Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Alex Salmond's love of Blighty, and why nobody would notice if Ed Miliband was replaced by a bacon sandwich

You might be interested to know that the International Business Times have done an interview with Alex Salmond.  It sounds like they're going to run more than one piece about it, but you can read the first one HERE.

UPDATE : And more of the interview can be read HERE.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The media again claim that a deal has been "ruled out" when no such thing has happened

On this occasion, the mainstream media do at least have an alibi for their grossly misleading claim that Ed Balls has "categorically ruled out" a post-election deal with the SNP, because it's true that he did reply to a question (asking if Labour would consider such a deal) with the word "no". The snag is that he then want on to clarify what that reply meant, and it was not in fact the conventional meaning of the word "no", but instead the little-known alternative meaning "Labour would like to win a majority". It's rather like asking me if I would consider staying in my current place of abode, and getting the answer "No, I'm hoping to win the lottery."

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Absolutely nothing should be read into the drop in the SNP lead in this update of the Poll of Polls - it's just a quirk caused by the previous update having taken account of two full-scale Scottish polls, including the famous Ipsos-Mori poll.  Those two polls have now dropped out, leaving a sample entirely comprised of Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls (four from YouGov, two from Populus, one from Ashcroft, one from Survation and one from ComRes).  That works against the SNP because YouGov and Populus typically downweight the party sharply in their GB-wide polls, thanks to the use of Westminster-centric party ID weightings.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 41.3% (-5.8)
Labour 28.2% (+2.6)
Conservatives 16.9% (+2.6)
Liberal Democrats 4.9% (-0.6)
UKIP 4.6% (+2.1)
Greens 3.8% (+0.1)

(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.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sizzling Syriza surge to historic Hellenic haul

I think the last time I mentioned Syriza on this blog was during the Greek election three years ago, when I felt moved to point out that, contrary to the claim of one particularly excitable journalist, the said election was not the most important in the whole of human history.  Given that a German election in the 1930s brought Hitler to power and led to the deaths of sixty million people, there's some pretty tough competition on that front.

I don't think today's election was the most important in human history either, but it certainly has the potential to be a crucial turning point in the history of Europe.  At some point after the end of the Cold War, democracy essentially withered - you could have any government you liked, as long as it was neoliberal-flavoured (or as long as it "lived in the real world", as Tony Blair liked to put it).  At long last, big ideas and real electoral choices are back on the menu - and Scotland has played as much of a part in bringing that about as Greece.

I've been pondering whether Syriza's triumph could be of any help to the Scottish independence movement, and I think there's one sense in which it might.  If there's a snowball effect leading to a Podemos victory in Spain later this year, that could clear the path for an official Catalan independence referendum.  And the fates of Catalonia and Scotland do seem to have become entwined somehow.

The cost of spurning an electoral pact?

I was asked today whether it would be possible, even very speculatively, to estimate what the electoral cost to the SNP might be of deciding not to pursue a full-blown Home Rule Alliance with the Greens, SSP and other non-party groups.  I don't think it is possible, because those of us who supported an alliance weren't hoping to merely "tack on" the small Green vote to the SNP tally, in order to get us over the line in a few constituencies.  That was part of the idea, to be sure, but it wasn't the primary motivation.  (A bigger red herring was the claim that an alliance could only be of any value if it could be demonstrated that there is at least one constituency which the Greens or SSP are better-placed to win than the SNP.  There is of course no such constituency, but that simply isn't the point.)

The real hope was that an alliance would be greater than the sum of its parts, as the SDP-Liberal Alliance was in the 1980s, and indeed as the Yes movement was last year.  We thought it might help to attract traditional Labour voters who still nurse hang-ups about the SNP, and perhaps also some of the semi-mythical "missing million" who wouldn't otherwise turn out to vote.  By definition, the extent to which any of that would have happened will always remain unquantifiable.

In any case, the debate over a potential alliance mostly took place before the SNP surge in the polls became fully established.  It's possible that we overestimated the hang-ups that Labour people have (and Nicola Sturgeon's leadership may be helping on that score as well).  It's also conceivable that the SNP's "brand identity" is so strong that the party is actually faring better on its own than a new political force with an unfamiliar name would have done.

Basically, we'll never know for sure.

