Friday, September 22, 2017

Land of the valiant, reciprocator of firm friendship

As you know, I'm out of the country at the moment (albeit not in Indonesia, as someone thought on the previous thread).  So I do hope you're duly appreciative of the fact that I forewent my siesta yesterday to write a new article for the TalkRadio website.  It's about the mystery of why BBC Scotland have been so quiet about the Catalan independence referendum - particularly strange when you recall how interested Catalan media were in our own referendum three years ago.  You can read the article HERE.

PhantomPower suggested that while I'm away, you might enjoy watching his latest film, featuring George Reid and Alan Bissett.  Hopefully it will appear by the magic of technology in the space below...



(I can't actually access TalkRadio or YouTube at the moment, so if there's any problem with the above links, please let me know.)

Last but not least, I was contacted a couple of days ago with the news that Scot Goes Pop is number 11 in a new Top 100 list of Scottish blogs.  I've no idea how the rankings were worked out, but you know me - I'll take any accolade that's going.  The full list can be viewed HERE, and there are lots of interesting non-political blogs on it that I wasn't previously aware of, covering topics like travel, fashion and food. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Crisis mounts for embattled Ruth Davidson as three more subsamples put the SNP in the lead

Just for the sake of completeness, here are the three most recent Scottish subsamples from Britain-wide polls -

ICM: SNP 34%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 21%, Greens 4%, UKIP 4%, Liberal Democrats 4%

YouGov: SNP 37%, Labour 29%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 4%

Opinium: SNP 35%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 24%, Greens 6%, UKIP 1%, Liberal Democrats 1%

In a sense these are in line with the full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, because they all show the SNP in the lead, and they all show the SNP well ahead of Labour, who until recently had looked like the main challenger.  There have now been twenty-three subsamples since the election, and fourteen have put the SNP ahead.  Seven have shown a Labour lead, and only two have shown a Tory lead.

If we buy into the theory that there was a Labour surge during the summer which has since subsided, there's one huge mystery that has yet to be solved.  How do we explain the significant swing from SNP to Labour in the very recent Cardonald and Fortissat by-elections, which took place at roughly the same time as the Panelbase poll was in the field?  Perhaps there were local factors at play, and perhaps it's just coincidence that more or less the same thing happened in two different places at once...but we should probably keep an open mind until we have more information.

Note : I'm out of the country for a couple of weeks with intermittent internet access, so blogging may be light.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sensational poll suggests SNP would make sweeping GAINS in an early Westminster election

Rarely have I been so delighted to be proved wrong.  I had suspected that last week's Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times contained a Westminster voting intention question that was being withheld until this week for the purposes of a "blow for Sturgeon" headline, ie. because the results were markedly worse for the SNP than the Holyrood numbers.  Well, I was correct about there being withheld results, but not about them being bad for the SNP - in fact they're so wonderful for the SNP that the Sunday Times have seemingly given them only the most cursory of mentions.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Panelbase) :

SNP 41% (+4)
Conservatives 27% (-2)
Labour 24% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
Greens 2% (+2)

This is the first full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions from Panelbase or any other firm since the general election, so the percentage changes listed above are from the actual election result, rather than from a previous poll.  I know some people will look at the numbers and think "this looks very similar to the pre-election polls that overestimated the SNP by a few points, so the SNP are probably being overestimated again", but of course this poll has been weighted by recalled 2017 election vote, which should have resolved any skew.

If the poll is right, it genuinely looks as if quite a few voters who switched to the Tories or Labour in June have since come home to the SNP.  One of the things that made the election in Scotland so unusual was the large number of seats that were won by knife-edge margins - some of them broke for the SNP (including, remarkably, all four that were decided by fewer than 100 votes), but plenty of others didn't.  Labour's six gains are now marginal seats, and most of them are ultra-marginals.  Based on the Panelbase numbers, the SNP could expect to regain all of those six seats, with only the extreme oddity of Edinburgh South remaining firmly out of reach.  There would also be modest gains from the Tories (Stirling would fall on the tiniest of swings).

In other words, the doom and gloom of the summer is now over.  The SNP can stop fearing an early election, and can perhaps even start thinking of it as a golden opportunity to gain seats - although admittedly none of us need any reminding of how suddenly the political weather can change these days.  One thing is for sure - if these numbers are spotted in the corridors of power in London, it'll put an end to the Tories' silly notion that they can expect the SNP to abstain on a no confidence vote.

