Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Let's get behind Shetland Council's audacious bid to BREAK UP THE UNITED KINGDOM

A reader emailed me the other day to ask whether there had been any polling done in Shetland or Orkney to test whether there is support for the type of 'breakaway' mooted in the motion passed by Shetland Council.  As far as I'm aware, the answer is no - full-scale polls would be hard to reliably conduct because of the small population size, so the likelihood is that any polls on the subject would be unscientific self-selecting polls.  I must say that, anecdotally, my impression is that people from Shetland and Orkney do identify as Scottish - perhaps not as fiercely as those from elsewhere, but the ultimate Spectator fantasy of Shetland remaining in the UK if Scotland becomes an independent country seems to me to be a complete non-starter.

One of the ideas apparently floated by the council, though, is that Shetland should instead become a self-governing crown dependency along the lines of Jersey or Guernsey.  I'm sure whoever dreamt that up thought it was a brilliant unionist wheeze that would put the SNP on the spot (ie. "an independent Scotland isn't viable without Shetland's natural resources"), but actually we should be heartily encouraging it, because crown dependency status would by definition mean that Shetland has become the first part of Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.  If unionists are championing Shetland's right to make that decision, how can they deny the rest of Scotland the same opportunity?

*  *  *

Douglas Ross' craven decision to vote in favour of a bill that both destroys the Scottish devolution settlement and breaches international law was roughly as predictable as David Mundell's failure to resign every single time he threatened to.  But this episode does bring home that Ross' position is rather different from Alex Salmond's when leading the SNP from Westminster in 2004-7.  As a Tory MP, Ross is not his own boss - he's subject to the Tory whip, and in theory to disciplinary action if he breaches the whip.  If, for example, Tory MPs were to be told they would automatically lose the whip if they don't vote with the government, what discretion does Ross actually have?  Could he credibly remain Scottish Tory leader if he has the whip withdrawn, which under the rules would automatically bar him from standing for Westminster as a Tory candidate?  Doubtless none of this will ever be put to the test, because any rare show of resistance would be a carefully choreographed abstention - he'd probably be given special dispensation by the whips to miss the vote because he has to run the line at yet another all-important East Fife v Forfar match.

*  *  *

I can neither confirm nor deny rumours that the individual known in certain quarters as "the Random Totty From Freedom Square" drew the below picture of Jackson Carlaw and tucked it under the door of his office earlier today.  

Friday, September 11, 2020

Support for independence soars to 53% in sizzling Survation survey

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation, 2nd-7th September 2020)

Yes 53% (+3)
No 47% (-3)

Before anyone claims that this is not an increase for Yes at all, because the last poll had independence support at 55%, bear in mind that you always have to compare like with like.  That means comparing this Survation poll with the most recent poll from the same firm, which was conducted back in January.  At that time Survation's estimate of the Yes vote was running two points behind Panelbase's, and that is still the case.  So there's no direct contradiction of the all-time high Yes vote shown in the Panelbase poll, or indeed of the rumours that Yes have gone higher still in private polling - although admittedly 53% is not actually the highest that Survation themselves have ever shown.  The number went as high as 54% in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum.  But perhaps Survation's methodology has simply ceased to be on the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum in the way it once was.  We should probably just settle for what is, after all, the seventh consecutive poll showing an outright Yes majority - an almost unbelievable run of success.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster:

SNP 51% 
Labour 21% 
Conservatives 20% 
Liberal Democrats 6% 

So for the first time in any poll from any firm in around eighteen months, the Conservatives are no longer in second place as far as Westminster voting intentions are concerned.  This is particularly embarrassing for Douglas Ross, who angrily demanded a BBC presenter supply proof that his party has gone backwards since he became leader.  Here's the proof, Douglas.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Guardian piece claims support for independence is running at 56%

James Morrison on Twitter directed me to an opinion piece in the Guardian containing an apparent nugget of information - 

"Ministers are increasingly nervous that a Scottish breakaway is on the cards (the cabinet was recently briefed that the latest opinion polls show 56% of Scots would vote for independence, and 44% to stay in the UK)."

James interprets that as meaning private polling is showing an average Yes vote of 56% - which of course would be slightly higher than the public polls have shown over the summer.  However, there's no actual mention in the article of any private polls, and it could just be that the briefing was about the polls we already know about, and that the figures cited are slightly inaccurate.

