Monday, March 18, 2019

Is this an all-time low for Scottish Labour?

As we all know, an individual Scottish subsample from a GB-wide voting intention poll is rarely of much use, except as a straw in the wind when there's absolutely nothing else on offer.  But the latest subsample from YouGov is worth mentioning for the sheer comedy value alone.

SNP 38%, Conservatives 22%, Liberal Democrats 19%, Labour 11%, Greens 5%, UKIP 2%, Brexit Party 1%

I must admit that I don't keep track of all-time highs and lows in subsamples, but I find it hard to believe that Labour have ever been much lower than 11% in a YouGov subsample.  OK, we all know that they aren't really on 11% (and the Lib Dems certainly aren't really on 19%), but nevertheless YouGov's subsamples tend to be a little more reliable and less volatile than those from other firms, so it's reasonable to suppose that Scottish Labour must be doing pretty badly for this to even be possible.

What makes the timing strange is that there are signs that Labour may have steadied the ship at GB level - the newest Survation poll gives them a three point boost and has them back in the lead, while both Opinium and YouGov show a reduced Tory lead, albeit due to a falling Tory vote rather than a rising Labour vote.  In YouGov's case what seems to have happened is that the Tories have suddenly lost a significant slice of support to UKIP and Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party, probably due to the (dubious) perception that Brexit is now at risk after last week's Commons votes.  Meanwhile, memories of the Independent Group split are fading with no further defections having taken place for weeks - which is very good news for both Labour and the Lib Dems, who had both taken a hit in polls conducted in the immediate aftermath of the breakaway.

There are suggestions that Jeremy Corbyn may be contemplating another no confidence vote in the government if the Brexit deal is voted down for a third time.  The only way the government can conceivably lose a confidence vote at this stage is if a smattering of Tory MPs take the nuclear option and risk their own careers by voting with the opposition.  Presumably the Labour whips already know whether there is the remotest prospect of that happening, but even if there isn't, it may still be good tactics to table a no confidence motion because it will put the Independent Group (and possibly the Lib Dems) on the spot.  It's one thing for former Labour MPs to talk about propping up a Tory government by abstaining, but actually being seen to do it for real is another matter.  If the Independent Group start to be seen as the Tories' little helpers, it could well deter wavering Labour MPs from defecting.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Survation poll shows Yes vote holding up impressively

The eagle-eyed David Halliday pointed out to me earlier today that independence figures can be found in the datasets of the new Survation poll, which seems to have been a composite poll commissioned by three very different clients - the Daily Mail, the Scottish Green Party and the ever-hapless Scotland in Union.  It's impossible to know what the headline independence figures would be (or perhaps what they will be if they're ever published), because the numbers in the datasets are not weighted by likelihood to vote.  But for what it's worth, the figures weighted politically and by demographics - but not by likelihood to vote - appear to put Yes at 45.2% and No at 54.8%.  That's basically the same as the previous Survation poll way back in the autumn.

I know the 'delay' lobby within the SNP may look at those figures and say "ooooh, there's no big breakthrough, this means we have to wait for another 64,000 years and hope that something turns up".  But the reality is that if you're not even campaigning on independence, and if you're letting your opponents make all the running on the issue, then probably the best you can really expect is that your own vote will hold up.  And the Yes vote is holding up impressively.  If we want to kick on from there, we'll have to use the indyref mandate and actually get on with the campaign.

*  *  *

It's self-indulgent stats time, folks.  Based on recent trends this will probably be an accolade for one day only, but I may as well shout about it while it lasts.  As of this moment, and for the first time ever that I'm aware of, Traffic Estimate is showing that Scot Goes Pop has moved up to third place in the ranking of most-read Scottish alternative media sites over the last 30 days, slightly ahead of both CommonSpace and Bella Caledonia.

