Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Analysis of that sensational YouGov poll

Just a quick note to let you know that I've written some analysis for The National of the YouGov poll showing Yes support soaring to a record-breaking 53%.  You can read it HERE.

Incidentally, just to address the complaint Peter A Bell has left in The National's comment section: no, support for indy has not "soared from 54% to 53%".  That's an apples-and-oranges comparison between a Panelbase poll and a YouGov poll.  The last comparable YouGov poll had Yes on 51%, so it's a two-point increase.

Support for independence hits record-breaking high with YouGov

Should Scotland be an independent country? (YouGov, 6th-10th August 2020):

Yes 53% (+2)
No 47% (-2)

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions:

SNP 57% (+3)
Conservatives 20% (-3)
Labour 14% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Scottish Parliament regional list voting intentions:

SNP 47% (+2)
Conservatives 21% (-2)
Labour 14% (+2)
Greens 6% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 54% (+3)
Conservatives 20% (-5)
Labour 16% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
Greens 2% (n/c)
Brexit Party 2% (+2)

Monday, August 10, 2020

Housekeeping note

The trolling and spam on this blog has got completely out of hand in recent times, particularly over the last month, so to attempt to apply a brake I've temporarily changed the settings to only allow comments from people signed in to a Google account.  The final straw has been a torrent of pornographic spam - you may not even have seen it because it's mostly been on old posts, but it's been happening more than a dozen times per day, and every comment needs to be deleted individually, which is a major chore.

I'll try reversing the change in a few days to see if our friend has taken the hint.  But even once things are back to normal, I would urge people to post more constructively than has often been the case of late.  Cut down on the swearing and other inappropriate language.  Don't post defamatory claims about named individuals.  And if you want to spend half your life posting ad hominem attacks on me, then by all means do so, but not in the comments section of my own blog.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The road to independence for Scotland - and the road to nowhere for Douglas Ross

So a couple of 'quick notes' for you tonight.  I have a new article on The National's website about whether Douglas Ross is likely to keep his promise to Michelle Ballantyne to be "Boris backing, Brexit positive, anti-Nat".  You can read it HERE.  Also, I'm quoted (along with John Curtice and Mark Diffley) in Chaminda Jayanetti's new piece for entitled 'The road to independence: How Covid and Brexit pushed Scotland from the Union' - you can read that HERE.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

It's time to democratise the SNP's NEC

Earlier this evening, I had a brief but interesting Twitter exchange with the former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, who incidentally I voted for back in the day no fewer than four times - twice when he was the SNP candidate for Cumbernauld & Kilsyth in 1999 and 2003, and twice when he was a Central Scotland list candidate in the same years.  (He was elected on the list in 1999, but missed out in 2003 due to his ranking on the list being too low - ironically as the result of something of a stitch-up.)

Now, in fairness, what Andrew says about being unhappy with the NEC decision does check out - I had a look through some of his earlier tweets and he had made the same point before. So I'm happy to apologise to him for getting the wrong end of the stick. (I know some cynical souls will suggest that we may simply be seeing a tactical retreat after the NEC decision had already proved to be unsustainable. But we have to take what people say at face value in the absence of contrary evidence.)

Nevertheless, it's also reasonable to point out that I gave Andrew the opportunity to explain exactly what he did mean by the comments I misconstrued, and as you can see he very studiously avoided doing so. There presumably must be a reason for his reluctance to publicly explain what "placating the gallery" is getting at.  Off the top of my head, I can only really think of a small number of demands that people have been making on social media - one is that the decision to block James Dornan be overturned (that's already happened), one is that the decision to block Joanna Cherry be overturned (Andrew says he'd support that), and one is that people should think more carefully about who is placed on the NEC and the process by which they end up being placed there.  Is it the latter demand that Andrew is concerned about?  This is not an attempt to "cast aspersions", but when an explanation isn't forthcoming, all that can fill that gap is a process of logical deduction, and I'm struggling to think of any other possibilities.

If I'm right, it's little wonder that Andrew is unwilling to spell out what he means, because the calls to reform the NEC are a simple matter of democratic accountability.  To the limited extent that the NEC is elected at all, it's elected by an indirect method, and that's bound to cause great concern if the end result is a body taking decisions that are alien to the wishes of the wider party membership.  As for the observation that those who do have the opportunity to elect NEC members should take the process more seriously in future, that's an affirmation of a democratic principle too.  If you feel that any person you've helped to elect has let you down or acted inappropriately, of course you should reflect on that before you cast your next vote.

