Thursday, October 30, 2014

Huge SNP lead for Westminster reported in jaw-dropping YouGov poll

Hot on the heels of the Ipsos-Mori bombshell comes this full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov.  The figures are bang up to date, with fieldwork that ran from Monday until today (meaning that unlike the Ipsos-Mori poll it took place entirely after Johann Lamont blew the whistle on London Labour, and also after it became clear that Murphy was the most likely replacement).

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43%
Labour 27%
Conservatives 15%
Liberal Democrats 4%

Obviously these numbers are incomplete, with 11% of voters unaccounted for.  It's likely that UKIP and the Greens between them have 10% or so, which makes it impossible that the Lib Dems are in fourth place. Presumably we'll find out whether it's fifth or sixth in the morning.

Intuitively this poll looks a lot more plausible than Ipsos-Mori, but then again how often has intuition led us astray?  If nothing else, the results are much more in line with what Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls have been reporting, although in a sense that's a circular argument because a disproportionate number of those subsamples come from YouGov anyway.  There have been a small number of subsamples that support the story told by Ipsos-Mori (for example from Ashcroft and Survation), so we shouldn't dismiss that poll out of hand.  One thing that the two polls agree on is that the Tories are doing a bit worse than we thought - obviously that's a much more pronounced finding with Ipsos-Mori, but even the 15% figure from YouGov is on the low side, and would see the party down on the last election.  There has been a perception that the Scottish Tories were enjoying a mini-renaissance (defined as going slightly forwards when the UK party is going backwards), but it now looks like the referendum may have put a stop to that - in spite of the echo chamber effect of unionist journalists enthusiastically agreeing with each other about how many "plaudits" Ruth Davidson received during the campaign.

The SNP have released supplementary findings from the YouGov poll on trust in individual politicians.  The results don't entirely make sense in relation to the question quoted, so I think the percentages given must be the combined total of respondents who say they trust each politician either "a little" or "a lot" (that's the usual YouGov formulation).  They tell a very familiar tale, with First Minister-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon proving to be Scotland's most trusted politician by a country mile.  Perhaps most pertinently, she's trusted by exactly twice as many respondents as Jim Murphy.  So there may be differing opinions over whether Murphy deserves his occasional billing as a "heavyweight", but there can't be much doubt that the public see him as a considerably smaller fish than Sturgeon (which I suspect may come as a shock to some metropolitan commentators who still struggle to take Sturgeon seriously because she has never served at Westminster).

OK, there's a dreadful pun there about "smaller fish than Sturgeon" which I genuinely didn't notice until after I wrote it.  Moving swiftly on...

Your cut-out-and-keep Anas Sarwar translator

What Anas Sarwar meant on Saturday when he said that it was important not to close down the option of standing as leader -


What Anas Sarwar meant on Monday when he said he was unwilling to stand as leader because he was so mindful of the trust that members had placed in him by electing him as deputy leader -


What Anas Sarwar meant tonight when he said he was resigning as deputy leader because he felt strongly that it's terribly important to allow the focus to return to Holyrood -


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I'll wait until tomorrow to update the Poll of Polls, because until I see the YouGov datasets I would only be able to calculate the numbers for four of the six parties anyway.

Findlay's Casebook, Murphy's Law and the Boyacks of Summer

Just a very quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about the Scottish Labour "leadership" contest - you can read it HERE.

Political earthquake beckons as SNP notch up 29% lead for WESTMINSTER in Ipsos-Mori telephone poll

We now have the third full-scale Scottish poll to have been conducted since the referendum - and I'm not sure any superlative is going to prove quite sufficient this time.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 52%
Labour 23%
Conservatives 10%
Greens 6%
Liberal Democrats 6%

So, Mike Smithson, what was that you were saying yesterday about Alex Salmond being a broken man who would struggle to beat the Lib Dems (ahem) in Gordon? I'm not sure your theory about the anti-independence parties "owning" people who voted No last month is looking too hot either - on the above numbers 13% of voters plumped for No in the referendum but are now planning to vote for a pro-independence party at the general election.

