Sunday, October 21, 2012

Panelbase poll : independence within touching distance

Thanks to Marcia on the previous thread for alerting me to today's Panelbase poll on independence, which is far more encouraging than the recent Ipsos-Mori and TNS-BMRB polls. The main question has independence just eight points behind -

Yes 37% (+2)
No 45% (+1)


However, there is also a supplementary question asking how people would vote if they thought the next election would result in a Tory victory, or a renewed Tory-Lib Dem coalition. This produces a dramatic turnaround -

Yes 52%
No 40%


It would be interesting to know exactly how that question was framed, because there's always a danger with these hypothetical questions of giving respondents the impression they're 'supposed' to produce a different answer. Nevertheless, it does demonstrate a plausible reason for believing this referendum can be won, and one which will not please Tom Harris and friends, who will doubtless step up their attempts to lecture the Scottish people that wanting rid of the Tories is not a good enough reason to vote for independence. I dare say it all makes sense to a man who moved heaven and earth to install David Cameron in Downing Street.

UPDATE : Judging from the details of the poll that have been mentioned on the SNP website, it appears that respondents were actually asked both about how they would vote if they thought the Tories were going to win the election, and about how they would vote if they thought Labour were going to win. This increases the credibility of the findings (because it means the questioning was even-handed), but what's particularly fascinating is that support for independence also increases sharply when voters anticipate a Labour government, with the lead for the No side decreasing to four points.

* * *

Although I switched on the TV in time to catch the result of the SNP conference vote on NATO the other day, I missed the debate itself. If I had been a delegate I would have voted to maintain the existing policy, so I was a bit troubled by suggestions that proponents of a change had used inflammatory language such as "grow up". RevStu's summary of proceedings has been very helpful in making sense of what happened -

"The real killer blow, though, came in a closing speech from Angus Robertson, the proposer of the motion.

Reminding the conference that he’d been in charge of the SNP’s two historic Holyrood victories, he led them onto the sucker punch – that even in the 2011 landslide they’d only secured 44% of the vote, and 44% wasn’t enough to win a referendum. It was a devastating point..."


I'm not sure about that. The SNP enjoyed a victory last year of extraordinary proportions, and the idea that they might have topped 50% if only they had been pro-NATO seems fairly fanciful. As RevStu reminds us later in his piece, polling evidence suggests that only 11% of the electorate want to leave NATO, so that clearly wasn't a bar to at least another 33% voting SNP. Indeed, it was probably a greater number than that, because some anti-NATO voters would presumably have voted Green, SSP, Solidarity or Respect.

The Greens have also been quick to correctly point out that this doesn't even mark a shift in the stance of the Yes campaign, which is multi-party and thus does not take a view on NATO. Of course some unionists and commentators will always insist on conflating the SNP's policy with "what will automatically happen under independence", so from that point of view there may be some tactical benefit to this change. But I very much doubt it will make a huge difference.

"The second-weakest argument, incidentally, was that staying in NATO would prevent Scotland from leading the entire globe to multilateral disarmament. With the best will in the world, the notion that what Scotland does could ever have even the tiniest impact on the nuclear policies of the USA, Russia or China is delusional tree-hugging insanity of the absurdest order."

True, but it's not unreasonable to suppose that Scotland refusing to join NATO would have a modest international impact, because it might check the momentum in favour of the organisation's seemingly relentless expansion. It could stiffen the resolve of a country like Finland to remain on the outside, for example.

"If you’re underneath a bomb, you don’t much care what kind it is.

This is something that’s puzzled us for decades, frankly. We really don’t get the hysterical opposition to nuclear weapons as opposed to other kinds of weapons. Go and ask the people of Tokyo or Dresden if they’re relieved that they got attacked with nice cuddly “conventional” weapons instead of nukes."


On that point I part company entirely with RevStu. The devastation wreaked on Tokyo and Dresden may have been comparable to the effects of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that's because nuclear weapons technology was in its infancy in 1945. Modern nuclear weapons have the potential to virtually (and some would argue literally) wipe out the human species. In that sense they are comparable to chemical and biological weapons, but not to conventional weapons. WMDs are quite rightly in a special category, and it should be the goal of every civilised nation to eliminate them.

