Friday, October 19, 2018

Why do we allow the Holyrood balance of power to be affected by the choice of Presiding Officer?

I know this is hardly the most pressing problem at the moment, but with talk of John Bercow finally taking his leave, the point has occurred to me again: why do we allow the balance of power in the Scottish Parliament to be artificially affected by the choice of Presiding Officer?  At Westminster, the Speaker and all three Deputy Speakers do not usually take part in votes, which means that two MPs can be selected from the government side and two MPs from the opposition, thus maintaining the balance of power that people voted for (or, more accurately, that the election produced).  But at Holyrood only the Presiding Officer him/herself is barred from voting, meaning that the government's numerical position is inevitably either slightly strengthened or slightly weakened.

This of course ensures that the choice of Presiding Officer is not just influenced by the merits of the individual but also by the tightness or otherwise of the parliamentary arithmetic.  The SNP could 'afford' to install one of their own in the role after winning an outright majority in 2011, but were suddenly happy enough to agree that it was Labour's 'turn' after slipping back into a minority in 2016.  And in 2007, when the SNP won 47 seats and Labour won 46, it was inconceivable that the Presiding Officer would be drawn from anywhere but the ranks of the smaller parties.

So it's an unsatifactory system in more ways than one.  I can see a few potential solutions:

1) The simplest is to replicate the Westminster convention.  Have a Presiding Officer 'team' that is made up of an even number of MSPs, and bar them all from voting.  However, this arguably means that a greater number of voters are not being fully represented in parliament.

2) Replace the Presiding Officer with a new voting MSP as soon as they are selected.  This is simple enough if the new PO is a list member, because they can simply be replaced by the next person on their own party's list.  But if they're a constituency member, there would need to be a by-election, which some people might find a bit needless so soon after a full election.

3) Allow MSPs to elect a Presiding Officer from outwith their own ranks.  This seems totally unthinkable until you stop to question why it's so unthinkable.  Why would a suitable non-MSP do the job any less conscientiously than an MSP?  That person would have their own mandate (albeit an indirect one) and would naturally be expected to swear the same oath and uphold the same standards as any elected MSP.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

If the SNP end up using the 2021 election to seek a constitutional mandate, it must be an outright mandate for independence, not another mandate for a referendum

If Brian Taylor was correct on last night's Reporting Scotland - and I emphasise the word "if" - that there are senior people in the SNP talking up the possibility of letting the mandate for an indyref expire and seeking yet another fresh mandate for a referendum in 2021, then all I can say is no no no no no no NO.  That was a bad enough idea when people were still nursing the theory that Westminster can be cajoled into respecting a mandate if it's somehow 'impeccable' enough, but it's absolute madness now that both the Tories and Labour have decided that Britain is a prison from which Scotland is permitted no exit.  What actually would be the point of seeking an 'even better' mandate than the one we already have if it's going to be ignored anyway?

The only possible answer I can think of to that question is that if we're going to press ahead with a consultative referendum without a Section 30 order, it's best to be as specific as possible about our intentions at the point of actually seeking the mandate for it.  But the problem with that argument is that a consultative referendum is in all likelihood contingent upon the whim of the UK Supreme Court.  If a referendum is blocked by legal challenge, there needs to be a back-up plan, which realistically can only mean using a Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence.  If you've already wasted the 2021 election pointlessly obtaining another referendum mandate that proved to be a dead end, that could mean waiting until 2026.  I know there are a minority of people in the SNP who privately share Theresa May's view that "now is not the time", but with Scotland about to be dragged out of the EU, the single market and the customs union against its will, and with the devolution settlement Scotland voted for in 1997 having just been destroyed, surely nobody can seriously believe that 2026 is the right time.

No, if a consultative referendum is going to be attempted, it has to be done the other way around - before 2021, using the existing mandate, so that if the Supreme Court blocks it, the 2021 election can then be used as the back-up option to seek an outright mandate for independence.

*  *  *

I feel like I've been stranded in Antarctica, rather than the Highlands, because in addition to overlooking the second poll from Survation, I somehow also managed to miss a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase at the weekend.  It shows much the same no change picture as the online Survation poll, leaving little remaining room for doubt that the SNP have escaped unscathed from the hysterical reporting of the Alex Salmond story a few weeks ago.


