Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SNP hold 17% lead in new Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

There's still no sign at all that the elusive "Murphy honeymoon" is having any effect whatever on the SNP's polling strength.  Nicola Sturgeon's party is at 44% in today's YouGov subsample, which is a touch higher than their recent average.  Admittedly Labour are also towards the upper end of their current "normal range" at 31% - that's probably just the effect of normal sampling variation, although it would be ironic if Murphy's coronation ended up slightly boosting both the SNP and Labour.  The logic for thinking that might happen is that some core Labour voters hate his guts, while lots of natural Tory voters love him to bits - ring any bells?

Today's update of the Poll of Polls is based on the recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, plus Scottish subsamples from eight GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, two from Populus and two from ComRes.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43.8% (-1.2)
Labour 26.7% (+0.2)
Conservatives 16.9% (+0.2)
Liberal Democrats 4.7% (+0.2)
UKIP 3.7% (+0.2)
Greens 3.2% (+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.)

There'll probably only be one more Poll of Polls update before the end of the year, because YouGov will shortly be closing down their daily polls for the Christmas/New Year period.  We'll then be into the scary twilight zone where public opinion might be changing without us having any way of knowing.  But from early January onwards, we'll have regular polling (at GB level) all the way through to polling day in May.

Incidentally, the above update doesn't include today's ICM poll in the Guardian, because the datasets haven't been published yet.  (I briefly thought I'd found them and posted the Scottish subsample on Twitter, only to realise that I was looking at the November poll!)  However, the Britain-wide figures are interesting, because they offer the first credible sign in ages that the Lib Dems might yet cling on to third place in the popular vote -

Britain-wide voting intentions (ICM, 12th-16th December) :

Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 28% (-3)
UKIP 14% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 14% (+3)
"Others" (including SNP) 6% (n/c)
Greens 5% (-1)

This of course flatly contradicts the picture painted by YouGov recently, which has suggested that the Lib Dems are roughly level-pegging with the Greens on around 6% or 7%, and only just barely ahead of the SNP and Plaid Cymru.  Most of the difference can probably be explained by data collection method - YouGov are an online firm, while ICM (at least in these polls) use telephone fieldwork.

If ICM are closer to the mark, it's hard to say whether it's good news for the SNP or not.  Assuming the Lib Dems are proving more resilient than expected in England, then that further increases the chances of a hung parliament, which is obviously exactly what we want.  But on the other hand there must be at least some kind of correlation between the Lib Dems' fortunes north and south of the border, and if they start to do too well it might threaten the SNP's chances in one or two of the more difficult target seats.  Then there's the issue of which party takes third place in the next House of Commons, which is not only psychologically important, but might also affect speaking rights in the chamber (for example at Prime Minister's Questions).

More damning evidence that the independence referendum was not fairly conducted : The Guardian reports that the "politically neutral" Queen was asked by the No campaign to interfere, and freely agreed to do so

One of the favourite tactics of the No campaign as the referendum approached was to portray their opponents as utterly paranoid - there was much mirth, for example, about the plans of some Yes voters to take their own pens with them to the polling station in case their votes were erased.  But as the saying goes, "just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not out to get you", and the evidence just continues to mount that the London establishment (political, media, business, you name it) flagrantly bent and breached the rules of the democratic process at their leisure to get the result they required in September.

With the benefit of hindsight, I may even have been a bit naive about just how far they were prepared to go.  When the media made a huge song and dance about a supposed "intervention" from the Queen that seemed to consist of nothing more than her being casually overheard to say to a member of the public that she hoped voters would think carefully about the big decision ahead of them, my reaction was this : Oh, come off it.  The Queen is probably anti-independence in private, and that has perhaps unwittingly shone through in the tone of her remark.  But she wasn't consciously saying anything at all, and she didn't expect to be overheard anyway.