However, as I've said before, a change in the SNP's stance on NATO membership isn't the end of the world (no pun intended). We're sure as hell not going to get out of NATO for as long as we remain in the UK, so the first priority is to achieve independence, and then those of us who want to leave NATO can set about campaigning to achieve that goal.

* * *

NOTE : I've temporarily removed Better Nation from the blog list in the sidebar, because for some reason it was triggering a doom-laden warning on Chrome urging people to leave this blog immediately. It's almost certainly a false warning, and I'll put BN back on as soon as the issue is resolved.

18 comments:

Holebender said...

The SNP's stance on NATO will/would make ZERO difference to how a devolved government is run, as defence is a reserved matter. The SNP's stance on NATO could make a HUGE difference to the outcome of the referendum, as nothing will be reserved come independence.

Your reasoning re people voting SNP for Holyrood is, therefore, false. The SNP is changing its stance on NATO for the sake of winning the referendum, NOT for any election to a devolved Holyrood.

James Kelly said...

If there is no read-through at all from Holyrood voting to how people would vote in a referendum, then Angus Robertson's reasoning about "only 44%" is also demonstrably false.

Basically I'm relaxed about the outcome, but I don't agree with it.

RevStu said...

"The SNP enjoyed a victory last year of extraordinary proportions, and the idea that they might have topped 50% if only they had been pro-NATO seems fairly fanciful"

Not if people object to leaving NATO by a margin as enormous as 7 to 1, which is what the poll suggests. We simply have no way of knowing how many it made a difference to in terms of votes, and 75% (or even 31%) is a LOT of margin for error when you're only looking for an extra 6% of voters.

"Modern nuclear weapons have the potential to virtually (and some would argue literally) wipe out the human species."

Indeed. Which is why it's so very hard to use them, which is why the death toll for nuclear weapons in the last 65 years is zero, while the death toll from conventional weapons is untold millions.

If every country in the world was completely disarmed EXCEPT for nuclear weapons, and every country had nuclear weapons, we would have complete and permanent world peace overnight. It's precisely the ability to wage limited war that makes war possible.

" In that sense they are comparable to chemical and biological weapons, but not to conventional weapons"

Pedantic point, but chemical weapons are NOT in the same category as nuclear or biological ones. The latter two do indeed have the capacity to eradicate mankind, the former doesn't. (At least, no more than normal bombs do.)

tris said...

Very encouraging poll results, James.

As for the Nato debate, I was more or less indifferent to the outcome, but would, I suppose, have preferred marginally to be on the outside.

I'm inclined towards a lazy kind of passive pacifism. I'd simply prefer that we not get involved in any kind of fighting or killing, but I'm equally aware that this is impossible in anything other than an ideal world. Even the Vatican City State has the Swiss Guard (armed with a great deal more than the ceremonial flamberge!).

I'm not convinced either way, that being a part of an alliance which has access to nuclear weapons, without actually having them ourselves, is much less reprehensible than owning and controlling them, as the French do, or paying for and housing them, as the British do.

I suppose at least not spending taxpayers money on them and not having them in dangerous proximity to a few million people must be creditable.

Mutually assured destruction is a powerful weapon, of that there is no doubt. But it only takes one madman with access to codes (no matter from where he comes), who doesn't care...maybe because he's mad, maybe because he is going to die soon anyway... to press the button.

James Kelly said...

RevStu : 45% is at the absolute upper end of the range of support that a single party can normally expect to receive in a genuinely multi-party system (with the exception of a few special cases like the ANC in South Africa). Of course we can't know for sure that there wasn't a significant extra number of votes out there last year that could have been won by changing policy on NATO or something else, but it does seem unlikely.

"Indeed. Which is why it's so very hard to use them, which is why the death toll for nuclear weapons in the last 65 years is zero..."

