Monday, January 20, 2020

Could excessive timidity lead to us squandering a golden opportunity to win independence?

It seems to me that the rhetoric of the "caution" faction within the SNP is aimed more at changing the behaviour of Yes supporters than of the UK government.  Essentially the intention is to put Yes supporters into a kind of trance by insistently and repeatedly saying: "Stop asking how the SNP are going to bring the promised referendum about, those are bad thoughts.  Instead, try to grow support for independence, that would be a good thought".  It's not really working, partly because people have minds of their own and their preoccupations can't be so easily directed from on high, but mostly because there's such an obvious flaw in the "grow support for independence and don't worry your pretty little heads about process" schtick.  It would all be so much more persuasive if there was a concrete plan for bringing about an indyref (with or without a Section 30) once that greater Yes support has been achieved, but in place of that plan is magical thinking, ie. "the UK government's position will prove to be unsustainable once we have overwhelming support, you'll see".

There's actually quite a strong case to be made that higher percentage support for Yes in the opinion polls would make the UK government even more intransigent, not less so.  That could be especially true if the Tories remain in power indefinitely.  If they had stayed in power after 1997, they would never have granted devolution, or a devolution referendum, in spite of the fact that support for a Scottish Parliament was running at 70-80% in the polls.  (And yet I'm sure there would have been people chanting the mantra of "this is totally unsustainable!")

It remains to be seen how much influence the caution faction has with the SNP leadership, but until that becomes clear, all that the rest of us can do is continue making the counter-argument as forcefully and respectfully as we can.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

An overwhelming majority of Labour party members are open to supporting an independence referendum, reveals SHOCK YouGov poll

As you may have seen yesterday, YouGov have published their second poll of Labour members for the forthcoming leadership contest.  The results are billed as "Sir Keir Starmer strengthening his lead", but the difference from the last poll is modest and can perhaps be explained by margin of error effects.  The good news is that Jess Phillips and Lisa Nandy, with their Neanderthal attitudes toward Scotland, still appear to be completely out of the running.

Of most interest to us is a supplementary question that reveals more than twice as many Labour members support a second Scottish independence referendum as oppose one.  Taking into account members who are open to a referendum with a view to doing a deal with the SNP, there is more than a four-to-one majority in favour of keeping the referendum option open.

Now thinking about a referendum on Scottish independence, do you think Labour should...?

Support having one: 33%
Oppose having one: 16%
Not actively support one, but be open to supporting one as part of a coalition deal with the SNP: 44%

Embarrassingly for Jess Phillips, only one-third of her own supporters share her implacable opposition to an indyref.

So the stance of the self-styled Labour "moderates" is not only rejected by the lost voters they ought to be trying to win back in Scotland, but also by their party's own membership across the UK.  The intransigence of these politicians has clearly got nothing to with listening to people or with electability, which leaves just one plausible possibility - dogmatic British nationalism.

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Panelbase independence poll incoming?

Well, it's sod's law, isn't it?  Just 48 hours after this blog's successful fundraiser to break the post-election drought of polls on independence, a commenter on this blog revealed that he had been polled by Panelbase on the subject.  It remains to be seen whether that's a private poll or one for public consumption, but judging from the nature of the questions I could well imagine it was commissioned by the Sunday Times, in which case we might see it as early as tonight.  If so, the results will be fascinating - Panelbase have in recent years been a relatively No-friendly pollster, but that'll have been at least partly due to their weighting scheme, which will presumably now have been updated to introduce weighting by recalled 2019 general election vote.  If there were previously problems caused by false recall or by the high SNP abstention rate in 2017, the new weighting could potentially make a significant difference.  But we'll see.

Even if there is a poll tonight or tomorrow, I'll be proceeding with my own, and it'll still ask the Yes/No question.  But if mine isn't the first post-election independence poll, the supplementary questions will become more important.  I already have a list of questions drawn up, but if anyone has any brilliant suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I'll mull them over.