SNP 38% (n/c)
Conservatives 27% (n/c)
Labour 24% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 41% (n/c)
Conservatives 26% (-1)
Labour 21% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 35% (-1)
Conservatives 26% (-1)
Labour 20% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)
Greens 7% (-1)
UKIP 2% (+1)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Survation telephone poll reveals astonishing recovery in support for independence since last June

So profuse apologies once again for the dog's breakfast of the last two posts.  I spent last night in a Highland hotel with a large Union Jack on the outside and a very dodgy wifi on the inside, and when you're dealing with a non-user-friendly website like Survation's, things are a bit tricky at the best of times.  But thankfully Calum Findlay rode to the rescue and explained everything.  Basically there was not one new Survation poll, but two.  They were published more or less simultaneously, hence the confusion.  One was a telephone poll commissioned by the SNP, and the other was an online poll commissioned by the Sunday Post.  The fieldwork dates were close but not identical - the online poll was conducted between 28th September and 2nd October, and the telephone poll was conducted between the 3rd and 5th of October.

All of this puts a rather different (and for the most part more positive) complexion on things.  It means we can use the online poll to make a direct comparison with the previous online Survation poll in July, rather than comparing apples and oranges by looking at the difference between a July online poll and an October phone poll.  And the direct comparison suggests that nothing much has changed at all - not in respect of Westminster voting intentions, or of Holyrood voting intentions, or of independence referendum voting intentions.


SNP 41% (-1)
Conservatives 26% (+2)
Labour 24% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-1)

In contrast to the telephone poll, then, the online numbers suggest that the SNP's lead over both the Tories and Labour is still significantly more handsome than it was in last year's general election. If that's replicated on polling day, it would lead to dramatic seat gains.  (Although as I pointed out last night, even on the telephone numbers the SNP would be in line to make modest gains.)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 43% (-1)
Conservatives 24% (n/c)
Labour 23% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 32% (-1)
Labour 23% (+2)
Conservatives 21% (+2)
Greens 10% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)

In respect of Holyrood, the big difference from the telephone poll is on the list, where Survation's online methodology is continuing to produce (in my opinion) an unrealistically low vote for SNP.  It's not clear whether that's simply because online respondents are more Green-friendly, or whether Survation's inexplicable decision to describe the list vote to online (but not telephone) respondents as a "second" vote is the major factor.  It may well be a combination of both.

One thing is for sure, though.  This is the first Scotland-only polling since the Alex Salmond story broke a few weeks ago, and there is no sign whatever that the SNP have suffered any lasting damage from that particular lightning bolt.  Unionist hopes dashed again.

Strangely, the Sunday Post tweeted independence figures at the weekend from the SNP's telephone poll, rather than the online poll they commissioned themselves.  (No wonder I was getting confused.)  On the Post's figures, Yes are on 47% rather than 46%, which means that support for independence has remained unchanged, rather than slipping by one point as I wrongly suggested in a previous post.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (n/c)
No 53% (n/c)

And as Calum pointed out, although the telephone poll has Yes a touch lower on 46%, that actually represents a whopping increase of 7% since the Survation telephone poll of June 2017, which is technically the last directly comparable poll.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (telephone fieldwork)

Yes 46% (+7)
No 54% (-7)

I struggle in vain to see much bad news in that little lot.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Survation sensation as new poll puts SNP on course for OVERALL MAJORITY in the Scottish Parliament

My apologies - I'm really playing catch-up with this latest Survation poll.  I've been away on a long weekend in the Highlands which has just been extended for another night because of bad weather, but I'll get home and post some proper analysis eventually!  In the meantime, here are the voting intention numbers for Westminster and Holyrood.  It's intriguing that this poll was commissioned by the SNP and that they've elected to publish the results in full, because as you can see they're a bit of a curate's egg affair.  The last Survation poll back in the summer was conducted by online panel and this one was conducted by telephone, so a meaningful comparison isn't possible, but I've added in the percentage changes from one to the other in italics for the sheer hell of it, as it's the only comparison available.  On that basis the new results are perhaps a bit disappointing in Westminster terms (although even on these numbers the SNP would be gaining seats), static on the Holyrood constituency vote (albeit static from an outstandingly good position) and mind-bogglingly wonderful on the Holyrood list vote.  But if you think the direction of travel on the list is a bit too good to be true, you're probably correct - if it's not an illusion caused by the switch to telephone fieldwork, it looks like it may have been an illusion caused by other methodological differences.