If the Guardian is to be believed, and it probably should be because its sources seem plentiful and credible, the polar opposite is true.  It seems our unelected Head of State breached her clear and solemn duty to remain politically neutral, and consciously colluded with the UK government to set up a little scene that was intended to be helpful for the No campaign.  In retrospect, it should have been obvious that was what had happened, because the media's breathless reaction was an integral part of the whole pre-scripted drama (in a similar way to an earlier incident when Nick Robinson dutifully asked Barack Obama the question he had been told by Cameron's minions to ask).  If News at Ten is telling you that that the Queen has "intervened" and that the London government is "delighted" about it, it's because journalists have been tipped the wink that these things don't happen by accident.  Of course, what those journalists should then do is react with moral outrage, offer full disclosure to their viewers and listeners, and use their investigative skills to work out what the hell is going on and whose heads will roll as a result.  But they don't do that, because the London-based broadcast media, just like the London-based civil service, see themselves as being "on holiday" from their duty of impartiality, and are enjoying being part of a collective establishment effort to "save the union".  (Don't be surprised if, just like their civil service counterparts, they eventually receive a trophy for their sterling efforts at a glittering awards ceremony.)  So they instead credulously report on how the Queen has intervened on behalf of the No campaign, and somehow done so in a completely impartial way that is entirely befitting of her office.

Even the Guardian's report today maintains that ludicrous doublethink, insisting there was a "determination to ensure [the Queen] did not cross a line".  Look, guys, if you've established that there was a clear and conscious intent to intervene and to have a direct impact on the referendum result, then it doesn't matter a damn what the nature of that intervention was and what exact words were used.  The line has been crossed, the constitutional duty has been breached.  And, needless to say, this is a two-way street - it was just as outrageous for the London government to ask the Queen to breach her duty of impartiality as it was for the Queen to agree.

It looks very much like the Queen's 'off-the-cuff' comment was scripted for her by the No campaign, and that she was fully aware that she was being overheard and would be interpreted in the 'correct' way.  What we don't seem to know yet is whether the well-wisher who asked her the question in the first place was a Better Together plant, but logically we must conclude that was probably the case.  That would have seemed paranoid beyond belief if anyone had suggested it at the time, even as a vague possibility.  But every day is an education in post-referendum North Britain.

The SNP leadership will of course defend the Queen to the hilt over this.  They'll either try to shut down the story completely, or will place the blame for any wrongdoing squarely with the London government.  That's an astute thing to do, because any Scottish government has to be on the same page as the majority of the Scottish population (albeit perhaps not an overwhelming majority) in assuming the Royal Family's good intentions.  But that shouldn't stop the rest of us speaking truth about an appalling abuse of privilege.

Alistair Davidson penned a thoughtful piece on Bella Caledonia yesterday in which he suggested that the No campaign under Blair McDougall had been tactically brilliant in identifying courses of action that would help them to narrowly win in the short-term, but had been strategically hopeless in failing to spot that what they were doing would destroy their cause in the longer-term.  That same verdict could easily apply to the whole London establishment, who couldn't seem to see past September 18th, and still can't.  How else do we explain the bizarre spectacle of the civil service patting themselves on the back in public about conduct during the referendum that they freely admit was "very close" to being inappropriate?  Haven't they seen the opinion polls recently?

The monarchy's short-sightedness is even more inexplicable, because unlike other London institutions it would have survived in Scotland, and quite possibly thrived, after independence.  But it seems that wasn't enough for them, and that the Queen simply had to be this country's Head of State in the way that she is accustomed to.  That irrational conservatism has led her to take a step that may have poisoned the goodwill that some Yes voters felt towards her, and may as a result make it somewhat less likely that Scotland will retain the monarchy for very long if it becomes independent in future.  Hey-ho.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Despair for Jim Murphy as early straws in the wind suggest his coronation has failed to dent the SNP's enormous opinion poll lead

Jackanory Jim's investiture as the High Priest of Patriotism was, according to his most devoted admirers (many of them southern Tories), supposed to produce some kind of "honeymoon effect" for Scottish Labour in the opinion polls.  To be fair, the jury is still out on whether that will prove to be the case, because we only have very limited evidence to go on so far.  But, for what it's worth, that early evidence provides no encouragement at all for followers of the Church of the Crate.

The first GB-wide poll to have been entirely conducted in the Murphy Era has just been published by YouGov, and the Scottish subsample shows the SNP ahead of Labour by 43% to 26%.  If anything, that's a tad higher than the type of lead that has been typical over the last three months.

We also have two subsamples from polls that were partly conducted after the Coming of the Crate-Meister.  Populus have the SNP ahead by 36% to 28%, which as you'll remember from the song-and-dance Mike Smithson made about the Populus aggregate for the month of November, is significantly higher than the average SNP lead shown by that firm of late.  ComRes also have the SNP on 36% - but they have Labour on an abysmally low 21%.

Things may yet get better for the Irn-Bru Icon - but then they sure as hell can't get much worse.