Rest assured that I won't be asking any questions about the proposed "Wings party".  Long-term readers will know that I think credible polling needs to be done on that subject, but it wouldn't be appropriate to do it in a crowdfunded poll that will have been backed by both Wings-sceptics and Wings supporters.  I'll be sticking strictly to questions about independence that should be of interest to all Yes supporters.  I did ponder the idea of asking for Holyrood voting intentions, but I'm inclined to think polling about independence and the rights and wrongs of an indyref is of more value at this point.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The "no legal shortcuts to independence" article relies as much on political arguments as legal ones - and those political arguments are deeply flawed

You might have seen the other day that a couple of SNP MPs tweeted a piece by the constitutional law experts Chris McCorkindale and Aileen McHarg, setting out their thoughts on the legality of an independence referendum.  It was suggested that the article would explain why the Scottish Government have settled on the approach they have.  So I read it with an open mind, wondering if it would identify a legal opportunity that will arise if we're cautious enough at this stage.  But by the time I'd reached the end, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, because it's infused with magical thinking.  It summarily dismisses pretty much every practical step that could realistically be taken to bring about a mandate for independence (and in some cases the dismissal is based at least partly on rather vague and dubious political arguments rather than legal ones), but then suggests that an SNP win in next year's Holyrood election may somehow break the logjam, without really explaining how.  And I thought: "Seriously?  Is that honestly the plan?  The last three immaculate SNP mandates were ignored by Westminster, but next time it's going to be different because reasons?"  If that really is the "strategy", there's going to have to be a rethink, because the flaw in it can be spotted from outer space.  In fairness to the authors of the article, it looks like they wrote it before the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that no Section 30 order would be granted until after Nicola Sturgeon dies from old age - in other words their reasoning is a little out of date, because they were working on the assumption that a post-2021 Section 30 order hadn't yet been ruled out by the Tories.  It most definitely has been now.

I'm not going to take issue with the legal arguments in the article, but as stated above, the critique of alternative routes to an independence mandate is often based on political points, or points that hover ambiguously between law and politics.  And some of those points really ought to be challenged.  (For the avoidance of doubt, the words in italics below are paraphrases rather than exact quotes.)

'There is no legal requirement for an independence mandate to be secured via referendum but there is arguably a constitutional requirement due to precedent.'  This reminds me of Alan Trench back in the day arguing on his Devolution Matters blog that there was a de facto constitutional bar on Westminster legislating on devolved matters without consent, due to the precedent of the Sewel Convention being repeatedly respected by successive UK governments.  And yet when a Tory government suddenly decided not to respect the Sewel Convention anymore, the Supreme Court judges said "that's fine" because they were only impressed by the letter of the law, not by informal constitutional conventions or established practice.  In any case, major constitutional changes have in the past been enacted in the United Kingdom without a referendum - most obviously, there was no referendum before the Heath government took the UK into the Common Market in 1973.  It may have become the norm since then to seek constitutional mandates by referendum, but if that option has now been made much more difficult due to factors outwith our control, it seems logical and natural to at least consider reverting to the previous practice of seeking a mandate via a scheduled election, and it's a statement of the obvious that there is no constitutional bar on doing so.  (Persuading the UK government to respect that mandate would be harder, of course, but that's a separate issue - the first step is to actually get the mandate.)

'If the Scottish Parliament pass a Referendum Bill without a Section 30 order, the UK government might pass legislation to unambiguously make the holding of referendums a reserved matter.'  Well, yes, it might do, but then it could pass such legislation at any time, and so far it has not done so, presumably because there would be a political cost attached.  If McCorkindale and McHarg feel it's a viable strategy to seek yet another mandate for a referendum in the 2021 election and cross our fingers that it's respected this time, I'm struggling to see why it would be any less viable to pass a Referendum Bill and cross our fingers that there is no blocking legislation at Westminster.

'A referendum held without a Section 30 order might be boycotted by unionists.'  Yes, it might be, and in that case the challenge for the Yes campaign would be to secure enough votes (roughly 1.8 million) to demonstrate that victory would have been secured even with a 2014-style turnout on both sides.  It's not an argument against holding such a referendum.

'Using the 2021 election to secure an outright mandate for independence wouldn't work for three reasons: a) the Scottish Government have already said they are opposed to the idea, b) the UK government wouldn't accept the mandate, and c) the process wouldn't be accepted as legitimate in Scotland, the UK and the international community.'  These are all circular arguments.  The first one is a nonsense because to pursue this strategy the Scottish Government would first have to change its mind on the principle of using an election to seek a mandate, and if it changes its mind it would clearly no longer be opposed to the idea!  Similarly, if the Scottish Government and UK Government reach an agreement that retrospectively recognises an election result as a mandate for independence, all doubts over legitimacy would fall away.  The international community certainly wouldn't raise any objections if the UK government were on board.