That said, private polling does go on.  Members of the YouGov panel are periodically asked about independence using a non-standard question, and the results rarely see the light of day, so that must be either private polling or for internal use.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Hard Labour

Just a quick note to let you know I've written today's National Extra piece, about the electoral consequences for Labour of doubling down (yet again) on their opposition to a second independence referendum.  You can read it HERE.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

What price will the Scottish Liberal Democrats pay for becoming a pro-Brexit party?

By all accounts, one of the tactics that helped the Liberal Democrats to narrowly regain North-East Fife last year was describing themselves on the doorstep as "pro-UK, pro-EU", ie. painting themselves as the only party not asking relatively affluent, middle-of-the-road voters to choose between two political unions.  I said at the time that the messaging might work in the short-term, but was going to run out of road once Brexit actually occurred, because at that point being pro-UK wouldn't actually be compatible with being pro-EU.

If you think about it, though, it would in principle have been possible to maintain the slogan if Ed Davey had committed the Liberal Democrats to take Britain back into the EU as soon as possible.  It would have been dishonest in practice because there is zero prospect of a Lib Dem government, but nevertheless it would have been a way of holding the line.  That option has now been removed, because Davey has sheepishly confirmed that the Lib Dems will not be campaigning to rejoin the EU, and will instead merely be seeking a close relationship from the outside.

From a UK-wide perspective that makes perfect strategic sense, because it means that the Lib Dems can still be "the most pro-European of the main parties" while no longer being in a state of outright war with Leave voters or with the referendum result.  But it leaves the Scottish Lib Dems in an awful place - they said they'd never choose between the UK and the EU, but they have, and it's the EU they've rejected.  Actually it's worse than that, because the decision has been made for them by their boss in London.  

There's now a golden opportunity for the SNP to make some ground next year with pro-European voters in pockets of Lib Dem strength.  Much will probably depend on whether the Lib Dems succeed in convincing people that formal EU membership and a close relationship is not that big a difference.  That'll be a tough sell, I suspect.

*  *  *

Just to think wildly out of the box for a moment, the recent turmoil in the Scottish Labour party has led me to wonder if it's ever occurred to Nicola Sturgeon to put feelers out, and discover whether one or two key figures within Labour might be interested in taking Cabinet positions in return for joining the pro-indy side.  It's a long shot, but if it worked it might finally break Scottish Labour and be a decisive tipping point for independence.  And never underestimate personal ambition - how else could some of these people ever hope to wield power? They wouldn't necessarily have to defect to the SNP - a model could be the way the Labour government in Wales co-opted the former Plaid leader Dafydd Elis-Thomas (he became a junior minister as an independent).

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Kevin Hague: Wikipedia editor

As requested by Professor John Robertson, a quick post about the Wikipedia entry on GERS.  Until I mentioned this on Twitter a few hours ago, the three most recent edits to the page were made by none other than Kevin Hague.  The most significant edit was to the "criticisms" section - a standard feature on Wikipedia to provide balance on any given topic.  Before Hague's intervention, the section briefly summarised a number of criticisms of GERS, exactly as it should have done.  Hague changed that in an attempt, at considerable length, to undermine the criticism made by Professor Richard Murphy.  This is what was added - 

"When pressed by a Holyrood parliamentary committee, none of the assembled panel agreed with his criticisms, he admitted that even if GERS were restated as he suggests the impact would only be "a couple of percentage points or so of the stated Scottish deficit ... maybe" and conceded that he could think of no example of a country following the accounting technique he was advocating."

To state the obvious, Hague's rather garbled edit was wholly inappropriate.  The criticisms section is not there to mock the people making the criticisms, or to put them in the dock.

Incidentally, Hague incorrectly labelled another of his edits as "minor" - implying that it was merely a spelling correction or a similar unimportant change.  In fact it added an entire sentence intended to bolster confidence in GERS.  He also made a "minor" edit to the entry on the Barnett Formula to add the following - 

"More recently, during a time of low absolute spending increases, application of the formula has in fact lead [sic] not to a "squeeze" but to a divergence in spending per head in Scotland's favour."

Oh, and just for good measure he also put in a propaganda link to the "These Islands" website.  Pretty "minor" stuff, huh?

