Wednesday, October 15, 2014

OK, London broadcasters, so tell us : just what WOULD be enough for a Jock party to get into your debates?

Of the many reprehensible things about the broadcasters' proposal to ban the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the TV leaders' debates, and indeed to ban them from even taking part in the negotiations about the debates, the most disgraceful of all is the fact that it is based on no objective criteria whatever.  In fact, the polar opposite is true - we have evidence that their starting-point is that the SNP and Plaid must be excluded ("why, the idea is patently absurd, Felicity!"), and that they work backwards from there to come up with a justification that fits.  It doesn't matter a damn to them what that justification is, or whether it is logically consistent with the other excuses they've used in similar situations in the past.  Last time around, Michael Crick (who was still with the BBC) openly admitted that the whole "Prime Ministerial Debate" wheeze was specifically concocted as a thin excuse to bar the door to the nationalist parties - if the debates had been billed as parliamentary leaders' debates (which is self-evidently what they actually were) it would have been much harder to explain away the absence of parties that have enjoyed unbroken representation in the House of Commons for decades.  Well, they've had to dilute the Prime Ministerial cover story this time to accommodate their beloved Nigel Farage, so what excuse are they left with now?  As of this moment, they just appear to be waffling, and hoping desperately that people will get used to the idea of the exclusion as a "normal" thing.

At the very least, the broadcasters must now be forced to set out firm criteria (which will not be conveniently altered in future) that the SNP and Plaid Cymru can meet to secure representation in the debates - and I do mean the real debates, not Mickey Mouse second-string debates which nobody pays a blind bit of attention to.  Is there a magic number of candidates that they must put up?  If so, what is that number?  200?  350?  If they could be guaranteed access to the debates with a specific number, I'm sure they would consider working together (perhaps with the aid of a dedicated fundraiser) to put up candidates in parts of England - the required deposit per constituency is £500, so the money involved would be significant, but not impossibly high.  It's certainly hard to see what additional hoops they could be expected to jump through beyond the number of candidates - the number of currently-held parliamentary seats can't be an issue, because between them they already have nine times as many seats as UKIP (who are pencilled in for inclusion in one debate), and nor can opinion poll support throughout Great Britain be an issue, because the 5% they have been getting in many recent opinion polls is in the same ballpark as the 6-9% enjoyed by the Lib Dems (who are pencilled in for inclusion in two debates).

But even if it is going to be one law for some (London-based) parties and another law for (non-London-based) others, there still does need to be clarity.  For example...

The SNP have six times as many seats in the House of Commons as UKIP.  If they had twelve times as many, would that be enough?

The SNP are the third-biggest party in the entire UK, with far more members than either the Liberal Democrats or UKIP.  If they were the second-biggest party, would that be enough?

The SNP currently hold the lead in Scottish voting intentions for Westminster.  If their lead over Labour was even bigger, would that be enough?

The SNP are currently projected to be ahead of UKIP as the fourth-largest party (at least) in the House of Commons after the general election, according to all Britain-wide opinion polls other than one.  If they were projected to be ahead of the Lib Dems as well as UKIP, would that be enough?

Tell us, London broadcasters : would anything ever be enough for a Jock party?  You'll have to forgive our scepticism.

The reason why this matters is illustrated perfectly by the latest update of the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls, which is based on the Scottish subsamples from the nine GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided - three from YouGov, two from Populus, two from Ashcroft, one from Survation and one from ICM.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.8% (+1.8)
Labour 27.0% (-0.4)
Conservatives 15.7% (-1.9)
Liberal Democrats 7.0% (-0.2)
UKIP 4.3% (+0.9)
Greens 2.1% (-0.7)

It's easy to look at these figures and conclude (as someone did on Twitter a couple of hours ago) that Scotland now constitutes a different polity from the rest of the UK.  But if you think for one moment that the SNP's lead is strong enough to withstand the broadcasters' Grand Exclusion Strategy, then you're dreaming.  Consider the one previous occasion when the SNP broke through the 30% barrier in a Westminster general election, in October 1974.  Do you think they would have had a cat in hell's chance of achieving that result if the run-up to the election had been punctuated by three leaders' debates between Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Jeremy Thorpe?  Of course not.  The momentum would have drained away.  The message sent out to viewers would have been : "The party you're thinking of voting for is not a serious party.  They're not part of the real contest.  Forget about them, and think about one of the main options instead."