That's a good theory right up to the point where it's proved wrong, at which stage it's far too late to learn any lessons. There have been a small but significant number of occasions since 1945 when there has been a genuine danger of nuclear war breaking out - Truman's belligerence during the Korean War in 1950, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Andropov's paranoia over Reagan's intentions in the early 1980s, and the tension between India and Pakistan in 1998. On each of those occasions there has been a binary choice of outcomes - either it happened or it didn't. On each of those occasions we've been lucky. We only need to be unlucky once.

"If every country in the world was completely disarmed EXCEPT for nuclear weapons, and every country had nuclear weapons, we would have complete and permanent world peace overnight"

I don't think that's right. You could maybe make a plausible case for it if every country in the world was a stable liberal democracy, but as it is there are too many remaining hot-spots. As Tris points out, it would only take one Hitler-style madman, but there are two other scenarios that could easily trigger nuclear war. The first is that a country with a defined enemy convinces itself that nuclear war is winnable, but only by means of an all-out surprise attack, and therefore talks itself into a nuclear strike as the only way of resolving a conflict. Hawks in Washington used to push that line during the Cold War. The other possibility is a paranoid leader such as Andropov, who convinces himself that the enemy is about to launch a nuclear strike at any moment, and who therefore concludes that it is perfectly rational to launch a preemptive strike.

Finally, on a pedantic point of my own, it's not entirely right that the death toll from nuclear weapons over the last 65 years is zero. There are deaths attributable to radiation exposure during nuclear testing, with some estimates reaching as high as hundreds of thousands.

Anonymous said...

It's also worth reminding some people that Japan had no means left of defending itself against conventional US air raids. Also the USSR was in great danger of declaring war and giving itself a share of the defeated Japanese territory. The USA dropped 2 bombs in order to a)test the effects and b) warn off the Russians. They didn't save a single allied life. Anybody who claims that the extermination of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified really belongs in Carstairs.

Anonymous said...

James,

The 'Better Nation' site is, at the moment, carrying a programme which my Norton Anti-Virus catches and eliminates.
It calls it an 'intrusion event'.

Bill Pickford

James Kelly said...

That's strange. The problem is that Chrome is a bit overzealous, and regarded this site as a risk simply because I had a small snippet from Better Nation in the sidebar. I tried visiting Munguin's Republic, and the same full-screen warning came up straight away, presumably because BN is also included in the blog list there.

RevStu said...

"You could maybe make a plausible case for it if every country in the world was a stable liberal democracy"

I think you've missed my point a bit. The point is, if everyone has nukes, ANY war will be a world war. Therefore any war will end human civilisation, including that of the instigator of the war, and even the Daleks weren't THAT mad.

"There have been a small but significant number of occasions since 1945 when there has been a genuine danger of nuclear war breaking out"

And yet it didn't. The Americans weren't tempted to use nukes when they lost in Korea. They weren't tempted to use them in Vietnam, even against an enemy which had none to use in retaliation. These things were not a result of "luck". They're the result of nuclear weapons being in all practical senses unusable.

"with some estimates reaching as high as hundreds of thousands"

In fairness, China isn't a nation exactly shy of sacrificing vast numbers of its own people on a whim. The Great Famine cost 40 million lives. In Chinese terms 190,000 is a light-hearted "And finally" item on the news.

RevStu said...

Anonymous: "They didn't save a single allied life."

This, I'm afraid, is just ludicrous tinfoil-hat bollocks of the most batshit order. I'd be embarrassed to attach my name to it too.

James Kelly said...

"The point is, if everyone has nukes, ANY war will be a world war"

Why? If there had been a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan in 1998, does anyone seriously think that the US and Russia would have thought to themselves "oh hell, we may as well pick a side and join in?" In any case, what determines whether a nuclear attack happens is not whether it would automatically result in the end of human civilisation, but whether the potential attacker believes that it would. It's a matter of record that some hawks in Washington believed that a nuclear war was "winnable".

"They're the result of nuclear weapons being in all practical senses unusable."

If that was true they wouldn't have been used in 1945. And while the US may not ultimately have used nuclear weapons in Korea, it's certainly not true that they were not 'tempted' to do so.