Scottish voting intentions for next UK general election:

SNP 37% (-5)
Conservatives 28% (+4)
Labour 26% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot voting intentions:

SNP 44% (n/c)
Conservatives 24% (n/c)
Labour 23% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot voting intentions:

SNP 40% (+7)
Conservatives 25% (+6)
Labour 22% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)
Greens 4% (-7)

Other than polling by telephone, Survation have done two things differently that could have contributed to the huge changes on the list vote - they haven't offered UKIP as a specific option this time (thus presumably boosting the Tories) and they haven't referred to the list vote as a "second" vote, which may have helped to bring about an astonishing 7% 'swing' from Green to SNP.   Of course it may just be that telephone respondents are far less into the Greens than online respondents are, but nevertheless it's startling to ponder the possibility that the deletion of a single word might have had a rather big effect.  It obviously raises the question of whether the cause of the SNP's suspiciously poor showings on the list in recent online Survation polls was that many SNP voters were misled into thinking they were being asked for a second preference vote, and were thus plumping for the Greens.

As noted above, the Westminster figures are underwhelming but OK to be getting on with.  The SNP have been as low as 37% in a post-election Survation poll before, and their 42% in the last Survation poll was unusually high, so there's no reason to jump to the conclusion that telephone polls will always show a lower SNP vote for Westminster.  When rounded to one decimal place, the figure is 37.4%, which is still a touch higher than the 36.9% achieved in June 2017.  The SNP's lead over both the Tories and Labour is also slightly higher than it was last year, which is why they remain (just about) on course to gain seats at Westminster rather than to lose them.

As far as Holyrood is concerned, it's been rare in recent times for any opinion poll to point to a pro-independence parliamentary majority, let alone an outright SNP majority.  But arguably, on these figures, the SNP would just about make it over the line on their own.  And that might just be (at least partly) because of the omission of that rogue word 'second'.  Never let it be said that misinformation about how the voting system works doesn't matter, or shouldn't be called out.

UPDATE: Please see Calum's comment below for important information that I'd overlooked (which contradicts some of the above).

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Stupefying Survation survey suggests Scotland will vote Yes to independence if there's a No Deal Brexit

There was a troll in the comments section a week or two back who claimed as a point of 'fact' that support for independence is now lower than it was in September 2014.  I deleted his comment for spreading misinformation, and then he came back with so-called 'proof' (which of course was no such thing) and started squealing about "censorship".  Well, right on cue we have new Survation polling on independence that continues to show a Yes vote that is slightly higher than the 45% recorded in 2014.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46%
No 54%

Attracting more interest, though, are two hypothetical questions asking how people would vote in the event of two Brexit-related scenarios:

In the event of Brexit:

Yes 50%
No 50%

In the event of a no deal Brexit:

Yes 52%
No 48%

Which of course is strikingly similar to the results of a poll by another firm a few weeks ago.  I'm away for the weekend, but I'll update this post with more details and analysis as soon as I can.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Britain is now a prison - the SNP must set out its escape plan

Britain is no longer the country that most of us grew up in, and the transformation has been incredibly recent and sudden.  Every Prime Minister between Harold Wilson and David Cameron accepted that Scotland was only part of the UK on a voluntary basis and could leave any time it wished.  Even in the early days of Theresa May's premiership, Ruth Davidson was still explaining to journalists that it would be 'constitutionally improper' for London to block an independence referendum requested by a majority of the elected Scottish Parliament.  That immaculate principle of self-determination was not compromised until May's "now is not the time" schtick, which was intended to imply a deferral rather than an outright rejection of Scotland's right to choose.  But it's now clear that was merely a staging post on a quick transition towards the new colonial settlement, backed by both Tory and Labour, in which Scotland is told it will be remaining in the UK regardless of its own wishes.  The new Britain is the very Soviet-style prison that Jeremy Hunt, with a record-breaking absence of self-awareness, claimed the EU to be only the other day.  That is a truly staggering development, and the only thing even more staggering is the fact that our useless mainstream media don't seem to feel the attempted murder of Scotland's democracy is worthy of any note.