1) Craig Murray: 237,900 unique readers
2) Wings Over Scotland: 178,900 unique readers
3) Scot Goes Pop: 70,600 unique readers
4) Bella Caledonia: 70,200 unique readers
5) CommonSpace: 70,100 unique readers
6) Talking Up Scotland: 60,900 unique readers
7) Wee Ginger Dug: 59,900 unique readers
8) The Ferret: 37,900 unique readers

Thursday, March 14, 2019

With 334 MPs voting against, the 'People's Vote' option now looks dead

Although the headline moment tonight was the wafer-thin defeat of the Benn amendment, which may once again increase the chances of a No Deal outcome, I'd have thought equally significant is the exact numbers on Sarah Wollaston's amendment calling for a 'People's Vote' - 85 in favour, 334 against.  Obviously the scale of the defeat was due to Labour whipping an abstention, and the argument is that Labour will swing behind a referendum at a more propitious moment.  But the snag is that the 334 MPs who actively voted against the amendment today, plus the two tellers on the No side, represent 51.7% of the entire House of Commons.  In other words, there appears to be a natural majority against a referendum regardless of whether Labour abstain or not.

It may be that a few Tory supporters of a referendum felt that they had been given 'permission' by the People's Vote campaign to vote against the amendment, and will change their vote next time around.  But even if such MPs exist, they'll probably be offset by some Labour opponents of a referendum who felt able to follow the whip today, but who will vote against if they feel there is any danger of a referendum being approved.  On the basis of today's numbers, I just can't see any way a People's Vote will be called - and that in turn removes any lingering doubt over whether Brexit will actually happen.

If the European elections go ahead, the SNP's chances could be boosted by a split Kipper vote

Just as an interesting addendum to the previous post about the increasing possibility that the UK may take part in this May's European Parliament election after all, here is the result of the 2014 Euro-election in Scotland...

SNP 29.0%
Labour 25.9%
Conservatives 17.2%
UKIP 10.5%
Greens 8.1%
Liberal Democrats 7.1%

Scotland has six seats in the European Parliament, and there was never any real doubt about where five of them would go - the SNP and Labour were both bound to take at least two each, and the Tories at least one.  But the final seat was a dogfight, and several parties were able to make a plausible case for being in the running to win it.  You might remember that the Greens did their usual thing of telling SNP voters to switch "tactically" - supposedly to thwart UKIP.  But in fact if UKIP hadn't been there, the SNP would have claimed the elusive third seat that they had been trying and failing to win ever since proportional representation was first introduced in 1999.

Under the d'Hondt system, each seat is distributed individually, with the vote for each party being divided by the number of seats they have already won, plus one.  So using percentages rather than absolute numbers for convenience, here is how the calculation looked for the final seat in 2014 -

UKIP 10.5%
SNP 9.7%
Labour 8.6%
Conservatives 8.6%
Greens 8.1%
Liberal Democrats 7.1%

Why does this matter for any forthcoming election in May?  Because we know that the "Kipper" vote is likely to be split in a way that it wasn't five years ago.  Nigel Farage, David Coburn and others will stand for their new Brexit Party, and will take a lot of UKIP voters with them - but probably not all, simply because the UKIP brand is so well-established.  (Indeed, a lot of people may well vote UKIP on the false assumption that Farage is still a member or even the leader.)  I suspect the two parties may 'knock each other out', and divide the hardline Brexit vote in such a way that it's impossible for either to win a seat in Scotland.

The Lib Dems have been quietly doing quite well in recent Scottish polls, but they may suffer a similar fate if the Independent Group feel compelled to enter the fray.  At least in Britain-wide polls, the Lib Dem vote generally seems to be significantly lower if the Independent Group are offered as an option, presumably because the Lib Dem and TIG votes are drawn from the same centrist pool.

Effectively this means that the SNP's chances of winning a third seat this year may not be seriously threatened by either UKIP or the Lib Dems.  The likelihood is that the Tories will comfortably win two seats this time, which could leave the final seat as a straight fight between the SNP and Labour.  If, for example, Labour take 21% of the vote, the SNP would probably win the final seat with 32% or higher.  (It may seem obvious that the SNP should be doing a lot better than 32%, but voting patterns in European elections have traditionally been a little different.)