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Today's Scottish subsample from YouGov shows an SNP lead of 43% to 25%.  Friday's result was very similar.  So the little flurry of narrower gaps that we saw a few days ago does look like a blip.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Devo Watershipped Down

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about the epic inadequacy of yesterday's devolution command paper.  And you might possibly find the odd reference to the Kirkcaldy East by-election, and a certain Ipsos-Mori opinion poll, thrown in for good measure.  You can read it HERE.

The BBC website misleads readers on the Ofcom "major party" proposals for a second time

Iain Watson, writing on the BBC website about the revised proposals for leaders' debates -

"And it's possible that when negotiations with the parties begin on the new proposals both Labour and UKIP will say two potentially unwieldy debates with seven participants is over the top and wouldn't it be better to transform one of these into a clash between those which broadcasting regulator Ofcom regards as the "major" parties? That would restrict the platform to David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage..."

NO IT WOULDN'T. How many times does this London-centric misapprehension have to be corrected? Ofcom only proposed that UKIP be given major party status in England and Wales, in much the same way that they are only proposing to give the SNP major party status in Scotland. This is not a matter of interpretation - it's there in black and white. If these debates are to be regarded as GB-wide, there are three parties (Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats) that have major party status throughout the whole of Great Britain, and three other parties (the SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP) that have major party status in part of Great Britain. There is no conceivable sense in which Ofcom are proposing to give UKIP superior status to the SNP and Plaid.

If, on the other hand, these debates are supposed to be UK-wide as opposed to GB-wide, then there are literally no parties that have major party status throughout the whole country. There are eleven parties that have major party status in part of the country (and that doesn't include the Greens, weirdly enough).

SNP vote surges by 11% in Kirkcaldy East by-election

I gather that the editor of a political website called Electoral Gambling (or some such title) mused the other day that local council by-election results may cast some doubt on the extent of the SNP surge reported by the opinion polls.  He doesn't half pick his moments, does he?  Here is the result of yesterday's local by-election in the heart of Gordon Brown's constituency...

Kirkcaldy East by-election result (22nd January) :

SNP 47.3% (+10.9)
Labour 35.3% (-14.7)
Conservatives 7.2% (+1.2)
Greens 4.1% (+4.1)
UKIP 3.8% (+3.8)
Liberal Democrats 1.3% (-1.5)

Technically it was an SNP hold, even though Labour comfortably outpolled the SNP in the ward last time around - it's one of those paradoxes thrown up by the STV electoral system.

The swing from Labour to the SNP was just under 13% - measured from the baseline of the 2012 local elections, in which the SNP were already 1% ahead of Labour nationally. If we "just for a bit of fun" extrapolate the swing on a Scotland-wide basis, it would put the SNP ahead by a whopping 27% margin - which, as it happens, is uncannily similar to the 28% gap reported by this week's Ipsos-Mori poll.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The SNP genie is out of the bottle on the TV leaders' debates

It really is profoundly depressing to realise that the only reason the broadcasters were ever going to agree to do the decent thing over the leaders' debates was that they needed a tactic to try to cajole David Cameron into taking part. So much for that innate sense of "British fair play". But it doesn't really matter a damn how we got here - the point is that a Rubicon has now been crossed, because Scotland has heard the broadcasters accept the principle of SNP involvement in the main debates, which in practice will make any back-pedalling almost impossible.  (In any case, if there were to be any foolish attempt at a retreat, I would imagine the prospects for a successful SNP legal challenge have just been considerably enhanced.)  There are really now only two possibilities - a) Nicola Sturgeon will have some kind of place in the main debates, or b) there won't be debates at all.  Either is absolutely fine as far as I'm concerned, because the SNP won't be disadvantaged.  Basic fairness was all we ever wanted - nothing more.  Why the London establishment initially reacted to that modest request as if we were demanding golden elephants will always remain something of a mystery.

There is of course still a wrinkle attached, with the proposal being that only two of the three debates will be inclusive.  The other is supposed to be a Cameron v Miliband head-to-head.  That's thoroughly reprehensible, but it probably won't be too damaging.  The main battle in a Westminster election is simply to ensure that voters don't forget that the SNP exist and are one of the choices.  Inclusion in two of the debates should be sufficient to achieve that, and the 'Prime Ministerial' debate may simply reinforce in people's minds how much more inspiring political discourse becomes when the choice is widened.