What this poll reminds me of most vividly is a couple of polls that were published towards the end of the Holyrood campaign in 2011. Even then, those polls proved a touch too optimistic for the SNP, and in the entirely different context of a Westminster campaign which still has six months and a bit left to run, it's much less likely that the party will be able to pull off a result of quite this magnitude. (The biggest hurdle is that the broadcasters are seemingly still hellbent on moulding the Scottish election result to their own tastes by means of three rigged leaders' debates from which the SNP are totally excluded.) Nevertheless, this is Ipsos-Mori's best estimate of the current state of play, so we can enjoy it for what it is. It seems to me that the "Berlin Wall" that existed between Westminster and Holyrood elections in the public's perceptions has now vanished. Perhaps that's only a temporary phenomenon brought about by the aftermath of the referendum, but for the time being people regard the two elections as being about exactly the same thing - which party is best able to stand up for Scotland.

All the same, the result of this poll is a bit counter-intuitive. Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls have been consistently putting the SNP comfortably ahead of Labour since the referendum, but we've been exercising a degree of caution with those numbers, because there was always a chance that the SNP's support was being slightly overestimated due to the inherent shortcomings of subsamples. As it turns out, Ipsos-Mori are suggesting that the subsamples have been underestimating the SNP lead - and by quite some distance. The firm is also suggesting that the Greens are doing a bit better than we previously thought, and that the Tories and UKIP are doing quite a bit worse. It's the latter point that might cause us to place a question mark on this poll, because there's a long history of the right-wing vote in Scotland being underestimated by pollsters in Westminster general elections. Given that this is a telephone poll, could there be a "shy Tory" factor at play, with some affluent and rural voters pretending that they are going to vote SNP out of embarrassment? Even if that is what's going on, it's safe to say that the SNP must still have an extremely handsome lead, but perhaps not quite as high as 29%.

It might be thought that Ipsos-Mori's status as one of the most No-friendly pollsters during the referendum (they had Yes on just 36% at the start of March, which seems absurd in retrospect) would lend greater credibility to an insanely good SNP showing, but strangely they also had a reputation for being one of the most SNP-friendly pollsters in the run-up to the 2010 election. That's a contradiction I can't readily explain, although the fact that it's happening with Ipsos-Mori and no other firm may be due to the fact that they don't weight by past vote recall of any type.

This poll is of course totally irreconcilable with the results of the two other post-referendum full-scale Scottish polls - Survation actually put the SNP a few points behind Labour, while Panelbase had them ahead by just two points. In the case of Survation, the difference can perhaps be put down to the fact that fieldwork was conducted on the day immediately after the referendum, when people hadn't yet had a chance to take stock. With Panelbase, the explanation is more likely to be the controversial decision to use a long-discredited weighting procedure, which led to SNP voters being downweighted sharply. So if I was going to hazard a guess (and it's only a guess), I'd say that the true position is most likely to be somewhere in between the two extremes of Panelbase and Ipsos-Mori - indeed it may well be that averaging the subsamples from GB-wide polls has given us a fairly accurate picture all along.

Nevertheless, polling experts such as John Curtice have been studiously ignoring the subsamples, and have almost been playing an intellectual game in which they invite us all to pretend that the only information we have on voting intentions comes from the out-of-date Survation and Panelbase polls (or even from Opinium polls conducted before the referendum!). So the biggest impact of Ipsos-Mori's intervention is that the "official narrative" of where we stand is going to change instantly and radically.

The fieldwork for this poll was conducted between the 22nd and 29th of October, which means that it spans three distinct periods - Wednesday to Friday of last week when Johann Lamont was still in harness, a brief period over the weekend when the media were trying to convince anyone who would listen that either Gordon Brown or Jim Murphy might be taking over, and then finally a period of a few days when Murphy looked like the clear frontrunner. So there's certainly no evidence here that the prospect of a Murphy "leadership" is luring anyone back to Labour. Having said that, the YouGov subsamples over the last couple of days have shown a decreasing SNP lead - but without substantial supporting evidence it would be wrong to assume that's anything more than the normal fluctuations you would expect due to the huge margin of error attached to subsamples.

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Notwithstanding my suspicion that subsamples are providing us with a more accurate picture at the moment, I do of course give far more weight to full-scale polls in the Poll of Polls. The Ipsos-Mori poll makes up well over half of the sample in this latest update, with seven subsamples also taken into account - four from YouGov, one from Ashcroft, one from ComRes and one from Populus.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 47.2% (+5.5)
Labour 24.4% (-0.3)
Conservatives 12.9% (-4.6)
Liberal Democrats 6.1% (+0.4)
Greens 5.1% (+0.1)
UKIP 3.1% (-0.9)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Late October days brightened by comedy highlight of the year, as Lib Dem blogger from Bedfordshire tries (and I rather suspect fails) to psych Alex Salmond out of turning up for a near-certain win against the Lib Dems in next year's general election

"Gawd."  Can he "be arsed"?