In the overall scheme of things, it wasn't all that long ago that even the SNP leader wasn't directly elected - there was election-by-delegate instead.  That wouldn't be considered acceptable now, and an unelected NEC really ought to be seen in exactly the same way as an anachronism.  And it can no longer even be said that it's an "anachronism that works".

Incidentally, none of this should be seen as a criticism of Angus Robertson, who would be an excellent MSP for Edinburgh Central, every bit as much as Joanna Cherry would.  (I regard Robertson and Cherry as two of the four most likely successors to Nicola Sturgeon, along with Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes.)  But we must have a fair process, and an end to factional control of the SNP's internal structures.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Since Scotland broke away from the disastrous Westminster-led response to the crisis, our outcomes have been dramatically - not "marginally" - better than England's

I raised a dubious eyebrow at this comment today from David Herdson over at Stormfront Lite -

"And what’s true in England is true in Scotland too. While Nicola Sturgeon likes to pat her administration on its back, the truth is that cases are rising there too, and the death total is still worse than just about everywhere else in Europe. Having marginally better outcomes and considerably better communication skills than London is nothing much to write home about."

Of course there's a grain of truth in that - over the entire course of the pandemic to date, Scotland can be reasonably said to have had a poor outcome by international standards.  But what that doesn't tell you is more important than what it does.  The vast bulk of infections and deaths were front-loaded in the early part of the crisis when Scotland was in almost total lockstep with the Westminster-led "Four Nations" approach.  The modelling suggests that almost 100,000 people were infected in Scotland the week before lockdown - that's nearly 2% of the entire population in just seven days.  I personally know people who were infected that week, and probably most of us do.  That was being allowed to happen by an intentional policy choice of herd immunity.

At some point, the penny dropped in Scottish Government circles that we were not in fact facing the "mild infection" that the likes of Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance had briefed them about, and as a result Scotland has diverged sharply from the policy south of the border.  To the best of my knowledge, the extent of the U-turn has never been publicly acknowledged, but it's been almost total.  We've gone from Jason Leitch saying in his Grand Complacency Tour of the TV studios in February/March that almost everyone was going to get the virus and that was totes fine, to a specific goal of eliminating the virus completely.

That hasn't left us with merely a difference of "communication" styles between Scotland and England (although the communication in Scotland has self-evidently been vastly superior), but a difference of substance.  And that divergence hasn't just led to "marginally better outcomes" as David suggests, but to dramatically better outcomes.  He's correct that case numbers in Scotland rose on Friday to their highest level for two months - but that was a rise of 30.  That's still well behind England on a per capita basis.

That said, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and Scotland's success story is about to be tested as never before by the gamble of opening schools on a full-time basis in a matter of days from now.  It's ironic, then, that David's piece is a call for the reopening of schools to be prioritised.

*  *  *

Friday, July 31, 2020

YouGov poll: Nicola Sturgeon's net personal rating is 87 points higher than Boris Johnson's

YouGov today published results of a full-scale Scottish poll, but it only contained favourability ratings for various leading politicians.  It would be odd to conduct a poll of that sort without also asking for voting intentions, so I'm wondering if there might be more to come, possibly for a Sunday newspaper.  In the meantime, we have the familiar picture of Nicola Sturgeon towering over her unionist competitors - 

Net favourability ratings:

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)  +36
Rishi Sunak (Conservative)  +7
Sir Keir Starmer (Labour)  +1
Richard Leonard (Labour)  -28
Jackson Carlaw (Conservative)  -32
Matt Hancock (Conservative)  -38
Dominic Raab (Conservative)  -38
Priti Patel (Conservative)  -48
Boris Johnson (Conservative)  -51
Michael Gove (Conservative)  -57
Dominic Cummings (SAGE)  -69

I know some will say that this is mildly encouraging for Sir Keir Starmer, but given that he hasn't had much time or opportunity to get on anyone's nerves yet, I'm not sure a neutral rating is much to write home about.  Meanwhile, these numbers are a rude awakening for anyone in the Tory ranks who would fondly like to imagine that Michael Gove's Scottish background and accent are some kind of secret weapon - he's somehow less popular than even the Prime Minister.

To return to the subject of last night's stitch-up at the SNP's NEC, quite blatantly intended to prevent Joanna Cherry and James Dornan standing at next year's election, what I would say is this.  When we have a wildly popular leader, who commands respect and admiration in Scotland, the rest of the UK and to some extent even internationally, it would plainly be in all our interests to be able to get behind her and achieve a thumping, united mandate next May.  But if that's going to happen, it really does take two to tango.  You can't turn the SNP into a cold house for those with certain perfectly legitimate views (for example self-ID sceptics) and then lecture the people you've alienated about how they still have to vote for you anyway.  Maintaining a big tent requires a bit of give and take, not just a one-way process of take.  Nicola Sturgeon is in so many ways a good leader, and now would be an excellent (and indeed essential) moment for her to demonstrate that once again by asking for the NEC's decisions to be urgently reviewed before any lasting damage is done.  