*  *  *

Undoubtedly the most amusing part of tonight's votes was when the commentator on BBC Parliament revealed that David Mundell had abstained on the main motion, and mused that this might lead to resignation.  Obviously nobody had bothered to tell this particular BBC employee about the only cast-iron law of modern politics - ie. that David Mundell never, ever resigns under any circumstances whatsoever.  Sure enough, it turned out that the traditional rules had been relaxed to allow ministers to defy a three-line whip without resigning or being sacked, as long as they 'only' abstained rather than voting with the opposition.  A government that has to go to such extreme lengths because it can't afford to lose David Mundell is in a very dark place indeed.

And I doubt it will prove to be a cost-free action - Brexiteer ministers will now expect (and demand) the same right to abstain on future important votes with impunity.  Collective cabinet responsibility as we know it has ceased to exist, which could make an early general election unavoidable.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tonight's votes mean that, one way or another, a moment of truth for the independence movement is arriving

On the narrowest of margins does history turn.  If the Spelman amendent had been defeated (and it would have taken just two MPs voting the other way for that to happen), the most likely outcome might well have been a No Deal Brexit, either on the scheduled date this month or after a very short last-ditch extension.  As it is, Theresa May has clearly shifted her ground and started to countenance the possibility of a longer extension.  She did it in her customary "nothing to do with me guv" sort of way, but the change is real - before tonight she was definitively ruling out an extension of more than a few weeks, while now she is accepting that it could be an unavoidable and unwelcome consequence of parliament's decisions.

Which seems to leave us with a binary choice between a) the Brexiteers being spooked by the threat of delay into voting for May's deal at the third time of asking, or b) an Article 50 extension of sufficient length that the UK would be forced into taking part in the European elections in two months' time.  (Admittedly the latter would cause such fury among Brexiteer MPs that the government might well be toppled.)  Either way, a moment of truth is coming for the independence movement - the passing of the deal would mean that the clarity Nicola Sturgeon has been awaiting would arrive imminently, at which point we could expect a decision about an independence referendum.  Or if the European elections are held in Scotland, the SNP would presumably use them to attempt to further reinforce their mandate for an indyref - with a good result being vitally important.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

65% of the Scottish public want a second independence referendum, says superlative Survation survey

For the second time in a few days I have to query the editorial priorities of the Herald in dealing with opinion polls - their take on the new Survation poll is "Nicola Sturgeon faces strong public opposition to Indyref 2", which is a tad odd, because the poll actually shows that 60% of respondents want a second independence referendum at some point, rising to 65% if Don't Knows are removed.  The only negative side of the poll for independence supporters is when respondents say the referendum should be held, with many saying it shouldn't be for at least five or ten years.  However, for my money that has a lot to do with the way the question is posed - it's a five-option question, which will lead strong supporters and opponents of a referendum to choose the option at either extreme, with everyone else likely to be drawn to an option somewhere in the middle to show their moderation.  And of course it was entirely at Survation's discretion to decide what "in the middle" would actually look like.  If you want a meaningful verdict on the referendum the SNP are proposing, you have to ask a more direct question - "do you support or oppose the SNP's call for an independence referendum once the terms of Brexit are known?"  We can only guess what the outcome would have been if Survation had posed that one.

On the voting intentions for Westminster and Holyrood, it's pretty much unalloyed good news for the SNP and the independence movement more generally.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster:

SNP 40% (+1)
Conservatives 24% (-2)
Labour 23% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (n/c)

Like the recent Panelbase poll, the above figures represent a swing to the SNP from both the Tories and Labour since the June 2017 election, but the swings are bigger, and the SNP's own vote share is up on 2017 as well.  In the unlikely event of a totally uniform national swing, this would see the SNP win 46 seats (up 11), the Tories just 8 (down 5), the Lib Dems 4 (no change) and Labour 1 (down 6).