So it all boils down to the central question: how do you get the UK government to respect a mandate?  And McCorkindale and McHarg have failed to explain why challenging London to respect an outright mandate for independence is any less promising a strategy than challenging London to respect a fourth mandate to hold a referendum.  I would argue that it's a more promising strategy, because it would decisively move the narrative forward.  The SNP would no longer even be arguing for a referendum - it would be arguing that Scotland has already opted for independence and would be seeking negotiations to bring that into effect.  If the London parties (most obviously Labour and the Liberal Democrats) wanted to counter that by saying that major constitutional changes should only happen by referendum, it would be up to them to make the case for a second independence referendum, which would radically change the dynamic.

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Poll fundraiser: Thank you to everyone who donated - the fundraiser reached its target within only a few hours!  It'll take at least a few days before I can access the funds (that would have been the case with pretty much any crowdfunding platform) but I'll move forward as quickly as I can.  Given that independence has shot up the news agenda over the last 24 hours, it's entirely possible that a mainstream media outlet may finally produce a poll over the coming days, but even if that happens I'll still go ahead - there'll be no harm in more than one poll.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

FUNDRAISER: Help Scot Goes Pop commission a post-election poll on independence

It was suggested to me earlier today that the time may now be right for Scot Goes Pop to crowdfund its first opinion poll, mainly because it's really, really odd that no media organisation has commissioned a poll measuring independence support since the general election. There are plausible grounds for thinking the SNP's victory may have triggered a Yes surge, which may last weeks, or months, or indefinitely - but we'll never know unless polling is actually conducted. Not for the first time, we may have no option but to take matters into our own hands.

Click here to go direct to the fundraising page.

Hi, my name's James Kelly, and I run the Scottish pro-independence blog Scot Goes Pop, which has a particular focus on opinion poll analysis. Remarkably, since the SNP's landslide general election victory in mid-December, there have been no opinion polls measuring support for independence. This leaves a major gap in our knowledge. In the immediate aftermath of the Leave vote in 2016, two polls were published showing a significant swing towards Yes - but if those polls hadn't been commissioned at the right time, we'd never have known that the surge had even happened, because it later subsided. It's possible (and I only say possible) that we're currently living through a post-election Yes surge that will be completely lost to the history books because nobody bothered to commission a poll. But this isn't just of academic interest - the publication of a poll showing a Yes lead at a time like this could in itself have an impact on public opinion, and help to shape the debate on Boris Johnson's outrageous attempt to stop the people of Scotland deciding their own future.

With your help, Scot Goes Pop will commission its first opinion poll, asking how people would vote on the referendum question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" There will hopefully also be supplementary questions.

A few points to bear in mind -

* There is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that we'll get the result we want. Polls have surprised us plenty of times before. But even if the numbers are disappointing, it's surely a good thing if the independence question is no longer neglected by polls.

* If there are excess funds (or if not enough is raised to commission a poll), I'll consult with readers on what to do. Ideally the money would be ring-fenced for future polling, but if after a reasonable period of time no polling is possible or required, the funds could be dispersed to other pro-independence causes.

* There's always a chance that a poll will suddenly appear while this fundraiser is underway - if that happens, it would still be my intention to go ahead. There'd still be value in getting a second opinion from a different polling firm.

Let's break the silence on current support for independence - because the only person that silence suits is Boris Johnson.

Click here if you'd like to donate.

Boris Johnson's contemptuous letter drops all the pretence: London's rule in Scotland is now officially a dictatorship

Monday, January 13, 2020

HMP Our Precious Union

I do think something good may come out of this Tory extremism, because the well-meaning but misguided "caution" faction within the SNP really needed the UK government to offer a slight glimmer of hope on an independence referendum, or at least some kind of creative ambiguity, to hold the line.  After Mr Jack's latest Francoesque pronouncement, it'll be faintly ludicrous for the likes of Mhairi Hunter to carry on pretending that they can prick the Tories' conscience with just a bit more campaigning or just one more election victory.  The SNP leadership will now need to provide an open and transparent route-map towards circumventing the Westminster veto if they're going to persuade the rank-and-file that they're serious about actually holding an independence referendum, because it's plain for all to see that the brick wall of obstructionism won't be going away at any point before May 2024, and in all probability before May 2029.  Yes, by all means let's wait a little while to see if Boris Johnson ever bothers to respond to the Section 30 request, but we really do need that route-map within a matter of weeks at the absolute most.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sooner or later, the Westminster veto has to be circumvented - there is no realistic alternative

Most of you probably saw Wee Ginger Dug's blogpost last week calling on the SNP leadership to keep its side of the bargain with the independence movement by taking steps to ensure (or at least genuinely try to ensure) that an independence referendum actually happens.  The observation that stood out for me was this -

"What it does mean is that when that referendum does occur, it will be of a confirmatory nature, to confirm the settled decision of the people of Scotland, rather than a contested referendum campaign during which the decision is made and minds made up – rather like the devolution referendum of 1997 when there was little doubt that supporters of a Scottish parliament would win. It appears that the SNP leadership would prefer this second sort of referendum."