On the morning after the referendum, I suggested that the broadcasters hadn't simply predicted the result, but had authored it.  (The glorious irony of the running vote tallies being projected onto Pacific Quay will live long in the memory.)  But their active participation in the London establishment's 'shock and awe' campaign during the referendum was positively subtle compared to the straightforward cause-and-effect of depressing the SNP vote in a general election by leaving them out of the debates - we saw how the party slumped in the opinion polls immediately after the first debate in 2010.  The broadcasters might as well be saying "we don't like the Scottish result currently suggested by the opinion polls, so we'll shape a result more to our taste instead".

Broadcasters are there to facilitate democratic debate, not to shape election results.  It is no part of their business to arbitrarily decide that a ceiling will be permanently placed on the support of any party that does not stand candidates in England.  This little game must be stopped.

72 comments:

  1. Excellent points. But does it not still allow them to exclude parties whose policies specifically address one geographically defined part of the UK? I suspect they've just not been articulate enough to define what they mean.

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  2. I'm beginning to think these debates won't even go ahead.

    There seems to be a massive issue with Farage being included, that the tories do not like. There is no reason why they cannot have the 6 or 7 leaders on the podium. It happens in america with democratic/republican presidential nominees and allows for full democratic representation.

    The fact that the SNP ONLY stand in Scotland or Plaid ONLY stand in Wales is entirely a mute point,these parties are part of the UK political world, they vote on matters in the House of Commons.

    Those trying to justify the exclusion have pretty absurd reasons, as it may have escaped their attention, but we are in a Union, therefore, decisions the SNP vote on also affect England albeit only those with Barnett consequentials....the fact remains however, the SNP/Plaid are part of the UK political make up.

    If it got taken to court, it would be very hard for the broadcasters to actually mount a legal case against including them, what would they say?

    They aren't represented across the UK? No one is and as already commented on, Scotland is not a country, it is a region of the UK. The UK is the country, we voted to remain a part of it.

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  3. Green Party has a cast iron case to be involved

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  4. Well, they've had to dilute the Prime Ministerial cover story this time to accommodate their beloved Nigel Farage, so what excuse are they left with now?

    I don't think they're on much shakier ground than last time, really. Clegg had no chance of becoming PM in 2010, so by including him they'd already abandoned the veneer that these were "Prime Ministerial" debates.

    The fairest solution remains cancelling the whole pointless exercise.

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  5. I just put these figures into electoral calculus, and the results give the SNP 44 seats. Including the one currently held by Mundell, which I can scarcely believe us winning to be honest though I'm prepared to give it the old college try.

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  6. I agree with much of what you say but I'm not sure that the 2010 WM general election is a good predictor of what will happen next year. Since then the 2011 Holyrood election and the referendum have transformed many people's perceptions of what is and is not politically possible or desirable. In 2010 many voters thought that strong Labour representation at WM was the best guarantor of Scottish interests. I think that was wrong even in 2010 but I can understand why many people thought on those lines. How many still hold this view?

    Post referendum Labour has gone, ironically, from being the party of Devo Max(ish)to the party of Devo Min, offering less even than the Tories. Their current position threatens to alienate Scottish and English voters alike (by refusing to contemplate EVEL). Meanwhile, as Craig McAngus has pointed out on The Future of the UK and Scotland (http://futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/snp-are-likely-winners-smith-commission-process)the SNP has ended up by default as the party of Devo Max - the preferred option (short of independence) of most Scottish voters.

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  7. Hi James,

    Saw your comment on my comment on the last thread.

    Totally agree with everything you are saying, I'm just making the point that, in my opinion, a stronger argument to be included is the fact that SNP / Indy Alliance could hold balance of power and hence their policies will have significant impact across the UK not just in Scotland (at least on non-Devolved matters).


    At the end of the day, like it or not, all they are interested in is their London-centric view of the world. If we are in a position to decide who gets into Number 10 then they are more likely to take notice of that than (very legitimate, but irrelevant to them) arguments about membership or current number of MPs.

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  8. These broadcasters clearly have a perspective and an agenda both of which exclude non-metropolitan Britain from serious consideration. They may come up with some nuanced flannel in modifying the format of these debates, but it will take a confrontation to stop them. Hopefully the legal challenge will get off the ground well before the deadline this time round.

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  9. "Clegg had no chance of becoming PM in 2010, so by including him they'd already abandoned the veneer that these were "Prime Ministerial" debates."