If the debates do go ahead as proposed, the big losers will of course be Jim Murphy and Jim Murphy's Status.  It won't be Jackanory Jim who'll be seen to be Nicola Sturgeon's Labour opponent, but Ed Miliband.  And that's just as it should be.

SNP lead by 21.5% in latest Poll of Polls

It's becoming increasingly hard to blog about opinion polls when I'm on the move, because the datasets won't always load on my mobile phone (the YouGov website has become particularly hopeless since it was redesigned).  Hence the delay in posting a post-Ipsos-Mori Poll of Polls update, but here it is at last.  It's based on two full-scale Scottish polls (from Survation and Ipsos-Mori), plus eight Scottish subsamples - four from YouGov, one from ICM, one from Ashcroft, one from TNS-BMRB and one from Populus.  The full-scale Panelbase poll has now dropped out of the sample, which is part of the reason for the huge increase in the SNP's lead.

Being able to include a poll from TNS-BMRB makes this something of a red letter day, because their numbers are usually too far out of date, even on the day of publication!

No percentage change is listed for the Greens, because I wasn't able to include them in the last update.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 47.1% (+4.2)
Labour 25.6% (-2.4)
Conservatives 14.3% (-0.7)
Liberal Democrats 5.5% (+0.5)
Greens 3.7%
UKIP 2.5% (-2.9)

(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.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The point of no return? Earth-shaking TELEPHONE poll from Ipsos-Mori gives the SNP an astonishing 28% lead with just weeks to go

It's hard to believe, but Ipsos-Mori have almost exactly replicated the result of their full-scale poll of three months ago, which so many people assumed to be an extreme outlier.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Ipsos-Mori, 12th-19th January) :

SNP 52% (n/c)
Labour 24% (+1)
Conservatives 12% (+2)
Greens 4% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 4% (-2)
UKIP 1% (-1)

In spite of the fact that Ipsos-Mori are one of the UK's leading pollsters (arguably only ICM have a better pedigree), there's a tendency to assume that these numbers "cannot possibly be right", simply because they would produce such an unprecedented political earthquake if they were repeated in the general election.  People are therefore speculatively casting around for reasons why Ipsos-Mori "must" be wrong.  One theory doing the rounds is that their failure to weight by recalled referendum vote is the culprit.  Well, Ipsos-Mori don't weight by any sort of recalled vote - not Holyrood, not Westminster, not referendum.  So it cuts both ways, doesn't it?  Their referendum polls showing much bigger No leads than most other firms also had to be seen in that light, and yet their final poll showing Yes 47%, No 53% was pretty close to the mark.  Indeed, it may have been absolutely bang on the money, because we have some proof of a very late on-the-day swing back to No.  So there's no concrete evidence from recent Scottish polls that a failure to weight by recalled vote leads to inaccuracy.

A much, much sillier theory comes courtesy of (predictably enough) Mike Smithson, who seems to think the 'problem' is that Ipsos-Mori's call centre is based in Edinburgh, and that much of their fieldwork is therefore presumably carried out by people with Scottish accents.  I mean, where to begin?  It's NORMAL for telephone polling to be carried out by people with accents that are familiar to respondents.  It's when you diverge from that normal practice that there is cause for concern - for example, you wouldn't have had a French call centre conducting polls for the 2004 US presidential election, in case respondents were too embarrassed to tell a French interviewer that they were planning to vote for George Bush.  Scottish respondents are more likely to be honest about their voting intention when speaking to a Scottish caller, because it avoids any slight stigma that might otherwise be attached to an admission of voting SNP.  I cannot see the remotest basis for Smithson's belief that anti-independence respondents would be more honest with a non-Scottish interviewer - how does he square that with Ipsos-Mori being one of the most No-friendly firms during the referendum, for example?

This poll also takes a sledgehammer to Nick Sparrow's eccentric (and some would say downright cynical) insinuation that artificial momentum is being generated for the SNP as a result of misleading online polling.  Leaving aside a Survation poll that was conducted just after people voted on 18th/19th September, we've now had two telephone polls since the referendum, and both have shown much larger SNP leads than any online poll.