On a Britain-wide basis, the YouGov poll puts the SNP and Plaid Cymru just 1% behind the Liberal Democrats for the fourth time in the last couple of weeks.  The Greens have opened up a 2% lead over the Lib Dems for the first time in a YouGov poll, and are now just 6% behind UKIP. 

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 14th-15th December) :

Labour 34% (+2)
Conservatives 32% (n/c)
UKIP 14% (-2)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)
BNP 1% (+1)

Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett certainly couldn't have chosen a better moment to join forces to demand inclusion in the TV leaders' debates.

Is David Maddox at it again?

There's a short piece in the Scotsman by David Maddox which attempts to weave a narrative of (and I'm paraphrasing here) : Nicola Sturgeon has slapped down Alex Salmond by saying that only Trident, and not Devo Max, will be a red line in any post-election negotiations with Labour.  The SNP will merely "argue very strongly" for full fiscal autonomy.

If there was the slightest truth in that, I would be as concerned as anyone, because although I feel incredibly strongly about getting rid of nuclear weapons, I wouldn't want more powers for the Scottish Parliament to be de-emphasised.  I've had a look to see if I can find a video of Nicola Sturgeon's supposed comments, but without success.  I did, however, find an interview with her on yesterday's Good Morning Britain in which she says this -

"So that kind of arrangement [a confidence-and-supply deal with Labour] possibly, but we'd want commitments from Labour to substantial powers for the Scottish Parliament.  I'd want them to drop this crazy idea of renewing Trident nuclear weapons and putting them on the Clyde.  I think we'd want to see a change to the austerity agenda that's impoverishing so many kids, not just in Scotland of course, but across the UK.  So we'd drive a hard bargain."

That seems absolutely crystal-clear to me - a transfer of substantial powers to the Scottish Parliament is not just something that the SNP would be "arguing for", but is one of three things that they'd make a key part of any deal, and all three seem to be accorded equal importance.  I suppose Maddox's get-out clause might be that an insistence upon "substantial powers" is not the same thing as making full Devo Max an unbreachable red line.  But was the latter ever actually proposed by Alex Salmond? Or is Maddox using a creative interpretation of Salmond's rhetoric in an attempt to generate an "SNP split" where none exists?  I think we can probably guess.

If negotiations with Labour occur, it seems to be the case (as we've always assumed) that the SNP will simply be pushing for as many new powers as they can possibly get.  In those circumstances, it will be interesting to see what happens to abortion law, because of course that was something the Tories and Lib Dems were prepared to transfer to Holyrood, while Labour pompously insisted that they were never going to allow a situation where women would not have the same rights across the UK.  Leaving aside the fact that this is ignorant of the current reality (there are already two completely different abortion laws in the UK, one in Great Britain, one in Northern Ireland), it presumably means that women will be ineligible to become Fisheries Minister in both England and Scotland.  Isn't that right, Frank Doran?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Perhaps we should give Treasury civil servant Mario Pisani something to cry about properly?

You've probably already seen it on Newsnet Scotland, but this is nothing short of astonishing.  A team of civil servants in the London Treasury was last month given a special Civil Service Award for running a propaganda campaign in the run-up to the referendum that was designed to terrorise the electorate into voting No.  In their acceptance remarks, the team openly expressed pride for doing something that was, by their own admission, very close to being inappropriate.  They were also entirely shameless in setting themselves up as personal enemies to half the population of Scotland, as opposed to defining themselves as public servants who were dispassionately following instructions from politicians.

Mario Pisani : “In the Treasury, everyone hates you. We don't get thanks for anything. This is one occasion where we've worked with the rest of Whitehall.

We all had something in common, we're trying to save the Union here, and it came so close. We just kept it by the skin of our teeth. I actually cried when the result came in. After 10 years in the civil service, my proudest moment is tonight and receiving this award.

As civil servants you don't get involved in politics. For the first time in my life, suddenly we're part of a political campaign. We were doing everything from the analysis, to the advertising, to the communications. I just felt a massive sense of being part of the operation. This being recognised [at the Civil Service Awards], makes me feel just incredibly proud."

Shannon Cochrane : “we've learned that it is possible for civil servants to work on things that are inherently political and quite difficult, and you're very close to the line of what is appropriate, but it's possible to find your way through and to make a difference.”

Paul Doyle : “This award is not just for the Treasury, it's for all the hard work that was done by all government departments on the Scotland agenda.

