Monday, May 27, 2019
* Yesterday I posted a list of benchmarks for SNP success, and the party has sailed past all of them - including the one I was most dubious about, ie. the 36.9% share of the vote achieved in the 2017 general election.
* The most important thing from the point of view of both the SNP and the wider independence movement is that the 2017 result is no longer a problem. It should never have been a problem in the first place, because it was a landslide for the SNP of 1987 Thatcher style proportions. It saw them win 60% of the seats and almost as big a share of the vote as they won tonight. There was only ever an issue because of the ludicrous media spin on the result - but that spin is now at an end. In terms of political momentum, the swing in the SNP's favour tonight supercedes the swing against them two years ago, meaning that we'll hear no more about Ruth Davidson's supposed fightback against an independence referendum - or at least not until and unless she reverses tonight's result in a subsequent election, which looks a very remote prospect. For now the SNP are indisputably the ascendant party, and to the extent that any party can claim to speak for this country, the SNP have earned the right to make that claim.
* That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that the 2017 tribute act in the Tory leaflets may have been the crucial factor in saving Ruth Davidson's sole Scottish seat. It would seem plausible that the tired old "no more referendums" pitch may have won back just enough of the hardline unionist voters who would otherwise have been tempted by the Brexit Party. If so, we should raise a glass to Ms Davidson's lack of imagination, because the Tories' success in clinging on to their seat contributed to the Brexit Party's failure to take a second seat. If the final result had been SNP 3, Brexit Party 2, Lib Dems 1, the perception would have been that the SNP win wasn't quite so clear-cut. As it is, no-one can really doubt the SNP's dominance.
* In every other sense apart from the fact that they won a seat, it was a truly awful result for the Scottish Tories - they hit an all-time low in the popular vote. Only proportional representation saved their bacon. We've all seen the map - if this had been a first-past-the-post Westminster election, the Tories would have been completely wiped out and the SNP would have won almost every single seat. The trend was no different in the north-east seats that the Tories gained two years and that had looked absolutely rock-solid for them until a few short weeks ago. This is happening partly because of the resurgence in SNP support, and partly because the natural Tory vote is split down the middle between two parties. So the SNP's chances of winning back their former north-east heartlands in a snap general election depend to some extent on whether the Brexit Party vote holds up in the coming months, and indeed on whether the Brexit Party decide to contest every Westminster seat. (I suspect they'll feel obliged to, because any party that wants to present itself as seeking to win an election can't give its opponents a free pass in selected seats.)
* Although the SNP's 38% share of the vote tonight looks similar to the 37% achieved in 2017, pound-for-pound it was a much better result, simply because this was a proportional representation election and there was more competition to beat. The Brexit Party are the most obvious example of that, but the Greens also took 8% of the vote, in complete contrast to the general election in which they barely put up any candidates. Ian Blackford made a telling point on the BBC results programme - the SNP's winning share of the vote in Scotland was larger than the share achieved by the first-placed party in England. That wasn't the case in 2017.
* As far as the interminable discussions about tactical voting are concerned, the SNP could only have gained a fourth seat if a very large number of Green and Lib Dem voters had switched to them, and the Greens could only have won a seat if a very large number of SNP and Lib Dem voters had switched. The reality is that the whole idea that any party just needed a modest number of tactical votes to tip them over the edge was proved to be bogus. Anyone who followed the advice of the Remain Voter website to "tactically vote Lib Dem" in Scotland must be feeling a bit foolish, because the Lib Dems would have comfortably won a seat anyway, and they were nowhere near to winning a second seat.
* If there's a cloud on the horizon for the SNP, it might be Jo Swinson. I know some people will scoff at that idea, and I entirely share the view that she's going to be an uninspiring leader and that the Lib Dems' Britain-wide interests would be best served by choosing someone else. But history does show that British party leaders with a Scottish accent tend to be worth a few extra percentage points to their party in Scotland (for example the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy unexpectedly outpolled the SNP in 2005). The problem may have been exacerbated by the fact that Swinson will not, as we assumed until recently, be leading a party that no-one is paying any attention to, but rather one that suddenly seems to have captured the zeitgeist south of the border. But the impact of that might be counterintuitive - if she primarily takes Scottish votes from Labour and the Tories, that could split the unionist vote in such a way that would make it easier for the SNP to win certain Westminster seats. We'll just have to see how it all plays out.