Does all of this mean that the picture painted by Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls since June (basically that the SNP only had a very narrow lead, and that Labour had surged into a strong second place) was totally meaningless?  As this poll has taken me by complete surprise, I suppose I should have the humility to say "possibly", but the flip-side of the coin is "not necessarily".  We only have one full-scale Westminster poll to go on at the moment, and it may yet turn out that a 14-point lead for the SNP is 'on the high side'.  I wonder if question sequence may have played a part - if Panelbase asked about independence and Scottish Parliament voting intentions first, respondents may have been more likely to stick with the SNP when subsequently asked about Westminster.  But there may also be a way of reconciling this poll with the subsamples.  YouGov are the only firm who seemingly weight their Scottish subsamples separately - and they suggested in their first few post-election subsamples that there was a tight race between SNP and Labour.  More recently, they've shown the SNP with a bigger lead.  That could be an illusion caused by the enormous margin of error, but it's just possible there was a Corbyn surge for Labour in the summer that has since subsided as memories of the election have grown more distant.  There's no getting away from it, though - to see Labour in third place, and a whopping 17 points behind the SNP, is undoubtedly a big shock.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Massive boost for Sturgeon as Survation confirm SNP have staggeringly sizeable Scottish Parliament lead

Hot on the heels of Panelbase's first Scottish Parliament poll in an eternity comes the same from Survation.  The findings of the two polls are strikingly similar on the constituency ballot (which is all we got from Panelbase).

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (Survation) :

Constituency ballot -

SNP 42%
Conservatives 26%
Labour 25%
Liberal Democrats 7%

Regional list ballot -

SNP 31%
Labour 25%
Conservatives 21%
Liberal Democrats 10%
Greens 9%
UKIP 3%

Crucially, the SNP's more modest lead on the list isn't caused by any sort of Corbyn surge or Tory breakthrough, but rather by the more long-standing problem of SNP constituency voters drifting off in large numbers to the Greens on the list.  That means, according to the most ubiquitous seat projection models, that the pro-independence parties in combination would be just two or three seats away from retaining their majority.  In other words, despite all the sound and fury of recent months, we're in almost as good a position as we were when Nicola Sturgeon won the May 2016 Holyrood election with a pro-independence majority of 69-60 - and there's no election due for another four years anyway.

Even better news is to be found on the independence question.  Against all the odds, and in defiance of all expectations, there has been a sharp swing back to Yes, with the pro-independence vote now once again exceeding the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46% (+3)
No 54% (-3)

Of course an apparent 3% swing could be an illusion caused by margin of error, but it would still be good news even if that is the case - because it would suggest the 43% Yes vote in the last Survation poll was more likely to be an underestimate than an overestimate.

Survation also asked respondents when they thought the next independence referendum should be.  As with the equivalent question in the Panelbase poll, the various options were worded a bit ambiguously, which makes it harder to get much sense out of the results.  However, a combined total of 34% want a referendum either before Britain leaves the EU or at around the time Britain leaves the EU, which presumably means in the very, very near future.  That figure is basically identical to the 37% who "never" want to see another referendum.  In between the two extremes are a moderate group of around 20% who either want a referendum "a few years after Britain leaves the EU" or "after the 2021 election".  Those two options sound very similar to me, although I suppose theoretically you could argue that "after the 2021 election" could mean any time between 2021 and infinity.  From a common sense point of view, I think it would be fair to say this poll seems to be pointing towards a majority in favour of holding a second indyref in the short or medium term.

In another sign of how dramatically some social attitudes in Scotland have changed over a short period of time, the poll finds respondents are not far away from being evenly split over whether parents should be banned from smacking children.  36% support a ban, with 42% opposed.  That sort of finding would have been unthinkable a few years ago (ie. there would have been overwhelming opposition to a ban).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Scale of Davidson flop becomes clear as "extraordinary" Panelbase poll reveals that 42% of public want an independence referendum within LESS THAN TWO YEARS

Panelbase have released the datasets for the full-scale Scottish poll that was published (and so comically misrepresented) in yesterday's Sunday Times.  Here are a few points that leap out -

1) As expected, Panelbase have introduced weighting by recalled 2017 general election vote.  In one sense that's very good news, because it means that there's much less reason to be sceptical about the SNP's double-digit lead over both the Tories and Labour.  If, for example, there had been weighting by 2016 recalled Holyrood vote but not by 2017 vote, there would be a danger that respondents might have got the two elections mixed up, which in all likelihood would lead to the SNP's vote being wrongly adjusted upwards (the exact reverse of the effect that was seen when YouGov used to weight by 2010 vote, rather than 2011).  Instead, the SNP have actually been significantly weighted down on recalled vote, with the 385 respondents who said they voted SNP in June being reduced to 346.