It may seem naive in retrospect, but the SNP's strategy in firing the starting gun for a referendum in early 2017 hinged entirely on the belief that Theresa May would not say "no".  It was a genuine surprise to the SNP leadership when she did, but even after that point the strategy continued to assume that her "no" had to really mean "maybe, when the pressure builds".  In the light of recent events, such wishful thinking must be dispensed with permanently.  We now know for virtually certain that a method for circumventing a London "no" will be required, and luckily two such methods exist - a consultative referendum held without a Section 30 order (which would probably need to be okayed by the Supreme Court), or a Holyrood election that doubles as an independence referendum. We need to hear from the SNP right now, or very soon, about how one or both of those methods will be used.  That does not in any way prejudge the issue of referendum timing, because regardless of whether the referendum is called next year, or in 2025, or at any point in between, it is clear that London will not give its blessing.  If the SNP is serious about Scotland leaving the prison of the UK at any point in the future, it's absolutely crucial that it now demonstrates that seriousness to the electorate by revealing its escape plan.  Not actually a difficult or challenging thing to do, but without it the credibility of the whole independence cause may start to wither, because the media will be all too eager to triumphantly have people believe that independence is automatically dead just because London says it is.

*  *  *

What else has changed about Britain very recently?  Try the abrupt end of the devolution settlement as we know it.  The whole point of devolution was to end the situation that prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s when the Scottish Tories were manning the Scottish Office and arrogantly calling the shots in this country on the basis of 28% or 24% or 26% of the vote.  We appear to be right back to where we started.  Ruth Davidson, who has never led her party to anything better than second place and 29% of the vote in any election, seemingly has the right to tell the landslide winner of every recent election in Scotland to "sling her hook" when she tries to implement her manifesto.  As the defeated leader of the opposition, Davidson can apparently make "announcements" about which year in the distant future the elected First Minister of this country might possibly be "allowed" to implement the will of the people.  Oddly, our mainstream media believe this state of affairs is somehow inspiring, rather than the democratic outrage it so obviously is.

*  *  *

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Corbyn's day of infamy as Labour become the party of colonialism

If it was the case that Labour were simply saying that winning a majority in Scotland at the next general election would constitute a mandate to block an independence referendum, that might just about be a defensible position.  (It would still be wrong, incidentally, because a Holyrood election is the appropriate arena to seek constitutional mandates.  But at least it would be an acknowledgement that a Scottish mandate is required.)  What they instead appear to be saying is that they will seek a Britain-wide "mandate" to block an indyref, and even if Scotland comprehensively rejects Labour for a third consecutive general election, the wishes of voters south of the border will be imposed in Scotland, and the wishes of voters who actually live in Scotland will be contemptuously disregarded.

That isn't democracy.  That's a hostage situation.  Labour have today embraced the logic of colonialism - indeed, it's precisely the same logic that has fuelled the persecution of the Catalan independence movement.  Incredibly, Labour have looked at what the Spanish government did and thought "wow, that's a template we must copy".  We used to think the idea of a British government seeking the imprisonment of SNP ministers was totally unthinkable...but then the idea that a major UK party would oppose Scotland's right to self-determination was unthinkable until very recently.  Who knows what the future might hold.

There is a very clear lesson here for the SNP.  Attaining a referendum via a Section 30 order is now a non-starter regardless of whether there is a Tory or Labour government.  So from this moment on we shouldn't hear any more about how the SNP leadership are temperamentally opposed to a referendum held without Westminster's consent.  Of course a Section 30 would have been preferable, but you can only choose an option that is actually open to you.  If you will the ends, you have to will the means.  That leads us inescapably to one of two possibilities - either a consultative referendum held without a Section 30 order (which would probably have to be defended at the Supreme Court), or the seeking of an outright mandate for independence at the next Holyrood election.

As for Corbyn's motivation for abandoning his long-standing and principled opposition to colonialism, I can only assume that it must be a cynical electoral calculation aimed at winning back voters who were won over by the moronic simplicity of the Tories' "No to Indyref 2" message in June 2017.  If so, it's an enormous gamble, because there were Yes voters who backed Corbyn last year, but for whom voting for a party explicitly seeking a mandate to block an indyref will be a step too far.  The penny seems to have finally dropped today for Cat Boyd, for example.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Your all-important YouGov subsample update

Apologies for the radio silence of late - I'm out of the country at the moment.  But you know me, I'm a slave to my responsibilities, so here (albeit a couple of days late) is your all-important YouGov subsample update.

SNP 38%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 23%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 4%, UKIP 1%

Just to recap on the significance of this: before the Alex Salmond story broke, YouGov's Scottish subsamples had shown a long unbroken sequence of the SNP in the high 30s or low 40s.  The first post-Salmond subsample put the SNP on 34%, which might have been a meaningless blip, or might have been a sign that the SNP had suffered some genuine damage.  But this is the second YouGov subsample since then, and both have put the SNP back in their 'normal range'.  That would obviously be consistent with the 34% being meaningless margin of error 'noise', or indeed a temporary slump that has since been reversed.  We should find out more soon, because another YouGov poll has been newly released today - but the datasets haven't been published yet, so we still await the Scottish subsample figures from that one.