* Does the Scottish Labour wipeout mean that the game's up? Maybe, although some people made the same assumption after 2015, only for Labour to show some signs of life in the 2017 local and general elections. This may not be the final twist in the tale, but Richard Leonard's party are certainly in a highly vulnerable position, and a few more results like tonight could mean that they eventually cease to exist as a credible electoral force.
* Although the UK result was a complex one, the London media and political establishment love winners and losers, so I suspect that the Brexit Party's twelve-point lead over the second placed Lib Dems will be more than enough to ensure that the No Deal Brexiteers in the Tory party will remain emboldened during the forthcoming leadership election.
* It's to the credit of the new BBC Scotland channel that it ran its own results programme, but having dipped in and out of it I did think it was odd that it didn't seem to cover the Scottish results as they came in, which you would have thought was the main point of such a programme. Viewers found out about the results almost indirectly - a presenter would say something like "oh, by the way, a few more local authorities have declared since we last spoke..."
Sunday, May 26, 2019
The biggest impact of a surprise result tonight could be on the prospects for a no deal Brexit. The main reason that no deal has suddenly become acceptable language for Tory leadership candidates to use in polite company is the surge for the Brexit Party in the polls. But if the Brexit Party underperform expectations tonight, and particularly if the Lib Dems do well, the internal mood within the Tories could swing back in the opposite direction. We already know that turnout has risen more in English local authority areas that voted Remain, so that's not an entirely implausible scenario. European elections have a history of throwing up major shocks, perhaps because there's so much scope for differential turnout to come into play. The 1999 outcome, with a clear Conservative victory and several seats each for UKIP and the Greens, stands out as a result that was way outside the parameters of what most commentators thought was possible. I wouldn't be totally amazed if we see a very close run thing in the popular vote between the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems tonight.
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting slightly jittery about the Scottish result. It was a bit troubling to hear the estimates that the overall turnout in Scotland, along with the increase in the turnout, was lower than in England. Turnout was never going to be super-high, but a tolerably high figure would probably have suited the SNP better. And you might think that the English pattern of turnout going up more in strongly Remain areas would also apply here, but I'm not so sure. The voting patterns in the EU referendum were so different in Scotland, with socio-economic groups that went heavily to Leave just over the border in north-east England going the opposite way here, partly because pro-Europeanism is so closely associated with support for an independent Scotland. One possibility is that there may be a difference in turnout between leafy, affluent Remain strongholds and the more working-class areas that voted strongly Remain, and if so, that could favour the Lib Dems more than the SNP. The good news, though, is that the D'Hondt formula favours larger parties, and it may be possible for the SNP to take a third seat even if the polls have overstated their support (although they'd still need to exceed the 29% of the vote they took last time).
Here are a few benchmarks to look out for...
2 seats: This would keep the SNP on the same number of seats they've had continuously since 1994, and would technically equal their all-time high.
3 seats: This would beat the SNP's all-time high, and would also be the highest proportion of Scottish seats that any party has won since proportional representation was introduced twenty years ago. (Labour took three seats in 1999, but there were eight Scottish seats back then rather than six.)
29.0% of the vote: This would equal the SNP's performance of five years ago.
29.1% of the vote: This would equal the all-time high for the SNP (and for any other party in Scotland) since proportional representation was introduced.
32.6% of the vote: This would equal the all-time high for the SNP in all European elections. But it's arguably an unfair comparison, because that figure was recorded in 1994 under first-past-the-post, which is a system that incentivises voters to back larger parties.
36.9% of the vote: This would equal the SNP's performance at the last Westminster general election. It's a real 'apples and oranges' comparison, but you can guarantee the media will still attempt it.
I'll also be keeping an eye out for any sign of the ex-YouGov propagandist Peter Kellner on the BBC's results coverage. I've told this story a number of times, but at the last European elections (held just a few months before the indyref) Kellner wrongly announced to viewers that Labour had emerged victorious in Scotland, at a stage in the evening when it was already pretty obvious from the average swing that the SNP were going to hold on for the win. He never corrected that rather convenient error or apologised for it, and it was quite some time before Alex Salmond was able to point out that the SNP were in fact on top in the popular vote.