The downside is that 2017 weighting was also applied to the independence question.  We know from YouGov polling that the reduction in the SNP vote in June can be partly explained by people staying at home, rather than defecting to another party.  And yet it's not unreasonable to assume that a lot of those people might well turn out to vote in a second indyref, and would be more likely to vote Yes than No.  The problem with Panelbase's new approach is that to some extent it treats those missing voters as if they don't exist - which could, theoretically, lead to the Yes vote being underestimated.  It certainly means that the new poll is not directly comparable with Panelbase's previous independence poll, which was conducted just before the general election.  That factor alone might explain the small (and statistically insignificant) drop in the Yes vote from 44% to 43%.

2) The only possible reason I can think of for still being a little cautious about the SNP's handsome lead is that the independence question was asked before the Holyrood voting intention question.  It's arguable that this might put pro-independence voters in a frame of mind where they'd be more likely to favour the SNP rather than Labour.  That's pure speculation on my part, but I don't think the possibility can be totally ruled out.

3) There's a preamble to the independence question: "If the referendum was held again tomorrow, how would you vote in response to the question..."  There's no way of knowing whether that makes any difference to the result, but I think the wording is unwise, because it invites people to think about how they would vote in a re-run of a referendum they have already voted in - perhaps nudging them back towards their original choice, rather than inviting them to think of the next referendum as a completely fresh vote taking place in a different context (ie. Brexit).

4) Judging from the numbering in the datasets, there are clearly some results from the poll that haven't seen the light of day yet.  In the past, the Sunday Times have sometimes held results back for a week so they can get two weeks' worth of headlines out of the same poll.  If a Westminster voting intention question was asked, and if the results were less favourable for the SNP than the Holyrood constituency numbers (as they probably would be), I'm wondering if they're being held back for a good old "blow for Sturgeon" effort next week.  It does, however, look like there was no question about Holyrood regional list voting intention, because there's no obvious reason why that would have been withheld.  The omission makes it impossible to use the poll to project seat totals in the Scottish Parliament.

5) Although the wording is a bit slippery, there's a finding that seems to imply that 49% of respondents think that Scotland will be independent within less than 20 years, compared to 42% who do not.  And only 32% think that Scotland is not likely to become independent "at any point in the next few decades".

6) An astonishing total of 42.3% of respondents want the next independence referendum to take place within less than two years.  Admittedly that's down on the roughly 50/50 split we've seen on that question in previous Panelbase polls, but nevertheless it's an absolutely stunning slap in the face for the commentators who have spent the last three months trying to convince themselves that the SNP's decisive victory in June somehow rendered the issue of independence "dead".

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Enormous lead for the SNP in first post-June Scottish poll

"The findings are likely to dismay Nicola Sturgeon" says Jason Allardyce of the Sunday Times about a new poll which he must know perfectly well is going to absolutely thrill Nicola Sturgeon, because it shows the SNP have shrugged off the hammering they've been taking in the media since June, and have retained an enormous lead in Scottish Parliament voting intentions.

Holyrood constituency voting intentions (Panelbase) :

SNP 42%
Conservatives 28%
Labour 22%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 2%

No percentage changes are listed because it appears that this is the first Scottish Parliament poll that Panelbase have conducted since the Holyrood election almost eighteen months ago.  They've done Scottish voting intention polls since then, but for obvious reasons the voting intentions being measured were for Westminster or local council elections.  And that brings me to the most important health warning about these numbers.  I rarely disagree with Stuart Campbell of Wings, but he's attempting to use this poll as evidence to support his belief that the pattern shown by the Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls (basically a tight three-way contest, with the SNP and Labour battling it out for first place) is completely meaningless.  Much more likely, I'm afraid, is that the reason for the disparity is that those subsamples relate to Westminster voting intention only.  

