Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cracking ComRes poll of all Labour-held seats in Scotland shows gigantic 19% swing to the SNP

The headline pretty much contains all the information I have at the moment, but I'll update this post when more details are made available.  A 19% swing is (unbelievably) a touch lower than the Ashcroft constituency polls were generally showing, although that may simply be because the swing isn't quite as huge in affluent Labour-held areas that Ashcroft hasn't covered yet.  It would still be enough to cause absolute carnage.

If there was a uniform swing of 19% across the whole country, that would imply a national SNP lead of approximately 16% - exactly the same as suggested by the recent ICM poll.  However, you'd expect the Labour-SNP swing to be somewhat lower in seats that Labour aren't competitive in, so the fact that ComRes have only surveyed Labour-held seats would - on the face of it - indicate that they're picking up a slightly lower SNP lead than most other pollsters.

There's a big caveat here, though.  Most Scotland-wide polls are sensibly weighted by recalled vote from the last Holyrood election, and from the referendum.  One thing we'll have to look out for is whether ComRes have made the same mistake that Ashcroft did, and weighted their results to recalled vote from 2010 - a procedure that we know is wildly unreliable.  They may have felt they had no option but to do that, because they wouldn't have been able to match 2011 Holyrood vote recall to the correct boundaries.  But the reality is that if 2011 weighting isn't possible, it would be much better to simply dispense with past vote weighting altogether, because otherwise there's a severe risk of underestimating the SNP's lead.

UPDATE : According to the Daily Mail, these are the voting intention numbers in the ComRes poll.  The percentage changes are from the 2010 results in Labour-held seats.

SNP 43% (+24)
Labour 37% (-14)
Conservatives 13% (-1)
Greens 2% (+1)
UKIP 2% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 2% (-12)

Don't be startled by the seemingly 'narrow' lead - you'd see much the same thing if other polls were restricted to Labour-held seats.  The wonders of the first-past-the-post electoral system can easily translate these sorts of figures into something approaching a clean sweep of seats if the votes for the leading party are sufficiently evenly spread - and that's exactly what we suspect may be happening.  The recent ICM poll suggested that the swing was highest in the Labour heartland seats which are toughest for the SNP to win, and lower in No-voting seats where Labour are starting from a more vulnerable position, due to a split unionist vote.

ITV, who commissioned the poll, are suggesting that the SNP would take 28 Labour seats, while Labour would hold the remaining 12.  But that's based on a uniform swing, and almost certainly underestimates the SNP's potential gains.  Labour's hopes of achieving respectability in defeat depend on cutting the SNP's lead, not on getting their prayer-mat out and hoping for a uniform swing that simply isn't going to happen.

A crude look at the percentage change figures would suggest that the SNP are hoovering up almost all of the lost Labour votes, and almost all of the lost Liberal Democrat votes - ie. the SNP vote is up by far more than the Labour vote is down.  But it may not be quite as simple as that - the datasets will hopefully tell us if underlying movement from the Liberal Democrats to Labour is being disguised by the gargantuan swing from Labour to the SNP.  That's what appeared to happen in the 2011 election.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Me and Jim

Jim makes me feel so special.  Please don't be jealous, but I saw the new Labour Party Election Broadcast this afternoon, hours before the rest of you did, and it was all because Jim wanted me to.  He sent me a personal email to explain why I'd been singled out for such an honour.  It was a moment of beauty that I'll cherish in my heart forever.

Now, look.  I'm not going to suddenly start disliking Martin Freeman just because he's taken a side in a Scottish political battle that he probably has little interest in or understanding of, but suffice to say that the argument that was (presumably) scripted for him was utterly vacuous.  One thing that did interest me, though, was that there was no mention of the SNP at all, even in the clumsily tacked-on concluding bit that specifically referenced Scotland.  Perhaps Labour are starting to realise their strategic mistake in talking up the "SNP threat", but I'm afraid it's a bit late now to try to get everyone to forget that the SNP exists.