That's certainly very much in tune with what Andrew Wilson said during his stint as a pundit on BBC Scotland's election results programme - he suggested that there was the potential to build up an overwhelming majority for Yes, with the implication being that a referendum shouldn't be called until that happens.  Now, of course, Andrew Wilson is not the leader of the SNP, and he has no current active involvement in politics.  But I do worry that the SNP leadership might be wholly or partly buying into his analysis (which I believe to be deeply flawed).  One of the clues is the triumphalism whenever the Tory government denies Scotland's right to self-determination or signals that powers will be stripped from the Scottish Parliament - senior figures within the SNP are always quick to gloat that this will simply further build support for independence, which leads me to suspect that they're trying to replicate the strategy of the devolution campaign in the 1980s and 1990s.  Back then, the Tory government kept saying "no", support for devolution kept getting higher, and eventually the dam burst and a Scottish Parliament was set up with a massive mandate from the electorate.  But there are two crucial differences between then and now  -

1) I'm struggling to see any evidence at all that there is the potential for anything more than a relatively modest majority for independence.  Even the tremendous shock of the UK-wide Leave vote in 2016 only pushed Yes support into the low 50s.  If Brexit proves to be truly disastrous, I can just about imagine the odd poll showing Yes at 60%, but I think sustained support at that level is highly unlikely, and to be honest the idea that we'll have the 3-1 majority that the devolution campaign managed is for the birds.  If that's what we're waiting for, it's tantamount to giving up on independence completely.

2) In the 80s and 90s, one of the two main London parties was committed to delivering devolution, so all we had to do was wait until the pendulum in English politics swung back to Labour - although admittedly there were times when we wondered whether that would ever happen.  The current situation is much less favourable.  The balance of probability is that the Tories will win the 2024 election and that there will be no so-called "legal" route to a referendum until 2029 at the earliest.  But even if Labour upset the odds and win in 2024, it's by no means clear that the obstacles to a referendum will magically disappear.  Let's suppose that Andrew Wilson is right and I'm wrong, and that holding off for years will somehow produce a big Yes lead in the polls.  Even if that's the case, it's absolutely no use to us unless there's some kind of credible strategy for circumventing the Westminster veto sooner or later.  I would hope Nicola Sturgeon doesn't want to end her career as "the leader who polls suggested would have won Scotland its independence if only she'd been allowed to hold a referendum" - that's not much of an accolade at all.

As Wee Ginger Dug points out, there is growing disquiet in the Yes movement that the SNP leadership is perhaps not being entirely straight with us and might intend to let matters drift.  That could lead to some people defecting to fringe pro-indy parties with a more radical offer, and that in turn could cost us the pro-independence majority at Holyrood next year, because those fringe parties have little or no chance of winning any seats.  We mustn't allow that to happen.  If there's a battle over strategy to be won, it can only be won inside the SNP.  Leaving the party will simply clear the pitch for those who want to keep kicking independence into the long grass.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, Robin McAlpine has written one of his trademark provocative pieces in which he compares the SNP's promises of an independence referendum this year with the mythical weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  I don't disagree with all of it, but I do think Robin overreaches massively in some of his specific points.  It's absolutely ludicrous to see an independence supporter echo John Rentoul's claim that the SNP winning 45% of the vote and 80% of the seats isn't really a mandate at all.  Frankly, if you take a look at how other leading parties in Western Europe fare in multi-party systems, it's fair to say that the SNP's performance last month was close to 'beyond wildest dreams' territory, and anyone who seriously disputes that has lost the plot somewhat.

It's of course a monumental red herring to suggest that the 46% combined vote for pro-independence parties means that we've made no progress since the 45% Yes vote in the 2014 referendum.  A general election is not a referendum, and we know that a significant minority of the rump Labour vote would back Yes in a second indyref.  Labour even took conscious steps to retain the support of those people by indicating that they would not block a referendum indefinitely if the Scottish Parliament votes to hold one.