Yup, you've guessed it, it's our old friend Mike "varied vocabulary" Smithson - the blogger who in May 2010 gave the single worst piece of advice in political history when he begged his colleagues in the Liberal Democrats to go into coalition with the Tories, rather than agreeing to a progressive coalition to keep the Tories out.  You've got to admire his sunny optimism, because he's now hoping that Alex Salmond will ignore that less-than-promising track record by listening to his risible warning that standing in the nominally Lib Dem-held seat of Gordon would be "oooh, such a terrible gamble, much better to stand in a Labour seat that voted Yes" (you can almost hear the pleading in his voice when he gets to the latter bit).  He then ramps up the self-delusion to a truly heroic level by cautioning Mr Salmond that "life is almost always hard for ex-leaders" - particularly one who "failed in the biggest project of his political career".

When confronted with someone as clueless as Mr Smithson I'd normally want to let them down gently as I acquaint them with some unwelcome facts, but as he's such an objectionable individual I'll just get straight to the point. I doubt if there's a single person in either the SNP or the Scottish Liberal Democrats who privately thinks that a Salmond candidacy in Gordon next year would result in anything other than an overwhelming SNP win. Indeed, the SNP are strong favourites to win the seat anyway regardless of who their candidate is. Smithson's notion that all the Lib Dems have to do to stop the tide coming in is to say to people “You voted NO – now tell him you mean it” misses the point so spectacularly that it's difficult to know where to begin. There's a senior politician who will shortly discover the true meaning of the word 'NO' in the Gordon constituency, and he goes by the name of Nick Clegg.

This is apparently going to be news to Lib Dem bloggers caught in the Bedford end of the metropolitan bubble, but in stark contrast to Clegg's rock-bottom approval ratings after a litany of broken promises, Mr Salmond emerged from his supposed "failure" with his personal reputation even further enhanced. He and Nicola Sturgeon now tower over Scottish politics like colossuses. Either one of them could stroll to victory in the majority of constituencies in Scotland, and would have at least a fighting chance in pretty much any seat (with the possible exception of Orkney and Shetland). If Salmond does decide to seek a return to Westminster, the only question is whether he takes on an easy seat like Gordon that he would be virtually guaranteed to win, or whether he leads from the front as he did in 2007 by selecting a constituency much further down the SNP target list. To all intents and purposes Gordon already is a rock-solid SNP seat - Salmond won the roughly equivalent Holyrood constituency of Aberdeenshire East by a mind-bogglingly wide margin in 2011, and that becomes the effective baseline result if he's the Westminster candidate (especially given that the Lib Dem incumbent Malcolm Bruce won't be on the ballot paper this time). The only way that the SNP might fail to win the seat is if Salmond isn't the candidate and thus doesn't bring his personal vote across, leaving an outside chance for the Tories to hoover up the bulk of No-voting Lib Dems. But either way it's bad news for Smithson, because the Lib Dems themselves don't have a hope in hell.

My guess is that Salmond will indeed choose the easy option of Gordon, not out of undue caution, but simply because of the practical and presentational difficulties of dealing with constituency workload from two different parts of the country (the hints seem to be that he would retain his Scottish Parliament seat after being elected to Westminster).

Returning to Mr Smithson's cretinous attempt at an intervention, I should point out the glorious irony of his lazy assumption that No voters are "owned" by the anti-independence parties. That's rather different to the tune he was humming in 2011, when he issued a hysterical "warning" that the SNP had "misinterpreted" their landslide victory as being a vote for independence (he was apparently blissfully unaware that SNP spokespeople had spent much of election night repeatedly making the point that people who voted SNP hadn't been voting for independence). With his customary comic timing he added that "Salmond now has to find a way out of this mess" - code for finding an excuse for cancelling the referendum! As it turned out, Salmond found a much better way "out of the mess" than that - he turned 900,000 votes for the SNP in 2011 into 1,600,000 votes for Yes in 2014.