Monday, August 24, 2020

In-depth interview on the Holyrood voting system

Exactly one month ago, I was interviewed on IndyLive Radio about the Holyrood electoral system and the perils of attempting to game the system.  I've just spotted that the programme is now available (in slightly edited form, I think) on YouTube, so you can listen to it at your leisure HERE.  The first half is Dave Thompson making the case for gaming the system, and the second half is me making the case against.  It's fair to say the issues involved are explored quite thoroughly, so if you've yet to make your own mind up, it's not a bad place to start.

*  *  *

A couple of weeks ago I announced I was changing this blog's settings to only allow comments from people signed in to a Google account.  I know some of you were delighted by the change, because it seems to have finally put a stop to contributions from GWC and his ilk.  However, from my own point of view it hasn't worked out, because the pornographic spam on older posts has continued unabated - to my surprise that seems to come from Google accounts, and no matter how many times I mark it as spam, it just carries on.  Additionally, as you've probably seen, a Jockophobic troll from south of the border has been copying and pasting the same handful of comments (including extreme racist and homophobic language) up to several hundred times a day. 

There's no simple solution to this.  Individual accounts can't be blocked or banned on the Blogger platform.  All that's open to me are crude options such as switching on pre-moderation (which kills the flow of conversation), or turning on word verification (which irritates people).  In the hope of giving myself a short break from deleting hundreds of comments a day, I'm going to try word verification for 48 hours or so, and then I'll review the situation again. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Unionist propaganda poll throws up a blatant contradiction

As you may have seen, there was a unionist propaganda poll yesterday, commissioned by the "Scottish Fabians", in an attempt to deflect attention from the consistently large pro-independence majority.  It amusingly produced two completely contradictory results.  On one question it purported to show that, by a 52-36 majority, respondents think independence is a "distraction" from more important issues.  But on another question it showed that by a vast margin of 63-9, respondents would be unlikely to vote for a party that disagreed with their own view on independence.  Why would people who don't regard independence as important be so unwilling to cross-vote on the issue?  Exactly.  People do regard it as hugely important, and it's probably the number one driver of people's party political preferences at the moment.

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of those who said that independence is a "distraction" are No voters.  Down the ages, "this is boring", "this is a distraction" has always been a convenient mask for those who are opposed to radical change - what it really means is "we desperately don't want this to happen".  If you were to say to them that we should become independent tomorrow so that we can put an end to the "distraction" and the "boredom" once and for all, you'd suddenly find that nothing matters to them more than resisting that.

As for the minority of independence supporters who agreed on the "distraction" point, I suspect some of them would have been virtue-signallers.  Many people feel that they 'ought' to say that health and education are more important than the constitution (the problem with that being, of course, that independence is essential for protecting the NHS in particular).  In fairness, it was a clever wheeze on the Fabians' part to devise a question that could artificially cobble together a majority by combining hardline unionists and Yes virtue-signallers, but as the other question demonstrates it really is pretty meaningless.

Chris McCall of the Record played along with the little stunt by breathlessly describing the poll as "another independence poll".  Well, no.  Another independence poll would have asked the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  And we can all hazard a confident guess of what the result of that would have been, and why the Fabians very carefully didn't ask it.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Some thoughts on the methodology of the ComRes poll

As I mentioned yesterday, the ComRes poll showed the SNP doing a little less well on Holyrood voting intentions than in recent polls from Panelbase and YouGov - albeit still well enough for the seats projection to give them an overall single-party majority.  I wondered if there might be a methodological reason for the difference, and now that the datasets have been released a few possibilities leap out.  

First of all, unlike Panelbase, ComRes have weighted by 2016 Holyrood vote recall, rather than 2019 Westminster vote recall.  That's not necessarily illogical in a poll of Holyrood voting intentions, but if you're asking people to cast their minds back four-and-a-half years, when they've voted in no fewer than two general elections since then, there may be a potential for faulty recollection.

Secondly, although there's no suggestion in the explanatory note that the results are weighted by 2014 indyref vote recall, there is, for whatever reason, a sharp divergence between the unweighted and weighted numbers on that point.  After weighting, the 429 respondents who recalled voting Yes in 2014 ended up counting as only 330 people.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the phrasing of the question asking for voting intentions on the list is strikingly similar to Survation's, in that it describes the list vote as a "second" vote.  We know from Survation polls that this tends to produce worse results for the SNP on the list, and better results for the Greens - probably because some respondents wrongly gain the impression they're being asked about a second preference vote.

More about the record-breaking 55% support for independence

Just a quick note to let you know I have a piece in The National with more analysis of the Yes vote hitting 55% with Panelbase - you can read it HERE.