The reality was in all my experience of the civil service, I have never seen the civil service pull together in the way they did behind supporting the UK government in maintaining the United Kingdom. It was a very special event for all of us.”

I know there are many readers of this blog who would be completely opposed to the SNP becoming part of a full coalition at Westminster after the general election, but let me ask you this - isn't there some appeal in the idea that within just five months, the proudly anti-independence Mario Pisani could be required to follow direct instructions from an SNP minister at the Treasury? By the sounds of things, that's a development that really would make him "actually cry".

*  *  *

The ever-reliable George Eaton has kept the laughs coming - he's claimed that Jim Murphy's Clause IV wheeze exhibits "the kind of imagination and creativity that will be required in the months ahead". Imagination? Really? Frankly, I'm struggling to think of anything LESS imaginative than a Blairite politician saying to himself : "Now, I need my own Clause IV moment, just like Tony. What could it possibly be? Wait, I know, why don't I rewrite Clause IV?"

The current abomination of a Clause IV as dreamt up by Blair starts promisingly enough by stating "The Labour party is a democratic socialist party", but then goes on to explain why the Labour party is not in fact a democratic socialist party. For my money, a new constitution needn't be longer than about twenty words to meet Jackanory Jim's specifications -

"The Labour party is a Democratic Socialist But party, and a Proud Scots But party. We love Irn-Bru."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Misery for Murphy as sparkling SNP seize sizeable Scottish Parliament lead in new YouGov poll

I've only got a couple of minutes to spare before I pop out for the rest of the day, but I thought you might be interested to see the Holyrood figures that have now been released from the new YouGov poll...

Holyrood constituency voting intentions :

SNP 50% (+4)
Labour 28% (n/c)
Conservatives 14% (+2)
UKIP 3% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-2)
Greens 2% (-3)

Holyrood regional list voting intentions :

SNP 42% (+4)
Labour 26% (n/c)
Conservatives 14% (+2)
Greens 7% (-3)
UKIP 4% (-2)
SSP 3% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-1)

Even with the Greens slipping back somewhat, it remains the case that the SNP's hopes are threatened most by people who voted for them on the constituency ballot drifting off to the Greens or SSP on the list ballot.  That's fair enough if those people actually regard the Greens or SSP as their number one choice, but if they instead think they're doing it as some kind of pro-independence "tactical vote", it's folly in the extreme.  As the 2011 result amply demonstrated, "tactical voting" on the list is a mug's game, and has at least a 50/50 chance of either not working or backfiring completely.

On a more positive note, it's worth remembering that it was on the list vote that the pollsters were miles out in 2011, so it could be that an aggressive "vote twice for an SNP government" strategy will do the trick again.

It doesn't look like YouGov have weighted by recalled referendum vote, because excluding didn't votes/can't remembers/refusers, the recalled Yes vote is 47.1%, compared to an actual Yes vote in September of 44.7%.  That's a pretty narrow gap, though, so the impact would be relatively modest even if an additional new weighting was introduced.  On the question asking for voting intentions for a hypothetical new referendum, Yes are slightly ahead even on the raw unweighted data.  Compare that to the famous YouGov poll showing Yes ahead ten days before polling, when No remained ahead on the unweighted numbers.  There really does seem to have been a sea-change over the last three months.

UPDATE : A point that's just occurred to me is that it would actually be wrong for YouGov to weight by recalled referendum vote, because they're only using over-18s for their current polls, and nobody has a clue what the referendum result was if 16 and 17 years olds are excluded.

Will Jackanory Jim even lead Scottish Labour into the 2016 Holyrood election?

The newly-installed "leader" of Labour's branch office in Scotland made clear during the campaign that as far as he was concerned he was also running to become First Minister.  But will Murphy even get to the point of submitting himself to the voters on that basis in May 2016?  I can think of at least four ways in which he might be dislodged before then...