It's also intriguing that David Tennant agreed to do the voiceover, because he was presumably asked to do exactly that sort of thing for the No campaign and refused.  From which I deduce that he's loyal to Labour, but not so slavishly loyal that he'll help them out even when they're in a toxic alliance with the Tories - which is a selectiveness that I can respect.

All the same, David - "only Labour is strong enough" to get the Tories out?  Who says that any single party needs to be strong enough?  Why do Labour have to separate themselves off, and make themselves smaller in an interdependent world?  Let's renew our McDougall vows, and say it loud and proud - after the election, Labour and the SNP will be #bettertogether in a progressive anti-Tory pact.

You wanna be fair, and maybe you're right, let's burn our fingers, stop the fight

I winced slightly when I saw this reaction from Mike Small to the anger in some quarters over the SNP's plans to introduce all-women shortlists, and 'zipping' on the regional lists -

"I for one am getting bored by mid-spectrum male monotone bloggers who can only speak in the language of anger. The lack of self-reflection, the complete absence of solidarity or connectivity with a wider movement and the inability to see beyond the narrowest political gauge is a depressing spectacle...

People seem angry because they don’t perceive this as a problem. But it is...

And, of course, shortlists on their own are only really a partial remedial measure, they do nothing to challenge the wider cultures of sexism and misogyny. They do nothing to challenge the fundamentals of male power. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be tried."

I didn't wince because I was in any sense one of the bloggers that Mike was talking about. As it happens, I feel quite ambivalent on the subject of all-women shortlists, and I've certainly never felt angry about the idea. I do look around me and see a society that is riven by gender-based discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion, and I do see that as a serious problem that must be addressed. But, on the other hand, I'm not wedded to a dogma that insists I can only acknowledge the marginalisation of women, and never the marginalisation of men when it occurs. It seems utterly fatuous to talk in unqualified terms about "male power" when you consider, for example, the way that male victims of domestic violence see their experiences trivialised or completely denied.

Nor do I think that male domination of political office is some sort of "racket" that automatically works in favour of all men, in all circumstances. There's a peculiar brand of macho pseudo-feminism among some male politicians that can lead to "manning up" being demanded of men where "understanding" would be the watchword in identical circumstances involving women. (The American Vice-President Joe Biden is sometimes cited as an example of this phenomenon.)

I've mentioned before on this blog my incredulity at reading a bizarre quote in a Scotsman article a few years back that referred to the growing imbalance in favour of women in the field of medicine. It was suggested that, instead of seeing this as a problem to be solved, we should simply embrace the feminisation of the medical profession and the advantages it brings to patients. Can you imagine the reaction if anyone suggested that we should stop trying to get more women into parliament, and instead embrace the wonderful masculinity of politics?

In spite of all these flagrant double-standards, I do think parliamentary representation is a special case, and is the one and only sphere where positive discrimination by gender may deserve a fair hearing. Members of parliament aren't simply professionals providing a service in return for a salary - they presume to take the place of the whole populace, and legislate on behalf of every single person. If we don't see ourselves reflected back in them, there's an obvious deficiency, and talent/competence (even where it exists) does not make up for that.

So my views on all-women shortlists have oscillated over the years. I remember being quite sympathetic to Labour's initial experiment, before gradually changing my mind and feeling that any form of discrimination was so repugnant that it couldn't be justified, no matter how noble the objective. I've now gone back a little bit in the opposite direction, and genuinely don't have a clear opinion anymore.

But I don't feel angry about it, and for anyone who does, just consider this - whatever the rights and wrongs of the SNP's plans, there may be a hard-headed tactical advantage to be gained from having more female candidates, no matter how that comes about. And it's not simply that the cause of independence faces a particular problem among women voters. I've also seen academic studies suggesting that female politicians gain a small but significant number of bonus votes simply by virtue of their gender, after all other factors are controlled for. That may be somewhat irrational, but is any political party going to turn up its nose at the prospect of extra votes?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In just a few weeks' time?