There has been some talk (mainly from Iain Dale and Daniel Hannan) that the Tories might be wiped out completely across the UK, but I can't see that happening. Even if they have a spectacularly bad night, they should hold on to the odd seat in larger regions.
Saturday, May 25, 2019
Tom Gordon wants the pro-independence movement to pack up and go home. Tom Gordon is going to be very disappointed.
First of all he tells us that the idea of a pre-2021 referendum is "guff", because any vote would "require" the permission of London, and no Tory Prime Minister will grant it. Essentially Tom is inviting us to tremble and genuflect before the colonial rights of Westminster, which is an argument that should be dismissed with utter contempt whenever we encounter it. The UK is either a democracy or it is a prison from which Scotland is not permitted to escape. I presume no unionist journalist (sorry, "neutral" journalist) would conceive of the possibility that it's a prison, in which case it must be a democracy and we must have the right to a democratic choice on our own future.
Secondly, Tom informs us that even if an early referendum takes place (his "guff" scenario) and a Yes vote is won, it would be impossible to complete the process of becoming an independent country before the next Holyrood election, and therefore the SNP wouldn't actually risk a pre-2021 referendum in case that election produces a unionist majority that seeks to reverse the referendum result. There's a pretty obvious gaping hole in that line of argument, which is that the SNP willingly took exactly that "risk" with the last referendum, which was held only eighteen months before the 2016 election. Frankly, it's almost inconceivable that the SNP wouldn't poll strongly in a post-Yes election, because there would be a strong pro-independence vote that would want to see the job done - a similar impulse to the one which is driving the Brexit Party's vote now. That doesn't necessarily mean there would be an outright pro-indy majority at Holyrood (although I suspect there would be), but it's hard to imagine any scenario in which the SNP wouldn't at least be leading the government, and that would make it murderously hard for unionist parties to undo a Yes vote - even assuming they'd want to do that, which is a very big if.
Tom obviously thinks that independence is going to unfold just like Brexit, but worse. That's led him to emulate a number of unionist politicians by saying things that are monumentally stupid, but in a way that sounds superficially plausible if you don't dwell on the points for too long. For example, he parrots a familiar Tory attack line by suggesting that unpicking a 300 year old union will obviously be many orders of magnitude more difficult than Britain's efforts to extricate itself from the EU after a mere 45 years. But the reality is that any country that is integrated into a wider union is just as integrated after a few decades as it would be after a few centuries. Are we really supposed to believe that it would be harder for Scotland to become independent from the UK than it was for Estonia to become independent from the Soviet Union, a state which it had "only" been part of for four-and-a-half decades? Of course not. So why pretend that it would be? Well, we can probably guess.
Most countries that have become independent in recent times (not all, by any means, but most) have found the process a lot less traumatic than Brexit. Many of the UK politicians who now support either Revoke or a People's Vote, such as Chuka Umunna, were initially willing to accept the outcome of the 2016 referendum and only reversed their position because the UK government made a pig's ear of the negotiations. The Scottish independence negotiators are not predestined to be as useless as Theresa May. The Scottish MSM commentariat plainly have no faith in their own country's competence, but we're not obliged to share that view.
A final thought: Tom thinks Nicola Sturgeon has "set a precedent" by calling for a second referendum on the EU to reverse the result of the first one. But that precedent is only set if a People's Vote actually happens. If Brexit occurs without a second referendum, as still appears to be the most likely outcome, the precedent will be that the result of the first referendum must be enacted.
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Davidson's line of attack lies in TATTERS as Panelbase poll reveals a majority of the Scottish public want an early independence referendum
Thanks to Scottish Skier for drawing my attention to a little-noticed detail from last weekend's full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase: there is now a majority in favour of an early independence referendum. On the rounded numbers, the split is 50% in favour, 50% against, but a close look at the unrounded numbers reveals the majority is just about there.
Total in favour of an early independence referendum: 50.2% (+0.7)
Total opposed to an early independence referendum: 49.8% (-0.7)
Of course those percentage changes are trivial and not statistically significant, but psychologically they're very important, because the Tories have repeatedly told us that the evidence shows there is no public appetite for an independence referendum. Well, here is evidence showing the complete opposite.
To maintain consistency with a question they've been asking for years, Panelbase always split the pro-referendum position into two separate options, and support for the more radical option has also seen an increase since the last poll...
When do you think another Scottish independence referendum should be held?