1) He might stand in East Renfrewshire at next year's general election and be defeated.  People quite naturally talk about Murphy's personal vote and the bonus he may get from his visibility as "leader", but both of those points are already factored into the 2010 baseline result, which saw Murphy as the incumbent Scottish Secretary defeat the Tories by more than 10,000 votes in a constituency that in its "wild state" ought to have been either a safe Tory seat, or at best a Tory-Labour marginal.  So there's no obvious reason to suppose that he'll be enjoying a personal advantage over and above the one he had last time, which means that the following figures are entirely relevant -

Swing required for the SNP to defeat Murphy : 21.0%

Current national Labour-to-SNP swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 20.3%

Swing required for the Conservatives to defeat Murphy : 10.2%

Current national Labour-to-Conservative swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 7.8%

It looks a bit close for comfort on both fronts.  Yes, the likelihood is that the SNP's national lead over Labour will at least reduce as polling day approaches, but I don't see how anyone can ponder the above figures and conclude that East Renfrewshire looks at this moment like a shoo-in for Labour.  If Murphy were to lose, it's not entirely clear to me whether he would be automatically required by the party's rules to relinquish the leadership - but his position would surely be untenable anyway.

2) He might resign as an MP, stand in a Holyrood by-election and be defeated.  We all know that by-election campaigns can be as mad as a bucket of frogs and produce stunning upsets, and you can guarantee that the SNP would throw the kitchen sink at this one.  Murphy might seek to avert the "by-election bubble" problem by engineering a contest to take place on the same day as the general election, but then he would risk being carried away by a nationwide SNP tidal wave - if the current momentum continues (which is admittedly a big if).

3) He might take the rap for heavy losses to the SNP next May, even if he wins his own seat.  In theory, there's no particular reason why he should take the rap, because Ed Miliband is the leader in Westminster terms and Murphy will only be playing a support role in the general election campaign.  But it's Murphy himself who has chosen to personalise this by repeatedly claiming that he will ensure that Labour retains every single Westminster seat that they currently hold.  He might be able to gloss over the loss of Falkirk and one or two other seats, but if the carnage is as great as the opinion polls currently suggest, the media will be in a position to recite his words back to him over and over again and make his leadership look like an abject failure.  (Although the million dollar question is whether the media would actually choose to put him under that kind of pressure, because the likes of Kenny Farquharson seem to have a rather sweet crush on Jackanory Jim.)

4) He might not be able to resist standing for the UK Labour leadership if a vacancy occurs next year, or he might be tempted by an offer of a senior Shadow Cabinet post from Miliband's successor.  It's no secret that Murphy sees his native country as a backwater, and would never have dreamed of heading to the Scottish Parliament if his career prospects under Miliband hadn't looked as bleak as they did.  But if Labour are defeated in the UK general election, the situation will change, because Miliband will almost certainly no longer be leader.  Assuming Murphy is still MP for East Renfrewshire, he would be eligible to run for the UK party leadership, or to return immediately to the Shadow Cabinet in a senior role if another Blairite becomes leader.  Yes, he'd know that would leave the Scottish party in a state of utter chaos, but let's be honest - if he no longer has a personal investment, do we really think he would care?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Scotland swings decisively behind the SNP and independence in amazing new YouGov poll

The headline results from a new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov have been released by the Sun on Twitter.  So far I haven't been able to track down the fieldwork dates, but Calum Findlay mentioned yesterday evening that he'd just taken part in this poll, so it's presumably bang up to date.  Let's hope so, because the results are very much at the extreme upper end of what my expectations would have been.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 47% (+4)
Labour 27% (n/c)
Conservatives 16% (+1)
Greens 3% (-1)
UKIP 3% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-1)

There have of course been two post-referendum polls from other firms that were even better than this for the SNP (Ipsos-Mori gave them a 29-point lead and Survation gave them a 22-point lead).  But to see a gap of as high as 20 points from YouGov is still a bit startling, because that firm's previous estimate of a 16-point lead was more in line with the average results of their daily subsamples.  In fact, the SNP's subsample lead both today and yesterday was exactly 16 points.  And perhaps more significantly, the party's raw share of the vote in the subsamples has more often than not been quite a bit lower than 47%.  So this poll raises the serious possibility that the daily GB-wide YouGov polls have been understating the SNP's strength, in spite of the party performing outstandingly well in them.  To be fair, there's always been a straightforward reason for supposing that might have been going on - in GB-wide polls YouGov use Westminster-oriented weighting by party ID.