David Cameron seemed all but assured of another five years in power last night after his pro-austerity Queen's Speech was passed amid angry scenes in the Commons.  The vote was carried by 296 votes to 71, with only the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and a handful of Labour rebels entering the opposition lobby in an attempt to kick the Tories out of office.  Outgoing Labour leader Ed Miliband instructed his troops to sit on their hands, even though his party and the SNP would in combination have had easily enough votes to oust the Prime Minister.

Constitutional experts warned that Labour were now "caught in a trap of their own making".  Having abstained on the pretext that the largest single party has a "moral right" to form the government, it will be nigh-on impossible for them to seek to bring the Tory administration down at any point over the coming five-year term.  Mr Cameron will however be well short of a majority in parliament, meaning he will require help from Labour to implement his programme.  With the Fixed Term Parliaments Act making an early election very unlikely, Labour know they will be severely punished by the electorate in Middle England if they create a US-style 'gridlock' scenario by failing to cooperate with the government.

Speculation mounted overnight that a leading Blairite will be lined up as Mr Miliband's successor, in order to smooth the path for the informal Tory-Labour alliance that now seems inevitable.

Immediately after the vote, former SNP leader Alex Salmond rose to his feet to denounce Labour's "final and deepest betrayal of the Scottish people".  In an ironic echo of Neil Kinnock's attack on the Militant Tendency thirty years ago, Mr Salmond observed : "You end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour opposition - a Labour opposition - allowing their blind hatred of the SNP to lead them to install a slash-and-burn Tory Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street."

Westminster observers broadly agreed with Mr Salmond's contention that the only real bar to Labour voting against the Queen's Speech had been the party's unwillingness to work with the SNP.  Although it was believed that Mr Miliband had been keen to explore the option of forming a minority Labour government after narrowly failing to take top spot at the general election, he found himself boxed in due to the "Nat-phobic" views of several Shadow Cabinet members and a significant chunk of the Labour parliamentary party.

One seasoned Scottish political commentator drew a parallel with the stigma suffered by the SNP after helping to bring down the Callaghan government in 1979.  He suggested that the opprobrium that will now be heaped on Labour north of the border "could be a hundred times worse than that", because the SNP's actions in 1979 had merely brought a general election forward by a few weeks, whereas Labour have just needlessly put the Tories back in power until 2020.

A Scottish poll published this morning showed the early signs of a backlash, with 74% of respondents - including 53% of Labour voters - agreeing with the statement that "only the SNP were serious about getting the Tories out".  Meanwhile, support for independence had crept up again to 54%.

Friday, March 27, 2015

SNP vote skyrockets in all four of yesterday's by-elections - and they win three outright

We now have the remaining three results in from yesterday.  First up is Buckie, a Moray council ward in which the SNP did pretty well in 2012.  However, this is nominally an SNP gain from an independent.

Buckie by-election result :

SNP 59.5% (+14.4)
Independent-Calder 27.9% (+27.9)
Conservatives 12.6% (+5.5)

Swing from Conservatives to SNP = 4.5%

The absence of a Labour candidate means that this tells us very little about the national SNP/Labour battle, and even the rise in both the SNP and Tory votes can perhaps be partly explained by the fact that the field was slightly more crowded last time around, with two independents standing rather than one.  However, the SNP vote has increased by almost three times as much as the Tory vote, which is what you would expect to happen in the light of the national SNP surge.

*  *  *

The by-election in the Western Isles tells us even less about the national picture, because the SNP were the only one of the political parties to put up a candidate.  Labour's absence is particularly odd, given that it had previously been their seat.  Technically, then, this is an independent gain from Labour.  Even more peculiar is the fact that the winning independent candidate seems to have stood for the SNP in 2012 (unless it's an astonishing coincidence and it's two different people with the same name), so the SNP's percentage gain is actually measured from Mr Walker's own performance last time!

