demanding that Westminster calls an independence referendum itself.
Nevertheless, this is a useful reminder of the multiple options that the SNP have at their disposal in the longer term. It's sometimes supposed that the biggest obstacle to a second referendum taking place (even well into the future) is that the PR voting system makes it murderously hard to cobble together an outright pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. But if all else fails, there'll always be the Plan B of using coalition negotiations to seek a Westminster-initiated referendum, which in theory could even take place at a time when the SNP are not in power at Holyrood.
Not quite "heads I win, tails you lose", but it does mean that a second referendum will be much harder to thwart than certain unionists think.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
We've discussed this before, but by-election upsets are much more important when they happen just before a general election than when they happen at any other time. That's why Govan 1973 is more historically significant than Govan 1988 - it generated momentum that just a few weeks later carried the SNP to an unprecedented general election breakthrough.
Probably the most important by-election in modern history was Darlington in 1983, because it took place on the eve of a general election that would decide whether Labour lost their position as the main opposition to the Tories - and if they had, there might never have been a Labour government again. The SDP started the by-election as favourites, but their campaign was almost single-handedly destroyed by the BBC's Vincent Hanna (the Michael Crick of his day) who relentlessly undermined the candidate's credibility at press conferences. As a result, Labour held on for an unlikely victory, and a few weeks later fended off the SDP/Liberal Alliance on a national level by just 3%.
It's quite possible that Darlington changed the course of history - if the SDP had won, Labour might have slipped to third-party status, or else they might have quickly changed their leader, in which case Denis Healey could have mounted a credible challenge to Margaret Thatcher. Either way, things would have been very different.
Rochester and Strood tonight looks for all the world like a similar turning-point. If, as expected, there is a UKIP victory, it's likely there will be a bandwagon effect for Farage involving further defections, less than six months before a general election. But if there's a surprise Darlington-esque hold for the defending party, the UKIP bubble may be deflated somewhat, and next May could prove to be a massive anti-climax for them.
From a hard-headed tactical point of view, it's difficult to know what we should be hoping for - a UKIP surge could split the right-wing vote and bring about a majority Labour government, thus depriving the SNP of any leverage in a hung parliament. But on the other hand, a strong UKIP could hasten the crisis over Britain's EU membership that might lead to Scotland becoming independent fairly quickly. We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
* * *
So, who can resist a mysterious summons from Robin McAlpine? He asked if he could run something past me, so I ended up meeting him and Miriam Brett in a cafe in the west end of Glasgow this afternoon. I'm not sure I was able to help them as much as they'd hoped, but from my own perspective it was fascinating to hear about their future plans, which are almost mind-boggling in scope and ambition.
One thing that became clear is that Robin could urgently do with a good night's sleep, or a full day off now and again. So if anyone is trying to think of an 'alternative' Christmas present to give him...
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Your comments addressed the proposed leaders’ televised debates. Please note, these proposed Election Guidelines do not refer specifically to the proposed debate/s. The role of the BBC Trust is distinct from that of the BBC’s management and it has no role in day to day editorial decisions such as who should be invited to participate in a particular programme. However, any election debates broadcast or streamed on the BBC must comply with the Election Guidelines and applicable advice on levels of coverage for the parties. This new material on levels of coverage will be made available on the Trust website in January in order for it to be as up-to-date as possible in terms of the political landscape, and will also form part of the consultation.
The Trust will take the consultation responses into account and publish the results on its website, together with the final guidelines once approved by the Trust. This is likely to be in March 2015."
In other words, my submission will be fully considered in the form of it being COMPLETELY IGNORED. I can only apologise to people who may have taken their cue from me by making a submission in good faith - I honestly thought that at the very least a shaming effect might be achieved, because the number of demands for fair debates would have to be summarised, but it looks like they're even going to avert that by generically summarising those submissions as "irrelevant responses".