In a perverse way, Labour might think their 23% vote share is not too bad, because it's within their normal range for recent Survation polls, albeit at the lower end of it.  Panelbase, by contrast, had put Labour on a post-June 2017 low, which appeared to reflect the impact of the Independent Group breakaway.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 43% (+5)
Conservatives 24% (-2)
Labour 22% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 9% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 32% (n/c)
Conservatives 22% (-1)
Labour 19% (-4)
Greens 11% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 11% (+2)

Remarkably, the Scotland Votes predictor suggests that the pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament would slightly increase on these numbers - the SNP and Greens between them would have 70 seats, rather than the 69 they won in 2016 when the mandate for a second independence referendum was secured.  That once again gives the lie to Robin McAlpine's claim from a few weeks ago that all recent polls have suggested the pro-indy majority would be lost. In all honesty, though, Survation's methodology is making it very difficult to work out what would really happen, because it's been blindingly obvious for ages that the question wording they use for the list vote ("your second vote") is confusing respondents and producing distorted results - the SNP's vote share is likely to be a few points too low and the Greens' vote share is likely to be a few points too high.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The SNP may now be close to assured of winning the next Westminster general election in Scotland

I know it's almost a waste of breath to complain when newspapers run misleading headlines about opinion polls, but it has to be said that the Herald's choice of "Poll blow for Yes movement" (in relation to the new Panelbase poll) is particularly eccentric when self-evidently the big story is the slump in the Labour vote.  At worst, the poll can be described as a curate's egg for independence supporters, because the Holyrood numbers are so-so, and the Westminster numbers are highly encouraging.  Yes, the SNP remain stuck on the 37% of the Westminster vote they received in 2017, but in a first-past-the-post election all that matters is the gap between the leading party and its opponents, and the SNP's lead over both the Tories and Labour has increased over the last two years.  Seat projections based on polls need to be taken with a heavy dose of salt, but for what it's worth this is what would happen on a uniform swing...

Westminster seats projection from Panelbase poll:

SNP: 41 seats (+6)
Conservatives: 12 seats (-1)
Liberal Democrats: 5 seats (+1)
Labour: 1 seat (-6)

On what planet is that a blow for the Yes movement?  If the SNP winning more than two-thirds of Scottish seats in the House of Commons is bad news, I can't wait to see what a good poll would look like.  Indeed, this may confirm that Scottish politics has quietly crossed a Rubicon over recent weeks.  If you remember, in the aftermath of the general election there was considerable concern that the momentum behind Labour could result in the SNP being replaced as the leading party in Scotland - and we knew that only Labour could ever achieve that, because there is still a natural ceiling on Tory support.  It now looks like the fallout from the Independent Group breakaway may have finally killed any lingering chance of Labour overtaking the SNP in the foreseeable future, and that an SNP victory at the next Westminster election is close to being assured - with the only real question mark being over the scale of the triumph.  There's always an outside chance of another twist in the tale, but at the moment it looks like 'success' for Labour would just mean holding what they have.

As far as Holyrood is concerned, SNP support is holding steady at a creditable 41% of the constituency vote.  It's true that there's been a two point drop in the SNP's list vote, but given that there's no change in the party's popularity on other ballots, that could well be just a random polling fluctuation that doesn't really signify anything.  The seats projection puts the combined pro-independence forces four seats short of an overall majority, but that's been the story of the majority of recent polls and isn't especially newsworthy in itself.  In any case, the last three Holyrood elections have all produced results that bore little resemblance to pre-campaign polls.  In 2007, the SNP started with a substantial lead that was whittled away to almost even-stevens by polling day, probably due to cold feet over putting a pro-indy party into power for the first time ever.  In 2011, a huge Labour lead evaporated at astonishing speed and the SNP ended up with an overall majority - probably largely due to the fact that nobody could imagine Iain Gray as First Minister, while Alex Salmond seemed made for the role.  And in 2016, wildly implausible pre-campaign numbers for the SNP (which led to irresponsible claims from some quarters that SNP supporters didn't need to vote for their own party on the list ballot) came back down to earth with seeming inexorability.