As for the "ex-leader" jibe, it apparently has yet to occur to Mr Smithson that Salmond could well be just six months away from resuming his old role as leader of the SNP parliamentary group at Westminster (if he does become an MP, he'll either be literal leader or de facto leader). And if this "failed, washed-up" politician becomes Deputy Prime Minister of the UK into the bargain, or even if he is simply the kingmaker from the opposition benches, I suspect we'll be hearing the screams of "DOES NOT COMPUTE" from the general direction of Bedford for many satisfying years to come.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Three questions for Jackanory Jim

If the Guardian are to be believed (and there always ought to be some kind of question mark over that), we'll finally get our elusive first candidate for the Scottish Labour "leadership" today, in the shape of "Jackanory Jim" Murphy.  If he dares to hold something approximating to a proper press conference, I do hope the following questions will be asked...

1) Will you commit to standing for Holyrood in 2016, irrespective of circumstances?  Will you, for example, give an absolute undertaking that if Labour lose the general election next year, you will not resign the Scottish leadership to take up a higher profile Shadow Cabinet position if that's on offer from Ed Miliband's successor?  And if you are defeated in this contest by Neil Findlay (or by anyone else), will you commit to switching to Holyrood anyway to be part of the new Scottish leader's team?  Or is the Scottish Parliament only good enough for you if you're the leader?

2) If you win, all three of Scottish Labour's formal leadership positions (leader, deputy leader and Shadow Scottish Secretary) will be held by MPs in London, and not one will be held by an MSP in Edinburgh.  Do you think that is a) appropriate, and b) the best way of disproving Johann Lamont's claim that Scottish Labour is run as a branch office of the London party?

3) Because all three "leaders" will be in the wrong parliament, there will be a need for the party to have a lead spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament (a de facto fourth-in-command) to take on Nicola Sturgeon in First Minister's Questions.  Will you guarantee that Labour MSPs will be able to elect that person themselves, rather than being lumbered with someone appointed by you from London?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Anas Sarwar does not recognise dinosaurs

I don't know if I've just been in a particularly giggly mood since Johann Lamont resigned, but it seems the least wee thing is cracking me up these days.  Here's a little selection from various media sources that have unintentionally tickled me -

Mr Sarwar said he did not recognise Ms Lamont's comments accusing Westminster colleagues of treating Scotland as a "branch office".

He said: "That's not an assessment I recognise."

He also said he did not recognise her description of some Scottish Labour MPs as "dinosaurs".


The former Scottish Secretary won plaudits during the independence campaign for his nationwide tour where he stood on Irn-Bru crates arguing against separation.

If he stands, he would face strong competition from Anas Sarwar, who took over as Labour’s interim leader in Scotland following Ms Lamont’s departure.


Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, has ruled himself out as a candidate to take over running the party after the sudden resignation of Johann Lamont last week.

One of Sarwar’s close aides said Sarwar, who was never likely to command majority support for the post, was concerned about the significant political challenges and policy workload faced by Labour.

So it just goes to show that being simultaneously lazy, cowardly and highly ambitious is rather like being Scottish Labour "leader" - a contradiction in terms.

* * * * *


Today has seen the publication of the first Scottish subsample to be substantially conducted after Johann Lamont blew the whistle on Scottish Labour being treated as a branch office of the London party. It's from Populus (the only company that have shown the SNP behind Labour in any subsamples since the referendum) and it puts the SNP on 42% and Labour on 24%. However, the Poll of Polls update below is still overwhelmingly based on fieldwork conducted before Lamont's resignation. It's an average of six subsamples from GB-wide polls - four from YouGov and two from Populus. As has happened before, I can't include the new Opinium poll, because for reasons only known to themselves Opinium don't publish geographical breakdowns - but with the SNP on 4% across Great Britain in that poll, it seems almost certain they're ahead in the Scottish subsample.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 41.7% (-0.3)
Labour 24.7% (-1.4)
Conservatives 17.5% (+1.5)
Liberal Democrats 5.7% (-0.3)
Greens 5.0% (+0.3)
UKIP 4.0% (+0.3)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Housekeeping note : we have a small problem

If you've left a comment on this blog over the last few days, you'll probably have been asked to complete a word verification process.  I haven't the faintest idea why this is happening.  I thought maybe I had hit something accidentally, but I checked the settings and found that word verification was still (theoretically) disabled.  I switched it on and back off again in the hope that might resolve the problem, but it didn't work.  I was going to suggest that signing into a Google account before you comment might be a way round it, but as far as I can see even if you do that you're still faced with the word verification requirement.