Nobody disputes that an individual subsample should be regarded as unreliable, but an aggregate of a large number of subsamples is likely to produce figures that are at least within the correct ball-park.  What they've shown is in line with what seems intuitively likely, and indeed what was apparently borne out by the local by-elections on Thursday - ie. that Labour have built upon their mini-recovery at the general election.  It's not clear whether Panelbase even asked for Westminster voting intentions in the new poll (there's no sign of Westminster numbers on Twitter, and I don't pay the Murdoch levy so I haven't been able to read the Sunday Times article in full), but my strong suspicion is that a full-scale Scottish Westminster poll would show the SNP significantly lower than the Holyrood numbers suggest, and Labour significantly higher.  To believe anything else, you would have to believe that there has been a large swing from Labour to SNP since June, which flies in the face of all logic given what happened on Thursday.  

I suspect that the traditional gap between Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions, which has existed for the vast majority of the eighteen years since devolution, has reasserted itself.  If so, the explanation is the usual one - there is a significant minority of voters out there who like both Labour and the SNP, but think Labour is the more natural choice for Westminster and that the SNP is the most natural choice for Holyrood.

In many ways that's not bad news.  The question of whether a second independence referendum is held will ultimately be decided by Holyrood arithmetic, after all.  This is just one poll, but if other firms corroborate Panelbase's findings, it means that the SNP have only lost around 4% or 5% of support since their decisive victory in May 2016.  If another Holyrood election was held now, it looks highly likely that the SNP would be effectively re-elected as a minority government - probably without a pro-independence majority in parliament, but they're not a million miles away from holding on to even that.  With no election due until May 2021, the unionist parties can scarcely look at this poll and think "all we have to do is hold out until the next election, and then the parliamentary majority for an indyref will automatically disappear and we can all get back to normal".

And as far as the prospects for actually dislodging the SNP from government are concerned, this poll is an absolute hammerblow for the unionists.  The Tories seem to have a natural ceiling of around 30% support, so realistically if any party is going to defeat the SNP it'll have to be Labour - and yet even after a very favourable summer, Labour still seemingly find themselves twenty points behind the SNP, and in a dismal third place.  It appears that no matter how good things get for Labour in Westminster terms (or even perhaps in local government terms) there will always be gravity holding them back in Scottish Parliament elections.  Perhaps the only way to overcome that handicap would be to find a truly inspirational leader - but instead they're going to be stuck with either Anas Sarwar or mystery man Richard Leonard (and I suspect it may well be Sarwar, who is the worse of the two).

Panelbase also asked a voting intention question on independence -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 43% (-1)
No 57% (+1)

For my money, the SNP leadership will be very pleased (or at least monumentally relieved) about those figures.  Although we haven't had a post-election party political voting intention poll until today, there was an independence poll from Survation in mid-June which suggested a substantial drop in support for independence.  There appeared to be a danger that the momentum was running away from Yes, in which case there was a chance that things might have worsened significantly over the course of the summer.  Instead, the situation seems to have stabilised.  The percentage changes listed above are from the Panelbase poll conducted in the days leading up to the general election, so it appears that there hasn't been a statistically significant swing since then.  Yes remains firmly in the game.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Could the sort-of-rise of "BUSP" be a boon for the independence movement?

Much synthetic excitement in the unionist media today about the exploits of an "obscure unionist party" that narrowly beat the SNP into third place in the Fortissat by-election - a feat that looks considerably less impressive when you realise that the same party came within a whisker of taking a seat in the same ward at the local elections in May.  (It also looks like they've probably hoovered up the support lost by an independent candidate with past links to the Orange Order, who saw his vote share halved since May.)

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that the snappily-named "A Better Britain - Unionist Party" (aka "BUSP") is entirely confined to a Fortissat ghetto.  Largely unnoticed, they somehow took 1% of the list vote in Glasgow at the Holyrood election last year - more than the Women's Equality Party and the same as RISE.  If the Fortissat result emboldens them to put up more candidates in future, it's probably going to be beneficial from a pro-independence point of view - they would split the unionist vote in a Westminster first-past-the-post election, making it slightly easier for the SNP to hold off challenges from Labour and the Tories, and as long as they stay below roughly 5% of the vote in any of the Holyrood regions they choose to stand in, they'll harm the chances of Labour and the Tories taking list seats while not winning any of their own.