Beinn na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath by-election result :

Independent-Walker 59.1% (+59.1%)
SNP 40.9% (+24.5%)

Although the SNP hold a respectable number of seats on Western Isles Council, it's still heavily dominated by the independents.  So this result can be looked at in one of two ways - it's either an impressive SNP surge in a heartland of the independents, or it's a disappointing failure to gain a seat at a moment of maximum opportunity.  Either way, I don't think the SNP's Angus MacNeil need have any fears in the parliamentary constituency in May, especially given that the Yes vote in the Western Isles was higher than the national average.

*  *  *

The most useful of the three results we've had today is in West Lothian, because both Labour and the SNP put up candidates.  Technically this is an SNP hold, although the popular vote in the ward was actually won by an independent last time around.

Armadale and Blackridge by-election result :

SNP 43.4% (+20.4)
Labour 27.0% (+9.4)
Independent-Mackay 20.3% (+20.3)
Conservatives 6.8% (+4.0)
Greens 2.4% (+2.4)

Swing from Labour to SNP = 5.5%

So a smaller underlying swing than in Glenrothes, but if you extrapolate to the national picture it would still be enough to put the SNP 12% ahead of Labour.  In truth, the 5.5% figure isn't particularly meaningful, because the 2012 result in Armadale was heavily dominated by the victorious independent candidate, and we don't know whether he was attracting his votes disproportionately from Labour or from SNP supporters.

However, what we can do is average out the swings from yesterday in the two wards in which the SNP and Labour were up against each other, and that produces a figure of 7.3%.  Nationally, that would put the SNP roughly 15% or 16% ahead of Labour, very much in line with the recent ICM poll.  In reality it's probably better than that, because the SNP's national vote in local elections tends to be a touch lower relative to Labour's due to the success of independents in rural areas.

Incidentally, the average increase in the SNP's own vote in all four by-elections is an astonishing 18% - and remember that's measured from the 2012 baseline, when they were on 32.3% nationwide.

The Glenrothes West and Kinglassie result, which was declared overnight, can be found HERE.

Rampant SNP storm to by-election victory in symbolic battleground of Glenrothes

Weirdly, there were five council by-elections in the UK on Thursday, and no fewer than four of them were in Scotland.  Of course, we often have a problem making sense of Scottish by-elections due to the quirks of the STV voting system - a party can be "defending" a seat even though they were outpolled there at the last election.  That was exactly the position for Labour in the Glenrothes West and Kinglassie contest, which was the first of the four to declare.  However, even though the SNP won the popular vote in the ward three years ago, they did so by an extremely narrow margin.  That result suddenly seems like a very distant memory...

Glenrothes West and Kinglassie by-election result : 

SNP 55.3% (+12.8)
Labour 35.8% (-5.4)
Conservatives 4.4% (+1.4)
UKIP 3.2% (+3.2)
Liberal Democrats 1.3% (-0.3)

Swing from Labour to SNP = 9.1%

It's important to stress that all the percentage changes listed above, and the swing, are measured from the 2012 local elections, when the SNP were already slightly ahead of Labour nationally.  If we "just for a bit of fun" extrapolate this result, it would give the SNP a national lead over Labour of roughly 20% - very much in line with recent opinion polls.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

First leaders' "debate" demonstrates why SNP inclusion was so vital

You might remember that after the first Salmond v Darling debate in advance of the referendum, there was just one instant reaction poll with a very small sample size, which showed by a relatively narrow margin that the viewers thought Darling had been the better performer.  The entire narrative of a Darling victory was founded solely on that one poll, in spite of its limitations.  I wondered at the time what would have happened if the journalists' desired narrative had been frustrated by the poll indicating a narrow Salmond win - which could easily have been the case, given that only a small number of respondents were required to swing the balance in either direction.