(Although individual subsamples should not be regarded as reliable, YouGov's Scottish subsamples are of more interest because they appear to be separately structured and weighted - hence the relative stability of the figures.)

*  *  *

I haven't been keeping a close eye on the news since I left, but I did vaguely notice the other day that one or two of the usual suspects on the radical left were piling in with the official BBC line that "Nicola Sturgeon wants to avoid a referendum", and were using as proof her call for Brexit to be delayed.  Unless I'm missing something (and maybe I am), that theory makes very little sense.  Nicola Sturgeon calling for something does not mean it will happen, and if a no deal Brexit occurs next March in spite of the SNP's best efforts, the casus belli for an early independence referendum will simply be even more watertight.

*  *  *

I was shocked to learn today that Derek Bateman had been ill, but what an amazing story about his partner donating an organ to him.  All the best to him for a full recovery.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

New YouGov subsample offers reassurance for SNP

So as you'll probably remember, the first polling straw in the wind after the Alex Salmond story broke was a Scottish subsample from a GB-wide YouGov poll, and although it had the SNP in the lead, the party's share of the vote was down to 34% - breaking a long, long sequence of YouGov subsamples that had the SNP in the high 30s or low 40s.  Although no individual subsample can be regarded as reliable, YouGov's Scottish subsamples are unusual in that they appear to be separately structured and weighted - which probably explains the relative stability of the results over time.  So the drop to 34% might have been a coincidental and meaningless blip caused by normal sampling variation - but it might just have been a warning sign that the Salmond story had caused some damage.

As Marcia pointed out last night, a new YouGov subsample is now out which appears to show that normal service has been resumed...

SNP 40%, Conservatives 23%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 9%, UKIP 4%, Greens 3%

If it does turn out that we're back to normal, and that's a big if, it'll be impossible to know whether the dip was real but transitory, or didn't happen at all.  But the local by-election in Fife on Thursday certainly didn't show any sign of a catastrophic drop in SNP support.

Less encouraging are three subsamples from other firms - two from Survation that have the SNP in second place, and one from BMG that have them just about in the lead but in a virtual three-way tie.  But those are based on very small samples, and probably aren't separately weighted in the way that YouGov subsamples are.  For now the YouGov figures are of most interest.

*  *  *

Friday, September 7, 2018

Horror show for Labour in Fife by-election

Tonight we have the result of the first local government by-election in Scotland for several months...

Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay by-election result (first preferences):

Conservatives 37.3% (+0.7)
SNP 28.1% (-2.7)
Labour 12.0% (-4.8)
Liberal Democrats 9.1% (+4.1)
Independent - Collins 8.4% (n/a)
Greens 4.2% (+0.7)
Independent - Macintyre 0.6% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarian 0.2% (n/a)

I know the SNP were talking up their chances of outright victory, but for my money this is a very creditable result in difficult circumstances. In spite of the endless stream of negative headlines about Alex Salmond over the last couple of weeks, the SNP are only down a smidgeon on an election last year in which they won the national popular vote by a relatively comfortable margin. And although the Tories usually have an inbuilt advantage in local by-elections due to the greater motivation of their supporters to make it to the polling stations, the modest swing from the SNP they achieved would not be enough to overhaul the SNP's national lead if extrapolated to the whole country.

Technically this has to be reported as a "Tory gain from Labour", but that's just one of those wildly misleading quirks of the STV voting system. The Tories won the popular vote in the ward last year, and Labour were a distant third, so the chances of Labour 'holding' the seat were always remote (although arguably not totally non-existent, because Labour did finish a strong second in the ward back in 2012). Nevertheless, Richard Leonard ought to be horrified to see Labour's vote slip back more than the SNP's. We all know that any real threat to the SNP's predominance in Scottish politics would have to come from Labour, because there is a natural ceiling on Tory support. So the fact that the SNP have somehow improved their position relative to Labour in this ward is extremely heartening in the current climate. OK, Labour would probably argue that this was a classic third-party squeeze, with Labour voters lending their support to either the SNP or the Tories depending on whether they happen to be unionist diehards or not. But if it's quite as simple as that, why did the Lib Dems and the Greens both increase their vote share in fourth and sixth place respectively?  Is Labour's lack of clarity on Brexit costing them?

*  *  *