"In Chinese terms 190,000 is a light-hearted "And finally" item on the news."

It's also the direct result of a nuclear arms race that countries like our own were partly responsible for.

"This, I'm afraid, is just ludicrous tinfoil-hat bollocks of the most batshit order. I'd be embarrassed to attach my name to it too."

There are historians who broadly agree with the point Anon makes, but it's academic anyway. The use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population is a war crime, regardless of any calculation about lives it may theoretically save. Potentially you could save hundreds of thousands of lives by abducting the children of a dictator and executing them one by one until he surrenders. It would self-evidently be immoral to do so, but such a barabarous act would still pale into insignificance in comparison to the thousands of children who were incinerated in their homes and schools in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

RevStu said...

" It's a matter of record that some hawks in Washington believed that a nuclear war was "winnable"."

Absolutely. And yet there still wasn't one. Because nuclear weapons are unusable.

"If that was true they wouldn't have been used in 1945."

Och for goodness' sake. As you yourself noted, the nuclear weapons of 1945 were popguns compared to modern versions, and only one nation had them. A less comparable situation would be impossible to invent.

"It's also the direct result of a nuclear arms race that countries like our own were partly responsible for."

Indeed. And? Reminder: we're all agreed that nukes are bad and Trident must go.

" The use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population is a war crime, regardless of any calculation about lives it may theoretically save."

Sorry, but that's absolute, top-to-toe, end-to-end, back-to-front, gold-plated bollocks. If dropping one bomb can save half-a-million lives, you drop the bomb. It's not even a decision.

Think about what you're saying:

"We can drop this bomb and end the war today, but in doing so we kill these 100,000 civilians in a massive blast followed by a hideous firestorm. Alternatively we can drag the war out for another nine months, lose countless tens of thousands of our own troops, and kill pretty much all those same civilians in a hideous firestorm anyway, just started with a different kind of bomb."

Don't be ludicrous. Killing is killing, and only a sick person wants any more of it than necessary.

James Kelly said...

"And yet there still wasn't one. Because nuclear weapons are unusable."

Suppose you repeatedly rolled a die, and for some reason didn't want to get a 5. It's quite possible you could roll the die ten times and still avoid getting a 5. Does that prove that it's physically impossible for the roll of a die to produce a 5? Of course it doesn't. It really is just luck. As I've already suggested, the number of occasions when there has been a genuine risk of a nuclear conflict is significant, but small - it could perhaps be counted on the fingers of two hands, at most. The notion that we can draw some comfort from the fact that only one of those few occasions has resulted in the use of nuclear weapons is, frankly, naive (or complacent, or a case of wishful thinking, or all of the above).

There's a danger of going round in circles with this, but I'll just note briefly in respect of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that you're explicitly defending the use of weapons that a) you hold to be literally "unusable", and b) you oppose the existence of. By any standard, that's an extraordinary paradox you're inviting people to accept.

My own position is crystal-clear, and no, it's not underdeveloped through lack of thought : the use of nuclear weapons is always wrong. Always wrong. Wrong in the hard cases as well as the easy ones, but in all honesty the decision not to drop an atomic bomb on a city full of children, women and male civilians ought to be a no-brainer. You're taking a highly questionable historical hypothesis, and tarting it up as hard fact - no, you don't know that "pretty much all those civilians" would have died anyway. In any case, "we had to kill that seven-year-old girl to stop ourselves from killing her later" doesn't strike me as the classiest of moral defences.

Incidentally, once the atomic bomb had been created, the Americans had a number of options to use it to end the war, and by all accounts they considered them. They could have invited a Japanese representative to a demonstration (rejected because they "might" have lost face if it hadn't worked), they could have dropped it on an unpopulated area (rejected because it "might" not have impressed the Japanese sufficiently), or they could have given a warning and allowed for an evacuation of the target city (rejected because the plane "might" have been shot down). That's a whole lot of "mights" that were allowed to get in the way of saving the lives of tens of thousands of innocents. As Anon suggested, the likelihood is that the decision to proceed was more about thwarting the Soviets than about "saving lives".