We're seeing a scenario of that sort play out tonight, because the media would probably quite like to award a victory to Ed Miliband, not because they support Labour, but because the underdog coming out on top is the better story.  However, the ICM instant reaction poll (which admittedly has a bigger sample this time) is stubbornly refusing to give them permission to do so, with Cameron being declared the winner by 54% to 46%.  It'll be interesting to see what angle is taken tomorrow - I suppose there's still scope to spin it as the hopeless Miliband exceeding expectations, and almost nicking a plucky draw.

For what it's worth, I do actually think that Miliband came out on top, and that reaffirms the overwhelming importance of us having fought so hard for SNP inclusion in the real leaders' debate next week.  There's always a chance that your main opponent might do better than expected, and if you're not even in the room to counteract that, you've got a major problem.


David Cameron 98
Ed Miliband 77

(The Scot Goes Pop Brick Index indicates how much out of a score of 100 I wanted to throw a brick at the TV while the leader in question was speaking.  Lower scores are better, therefore Miliband was the "winner".)

Three post-election permutations that might work in the SNP's favour

There's been a unnecessary degree of confusion in recent months over the differences between coalition, confidence-and-supply, and a vote-by-vote arrangement.  Much of the problem is caused by "creative fuzziness" in the language used by the political parties - for example, it helps the Tories in their aim of whipping up haggis-phobia if they pretend that there is no real distinction between a full Labour/SNP coalition and a looser deal.  But I get the impression that a fair chunk of the media has been genuinely lost at sea on this topic all along.

One crucial point that needs to be borne in mind is that it's not necessarily an either/or choice - it's perfectly possible that this election could eventually result in spells of both confidence-and-supply and vote-by-vote.  There's a relatively recent precedent for that.  The parliament that was dissolved in the spring of 1979 after Callaghan lost a confidence vote had been elected way back in October 1974, but that election ultimately produced no fewer than four distinct types of government - firstly a Labour government with a tiny majority, then a relatively secure Labour minority government that was able to operate on a vote-by-vote basis without its existence being seriously threatened, then a formal confidence-and-supply deal with the Liberals, and finally a return to vote-by-vote, but by now with the administration under constant threat of being brought down.  (It's too often forgotten that the Liberals eventually joined the Conservatives, the SNP and the Ulster Unionists in defeating Callaghan by a single vote - which according to Murphy-logic presumably means that Willie Rennie must be held personally responsible for Thatcherism.)

What we might see this time is Labour refusing to do a formal deal to begin with, but then quickly finding themselves worn down by the guerilla tactics that Alex Salmond and others have been hinting at.  You could imagine that such a weak government might end up trailing badly in the opinion polls, so a snap election wouldn't be a realistic escape strategy, even if the problem of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act could be circumvented.  A confidence-and-supply deal with the SNP might start to look like Miliband's least worst option, because at least it would guarantee him the passage of certain key parts of his programme, and give him some kind of track record to take to the electorate in 2020.  In my view it would also suit the SNP, because a comprehensive deal on Home Rule is surely easier to attain via confidence-and-supply than vote-by-vote.  I must admit I've been slightly puzzled by the apparent preference of both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon for vote-by-vote, although it may be significant that they've always stressed that confidence-and-supply is nevertheless very much "possible".

But what if the arithmetic doesn't fall in the SNP's favour, and the Tories are close enough to a majority that it's the Lib Dems, UKIP and the DUP that effectively hold the balance?  I think there's still a big opportunity there, which doesn't rely on the SNP directly pulling the strings.  If the Lib Dems refuse to do a formal deal this time around, a minority Tory government could end up losing an uncomfortable number of votes.  Cameron might find himself becoming tempted by the idea of instantly transforming his administration into a majority government on English domestic matters, by putting forward a plan for genuine Scottish Home Rule tied to English Votes for English Laws.  It's inconceivable that legislation to that effect wouldn't pass if both the Tories and the SNP voted for it.  And there would be absolutely no bar to the SNP voting for it, because it wouldn't be an issue of confidence in the Tory government.