The other point that leaps out is just how dreadfully badly the smaller parties are doing.  I had assumed that the Liberal Democrats' 4% share in the last YouGov poll was a freakish result, but the chances of them being significantly underestimated by random margin-of-error effects in two consecutive polls is obviously pretty low.  The jury is still out on UKIP, though, because they fared a bit better in the last poll.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48%
No 45%

It's impossible to know the exact significance of this result until we see the datasets, or find out whether there have been any methodological changes.  The last YouGov poll (which was the only other post-referendum poll from the firm to ask the independence question) produced almost identical results to this, putting Yes on 49% and No on 45%.  However, it was immediately criticised by John Curtice and one or two others for not weighting by recalled referendum vote, which would have had the effect of keeping No in the lead, albeit only very narrowly.  I was slightly cynical about that intervention, because I don't recall Curtice making similar unofficial adjustments to the many pre-referendum polls that failed to weight by country of birth, and which therefore underestimated the Yes vote.  However, it's possible that YouGov will have heeded his complaint, in which case tonight's result is even better for Yes, because it suggests there has probably been a further swing in real terms since the last poll.

If they haven't made any methodological change (which is also perfectly possible - they may want to keep the trend figures meaningful) then it means there hasn't been a further swing, but also that the headline numbers remain directly comparable with pre-referendum YouGov polls, which in all but one (legendary) case had No ahead.  So either way there is no real doubt that a significant number of voters have been converted to independence since September 18th.

[UPDATE : A point that's just occurred to me is that it would actually be wrong for YouGov to weight by recalled referendum vote, because they're only using over-18s for their current polls, and nobody has a clue what the referendum result was if 16 and 17 years olds are excluded.]

Views on the Smith Commission and its proposals for further devolution :

It doesn't devolve enough powers : 51%
It gets the balance right : 23%
It goes too far : 14%

And there, in a nutshell, is the explanation for why the SNP have either maintained their advantage over Labour or increased it somewhat - it appears that they've comprehensively won the battle of perceptions over Smith.  It's all very well for Michael Portillo to sit on a BBC sofa in London, smirking at Alex Salmond like an overgrown schoolboy while tittering : "The Vow has been delivered!  You know that!  You're just playing games!"  But unfortunately for the London establishment and the Daily Record (is there a difference between the two?), it turns out that Scottish voters are not half as stupid as Portillo takes them for.  They know what they heard Gordon Brown promise - and they also know that what the Smith Commission has come up with is quite simply not "Home Rule".  Nor is it "near federalism".  Nor is it the "Devo SUPER Max" promised by Better Together's official representative at the TV debate in the Hydro.

Assuming that YouGov only offered respondents the three options listed above, roughly 58% of people who gave a view said that the Smith proposals are inadequate.  It's also fascinating to see how few people thought the proposals go too far, because that must encompass the evidently dwindling group who are opposed to devolution/self-government altogether.

I've been slightly bemused over the last few days and weeks by the number of London commentators who appear to think that Scottish Labour's problems are being caused by a "leadership vacuum" and that some sort of "honeymoon period" for Jackanory Jim is about to provide a quick fix.  In reality, the Scottish media have been shamelessly treating Murphy as the unofficial leader for weeks now, so that's already factored into the polling results.  To be fair, that doesn't necessarily mean that what's going on is Murphy's fault.  The electorate know that Miliband is the real leader, and above all else it's him that they don't like, rate, trust, or respect.

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SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

Tonight's Poll of Polls update is based on the full-scale YouGov poll, plus Scottish subsamples from five GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, and one from Populus.  That means fourteen-fifteenths of the sample comes from YouGov, which is plainly less than ideal!

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 45.0% (+2.4)
Labour 26.5% (-0.4)
Conservatives 16.7% (+0.6)
Liberal Democrats 4.5% (-1.8)
UKIP 3.5% (-1.1)
Greens 2.9% (+0.5)

(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.)

How are the SNP faring on the transfer market?

Craig Murray suggested the other day that I should take a look at how people who vote for unionist parties are using their lower preferences in local council elections.  There's probably not much point in examining what's been going on over a long timescale, because a) it would be an enormous undertaking, and b) what we're really interested in is the pattern since the referendum, to see if there's any clue as to who might benefit from tactical voting next May.  So let's concentrate for now on the most recent by-elections.

Probably most interesting is how Labour voters are behaving, because even in these darkest of days for the party they still have considerably more voters out there than the Tories or Lib Dems do.  At the Elgin North by-election yesterday, the Labour candidate was the last to be eliminated, so his votes could only be transferred to either the independent candidate or the SNP.  This is how they split -

Independent 98
SNP 77

Given that the SNP won the election, it's clear there was a disproportionate anti-SNP (or pro-independent) leaning among Labour voters as compared to the ward's electorate as a whole, but the difference was fairly mild.  They certainly weren't going against the SNP as a bloc.