An endorsement of sorts for the new party has come from the predictable direction of Stephen Daisley, who described them as a "centrist", "Labourish" unionist party.  Well, let's see - they're standing former Tory candidates, they want to abolish the Scottish Parliament, and are in favour of the hardest of hard Brexits (and not just to "respect the will of the people" either).  I dare say that must look like the epitome of moderation to the Daily Mail's favourite "centre-right socialist".

*  *  *

Today has seen more of the so-called "metrosplaining" that Stormfront Lite is so renowned for -

"The Lib Dems are the one party fully united on what should come next on Brexit and who can be relied upon, more or less, to vote as a bloc. But there are only 12 of them."

And there are 35 SNP MPs, which is a rather bigger number.  On what planet is the SNP not fully united on what should come next on Brexit (ie. remaining in the single market and retaining freedom of movement)?  On what planet will they not be voting as a bloc?  No answer to either of those questions is forthcoming, although the SNP do get a cursory mention later on in the piece -

"Not everyone is all that bothered about Brexit. Some parties, notably the SNP, see it as just another tool for pursuing an entirely different agenda."

Just how ignorant would you have to be of the modern SNP to think that, because their number one objective is independence, they can't really be "that bothered" about Brexit?  It's like saying that the Tory obsession with Europe is all an affectation because their first love is the free market economy.  In reality, the European project has aroused extremely strong passions in the SNP since the 1970s - initial hostility gave way to strong support, albeit the constant along the way has been opposition to the Common Fisheries Policy in its present form.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Blow for the Tories in Fortissat and Cardonald by-elections

As I suspected might happen, Labour have won both of today's local by-elections - although as is often the case with STV by-elections, the results require a fair bit of interpretation, and classifications like "Labour hold" or "Labour gain" are not really adequate.

Cardonald by-election result :

Labour 48.6% (+10.1)
SNP 36.7% (-7.5)
Conservatives 10.3% (-1.7)
Greens 2.7% (+0.2)
Liberal Democrats 1.5% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.2% (n/a)

This is technically a "Labour hold", but it's arguably the worse of the two results for the SNP because they won the popular vote in the ward in May, and have since suffered a swing of 8.8% - enough to put Labour ahead if repeated nationwide.

Fortissat by-election result :

Labour 38.5% (+2.0)
A Better Britain - Unionist 23.3% (+12.2)
SNP 20.6% (-8.4)
Conservatives 11.5% (-1.8)
Independent - Cefferty 5.0% (-5.1)
Greens 0.7% (n/a)
UKIP 0.5% (n/a)

This is officially a "Labour gain from the Conservatives", even though Labour comfortably won the popular vote in May with the SNP in second place. The drop in the SNP's vote is slightly steeper than in Cardonald, but probably more important is the fact that the swing to Labour is more modest at only 5.2%, which would actually leave the SNP narrowly ahead if repeated across the country.

The average swing in the two by-elections is roughly 7%, implying an extremely tight race between SNP and Labour nationally - which has been very much the message of recent polling subsamples. Juteman told us the other day that a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase appeared to be in the field, which if true would be the first poll of its type from any firm since the general election. If I was a betting man, I would guess that it will show a very small SNP lead, but on tonight's figures it's obviously impossible to rule out a small Labour lead. I'd be very, very surprised if Labour have powered miles ahead, though - there's no evidence at all to support that notion.

Even though the Labour gain from Tory in Fortissat is a bit of a technicality, it's reasonable to say that both results are mildly disappointing for the Tories - their vote is down in both wards in spite of Tory voters being traditionally more likely to make it to the polling stations in low turnout local by-elections. It could be a sign that Peak Tory was reached in May and June, and that there's been some modest slippage since then.

I haven't been able to find details of lower preference transfers in Fortissat yet, but what happened in Cardonald was pretty incredible (if not surprising) - 253 Tory voters transferred to Labour, and only 35 to the SNP.  It really does appear that Tory voters hate the idea of their own country governing itself to such an extent that they'd rather vote for a party led by the far-left.  Who in the 1970s or 80s would ever have thought we'd reach this point?

Oddly, although the Scottish Libertarians are a pro-independence party, not a single one of their twelve voters transferred to the SNP.  Four went to the Greens, two to the Tories, two to the Lib Dems, one to Labour, and three votes were non-transferable.