Remember the quote from the BBC spokesman that was strategically included within several BBC reports on the debates controversy, assuring viewers they would have the chance to make their views heard via the Trust consultation on the election guidelines? What in heaven's name was the relevance of that observation, if the position is that BBC management can exclude whoever they like from the debates REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE GUIDELINES SAY?
These people are game-players - there's no other way of putting it. It's like dealing with the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit.
That said, once this "new material on levels of coverage" is published in January, I'll probably try responding all over again. The persistence will be worth it to see if they ever run out of excuses.
* * *
First Minister Election :
Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) 66
Ruth Davidson (Conservatives) 15
*puts on Canadian accent*
It's another terrrr-ible afternoon for the Conservatives.
I was slightly surprised that Labour gave the SNP and Tories a free run, but then I remembered that the alternative would have been putting up Jackie Baillie as a candidate for First Minister. Yes, that would have been pretty silly.
* * *
"Jackanory Jim" Murphy made a jaw-dropping statement on last night's televised Labour leadership hustings - he claimed that Nicola Sturgeon was "unusual in Scotland" in that she had never voted Labour.
Er, Jim, do you want to have a look through the records and tell me the last time that Labour won more than 50% of the vote in Scotland? It'll take you a while. Because it's never happened.
Confirmed : Survation found more supporters of independence than ever before - and if the old methodology had been used, Yes would be in the lead
I was tempted to use "Daily Record caught fibbing" as the title of this blogpost, because you might recall that they claimed that the independence numbers in the poll were Yes 47%, No 53%. John Curtice says that the Yes vote is actually 48%, and sure enough, when I looked at the raw numbers in the datasets, they worked out as Yes 47.52%, No 52.48%, which on the face of it ought to be rounded to Yes 48%, No 52%. However, there is a potentially innocent explanation here - even the "raw numbers" of weighted respondents in polling datasets are themselves rounded up or down, so they can sometimes give a misleading impression when things are very finely-balanced. It could be that Survation privately relayed to the Record that the correct Yes figure was 47%, without putting that in the datasets and without alerting Curtice. But I'm not sure whether we should take that on trust.
A really interesting set of figures tells us whether people who voted for each party in 2011 are now more or less likely to vote in a given way as a result of the referendum campaign. Obviously there is the usual meaningless effect of people who were never likely to vote for Party X in the first place claiming they are now even less likely to vote for Party X, so the most useful results relate to whether people are less likely than before to stick with their actual 2011 party.
Labour voters less likely to vote Labour : 21.9%
Liberal Democrat voters less likely to vote Liberal Democrat : 15.2%
SNP voters less likely to vote SNP : 8.1%
Conservative voters less likely to vote Conservative : 3.1%
It's easy to look at these numbers in a superficial way and think "great news for the Tories", but you have to bear in mind that we're starting from a baseline of an overwhelming SNP landslide in 2011. If the SNP lose only 8.1% of their voters from that contest and don't gain a single extra vote from elsewhere, it would still leave them with an overall vote share of 41.7% - comfortably a winning position (albeit probably not enough to retain an absolute majority in 2016). This should probably set our minds to rest about there being any danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater - ie. the SNP aren't going to lose their No-voting heartlands as they chase Yes-voting Labour seats, or at least that won't happen unless the small percentage of disgruntled SNP voters identified in this poll are extremely heavily concentrated in certain geographical areas.
Murdo Fraser said the other day that he was looking forward to taking to the doorsteps of Perthshire with the message of "vote SNP, get Miliband". Well, Murdo, absolutely nothing you guys have tried over the last NINETEEN YEARS has succeeded in dislodging the SNP in Perthshire, so if even this wheeze doesn't work, maybe it'll be time to give up the ghost completely?
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
One of the results of the independence referendum is that it makes all of us, whether we like it or not, gradualists. Nearly all of you reading this will believe in the removal of Trident and in an end to elective wars against far-flung peoples; most of you also in a Scots republic with an elected head of state. None of those things will be happening in the near future.
