Friday, March 27, 2009

YouGov sub-sample : Labour lose support but extend lead

In the Scottish sub-sample of the latest YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph, Labour have slipped three points but have nevertheless extended their lead over the SNP from seven to twelve points. Here are the full figures -

Labour 36% (-3)
SNP 24% (-8)
Conservatives 18% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 16% (+7)
Others 6% (+1)

Note that the percentage changes are based on the figures from the last UK-wide YouGov poll, rather than the full-scale Scottish poll that was published on the same day.

Just one more thing to feel guilty about...

President Lula of Brazil has declared that the global economic crisis is exclusively the fault of "white, blue-eyed" people and that no-one else should be made to suffer for it. He might just have a point about white people (although I'm not sure racial stereotyping helps in any circumstances) but does he really have to stick the knife in still further just because by complete random chance I was born with blue eyes? Why should all my green-eyed relatives get off Scot-free?

Hattersley's consent principle

The case of a chef who was cleared yesterday of raping a severely drunk woman reminded of me of the edition of Question Time a year or two back when Roy Hattersley claimed it was self-evident that, once a woman had consumed a certain level of alcohol, any sex that took place was by definition rape - because no consent to sex could be meaningfully given. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of this particular case (and no-one can doubt the difficulties of obtaining a conviction even when a rape has genuinely occurred), Hattersley's proposition seemed to me to be a recipe for chaos, not to mention injustice on a mammoth scale. Taken literally, it would probably mean that rape has taken place within the majority of marriages in this country at some point or another - although in most cases the 'victims' would be somewhat surprised to learn of this. And there's another even more important point. Don't women sometimes have sex with severely drunken men? Why is sex with a drunk woman 'rape' and sex with a drunk man just...well, 'drunk sex'? And how should the law define sex between two equally drunk people - perfectly OK on the part of the woman, but rape on the part of the man?

Before anyone misunderstands me, if a relatively sober man takes advantage of a woman who is practically unconscious, that is clearly rape. But there does seem to be a very convenient double-standard creeping in here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where are the good guys?

I'm slightly wondering if I'll become as hooked on The Apprentice as I have in previous years. I know the general loathsomeness of the candidates is all part of the fun, but you need at least one or two good guys to cheer on. By this stage last year, I seem to recall I'd already become an instant die-hard Lucinda Ledgerwood fan, but her equivalent this time round isn't leaping out at me. The only one who shows a little bit of encouraging eccentricity is the American, who I fully expected to despise until she suggested calling the girls' team something like "Shazaam!". Ah, she's doomed, a touch of imagination and wit never gets you anywhere in the business world (not that Sir Alan Sugar's opinion has got anything to do with the business world).

Unionist raps SNP for not being isolationist enough

AM2's latest wheeze is to claim that it's somehow an appalling thing for the SNP to have international alliances with parties that share similar objectives. I take it therefore he'll be as even-handed as ever, and call for Labour's immediate withdrawal from both the Socialist International and Party of European Socialists? Well, possibly not. He interprets the SNP's (perfectly natural) fraternal relations with the Parti Québécois as support for the 'dismantling of Canada'. Hmmm. So does the Liberal Democrats' relationship with the federalist Canadian Liberals (or the Tories' relationship with the federalist Canadian Conservatives) mean that the unionist parties can be similarly accused of outrageously seeking to deny the nation of Quebec its right to democratic self-determination?

Back on planet Earth, parties routinely build up international alliances with the parties which in broad terms they are in philosophical agreement with. It does not imply an automatic endorsement for every element of the other party's programme, and it most certainly does not imply any interference in another country's domestic affairs.

Me versus Aye We Can - the (slightly edited) highlights

I sincerely apologise for doing this, but I've decided to enable comment moderation, at least for the time being. It's mainly the issue of swearing I'm concerned about - I certainly have no intention of censoring anyone for their political views. Does anyone know if there's a way to moderate individual words or phrases without deleting the whole comment? I don't think there is. Anyway for anyone unlucky enough (ahem) to miss the exchange between me and Aye We Can on the previous thread, here it is minus the one or two offending bits -

Aye We Can : I don’t think it’s Jeff that is being inconsistent here. He is just saying, having been elected on a Labour ticket, by voters who wanted a "representative" its not down to some provost to in effect turn all these voters into SNP ones because he's got the hump or seen the light.