Two key by-elections today

You may not be aware of this, but today (Thursday) marks the biggest electoral test in Scotland since the general election on June 8th, with two crucial local government by-elections taking place in the west of the central belt.  The Fortissat by-election in North Lanarkshire could almost have been devised as an illustration of just how barmy the world of STV by-elections is - the Tories are defending a seat in a ward where Labour won the popular vote, and yet if the SNP don't gain the seat, they will lose their hard-won position as the outright largest party on the council.  Doesn't sound entirely fair, does it?!  Meanwhile, in the Cardonald by-election, Labour are defending a seat in a ward where the SNP narrowly won the popular vote, meaning on the face of it that the SNP have a golden opportunity to increase their representation on Glasgow City Council from 39 seats to 40, edging them closer to the 43 required for an absolute majority.

The only other real-life election we've seen in Scotland since June 8th was the Elgin City North by-election in mid-July, which resulted in a moral triumph for the SNP - they didn't quite win the seat, but there was a negligible swing from SNP to Tory, implying (if that ward is typical) that things hadn't got any worse for the SNP since the general election in places where the Tories are their main opponents.  But the limited polling evidence of late has suggested that the main problem for the SNP is no longer the Tories, but Labour.  So today's two contests in SNP-Labour battleground areas may tell us quite a bit.  Given that Labour won the popular vote in Fortissat in May, I'd suggest they're quite strong favourites to gain that seat because there appears to have been a nationwide swing towards them over the intervening months.  It's a different story in Cardonald where the SNP start with a bit of a cushion, but even there Labour probably ought to be regarded as slight favourites.  If you want to do something about that, here is a public service announcement I spotted on Twitter -


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Deny a shared language, deny a shared history, deny a shared culture…deny who you are

A guest post by Edward Freeman

I feel I must chime in on the subject of Scots language deniers, who are, I think, usually in that group of people we can call “proud Scots but”. I am a trained United Nations translator, with degrees in languages, linguistics and whatnot (especially whatnot). I am now retired, but I routinely translated into English from Russian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and I can cope with Dutch and German (having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria). There are various others in the Romance and Slavic groups that I can cope with too. Shove in Latin and ancient Greek as well - I had a peculiar education. It is certainly true that the more languages you learn, the easier it gets. It is also true that language is the thing that distinguishes humans from other animals, and is probably our supreme intellectual achievement as a species.

I also spent years in Kenya, where English and Swahili are the official languages, though English is preferred for official business and Swahili is more widely used for interethnic communication, except with us wazungu. There are 47 tribes in Kenya, a few of them very small - and not counting the wazungu - and basically they all have their own languages, though languages shared between different tribes bring the total down to about 42. (I'm keeping this as simple as I can.)

Swahili has many native speakers, though not as many as in neighbouring Tanzania, where it is - or rather, was - the sole official language. In origin, Swahili is a creole between a Bantu substrate and the Arabic used by the Arab traders and slavers who travelled up and down the African east coast in sync with the monsoon winds. Its pre-eminence as a trading language allowed it to penetrate far into the interior, as far as modern-day Rwanda and even the eastern DRC.

It is probably worth pointing out that the Europeans did not exactly “discover” Africa; the locals knew it was there all the time, and other outsiders frequently “discovered” it before Europeans ever did.

English, obviously, is a much later linguistic add-on, but it is actively kept up because it is so useful, internationally, and for the formal (as opposed to the traditional) legal system, because it is based on English common law. English is also used in education and general official business, of course.

There is a distinctive form of Kenyan / East African English - which I really enjoy, frankly - an example would be "the cahs clashed buttock to buttock" = the cars reversed into each each other at speed. It remains English, though, as English as American and Indian and Downton Abbey English. And, of course, Scottish English.

Most of the tribal, home-grown languages are Bantu-based, including Swahili, which has many native speakers - down on the Coast in particular - whereas the others are Nilotic, except, of course, English. The Bantu-based ones maintain varying degrees of intercomprehensibility - Kikamba and Kikuyu are pretty close, for example, and contiguous geographically, and as people in those tribes / groups live in such close proximity to each other (not to mention intermarriage), there's a high degree of interoperability, if you can call it that. If I do mention intermarriage, it will be to say only that exogamy is very widespread, and the UK's Royals should probably have done a bit more of it.