By the way, I note you didn't directly address my example about executing children to save the lives of others. Is that significant?

RevStu said...

We're going round in circles because you're dodging all my points. I'll have one final stab at logic then you can have the last word if you like, because we're not going to get anywhere and I don't especially want to fall out.

1. Comparing whether to start or not start a nuclear apocalypse with rolling a dice is of course absurd. It's not a matter of chance, it was determined by people making decisions, and I'm pretty sure none of them were arrived at by tossing coins.

2. The repeated assertion that there's some kind of MORAL difference between killing 90,000 civilians in Hiroshima with an atom bomb and killing 100,000 civilians in Tokyo with incendiaries is so self-evidently, staggeringly obviously insane and perverse as to defy all possible human reason, so I'll save my breath.

3. The reason nuclear weapons are unusable is the danger - indeed, the near certainty - of their use sparking a world-ending conflagration. That was palpably NOT true in 1945 when only two atomic bombs existed anywhere in the world and they were both owned by the same side, so saying that their use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki proves that nuclear weapons are usable TODAY - when even the smallest warhead is ten times the size of the Japanese bombs and there are countless thousands of them in existence in numerous nations - is daft on a cosmic scale.

4. Your hypothetical alternative possibilities in 1945 are nonsensical. Inescapably, what you're asserting is that the US military discounted them all because they were bloodthirsty monsters who really really WANTED to murder thousands of innocent babies just for laughs. And I'm sorry, but I thought we'd got over that sort of juvenile "evil bogeymen" bollocks in 1983.

There was a war on. All sides had committed countless atrocities directed at innocent civilians. The American commanders had a duty to their own men, and took the course of action necessary to end the war as quickly as possible.

We can say that with a very high degree of certainty, because the war had lasted six YEARS before Hiroshima, and was over nine DAYS later. Nobody capable of tying their own shoelaces honestly believes it could have ended sooner or with fewer casualties had the Americans been forced to invade the Japanese home islands.

Even dropping the first atom bomb on a city, with the attendant astonishing horrors, didn't persuade the Japanese to surrender right away, so the idea that dropping it on somewhere empty as a "demonstration" would have done the job is facile. Though to its credit, it's not as facile as the notion that the Japanese would stand by and watch a single bomber flatten one of their cities without attempting to shoot it down had they been given an evacuation warning first. WW2 wasn't played by the Marquis of bloody Queensbury rules, and certainly not by the Japanese.

(Had Enola Gay been shot down with its cargo, we'd be back to an invasion and a million dead, because the Americans couldn't just load up another bomb the next day. They didn't have a stockpile.)

That the Americans ALSO wanted to send a message to the Soviet Union is highly likely. To say they did it ONLY for that reason betrays a blinkered, irrational willingness to overlook every last shred of evidence about how the Japanese had acted in the preceding years and would have continued to act.

RevStu said...

(cont'd)

There's a compelling argument that says WW2 is the luckiest break humanity ever got. Had it happened just a few years later, advances in technology would almost certainly have made both the Holocaust and the war itself worse by catastrophic orders of magnitude. The appalling price that was paid was necessary to prevent a far higher one. It's not a popular or cheering argument, and it doesn't paint an attractive picture of human nature, but it has the benefit of making sense and being supported by centuries of evidence about how we actually behave, rather than the childish wishful idealism I'm hearing on this page.

What if we hadn't dropped the bombs in 1945? Would we have still regarded the prospect of another war with such terror in 1962 that common sense prevailed? If we hadn't seen what nuclear weapons could do to actual people rather than desert test sites, can you be sure that we wouldn't have embarked upon the ultimate folly over Cuba, when the world's nuclear arsenal was thousands of times more devastating?

If you can, you must walk around every hour of every day with your eyes closed and your hands over your ears. We will never learn to stop killing each other until we stop living in denial about what we are.

James Kelly said...