The Troup by-election in Aberdeenshire two weeks ago was effectively an SNP-Tory battle (which the SNP won comfortably), but the Labour candidate was eliminated at an earlier stage of the count, so his votes were transferrable to the SNP, the Tories, the Lib Dems or an independent.  This is the breakdown -

Liberal Democrats 31
SNP 22
Conservatives 16
Independent 8

Given the unpopularity of the Lib Dems these days, it's probably significant that Labour voters preferred the party of Clegg to a winning SNP candidate.  On the other hand, there's no evidence here that they preferred the Tories to the SNP - albeit we can't be sure where the greater number of transfers would have gone if the Lib Dems hadn't been an option.  The North Coast and Cumbraes contest may help in that regard, because Labour votes were only transferrable to the SNP, Tories or an independent -

Independent 177
Conservatives 122
SNP 111

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this suggests that many Labour voters don't like either the SNP or the Tories very much, and are happy enough to find any sort of alternative to both.  To the extent that they did exercise a preference, it was for the Tories - just - but again we don't know what would have happened if there had been a straight choice.

It's also worth remembering that Labour are very much down to their core vote at the moment, so the numbers above aren't telling us much about the behaviour of Labour voters from the 2010 general election, many of whom will have given their first preference vote to the SNP in these contests and had done with it.  I also very much doubt if Labour sympathisers who voted tactically for the SNP in the last general election in places like Perth to keep the Tories out will suddenly find that they now prefer the Tories to the SNP.

As for Tory voters, well....it's a somewhat clearer picture.  Here's what they did in Elgin North -

Independent 96
Labour 52
SNP 9

And in Oban North and Lorn -

Independent 183
Labour 91
SNP 12

And in North Coast and Cumbraes -

Independent 589
SNP 123

And in Midlothian East -

Labour 100
Independent 83
SNP 27

So Tory voters consistently prefer Labour to the SNP by some distance, and in one case even prefer Labour to the convenient option of plumping for neither of the traditional "enemies".  Unlike Labour voters, then, Tories have enthusiastically fallen into line with their party leadership in viewing the other main unionist party as an ally.

OK, there are any number of people out there who once upon a time would have been considered "natural Tories" and who now vote SNP - but they're likely to have made the jump a long time ago, not since 2010.  (We know that because the Tory vote hasn't slumped any further in recent years.)  So the above numbers do tell us quite a lot about the attitudes of people who voted Tory in 2010.

By the way, if I'd done a post specifically about Elgin North, the headline would have been either 'Lousy Labour Earn Elgin Earbashing as Serene SNP Slide to Success' or 'Sturgeon Steals the Elgin Marbles', but I decided to spare you.

Tories tormented as super SNP secure staggering swing in cracking Kintyre contest

Is the South Kintyre by-election result an early tremor, presaging the earthquake to come next May?  Well, maybe, but we shouldn't jump to conclusions - this is the sixth local by-election since the SNP's post-referendum opinion poll surge started, and although there's been more good news than bad, there certainly hasn't been a consistent trend.  Tonight's numbers are pretty extraordinary, though.

South Kintyre by-election result (11th December) :

SNP 62.2% (+37.2)
Liberal Democrats 14.1% (-0.1)
Conservatives 13.4% (-32.5)
Labour 10.3% (+10.3) 

Swing from Conservatives to SNP : 34.9%
Swing from Liberal Democrats to SNP : 18.7%
Swing from Labour to SNP : 13.5%

Although the SNP were technically defending the seat, the Tories had a commanding lead in the ward in 2012, as you can probably gather from the off-the-scale swing from Tory to SNP.  Of course at a national level the SNP had a narrow lead over Labour of just under 1% in the 2012 local elections, so if we "just for a bit of fun" apply the above swings on a Scotland-wide basis, the SNP would be leading by the small matter of about 28%.

However, local factors obviously come into play, and without being familiar with the facts on the ground it's impossible to know how much to read into this result.  The Tories might have run a particularly dreadful campaign this time, or the personal vote for their incumbent councillor Donald Kelly may have flattered them last time around.  The most recent batch of by-elections two weeks ago demonstrated that it's possible for the SNP to have an excellent result in one part of the country while falling short elsewhere on the same day, so for all we know the Elgin result (to be announced in a few hours' time) might paint a completely different picture.  In the meantime, though...

*puts on Canadian accent*

It's another terrrr-ible night for the Conservatives.