So many independence supporters would prefer to stick with the SNP in May.  Make it possible for them.  Don't put up needless walls.

A factional and self-destructive decision

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The SNP leadership should just chill out and stop trying to artificially obstruct Joanna Cherry's bid to become an MSP

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Before they burn their bridges, leading figures in the SNP ought to remember that Alex Salmond is a man with options

Following on from my bewilderment over a period of weeks as Iain Macwhirter acted as an unlikely cheerleader for herd immunity, it's refreshing to once again find something to agree with him about, and I see that his column today will argue that Nicola Sturgeon should seek a reconciliation with Alex Salmond "before it's too late".  I think from the SNP leadership's perspective that point should really be beyond dispute.  The period after Mr Salmond's acquittal ought to have been a time of healing, but instead a number of senior SNP parliamentarians foolishly made comments that were obviously intended to make it very difficult for the former leader to be welcomed back into the fold.  It became clear that one or two of them really did believe in the nonsensical claim peddled by the controversial journalist David Leask that the man who had led the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence to date, and who they had served under themselves without any apparent difficulty, was somehow not part of the "real SNP" (whatever that might be).

We live in an infantile age where anyone who makes even the smallest mistake or misjudgement can find themselves characterised as an irredeemable monster.  In the eyes of several individuals very close to the top of the SNP, Alex Salmond was at some point reclassified, practically overnight, from a respected statesman to an "enemy of women", and absurdly the verdict of the court made almost no difference to that assessment.  Even if they truly believed that the demonisation was justified, they seemed to have lost sight of the realpolitik of the situation, which is that Mr Salmond, unlike the vast majority of politicians, is a man with options.  It's not actually possible to deny him a future in politics by simply freezing him out of the SNP, because he has the option, if he wishes to take it, of a bright future in politics outside the SNP.  His critics might think it's unfair or distasteful that he has that option when others don't, but all that matters is that he does.  You'd almost be forgiven for thinking that people close to the leadership actively prefer the idea of his comeback being outside the SNP, given that their actions make that outcome somewhat more probable - but the idea that they're doing it intentionally makes absolutely zero sense given the obvious potential for electoral damage to the party.  The more plausible conclusion is that sound strategic judgement has given way to identity politics zealotry.

During the 1980 Labour leadership election, Denis Healey famously treated his natural allies with contempt.  He told them they had "nowhere else to go", and that he would instead concentrate on wooing the left in his ill-fated bid to defeat Michael Foot.  A few months later, some of the MPs that Healey had antagonised left to join the newly-formed Social Democratic Party, and one of them sent him a note that simply read "found somewhere else to go".  The SNP leadership are acting as if Mr Salmond has nowhere else to go.

As I've said a number of times in recent months, I'm personally in two minds about whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing for the independence movement if Mr Salmond ends up launching a new list-only party.  On the face of it, things are going exceptionally well at the moment - support for independence has never been higher, and thanks to Nicola Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic there is unprecedented faith in Scotland's ability to govern itself competently.  That progress could in theory be squandered by the self-inflicted wound of a major new divide in the pro-indy camp.  But, on the other hand, even sky-high support for independence would be of absolutely no use to anyone unless the SNP leadership actually do something with it.  If a Salmond-led party emerges, at least we'd immediately have something that we don't have right now - ie. a very credible route-map to Scotland becoming an independent country in the aftermath of the 2021 election.  The new party would not win a majority, it would not become the largest single party, and it would not form a government on its own.  But it would have every chance of becoming a kingmaker, and it would presumably use any leverage it gains to insist on a way forward that is not dependent on the granting of a Section 30 order.

In all honesty, and in spite of my mixed feelings about the strategic wisdom of launching a list-only party, if Alex Salmond was to decide to take the plunge I'd probably put my doubts to one side and get behind the initiative.  Right now I'm a proud supporter of the SNP because it's the only large party with independence as its raison d'être, but if another large and credible party comes along with a stronger commitment to independence, the equation would obviously change radically.

It's safe to assume that, unlike me, the SNP leadership don't have even the slightest doubt in their minds that the cause of independence is best served by the Yes movement remaining largely united behind the SNP, and the SNP only.  If that is indeed their verdict, it would plainly be logical for them to reach out to Mr Salmond.  If they don't, they'll have no-one to blame but themselves for any negative consequences that follow.