There should not be another Scottish independence referendum in the next few years: 49.8% (-0.7)
When the UK has finished negotiating to leave the EU: 27.9% (-2.2)
While the UK is negotiating to leave the EU: 22.3% (+2.9)
That wording is getting close to being past its sell-by date, because arguably the UK has already finished negotiating to leave the EU. So it could be said that 27.9% of the public think a second indyref should take place now, and 22.3% think it should already have taken place! It certainly seems to be the case that half of the electorate want a referendum in the very near future.
* Last time around, the SNP were slightly closer than the Greens to preventing UKIP from winning a Scottish seat. An extra 32,100 votes for the SNP would have stopped UKIP, whereas the Greens would have needed an extra 32,230. That history lesson isn't strictly relevant to today's election, because the Brexit Party appear to be stronger in Scotland than UKIP were five years ago, and are probably guaranteed at least one seat. But I did hear last night that someone was planning to 'tactically' vote Green, specifically because of their mistaken belief that the Greens were closest to denying UKIP in 2014. So it's probably just as well to put the record straight.
* It's essentially impossible to cast a tactical vote under this particular electoral system. The only limited exception to that would be if you're planning to vote for a very small party (such as Change UK) that has no realistic hope of winning a seat in the Scottish electoral region. If so, you're probably wasting your vote, and you might be better off switching to a larger party. But apart from that, to make a sound decision to switch tactically from one party to another, you'd need to know in advance exactly how everyone else is going to vote, and that knowledge simply isn't available. The best proof of that point is the fact that three different pro-Remain "tactical voting" websites have managed to come up with three completely different and contradictory recommendations for Scottish voters: one urges a vote for the SNP, one backs the Lib Dems, and the third plumps for the Greens. It's just glorified guesswork. (And in the case of the website recommending a tactical vote for the Lib Dems, there may well be an agenda behind it.)
* A low turnout will almost certainly favour the Brexit Party, so the one and only reliable way of making things harder for Farage is to persuade as many of your pro-indy family and friends as possible to actually vote.
* There is no ceiling of support above which any party won't need more votes. Many polling subsamples have put the SNP in the high 30s, enough to win three of the six seats. But, because of the way the D'Hondt formula works, there'd also be a chance of a fourth seat with a few extra percentage points. Of course there's always a possibility that the polls are overstating the SNP, in which case a fourth seat would be out of reach - but, if so, the SNP would still need votes to ensure they win three seats rather than just two. There is no scenario in which they won't need as many votes as they can possibly get.
* If you want to help generate momentum towards an independence referendum, a vote for the SNP will have a bigger impact than a vote for the Greens. Today's election will have no direct effect on the independence campaign - it's purely psychological. And that being the case, what matters is how the media report the result. The London media in particular are probably only dimly aware that the Greens are a pro-indy party, which means that a Green seat will be interpreted primarily as a victory for left-wing politics and environmentalism. By contrast, every SNP seat will be reported as a direct endorsement of an indyref.
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
SNP 40%, Brexit Party 23%, Liberal Democrats 12%, Greens 9%, Labour 7%, Conservatives 7%, UKIP 2%, Change UK 1%
The seats allocation on those numbers would be: SNP 3, Brexit Party 2, Liberal Democrats 1.
I'd suggest that would be a 'curate's egg' outcome as far as momentum for the independence campaign is concerned - the SNP would gain a seat and would record an all-time high both in terms of votes and seats, and the Ruth Davidson No More Referendums (Theresa May Sponsored Referendums Are OK) Party would be wiped out. But you can guarantee that the unionist media would focus all their attention on the two seats for the Brexit Party, because that would supposedly show that Scotland is nowhere near as pro-European as Nicola Sturgeon portrays. What we really need is for the Brexit Party to only win one seat, and for there to be four pro-indy seats (ideally four SNP seats, but three SNP and one Green would be the next best thing). That's still a perfectly plausible outcome, but it depends on the Brexit Party being a tad less popular than these numbers suggest. There's no way of engineering it through tactical voting - the only control we can have over it is to raise turnout by getting the pro-indy vote out, because it's pretty likely that the lower the turnout, the better Farage will do.