That's not to say that there are not interesting times ahead. Over the next few months and years there will be a struggle to devolve as much power as possible to Scotland, with the erstwhile Yes campaign on one side of the argument and the Westminster establishment on the other. The Conservatives will be keen to keep as much of Scotland's oil income as they can in order to pass it on to their plutocrat friends in the form of tax cuts. The Labour Party will wish to retain its Scottish MPs as House of Commons lobby fodder, and those MPs will be happy to deploy esoteric arguments about the indispensible role of an increasingly attenuated pan-British welfare system in order to keep their snouts in the trough.
Deprived of its major weapon of an independence referendum, the Yes campaign will have to use alternative tactics: electoral pressure, yes; but also arguing from inside the system. Recently I read a biography of Daniel O'Connell, the great nineteenth-century Irish politician who delivered "Catholic emancipation", the right of Catholics to sit in the Commons, but failed in his attempts to achieve the repeal of the Union with Ireland Act 1800. O'Connell was a wily barrister and always keen to remain on the right side of the law, even if it meant calling off unjustly banned events, disbanding his own organisation or meekly yielding to the indignity of a rigged show trial. He was also famed for his "monster meetings", each attended by upwards of 100,000 people, which while peaceful carried with them an implied threat of mass action. The mass action that the Yes campaign can threaten is a second referendum, but only if it thinks it can win one. The coming period will therefore see a race to convince the public of the justice or injustice of the forthcoming devolution proposals.
Much has been made already of the circumstances in which another referendum might be called, one scenario being that England might vote to leave the EU but Scotland to stay in it. There is no guarantee, however, that the English will vote to leave, since presumably businesspeople and workers whose livelihoods depend on membership will campaign strongly to remain, as will many trades unions, whose attitude to the EU has been transformed since 1975. A second referendum may therefore depend on winning an argument about devolution, and since the "devo super-max" promised by Better Together is likely to be a lukewarm poultice rather than an out-and-out slap in the face, there is no guarantee of that either. Depending on how the likelihood of calling a referendum is phrased in the SNP manifesto, Westminster may refuse to play ball too, meaning that it would have to be held on an advisory basis. One obvious argument that the establishment would use against us is that the same question had been decided upon so recently.
There is an alternative route, however. Devo Max as those who actually study such things understand it is very similar to the position enjoyed by the Isle of Man, which through the Tynwald deals with everything save defence and foreign affairs. Putting to the people the question of whether Scotland should become a self-governing crown dependency is clearly very different from asking whether Scotland should become an independent country, so there could be no question of denying a referendum on democratic grounds. The issue of access to EU markets would be neutralised; the Isle of Man has full access for goods, and anyone with a British grandparent has access as a worker. In fact, we would even have our own passports. Another advantage is that, because there is already a territory with the status in question, everyone will be clear on what it means, and that it is a practical proposition. As we have seen, "Devo Max" can mean different things to different people, sometimes out of sheer badness, but more often out of ignorance or genuine disagreement. At times it can be like wrestling jelly.
And there is a precedent for a second referendum on a different question. In 1995, Quebec came very close to accepting a question on "sovereignty-association". With luck, Scotland could do the same — and we got more support the first time round than Quebec.
The knock-on effects of crown dependency status would include losing Scots representation in the House of Commons and therefore what marginal — in fact, more or less illusory — influence we have on defence and foreign affairs. In my view, that loss would be more than compensated for by the competences and revenue streams accruing to a crown-dependent Scotland, which of course include the ability to set up an oil fund. According to mysociety.org, only 21 divisions out of the thousands since the Labour victory of 1997 would have gone differently if Scots MPs had been unable to participate, and some of those votes were on purely English issues. In the 1997-2001 Parliament, there would have been none at all.
The fact that there would no longer be any Scots MPs at Westminster would also mean that there would be no high-profile establishment politicians protecting their vested interest against the common weal by arguing against independence when — as will surely happen — the substantive question is put to the people again. The absurdities of crown-dependency status are many, including the lack of power over foreign affairs, but, like "English votes for English issues", they are ultimately also arguments for full independence.