The right, democratic, thing to do is to test his new found convictions at the polls - see if he still has a mandate, still represents the people that put him there in the first place.

Nothing to do with "systems" but representative principles, honour dare I say?. And applicable under any electoral system First past the post or any variant of PR you care to think of.

There was a councillor in on the SNP group in Glasgow a few months back who lost out in some internal vote (I think it was who was the local housing spokesman) and in a fit of pique defected to the Labour group. Then, I'm sure at Labour prompting, a condition of membership, he put out a lot of guff attacking the case for independence. But anyone with half a brain knew if he'd won the internal vote on his own career, independence would still be the best thing since slicked bread!

It’s stuff like this, McNulty, and dare I say the provost of Dundee that gets politics such a bad name.

These people, politicians in general ain’t anything other than representatives, 99 times out of 100 elected for one reason only - their party ticket. Resign and seek a new mandate on whatever ticket you care to choose. But if you don’t, don’t claim you are representing anyone except your own narrow personal interest, abusing the party system you so recently embraced.

Jeff 10 James 0 on this occasion I believe. you hung yourself by saying had it been an defector from the SNP to Labour you'd be demanding he resign!

Canavan and Margo forever - people with democratic credibility.

Freedom fighters!

Me : Aye We Can, feel free to argue against me, but please stick to arguing against what I actually said rather than what you wish I'd said! Please direct me to the bit where I said I'd be calling for a defector from the SNP to resign? I said the complete opposite of that!

And it's (to put it mildly) somewhat bizarre that you resorted to the examples of Dennis Canavan and Margo MacDonald, as they are in fact the two most 'abominable' examples of what you and Jeff so disapprove of - they both resigned their party whip without standing down to face re-election!

Seems to me in the Aye We Can rule-book, defections are 'courageous' and 'democratically credible' if you happen to like the person, and a outrage to democracy if you don't. Talk about having your cake and eating it!

Aye We Can : James you said in your blog post "and, incidentally, if an SNP councillor had just defected to Labour, yes I'd probably be enthusiastically joining in the invective against him or her, but I wouldn't be calling into question the system that allowed it to happen" - it kind or reads facing both ways to me (because its was Labour to SNP defection you ain’t "joining in the invective"? - I'd read "calling for their resignation" into this, as i think most reasonable people would) What were you saying? And I certainly don’t think SNP Tactical Voting, who you were attacking ever called "into question the system that allowed it to happen" - but you accuse me of misrepresenting?

Re Margo and Canavan. Canavan never ever stood as a Labour candidate for Holyrood but as an independent - from 1999 until his voluntary retiral in 2007. Genuine independent from start to finish.

Margo, I know it got messy in 2002-3, especially when Kenny McAskill and Fiona Hyslop started worrying about their personal career prospects and started playing dirty in an attempt to knock Margo down he SNP Lothians list. Was she expelled or did she resign? - she certainly would have been expelled had she hung on. Why? - for being too good, too popular. We all know what happened and why - even her executioners.

And we all know what happened in 2004 and 2007 - she won by a mile as an independent, making Kenny and Fiona looking pretty stupid. And effectively their personal ambitions cost the SNP a seat and with it one of their best assets. I know who should have been expelled - but they are now both Cabinet Secretaries. Just as well [Fiona] was high up that list - she couldne even win Linlithgow on a good day, when Angela Constance won Livingston and Bruce Crawford even won Stirling.

Me : Do you know what, life would be a lot simpler if, instead of 'reading things into' what I say, you just read what's actually there. That's what most 'reasonable' people do, and that's why they'd realise I was saying precisely what I appeared to be saying - that a system which allows elected politicians to switch allegiance is perfectly justifiable (and in fact desirable). That principle applies regardless of the party someone is defecting from or defecting to. When I said I'd be joining in the invective against an SNP defector, again I can only gently point out that was intended to mean exactly what it said. You'll have to direct me to the dictionary that defines 'joining in the invective' as 'demanding a resignation'.

You're completely splitting hairs over whether Margo MacDonald resigned the whip or was expelled. By declaring her intention to stand against the SNP she was by definition excluding herself from the parliamentary party - at which point she singularly failed to do what you claim all politicians should do if they have an ounce of integrity. She failed to stand down and seek immediate re-election. What a democratic outrage, eh?