Incidentally, although the polls have been consistently saying that the SNP should win either three or four seats, I still have some concerns that they might end up with only two. It's not just the fact that they've underperformed expectations in recent European elections - think also of their 32% showing at the local elections two years ago, which was way, way below what the opinion polls would have led us to expect. (That even caught John Curtice out - he was still talking about 40% as a potentially disappointing outcome for the SNP well after the results started to come in.) So there's no room at all for complacency, and we need to get every pro-indy voter we can find to the polling stations tomorrow.
* * *
Here's the latest in Phantom Power's acclaimed Journey to Yes series of films, this time featuring a certain Portuguese-born Yes supporter who will be familiar to a lot of us from Twitter...
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
In fact, the Newsnet piece is wrong and Best For Britain are right. The 38% of the vote that the SNP are given by the poll would comfortably be enough to win them three seats, and it would actually leave them not that far away from four. This is not because of any "unexplained adjustment" or "wider polling influence" - it's simply because of how the D'Hondt formula works. The Newsnet author wrongly believes that D'Hondt divides a party's vote by two every time it wins a seat, but that's not the case at all. As Newsnet is a pro-indy website, this is clearly an honest mistake rather than anything malicious, but it's still important to set the record straight because it could lead to further confusion about how the voting system works. (And Alex Cole-Hamilton would be only too delighted about that!)
The D'Hondt formula actually divides each party's original vote by the number of seats it has already won, plus one. So this is how the calculation would play out if the Best For Britain poll happens to be accurate...
First count: SNP 38, Brexit Party 19.8, Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2
SNP win first seat
Second count: Brexit Party 19.8, SNP 19 (38 ÷ 2), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2
Brexit Party win second seat
Third count: SNP 19 (38 ÷ 2), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2
SNP win third seat
Fourth count: SNP 12.7 (38 ÷ 3), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2
SNP win fourth seat
Fifth count: Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), SNP 9.5 (38 ÷ 4), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2
Greens win fifth seat
Sixth count: Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), SNP 9.5 (38 ÷ 4), Liberal Democrats 7, Greens 5.5 (11 ÷ 2), UKIP 2, Change UK 2
Labour win sixth seat
Final seat allocation: SNP 3, Brexit Party 1, Greens 1, Labour 1
Theresa trembles as phenomenal Panelbase poll puts support for independence at 48% - a three-year high
I'm not sure if this information was published at the weekend and I just wasn't aware of it because I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, but anyway, it turns out that the new Panelbase poll also asked the independence question, and the results confirm what appeared to be the case from two polls a few weeks ago - that Yes support is riding higher than it has been for years.
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 48% (+1)
No 52% (-1)
To put this in perspective, Panelbase have recently been one of the most No-friendly polling firms, and for eighteen months between the early summer of 2017 and the autumn of 2018, they consistently had Yes on either 43% or 44%. The last two Panelbase polls showed Yes had jumped to 47%, and now 48% is a three-year high. It's very unlikely that such a sustained pattern is illusory - it does look like support for independence has increased significantly over recent months. YouGov, of course, have shown the same trend.
Today someone on Twitter wrongly stated that Remain Voter were claiming that people should vote for the Lib Dems because the SNP don't even have a chance of a fourth seat, and that any extra SNP votes would therefore be wasted. This was my reply -
"They actually don't say that. Their advice is much more nutty than that. They say that the SNP *can* win a fourth seat, and that voting Lib Dem will help them do it. Mysteriously (or perhaps I should say understandably), they don't explain how that is arithmetically possible."
That attracted the attention of 'Remain Voter' themselves, who foolishly tried to cover their embarrassment with a grossly misleading response -
"No we don't say that. We say: "Recent polling shows SNP confidently gaining 3 seats with undecided Labour voters blocking a 4th. Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat..""
And my reply -
"You little fibber. You've hurriedly edited your page - you know perfectly well that the previous wording was exactly what I said. It was as follows: "Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat while helping the SNP win the 4th seat.""
In case you want to see the proof with your own eyes, click HERE to see what their website looked like two days ago.
I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you want to contract out your voting choices to an Anglocentric website that has proved itself to be so slippery and deceitful.
And this might also be a suitable moment to give another plug to the new Phantom Power film I was involved in. I make the point in it that the SNP do indeed have a realistic chance of winning a fourth seat on Thursday - but only if they receive 40%+ of the vote. Switching your vote to a unionist party like the Lib Dems sure as hell isn't going to help.