For my money, it's the leadership factor that could once again be the game-changer in the next Holyrood campaign.  Richard Leonard may well look totally out of his depth against Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson in the TV leaders' debates, which could lead to a further substantial squeeze in Labour support.  And it could be that all we'd need to maintain the pro-indy majority in the Scottish Parliament is for a reasonable percentage of Yes-supporting Labour voters to migrate to the SNP.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Panelbase poll leaves Leonard looking like a lost cause

Apologies for not being all over the latest Wings Over Scotland / Panelbase poll - I'm a bit under the weather today.  But I'll post the numbers and hopefully do some analysis later.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster:

SNP 37% (n/c)
Conservatives 27% (+1)
Labour 22% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Independent Group 2% (n/a)
Greens 2% (n/c)
UKIP 2% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot):

SNP 41% (n/c)
Conservatives 27% (+2)
Labour 19% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+2)
Greens 3% (n/c)
UKIP 2% (+1)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (regional list ballot):

SNP 36% (-2)
Conservatives 26% (n/c)
Labour 19% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+2)
Greens 6% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (+2)


I don't think we should be too concerned that the SNP appear to still be stuck on the 37% they achieved at the 2017 Westminster general election, because that's looking increasingly like a 'house effect' of Panelbase's methodology.  They've consistently shown the SNP at around 36-38%, while other firms have often put the number a bit higher.  Even on 37%, the SNP would be gaining seats, because there has been a 1% overall swing from Tory to SNP since the election, and a 2.5% swing from Labour to SNP.  22% is Labour's lowest Westminster share in any Panelbase poll since June 2017, and indeed in all but one poll from any firm.  The slump is likely to be largely caused by the fallout from the Independent Group breakaway, and of course has been mirrored in GB-wide polls.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Abandoning the SNP for a new pro-indy party would be a terrible idea - and here's why

Jason McCann ran a Twitter poll yesterday, asking whether a new pro-independence party should be set up if the SNP fail to use their mandate to hold an independence referendum.  Now, it's no secret that I think it would be a historic error to let the mandate expire in 2021, and that I'm deeply troubled that there seem to be a few senior people in the SNP who don't take their manifesto commitment to voters seriously.  But nevertheless, and regardless of what happens, setting up a rival party to the SNP would be a terrible idea.

First of all you'd have to be clear on what your objective is - are you trying to replace the SNP as the largest pro-independence party, or are you trying to pressure them from the outside into changing course?  If the former, it's a pipe-dream, and if the latter, it's a very, very dangerous game, because to have any chance of applying that external pressure you'd have to take significant numbers of votes away from the SNP, which could cost us the pro-independence majorities both at Holyrood and among the Scottish contingent at Westminster.

Take the example of Jimmy Goldsmith's Referendum Party, which by historic standards actually achieved relative success for a new party by securing 2.6% of the Britain-wide popular vote in its first (and only) general election in 1997.  But its aim was to either replace the Tories as the government for long enough to hold a referendum on the future terms of EU membership, or more realistically to pull the Tory government in a more Eurosceptic direction.  All it actually succeeded in doing was increasing the huge parliamentary majority of the newly-elected pro-European Labour government (indeed, if Tony Blair had got his way, that was a government that would eventually have taken the UK into the euro).

Imagine if a new pro-independence party succeeded in taking 2.6% of the vote away from the SNP at the next Westminster general election.  If everything else stayed the same from last time, the SNP would lose no fewer than TEN of their 35 seats.  That's the immense damage relatively small changes can do under the first-past-the-post system.  The SNP would win just 25 seats, the Tories would go up to 16, Labour would go up to 13, and the Liberal Democrats would go up to 5.  There would be a clear unionist majority among Scottish MPs, purely because a small number of voters had moved from one pro-independence party to another.  Similar damage would be done in the constituency section of the next Scottish Parliament election.

One or two people suggested last night that the new party could avoid this problem by sitting out Westminster elections and Scottish Parliament constituency votes altogether, and only standing on the Holyrood list.  I'm not sure it's realistic to think it would do that - more likely is that it would feel obliged to build its profile by standing in at least a few constituencies, as the Greens have done over the years.  That would mean less damage to the pro-independence cause, but still some damage.  (For example, it seems highly unlikely that Ruth Davidson would have won Edinburgh Central in 2016 if the Greens hadn't put up a candidate.)  But even in the unlikely event that the new party only stood on the list, nobody should be under any illusions that it wouldn't probably still be doing harm.  On 2.6% of the vote or lower, it wouldn't be coming close to winning any list seats, and those are wasted votes that would otherwise presumably be mostly going to pro-indy parties that do actually have a chance of winning list seats (ie. the SNP and the Greens).