Another possibility is the one we were constantly talking about a few months ago - the "sweet spot for UKIP" scenario, whereby the arithmetic works out perfectly for Nigel Farage, and even with a relatively small number of seats he has enough leverage to force an EU referendum this year, without any prior renegotiation of Britain's terms of membership.  If the UK voted to leave the EU, a quick independence referendum would be back on the agenda with a bang.  However, that scenario is looking increasingly improbable - partly because UKIP's hopes of even a modest electoral breakthrough are gradually receding, and partly because opposition to EU membership seems to be dropping.  But you just never know what twists and turns are around the corner.

*  *  *

I had a Labour canvasser at the door on Tuesday for the first time ever in a Westminster campaign - which tells you something important in itself.  I must admit I failed to practice what I preach by posing as an undecided voter and engaging him in a pointless ten minute conversation, but in my defence I did manage to hold his stare enigmatically for at least three seconds before telling him I was planning to vote SNP.  He made no effort at all to dissuade me, and he didn't even bother asking for my reasons - presumably every last drop of nervous energy must be kept in reserve for the people who might still be won back.

He was a nice enough guy, although the all-red outfit seemed a bit "angry" to me, somehow.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Aye, aye, ICM : Holyrood poll sees SNP extend lead to 20%

The datasets from Monday's ICM poll have finally been released, and along with confirming that the "spiral of silence" adjustment did indeed reduce the SNP's lead slightly, they also provide voting intention numbers for next year's Scottish Parliament election, and for a hypothetical second independence referendum.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot :

SNP 46% (+2)
Labour 26% (n/c)
Conservatives 13% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
UKIP 5% (-1)
Greens 4% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot : 

SNP 42% (n/c)
Labour 26% (+1)
Conservatives 14% (+2)
UKIP 6% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

Greens 5% (-3)

What's fascinating here is that, although we see the familiar pattern of the SNP lead being somewhat lower on the list, that isn't tied to a big list vote for the Greens.  The small number of SNP constituency voters who opt for a different party on the list are breaking for a variety of parties, with as many going to Labour as to the Greens.  That doesn't help Labour, though, because they lose almost as many votes on the list as they gain.

If there were a fresh referendum on Scottish independence tomorrow, then how would you vote?

Yes 46%
No 54%

It's difficult to make much sense of these figures, because we have no baseline to work from - this is the first time ICM have asked the independence question since referendum day.  We can't even make a direct comparison with their pre-referendum polls (which on the face of it often produced very similar numbers to these) because the methodology has changed - in line with other firms, ICM have now introduced weighting by recalled referendum vote.  This has led to people who recall voting Yes being significantly weighted down in this poll, from 469 to 423.  No voters have been upweighted, albeit by a more modest amount.  So, as we've seen from all the firms, it looks like Yes have made substantial progress from ICM's pre-referendum polls (with the exception of the rogue 54% Yes poll on the final weekend) once you take account of the new methodology.

However, the headline numbers as reported are obviously less good for Yes than we've seen in any other poll since September.  That difference may be caused by ICM's methodology, or by random sampling variation, or simply by the political composition of ICM's panel being slightly different.  To put it in perspective, there have been nine independence polls since the referendum - four have shown a Yes lead, four have shown a No lead, and there has been one tie.  It simply isn't possible to know whether Yes or No are in the lead, although we do know that it's a very tight race.

*  *  *

I think I may have to scream - Alex Massie has tried it on with his barmy "jury trial" wheeze yet again.

"As it happens, I think the BBC did scrutinise the Yes campaign’s claims with greater vigour than it did those made by the No campaign. I’m neither sure that could have been avoided, nor that it was necessarily the wrong instinct. It was the Yes campaign – and the Scottish government – that were proposing a significant change to our way of life, after all...the burden of proof was on the Yes campaign and the jury – press and voters alike – were entitled to ask that the case for independence be made beyond a reasonable doubt. That, in other words, it be subject to a criminal, not civil, standard of proof."