There is a great deal of harmless amusement derived from people's varying accents in Swahili and so on, depending on their own native languages, and the funny ways they speak the closely related Bantu languages. Kisii and Embu come to mind in that respect (Embu has front rounded vowels, like French (3) – or Glaswegian (1) – unless I’m confusing Embu with Meru).

If you want to get a better idea of the complexity involved in all this, have a look at this short article in Wikipedia. If you look at the table on the right of that page, you will see the language “Gikuyu”. This is Kikuyu, and the reason for the G is because the language is currently undergoing an active process of dissimilation. I know about this because I gave one of my colleagues at the UN in Nairobi, a native speaker of Luganda (Buganda), the majority (Bantu) language of Uganda, some assistance with her linguistics MA dissertation – she ran her English-language examples by me, and explained what she was up to with the rest of her dissertation in return.

The Nilotic group of languages are a different kettle of fish entirely. Completely different, and rather difficult to get one's head around, for me, anyway. I am most familiar with Maa, as spoken by the Maasai, though one of my foster sons is Luo.

The Nilotic group and the Bantu group are in different categories of language entirely, like Arabic and English. English - Kiingereza in Swahili - is in a completely different language group from either. Swahili is a creole of Bantu and Arabic, as I said, and the Bantu languages and Arabic again are in two completely different language groups. English and Russian, in contrast, are in the same, Indo-European group, as are Greek, Hindi, and Farsi (Persian/Iranian). That’s right, I said “in the same” language group. As is Gaelic.

So, my "houseboy" Ntosho (Alex) Ole Kisaika, a Maasai (as is obvious from his name), grew up speaking Maa and Swahili and English, all three of them refined at school – primary school only - picked up more Kikuyu when he came to live in Nairobi, and could communicate with my Kamba guy Augustine in English, Swahili and Kikuyu. Meanwhile, Augustine was cheerfully picking up more Kikuyu himself, and some Maa from Alex and my Maasai foster son Lekishon.

It is far more common, worldwide, to be at least bilingual than it is to be a monoglot. Of course, it is far easier when you grow up with it. Many Scots are at least to some degree bilingual between Scottish English and Scots, but because it comes naturally to them, they don't even realize it. Bilingualism is very good for the brain - all the studies show it. Multilingualism is even better, in my view. Monoglots, alas, even the ones who only think they are monoglots, are the only ones who do not recognize this, because they simply do not know from experience, or do not realize that they do. Doubting Thomases! Take my word for it, you monoglots, or call me a liar!

Nairobi urban dialect is known as Sheng, a composite of Swahili and English favoured by smart young things who want, like all young people, to bamboozle their fuddy-duddy old parents. Of course, all my guys could use that as well. Example: "sasa" in Swahili means "now". Spoken with extended first vowel, short second, and rising intonation, accompanied by quickly raising the chin, in Sheng it is a greeting which I gloss as "Wassup?" Sheng is not a creole, or a pidgin; I don't think it ever can be, actually, not least because in order to use it you have to be heading towards bilingualism already, so you don’t actually need to put together a new language to communicate.

Note to readers - this is from Wikipedia: "Creoles also differ from pidgins in that, while a pidgin has a highly simplified linguistic structure that develops as a means of establishing communication between two or more disparate language groups, a creole language is more complex, used for day-to-day purposes in a community, and acquired by children as a native language. Creole languages, therefore, have a fully developed vocabulary and system of grammar."

The exception to the rule of multilingualism in Kenya is - you guessed it - the native English speakers among the white tribe. One of the reasons I got to be so well liked among the non-wazungu was because at least I tried! So, monoglots, next time you hear someone furren not getting their English quite right, do please think before you sneer?

My guy Alex never spoke English with a native speaker until he was well into his 20s, Augustine a bit earlier. Both are very smart cookies. I am proud that we can call each other friends. Rafiki.

Remember: Maa, Swahili, English - are in three different, unrelated language groups entirely, with Swahili partially composed of a fourth - like English, Chinese, and Arabic, with a bit of an admixture of Algonquian into one of them. My guys spoke all three of those, and learned them without the aid of bilingual dictionaries, because such things are rare, not very good at all, or far too expensive for poor Kenyans living in rural areas. Or they simply do not exist, because no one has ever compiled them. Pretty amazing, eh, to learn another language when the only book you have in common is the Bible, originally translated more and less badly or well by non-native-speaking European missionaries?

And yes - Scots IS a separate but closely related language to English. I just wish I were more fluent in it.