My impression is that Robin is constantly casting around for reasons to suggest that the SNP aren't doing well enough electorally.  I seem to remember at one point last year he claimed that no poll for years had shown that we were on track to retain the pro-indy majority in 2021.  That wasn't strictly true either, but he's on even weaker ground with his claim that a landslide Westminster election victory isn't sufficient.

As for Robin's suggestion that the SNP shouldn't horde independence supporters, and that more good would be done if Yessers join Labour and the Lib Dems and transform those parties into pro-independence parties...well, that sounds very seductive until you think it through.  It's hard to see how that would ever happen organically - there would have to be a directed strategy behind it, and it's pretty likely that Labour and the Lib Dems would quickly get wind of what's going on and take decisive action against 'entryism'.

*  *  *

Like many of you (most of you?) I was on the march for independence in Glasgow yesterday.  I recorded a few short videos, and if they've turned out all right I might post them on my YouTube channel over the coming days.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The certainty of Brexit ensures the casus belli for an indyref

I'm going to update the blog properly quite soon - honestly.  I just got a bit out of habit over the festive period.  In the meantime, though, a quick note to let you know that I'm quoted in Alasdair Soussi's new piece for the Al Jazeera website, entitled 'UK Parliament approves Boris Johnson's Brexit deal'.  You can read it HERE.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Do the Corbynites have a Plan B?

YouGov have conducted the first poll of the Labour leadership contest, and given the good track record of similar polls in the past, it now looks pretty likely that the Corbyn project is about to come to an abrupt end unless something dramatic changes.

First preferences:

Sir Keir Starmer 31%
Rebecca Long-Bailey 20%
Jess Phillips 11%
Clive Lewis 7%
Yvette Cooper 7%
Emily Thornberry 6%
Lisa Nandy 5%

Final round:

Sir Keir Starmer 61%
Rebecca Long-Bailey 39%

If the Corbynites were being rational, they'd thank their lucky stars that they've been given advance warning of Long-Bailey's impending defeat while there's still time to find a different champion.  But I'm not sure they're nimble enough for that.  They'll probably convince themselves that the poll is wrong or that they can somehow overcome the odds by signing up enough Corbynite registered supporters.  If so, they're in denial - Long-Bailey isn't going to inspire people, and certainly not after she came out in favour of the potential use of nuclear weapons.

Why was she the chosen one in the first place?  It may simply be that John McDonnell and those around him calculated that the Labour selectorate would be looking for a woman as their next leader, and that the best-placed female candidate would therefore stand an excellent chance.  But I don't think it really works like that.  Even in a progressive party, members vote on the basis of the candidates in front of them.  They don't vote for a gender.  In spite of the catastrophic mistake Lib Dem members made in electing Jo Swinson, I don't believe they chose her because she would be the party's first female leader - I think they (wrongly) reckoned that she had something.

What would a credible Plan B for the Corbynites look like?  I can only think of a couple of options -

1) John McDonnell replaces Long-Bailey as the standard bearer.  And they would have to be ruthless and make it a straight replacement, because the nominations system ensures there will be a maximum of one Corbynite candidate on the ballot paper.  It would be the equivalent of Alex Salmond jumping into the SNP leadership race at the last minute in 2004, after it became clear that his protégé Nicola Sturgeon was unlikely to defeat Roseanna Cunningham.  Although McDonnell has two obvious disadvantages (his age and his role in the 2019 defeat), he's very well known and has a big personality, and it's certainly possible to imagine him beating Starmer in a run-off.

2) The Corbynites swing behind Clive Lewis.  That may be an odd thing to suggest given that Lewis is well below Long-Bailey in the poll, but I would guess that's because the true believers are currently going with Long-Bailey as the leadership's favoured choice.  If Lewis became the leading left-wing candidate, he's charismatic enough to have a chance against Starmer.

But the likelihood is that the Corbynites will stubbornly stick with Long-Bailey, and will consequently go down to a needless defeat.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

See you in the decade of independence?

Well, I was all set to write a retrospective of how Scot Goes Pop has covered the seismic events of the last decade...but I've run out of time.  Maybe tomorrow, or the day after.  In the meantime have a photo, and see you in the Probably-Not-Very-Roaring Twenties (although with a bit of luck it might be the decade in which Scotland becomes an independent country).