Obviously this isn't good news for the blog, because the hassle is likely to deter at least some people from leaving comments.  I've already seen one person on Twitter say they've been put off.  So if anyone knows what the hell is going on, or can suggest an easy solution, feel free to let me know.

By the way, there's a 'refresh' option beneath the word verification, so if you can't make out the letters, you can just change them as many times as you like until you find something readable.  (There's also an audio option, but anyone who's ever tried it will know that it's more like a practical joke.)

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If you haven't made a submission in support of Devo Max to the Smith Commission yet, there's only a few days left to do it - the deadline is 5pm on Friday.  You can find details of how to make a submission HERE.  Remember that it's best to write something in your own words if at all possible - it doesn't have to be very long.  As Iain Macwhirter has suggested, just explain that you heard the No campaign promise Devo Max/Home Rule/federalism, explain what you think that means, and explain why you think it would be good for Scotland if the promise is honoured in full.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Exactly how is this thing going to work, Scottish Labour?

There now seems to be a view emerging from Labour "sources" that the next head of their Scottish branch office is likely to be a Westminster MP, rather than an MSP.  Unsurprisingly, some metropolitan bubble commentators such as our old friend Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson see absolutely no problem with this, so starstruck are they by the 'heavyweight' status of the London darling who has suddenly emerged as frontrunner (although I'd be very interested to see any concrete polling evidence that Jackanory Jim meets the Scottish people's own idea of an A-list politician).  But back here where it actually matters, there does appear to be at least some recognition of the difficulties, with Malcolm Chisholm MSP arguing that having a Westminster MP as his party leader would turn a "crisis into a catastrophe".

One thing that intrigues me about the assumption that the leader will be an MP is that it presumably means that if Jackanory Jim decides not to stand or falls by the wayside for whatever reason, the expected winner is Anas Sarwar.  Er, why?  I can understand the argument that Kezia Dugdale (33 years old) and Jenny Marra (36 years old) might be a bit too young and inexperienced, but given that they're at least in the correct parliament, why is Anas Sarwar (31 years old and in the wrong parliament) so self-evidently more suitable?  I hold no brief for either Dugdale or Marra - in fact, I'm aware of no evidence at all that they "get it" about the need for a much more radical devolution package (Marra infamously claimed in a TV debate that if she was designing a constitutional system from scratch, she'd make it exactly like the one we have now!).  But to prefer Sarwar to either of them seems crazy, which is probably why there's a reasonable chance that Labour will do it.

Incidentally, I should acknowledge at this point that Duncan Hothersall said the other day that any suggestions from Labour's opponents that certain candidates were unsuitable would be interpreted as evidence that those are in fact the people that we "fear" the most.  So in the desperate hope that such reverse psychology will actually work, could I just say to Labour : DON'T elect Sarwar.  He'll be a DISASTER.  Please don't do it, we're ONLY THINKING OF YOU!

Doubtless the point will be made that Labour are merely proposing to replicate what the SNP did in 2004, when they chose Alex Salmond as leader and First Minister-designate, in spite of the fact that he was a Westminster MP at the time.  But there are three very good reasons why that is a totally bogus comparison...

1)  As much as this truth rankles with the London-based parties, the SNP are perceived by the electorate as a thoroughly Scottish party in a way that they are not.  So the temporary anomaly of having a Westminster-based leader didn't matter so much for the SNP - Salmond was always going to be seen as an authentically Scottish leader regardless of his physical location.  Labour won't enjoy that luxury.

2) Salmond answered to no-one in the SNP Westminster group between 2004 and 2007.  By contrast, Sarwar or Murphy will be a humble backbench Labour MP, required to take the instructions of Miliband's whips.  The monumental conflict of interests for any so-called "party leader" is obvious.

3) Labour have tended to regard their Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland (or Secretary of State when they were in government) as a kind of parallel leader of equal stature - witness the way that Jackanory Jim himself was put forward for the Scottish "leaders' debates" in 2010, rather than Iain Gray.  OK, at least they're now going to be liberated from the mind-boggling dilemma of having to put forward either Johann Lamont or Margaret Curran, but is it really credible to have TWO Scottish Labour leaders in Westminster, and ZERO Scottish Labour leaders in Holyrood?