“We're going round in circles because you're dodging all my points. I'll have one final stab at logic…”

Oh my goodness. For what it’s worth, my own impression is that you’ve now shifted your ground considerably – before you were simply telling me that the atomic bombings were good because they saved lives, now the supposed benefit is that they taught us how awful nuclear weapons are and ensured that we never used them again. It can’t be both. It really can’t. If people seriously think that one atomic bombing was so ‘obviously’ good, saved lives, ended a terrible war, etc, etc, then the lesson they’re likely to draw is entirely opposite to the one you suggest – they’re likely to conclude that nuclear weapons can not only be used again, but used for good purposes. It’s very hard to understand why you think a nuclear attack was desirable in Japan in 1945 but not in Korea in 1950, for example – in the latter case it could potentially have shortened the war in precisely the same way with little risk of retaliation, albeit once again at an unimaginable cost to the ‘enemy’ civilian population.

Your suggestion that every nuclear war would end human civilisation is just plain wrong. It’s bogus logic to justify a position. I’ve already offered the India-Pakistan example, which you very noticeably didn’t address. A nuclear exchange restricted to those two countries would have had incredibly serious consequences for the rest of the world, but it wouldn’t have destroyed human civilisation. And the idea that other countries with nuclear stockpiles would have felt an irresistible urge to randomly join in with that war is risible – to use your own phrase, not even the Daleks are that mad.

“Comparing whether to start or not start a nuclear apocalypse with rolling a dice is of course absurd. It's not a matter of chance, it was determined by people making decisions…”

Precisely. The luck I’m talking about is the human factor, which is inherently unpredictable and uncontrollable. The only ways to ensure that we aren’t constantly reliant on luck to avert nuclear apocalypse are a) to get rid of nuclear weapons, or b) to replace political and military leaders with robots who will always react in the entirely predictable and logical manner that you charitably ascribe to every tinpot dictator on the planet (and to the likes of George W Bush). Both methods are challenging, but for my money the former option is more practicable.

“The repeated assertion that there's some kind of MORAL difference between killing 90,000 civilians in Hiroshima with an atom bomb and killing 100,000 civilians in Tokyo with incendiaries…”

That’s certainly not an assertion that has ever been made by me, so I’ll move on, having merely noted that the problem with nuclear weapons is that they make atrocities on that scale much, much easier to perpetrate, and that they open up the possibility of atrocities on a much, much greater scale. Good luck trying to replicate the effects of a hydrogen bomb with incendiaries.

(I'll have to break this response in two...)

James Kelly said...

“Inescapably, what you're asserting is that the US military discounted them all because they were bloodthirsty monsters who really really WANTED to murder thousands of innocent babies just for laughs.”

Alternatively, what I’m asserting is what I actually asserted – that they were making a strategic decision to thwart the Soviets, and that the thought of slaughtering thousands of civilians in pursuit of that end may have troubled them, but not sufficiently to stop them.

“Had Enola Gay been shot down with its cargo, we'd be back to an invasion and a million dead, because the Americans couldn't just load up another bomb the next day.”

A self-evidently risible claim given that they dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki just three days later.

“What if we hadn't dropped the bombs in 1945? Would we have still regarded the prospect of another war with such terror in 1962 that common sense prevailed?”

Again, given that (67 years on) you still regard what happened in 1945 as a perfectly legitimate tactic of war, it’s very hard to understand why you think that the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was in any way sufficient to make an impression on the consciences of world leaders. Your other repeated point about the conventional attacks on Tokyo and Dresden being just as bad is also significant – if Hiroshima wasn’t a sufficient demonstration to you that nuclear weapons are in an entirely different category to conventional weapons, why on earth should we assume it was sufficient to make that penny drop with political and military leaders?

“If you can, you must walk around every hour of every day with your eyes closed and your hands over your ears. We will never learn to stop killing each other until we stop living in denial about what we are.”

With respect, I’m not the one making the claim that we can simply relax, and put our trust in every leader with access to nuclear weapons to act entirely rationally in every circumstance. That really is a case of living in denial of what human beings are.

RevStu said...

Nor am I. It's quite bewildering how you can arrive at that conclusion from the words "Trident must go". Anyway, that's me done.