Memo to Mr Massie - if you want to spout this kind of nonsense, please at least attempt to back it up by identifying the portion of electoral law which states that fair and balanced TV coverage is not required or even desirable in a referendum campaign "because it's kind of like a jury trial". You may be searching for some time. As for the remark about bias being "unavoidable", that reads a bit like someone saying : Yeah, OK, your pet poodle was shot. It wasn't a pleasant thing to watch, but hey, what could the gunman do? He just felt his finger squeezing the trigger, it must have been gravity or something. Bummer.

Massie also claims that Salmond implied in his new book that Henry McLeish had betrayed his country, which - not to put too fine a point on it - is a pretty bloody outrageous distortion. Because Salmond said that McLeish had been torn between loyalty to party and country, we're invited to believe that McLeish's eventual decision to side with his party must automatically mean that he's being branded a traitor to Scotland. I suspect Massie would struggle to make that tenuous logic stand up in a court of law (how ironic).

"Scottish politics is a faith-based business these days...How else to explain the fact that, according to a recent YouGov poll, 56 percent of SNP supporters think plummeting oil prices are neither good nor bad for Scotland?"

There's a pretty straightforward answer to that question if you're remotely interested in listening, Alex - some Yes voters simply aren't as obsessed with oil as the average right-wing unionist commentator, and won't have been interested in the question. Others will have spotted a mile off that they were being fed a leading question, and weren't prepared to play along with that little game.

"Of course Salmond was so convinced Yes were going to win that it comes as some surprise to discover that Scotland actually voted No. It certainly seems to shock him."

Perhaps it did, but that pales into insignificance when compared to the shock of the discovery that "undecided voter Alex Massie" - who took part in a high-profile BBC referendum debate on that specific basis - had in fact been a dyed-in-the-wool unionist all along. You could have knocked me down with a feather.

See Ya Later, Alligator

One of the great mysteries of modern life is how the self-styled hot-shot "risk assessor" Neil Edward Lovatt ever gets any actual work done for his employer Scottish Friendly, given that he seems to spend his entire waking existence on Twitter making the same five or six tedious points over and over and over again.  Yesterday afternoon, he was banging the rest of humanity over the head with the following claims -

1) The SNP will be powerless after the general election no matter how many seats they win, because they will have nowhere else to go but to vote for a Queen's Speech put forward by Miliband, even in the absence of concessions.  If they did anything else, they would be crucified in the subsequent general election.

2) Every vote for the SNP makes a Cameron government more likely.

Those two claims are, of course, utterly irreconcilable.  If we already know for a fact that the SNP will back a Queen's Speech put forward by Labour, there is no way that replacing any Scottish Labour MP with an SNP MP can possibly make a Tory government more likely, because either way you would still have an MP who will vote in favour of Miliband becoming PM.  Unless of course...

That's right.  Unless of course we never get to the point of having a vote on a Labour Queen's Speech, because Labour are so terrified of being seen to "work with the SNP" that they would abstain on a Tory Queen's Speech, and allow Cameron to remain in power.

Alex Salmond moved things on yesterday by making explicit what was already implicit - namely that the SNP would vote against a Tory Queen's Speech, regardless of whether the Tories are the largest or second largest party in the Commons.  Labour have signally failed to give the same commitment, and indeed the inescapable logic of their constant claims that "the largest party gets to form a government" is that they would let Cameron stay in power if the Tories were the largest single party.  Anything else just wouldn't be cricket, what?

Until Labour make an unequivocal pledge to vote down a Tory Queen's Speech regardless of circumstances, the conclusion is obvious - a vote for the SNP is definitely a vote against Tory rule, but a vote for Labour might not be.  Is it worth the risk?  Perhaps a "risk assessor" could tell us...