*  *  *

To return to the subject of Mr Smithson, I gather from Mick Pork that he's once again been wittering on about the "disaster" supposedly suffered by the SNP in the 2012 local elections - you know, the elections that the SNP comprehensively won across Scotland, with more votes and seats than any other party, and also a bigger increase in votes and seats than any other party.  From what I recall, Smithson's main excuse for his bizarre claim is that only the result in Glasgow mattered, because it's such an important city.  But that means...the Yes campaign won the independence referendum?  That's right, isn't it, Mike?  I don't see how you can have it both ways.

As for Mike's fetish for Jackanory Jim, it may well be true that Murphy would have a slightly better chance of getting a respectable result for Labour in 2016 than Johann Lamont, albeit that says far more about Ms Lamont than anyone else.  But I really struggle to see what use Mike thinks a Murphy "leadership" would be to Labour in next year's UK general election - the only difference it would make is that Murphy would be Labour's representative in the second-string Scottish TV debates.  The whole reason that the SNP have angrily rejected the broadcasters' proposals as they currently stand is that nobody pays a blind bit of attention to the second-string debates.  And then there's Mike's claim that Murphy emerged from his referendum street-barking tour with his "reputation enhanced".  Really?  If you measure a politician's mettle by the "weapon" it takes to silence them, Jackanory Jim proved to be literally as tough as an egg-shell.

Now then.  *Clears throat.*  There's something I've been needing to get out of my system for months, and it's going to gnaw away at my soul if I don't get it out of my system sooner or later.  So if you'd just indulge me for a few moments by imagining that Neil Morrissey is singing the Bob the Builder "Can We Fix It?" song, with adapted lyrics in tribute to Mike Smithson.  Here we go...

Mi-ike Smithson
Mi-ike Smithson
NO - HE - CAN'T!

OK, good, it's out of my system now.  Incidentally, I saw a cartoon on Twitter the other day with a caption which I thought perfectly summed up Smithson's PB moderation policy -

"You do realise that exposing the illegal things your government has been doing is illegal?"

By far the quickest way to get banned for no reason on PB is to point out that others have been banned for no reason.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lament for Lamont?

For weeks now, I've been meaning to write a post containing a Top of the Pops list (or Top of the Scot Goes Pops list) of the stupidest things that unionist commentators said in the immediate aftermath of the referendum.  Hopefully I'll still get around to doing it, because there's a hell of a selection, but in the meantime let's remember just one particular gem - I think it was possibly a Daily Mail editorial that said about Alex Salmond's resignation, "with one deft flick of the electorate's knife, the fish-faced king was no more".  I may not have remembered the last bit correctly, but it was some such gibberish.  The gist was that, far from the reality of Mr Salmond being this country's most popular and trusted political leader, we instead live in a parallel universe where the voters loathe him as much as the Daily Mail does, and where they "defeated" him in order to "expel" him from office.  (And of course he didn't resign of his own free will, or anything like that.)  So presumably on Planet Mail, whenever a party leader resigns immediately after a referendum, we can take it as read that the party in question suffered a humiliating defeat in that referendum.  Therefore, the fact that Johann Lamont has just resigned as Scottish Labour "leader" means that the No-supporting Labour party must have lost the independence referendum.  Hmmm.  It's confusing, isn't it?

I'll be honest - my first reaction upon hearing the news was one of bitter disappointment.  Ms Lamont has been an absolutely dreadful leader - it's a moot point whether she's been even worse than her predecessor Iain "the Snarl" Gray, but at the very least she's been just as bad.  If only she had stayed in harness for eighteen more months, it would have been a racing certainty that Labour would have suffered a third successive defeat in a Holyrood election.  Now of course, there are any number of dire Scottish Labour parliamentarians in both Edinburgh and London who might be fancying their chances tonight, and who would just as reliably assist the SNP in securing the hat-trick.  But it seems to me that Labour have nothing really to lose from a vacancy now - at worst, things will stay as they are, but there's just a chance they might find someone half-decent to take over, in which case Nicola Sturgeon might be given a run for her money in 2016.

So I was feeling pretty downhearted, until I realised that Lamont's departure was by no means an amicable parting of the ways, and that she had tossed a grenade into the constitutional debate with her stated reasons for resigning.  Hopefully that means there's at least a chance that something positive will come out of this.  Surely the new Labour for Scotland group will now have to rise to the challenge of putting up a candidate to argue the case for a much more radical devolution package, and also for their London colleagues to take a "hands off" approach on matters that are properly the province of the Scottish party.  Even if that candidate doesn't win, they might be able to set the tone of the leadership campaign, and secure concessions from the eventual winner.  If as a result Labour finally becomes the party of devolution that they've always claimed to be, they might be much more formidable opponents for the SNP, but that would be a price well worth paying for this country's sake.