Another benefit of asking a question on crown-dependency status is that it to some extent circumvents Westminster by making a direct and highly embarrassing appeal to the monarch. Obviously, that is a distasteful tactic for democrats, but the Queen, who, purring aside, is supposed to be neutral, would find it harder to face down the democratic will of the people than the Tories and Labour are at the moment.
And, of course, it might never come to that, since Westminster could simply buckle under the pressure. A manifesto commitment to a referendum on crown-dependency status, effectively Devo Max + 1, may be the best weapon the Yes parties have to achieve Devo Max itself — and, probably quite soon afterwards, the independent republic that the people of Scotland deserve.
"How do you know whether I teach yes voters? I'm not aware of having done so."
"On the whole, I don't meet yes voters"
Hmmm. Given that 45% of the electorate voted Yes, and that (whisper it gently) some of those people are highly likely to be current or former students at Edinburgh University, it does seem somewhat improbable that Jill has managed to avoid us completely. But you never know, I suppose - perhaps she carries around an amulet which wards us off?
While I was having the exchange, a number of her chums piled in on me, and one of them suggested that the following image sums me up quite well -
Which, of course, is spectacularly misjudged, because I've only ever made one of those statements, and I've specifically repudiated every single one of the other nine. But the odd one out is interesting, because it actually has no place on the list. "We demand another referendum" has got nothing to do with conspiracy theories, or refusing to respect the democratic process - quite the contrary. It's about saying that the winners of a vote can't just abolish democracy now that they've got the result they want. Would the person who compiled the above image defend David Cameron if he said : "I won in 2010, so that's it - you're never getting another vote. You're stuck with me as Prime Minister for the rest of your lives."
Unfortunately, we've seen this kind of thing from people on both sides of the debate. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, a number of Yes supporters were extremely impatient with anyone who even dared to mention the possibility of another referendum - for example, Lallands Peat Worrier bluntly said "stop it". That was well-meaning, because he honestly felt that shutting down talk of another referendum would be helpful for the independence cause, but in my view it was totally misguided. It simply played into the hands of anti-democrats such as the person who compiled the above image, who were all too keen to establish the Orwellian narrative that respecting democracy somehow entails the ruling out of future democratic votes.
Derek Bateman has returned to this theme over the last couple of days. He's repeated something that he said immediately after the referendum : "I will go to my grave believing in independence and I will also go to my grave as a democrat." This presumably implies that there won't be - and shouldn't be - another independence referendum within his lifetime. That's really odd, because I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that he's only in his mid-60s, which means that even if we end up sticking to the "once in a generation" principle, there's no reason why he won't be around to see a second referendum. In Quebec's case, of course, the second independence referendum came after fifteen years, and the second Scottish and Welsh devolution referendums came after eighteen years. Is Derek really implying that in order to be good democrats, we have to rule out a referendum for LONGER than a generation, unless there is a "material change of circumstances"? If so, that argument is utterly unsustainable.
But what I think really needs to be knocked on the head is Derek's suggestion that people who talk about a second referendum are somehow analogous to the "dark forces" who might have sought to overturn a Yes vote using legal challenges. That's totally wrong. Only the out-and-out conspiracy theorists are trying to overturn a No vote - the rest of us who are looking forward to another referendum at some point in the future have accepted the result. The correct comparison for us would be with people in a post-independence Scotland who might seek to use the electoral process to gain a mandate for Scotland rejoining the United Kingdom. Would anyone seriously suggest that such people can't be considered democrats?
Derek has also reiterated that he doesn't think the flawed nature of the referendum campaign should in any way detract from our moral requirement to not just accept the result, but to celebrate it as an expression of democracy. I must say I think that's pushing it a bit. Yes, we have to accept the result, because this is the real world and you can't just immediately re-run a vote on the grounds that, for example, public service broadcasters actively participated in a "shock and awe" campaign directed by the British state. But accepting the result doesn't mean that you have to wax lyrical about the majesty of democracy when you've just come out of a campaign that may have been free, but most certainly wasn't fair.