And you've completely - and I suspect willfully - missed the point about Dennis Canavan. The issue is not his status at Holyrood but his status at Westminster. He left the Labour whip months before the Holyood election of 1999, but insisted on holding onto his Westminster seat as an independent all the way until the autumn of 2000. What a betrayal of his electorate who had voted for a Labour MP, eh?

As you seem to have a problem detecting my sarcasm - yes, the above was meant to be sarcastic. What Dennis and Margo did was in fact perfectly legitimate in a representative democratic system. The trouble for you is that, as soon as you accept that principle for those two ‘freedom fighters’, it’s rather difficult for you to say the same principle magically does not apply to other people you might happen to be less keen on.

Finally, on the subject of me misrepresenting Jeff – don’t be daft. After all, I went out of my way to note I had a high regard for him. He most certainly did call into question the system – he said politicians who switch sides must resign. That is contrary to the system we currently have, therefore Jeff was calling that system into question. To me that seems a fairly uncontroversial observation to make!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Representative democracy in action

I have the greatest respect for Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting - he's just about the only blogger I can think of who pulls off the trick of being openly partisan about his allegiance while being non-partisan in his analysis. But his tirade against the provost of Dundee city council for resigning the Labour whip and pledging to support an incoming SNP administration is somewhat baffling. Jeff deems it a "smack in the jaw for democracy" and declares that having being elected on a Labour ticket Councillor Letford has a "duty" to maintain that allegiance.

What Jeff appears to be arguing here is that a democratic system is one in which a candidate is elected not as an individual but as a party representative (or lobby fodder, to put it more brutally). But isn't that exactly the objection to the d'Hondt system that Jeff so detests? That candidates 'rejected' by the voters can still be elected as part of a party bloc? If individual accountability to the voters is to have any meaning, we have to accept that defections (and this isn't even a full defection) are an acceptable part of the political process. And, incidentally, if an SNP councillor had just defected to Labour, yes I'd probably be enthusiastically joining in the invective against him or her, but I wouldn't be calling into question the system that allowed it to happen. This is representative democracy doing precisely what it says on the tin.

Another poll puts Labour ahead for European election

It seems a highly improbable thing to do, but three months out from the event, STV have commissioned a poll asking solely about European Parliament voting intention. The results provide a degree of corroboration for the recent YouGov poll showing a Labour lead of seven points.

Labour 41%
SNP 30%
Conservatives 13%
Liberal Democrats 10%
Others 6%

There are of course a number of 'buts' here - some objective, some intuitive. The most obvious objection is that STV (perhaps for reasons of cost?) chose to commission Progressive Scottish Opinion, a firm that is not a member of the British Polling Council and that has a track record of inconsistency and unreliability. In the run-up to the 2007 Holyrood election, if memory serves me right PSO polls had the SNP 12% up one week, 3% behind the next, and 6% ahead the week after. A possible explanation for this is that PSO do not weight by past vote recall, as Mike Smithson points out tonight.

The intuitive objections are that the Conservatives are simply too low and Labour are too high for this poll to be believable. Labour received just 26% of the vote at the last European elections - OK, they were relatively unpopular during the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war, but does anyone seriously believe they're 15% more popular now? And whatever the Tories' ongoing difficulties in making a meaningful breakthrough in Scotland, I think we can safely assume that their share of the vote will be going up in June, not down.

My final observations are ones I've made before. Any poll for the European elections - even one conducted by a more credible company - should be taken with a heavy dose of salt at this stage. That's partly because turnout is likely to be almost absurdly low, which always increases the level of unpredictability. And secondly, history shows the PR list system results in the larger parties doing significantly less well than predicted, while fringe parties benefit from a rare moment on a more level playing-field.

My own guess - if Labour are ahead in June, their share of the vote will be in the low thirties at the absolute most.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

SNP retain lead with ComRes

The main story from the latest UK-wide ComRes survey is further signs of Labour starting to nibble into the previously commanding Tory lead, but in the Scottish sub-sample there is also cheer for the SNP. The party has actually gained four points, although their overall lead is down to two due to a six-point rise for Labour. Here are the full figures -

SNP 33% (+4)
Labour 31% (+6)
Conservatives 19% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 12% (-4)
Others 5% (-4)

Just for a moment I was tempted to conclude this post with the words 'game over', but that would have been very very silly.