If I could set aside all strategic considerations, I should probably take nothing but satisfaction from Lamont's demise, because she (or at least her public persona) is the absolute epitome of everything I loathe about the Labour party.  I'm not just saying that because she happens to be the outgoing leader - I remember thinking it when I first saw her on television way back in the 1990s.  It's like she sees Scotland as a dreamy, spoilt teenager, who needs to be given an endless series of bitter lectures about the stupidity of expecting too much from life.   The notorious "shut up and eat your cereal" ad from the No campaign could almost have been Lamont : The Movie.  If it's really true that she's been pushing the pro-devolution case behind the scenes, that does make me think better of her, but what I don't understand is why she had to wait until she resigned to speak out publicly.  Why not use her mandate to say "I'm the elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and it's time to stop encroaching on my territory"?  The whole point of having your own mandate is that you can't be sacked by Ed Miliband for talking out of turn.  Well, that's the theory - hopefully her successor might have the bravery to turn that theory into something more concrete.

Final thought - if Labour can't rediscover their roots, could they at least give us a three-cornered leadership contest between Terry Kelly, James Kelly (my esteemed MSP namesake) and Alex "Braveheart" Gallagher to cheer us all up?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Salmond's potential return to Westminster - the impact?

I must admit that until I caught up with last night's Question Time, I had given very little credence to the speculation that Alex Salmond might return to Westminster next year.  But now, I'm almost inclined to go to the other extreme and wonder if what we're seeing is the acting out of choreography that was devised weeks ago, meaning there is a careful plan in place for Salmond's post-resignation role, which may be bigger than we previously thought.  If he is indeed about to embark on a Commons comeback, I suppose the big question is whether it will be on the same basis as the last time, ie. as SNP group leader.  We should certainly hope so, because he is the greatest political talent of his generation (probably across the whole of these islands), and given that he's only 59 years old, it would be a terrible waste if the SNP couldn't continue to make use of his skills in some kind of formal leadership role.  It worked between 2001 and 2004 - Salmond's leadership in the Westminster group didn't prevent John Swinney establishing himself as the party leader (of course in some ways Swinney wasn't a very successful leader, but that can hardly be put down to his being overshadowed by his predecessor).

I know it might seem a bit harsh on Angus Robertson, but if the SNP do make big gains next year, being the deputy leader of a much-expanded group wouldn't be such a bad consolation prize!  I suppose it could be argued that it doesn't really matter whether Salmond is officially the group leader or not, because the London media will go to him anyway.  But in a sense that's a circular point - if you're going to be treated as the group leader, why not actually be the group leader?

Either way, presumably the thinking is that Salmond will be a powerful voice in London for maximum devolution, and will not be so easily ignored as others.  If we get lucky and the SNP hold the balance of power next May, he would undoubtedly be a key player in the negotiations.

Just as important is what this means for the election campaign next spring.  If Salmond is going to be a candidate, there is good reason to think that he will be much more prominent on our TV screens than previously seemed likely - and that can only be a good thing.  Theoretically, you could even make the case for him being the SNP's representative in whatever debates the party is graciously permitted to participate in, although I would guess they'd be more likely to want Sturgeon there to establish her as the new leader.

If nothing else, a Salmond candidacy will automatically increase the national vote for the SNP and/or Devo Max Alliance by 0.1% or so - because he'll take a hefty personal vote with him, regardless of which constituency he stands in.

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Thankfully, Labour overtaking the SNP in the Populus subsample a few days ago turned out to be a blip.  All of the subsamples since, including the latest one from Populus, have had the SNP well ahead.  The new update of the Poll of Polls is based on the Scottish subsamples from seven GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, two from Populus and one from Ashcroft.  Apart from seeing the SNP back above the psychological 40% threshold, it's also notable for being the first time that the Greens have overtaken UKIP in the Poll of Polls.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.0% (+3.2)
Labour 26.1% (+0.3)
Conservatives 16.0% (-3.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.0% (-1.8)
Greens 4.7% (+1.8)
UKIP 3.7% (-1.7)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)