I know some people have truly boundless optimism and will argue that a new party can defy historical precedent by winning a lot more than 2.6% of the vote, and will therefore be in contention for list seats.  But I would suggest that to have any chance of doing that, it will need to recruit some very well-known people from the Yes movement.  And if it succeeds in rivalling the SNP to that extent, it's very hard to imagine it being content to be a second-string party and to sit out the majority of electoral contests, which takes us back to the original problem of splitting the vote under first-past-the-post.

It's noted in some quarters that UKIP succeeded in doing what this new party would be trying to do - ie. by changing another party's stance on holding a referendum.  I'm not sure that's quite right - although in the long-run it turned out that UKIP was indeed a genuine threat to Conservative chances at the 2015 general election, it was far from clear that would be the case at the moment David Cameron actually embraced an in/out referendum on EU membership.  But even to the limited extent that UKIP did play a part, it shouldn't be forgotten just how perilously close they eventually came to defeating their own objective.  They won 12.6% of the national vote in 2015 - if they hadn't been around, and if the bulk of their votes had instead gone to the Tories, David Cameron would have won an overwhelming majority and a referendum wouldn't have been in any doubt.  As it was, he won a wafer-thin overall majority of just 12 seats.  If UKIP had deprived him of just a few more seats, a referendum would never have taken place, and Britain would not be currently leaving the European Union.  All because too many people voted for a hardline anti-European party.  Bonkers, but true.

It's also worth considering the varying fortunes of those who abandoned a major party when they were unhappy with the direction it was taking, and those who stayed put and fought their corner.  The MPs who broke away from Labour in 1981 to form the SDP had given up hope of pulling Labour back to the centre, and intended to replace the two traditional parties with a new centre-left party of government.  Instead they delivered an extra decade-and-a-half of hard-right rule from the Tories, and by the time that was over, Labour had grotesquely somehow ended up as a right-of-centre party as well.  Contrast that with the fate of the Corbynites, who appeared to be in a 'nuclear winter' situation during the Blair/Brown years (Tony Blair even openly joked about the idea of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader as if that was the most improbable thing he could think of).  And yet they didn't break away.  They stayed, argued for what they believed in, and eventually the pendulum swung back in their direction and they took control of the Labour party.  Corbyn even came pretty close to the keys of 10 Downing Street in 2017.

I know that some of you are not just unhappy with the SNP for its excessive caution on a second independence referendum, but also for its recent full-on embrace of identity politics - for example, the role that Fiona Robertson played in Grouse Beater's expulsion from the party after a highly dubious allegation of anti-Semitism.  Mhairi Hunter quite accurately pointed out to someone at the time that Ms Robertson had only just been elected "by your fellow SNP members" as Equalities Convener.  But the correct response to that fact is not to give up in despair and think that you have to make a straight choice between a) agreeing with everything Ms Robertson says, and b) leaving the SNP.  The best course of action is to stay in the party, fight your corner and seek a better result in future internal elections.  One thing is for sure - those internal elections will not go your way if you and enough of the people who agree with you walk away from the SNP.

*  *  *

Here's the latest in Phantom Power's acclaimed Journey to Yes series of films - this time featuring Jenny Constable, who supported the Better Together campaign in 2014 but now wants to see an independent Scotland.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Could Scottish Labour be heading towards a total wipeout at Westminster?

This has only just occurred to me, but it should have occurred to me a couple of weeks ago.  What do we know, or think we know, about the seven Scottish Labour seats at Westminster?  That six of them would be under severe threat if there is a swing to the SNP at the next general election, but that the seventh (Ian Murray's constituency of Edinburgh South) is absolutely rock-solid in almost all circumstances.  But, as it happens, Ian Murray is also the only one of the seven MPs to have been dropping hints about the possibility of defecting to the Independent Group.  And it's not even irrational for him to have done so.  For almost any other Labour elected representative in Scotland, it would be electoral suicide to join TIG, because the traditional Labour vote would not follow them across.  But Murray doesn't primarily owe his position to the traditional Labour vote, but rather to industrial-scale anti-SNP tactical voting, and those voters would in all likelihood see Murray under any party label as the best prospect for keeping the SNP out.  At the very least the odds would be against Labour holding Edinburgh South if Murray is standing against them - if we're being super-optimistic, there's a chance that he might split the unionist vote and let the SNP in through the middle, but more likely is that he'd retain the seat himself.

So if Murray defects, it could be a double-whammy - it would generate anti-Labour momentum that might make it even more likely that the other six seats will fall, while also depriving Labour of the one seat they thought they could bank on.  But even if they were completely wiped out in Westminster, would it actually matter in the long-run?  After all, the Scottish Tories were wiped out in 1997, but regained a toe-hold in 2001 and then eventually came back with a vengeance in 2017.  Perhaps the difference is that the Tory core vote had nowhere else to go (or nowhere credible) even when the game seemed to be up, whereas there are a great many alternative homes for hitherto committed Labour supporters - if they're pro-indy, there's the SNP, if they're socially liberal, there's the Lib Dems, if they're dogmatic unionists, there's the Tories, and if all else fails there's the Independent Group itself.  Voters might just take a signal from a wipeout in the Commons that would lead to a total and irreversible collapse of the Scottish Labour vote.  I'm not making a prediction, but it's a plausible possibility.

Having said all that, Murray might be given pause for thought by the latest Opinium poll including the Independent Group as an option on a standard voting intention question.  Opinium are the only polling firm to be taking that approach, and it's unsurprising that they're producing much lower numbers for the Independent Group than firms who ask hypothetical questions that make a song and dance of reminding respondents about the group's existence.

Britain-wide voting intentions including the Independent Group (Opinium):

Conservatives 37% (-3)
Labour 33% (+1)
UKIP 7% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)
Independent Group 5% (-1)
SNP 4% (n/c)
Greens 4% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)

Scottish subsample: SNP 44%, Labour 25%, Conservatives 23%, UKIP 3%, Greens 1%, Independent Group 1%, Liberal Democrats 1%

That's probably the most reliable guide we have to the Independent Group's true popularity at present, and it's not hard to see how it could deter further defections.  And yet, ironically, the only way the group are likely to improve their standing is by attracting a lot more defectors.

There's a famous quote attributed to Peter Hitchens that always does the rounds when an opinion poll that people don't like the results of is published: "Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it.  Crack that, and it all makes sense."  Of course that's not true, or at least it's not the whole truth - opinion polling is a spectrum, with cynical American-style push-polling at one extreme, polls produced with the honest intention of discovering the current state of play at the other extreme, and all sorts of shades of grey in between.  But what we're living through at the moment is a clear-cut example of a scenario in which decisions made by pollsters and those who commission polls are likely to shape the outcome of future elections.  There's a clear incentive for those sympathetic to the Independent Group to downplay the credible Opinium results and instead commission (or talk up) more of the fantasy polls that purport to put their heroes in the teens or even higher.  As misleading as those polls are, they could prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy if they hoodwink potential defectors into thinking they would be joining a party that is already a going concern.

There's a sub-plot here, though, because Heidi Allen has told ITV in a new interview that the Independent Group are actually trying to discourage any more than two or three Tory MPs from defecting for the time being, because that would "destabilise the government".  As bonkers as that may sound, you can kind of see her point - even if a much-expanded Independent Group abstain on confidence motions, the likelihood is that a Conservative-DUP alliance without a working majority would not be able to plough on, and a snap election would see the Independent Group project snuffed out before it really got started.  And yet if the Independent Group limit their own critical mass in the Commons, they'll make a breakthrough less likely anyway.  It's a real Catch 22 for them - it's certainly hard to see how they'll overtake the SNP as the third largest group in the Commons without a decent number of Tory defectors.