    Not at all - the BBC obsessively referred to their three-way 2010 debate as Prime Ministerial. This time, only the proposed Cameron v Miliband debate is being billed as Prime Ministerial (presumably because the Lib Dems have slipped in popularity to the point where Clegg is no longer a supposed "PM candidate"), while the other two debates are plain old leaders' debates. In which case, the logic for excluding the SNP and Plaid from those two must be different this time, although it remains a complete mystery what that logic actually is.

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  10. Ivan is quite right. With the SNP projected to get over 40 seats on thise figures, that is a significant representation in Westminster by anyone's standards. Why should it make any difference that all these 40+ seats are in Scotland?

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  11. chalks:

    "I'm beginning to think these debates won't even go ahead."

    No beginning about it for me. The debates in the last UK election added nothing to political discourse, neither did the Salmond-Darling debates over the referendum. It's just a pathetic attempt to ape American politics that doesn't work very well in a parliamentary system of government. Just ditch the whole thing and show something on TV that might actually be worth watching.

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  12. Seems I miread "won't" as "shouldn't". Serves me right for posting in a rush!

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  13. Between 1876 and 1918 the Irish Home Rule party held almost all the Westminster seats in the now Republic (around 80).

    They held the balance of power at Westminster on a number of occasions during that period.

    It is however not an exact parallel for many reasons, not least 'cos they didn't have debates on the telly back then :-)

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  14. Irish Nationalists also won some seats in the north and for many years held a seat in Liverpool (curiously enough, called Liverpool Scotland).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._P._O%27Connor

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Scotland_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#Elections_in_the_1880s

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  15. I am not sure we should read much into the opinion polls for the general election. It is too soon for that. On the debate issue, I would have thought a compromise would be for the SNP, Greens, PC to take part in either one or two of the debates. Two would be a good idea.

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  16. 200 000 members would make the SNP Britain's largest party.

    While this wouldn't get us onto the debates it would render them an even insaner farce.

    It would also be a PR coup internationally and domestically, something we could batter the opposition with forever.

    It would also wreck Johann Lamont's sleep.

    It would give the SNP a massive warchest and ten of thousands more activists for years to come.

    Once we reached 150 000 momentum would take over till it overtook totals of the Blue and Red Tories.

    Can we get membership to 150 000 by Christmas?

    Yes. If every current member makes this the Christmas they buy a family or friend Yesser an SNP membership.

    #yesallianceaction

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  17. Muttley : Even if we were only six weeks away from the election, it would still be far too early to read much into the polls - because we'd have the risk of a set of rigged leaders' debates to come in the interim.

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  18. "Broadcasters are there to facilitate democratic debate, not to shape election results."

    We already have a first past the post system which discriminates against smaller or emerging political parties.
    Arguably there could be merit in this FPP system, particularly so if you value continuity and stability in government.
    However the fact remains that the smaller and emerging political parties are more disadvantaged than they would be under any of the proportional representation alternatives.
    It should be one of the checks and balances in our election system that the broadcasters provide a counter-balance by giving some compensatory pre-election air time to these smaller and emerging political parties. They did so with the LibDems last time. They currently seem to be doing so with UKIP. I strongly suspect that they will come round to giving the Greens more exposure this time.
    The problem the broadcasters have is how to provide this compensatory exposure to parties representing regions and/or devolved nations. The changing political landscape of the UK means that English telly for English voters just won't cut it anymore.

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  19. The English couldn't care less about Scottish (or Welsh, or Irish) politics - and the TV companies are, as ever, making programmes for their majority audience.

    The right thing to do would be to refund Scottish viewers some of the BBC license fee for providing an inferior service. This will never happen.

    The only action left to us is to not pay the license fee.

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  20. @Sean McNulty

    I cannot see the SNP getting to 150,000 members. I think the number of new members will gradually slow down now. In addition, a significant number of the Yes campaign came from the left, and there would be resistance to joining the SNP (or the Greens, or even the SSP), as they do not view themselves as nationalists.

    To be honest, the extent of membership rises in the SNP, Greens, and SSP, is in itself very significant. The task for these parties is organising and keeping motivated their memberships as a whole. Getting organised for the opportunities, arising from the elections in the next few years, is vital now, as the referendum is beginning to fade away (although its effects and consequences will not go away).

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  21. "The English couldn't care less about Scottish (or Welsh, or Irish) politics - and the TV companies are, as ever, making programmes for their majority audience."

    Pretty much this. The SNP have made a remarkable gain in membership, but Scotland still remains around 8% of the population. So 92% of the viewers just aren't that interested in hearing from them in a National debate program. Similarly for PC.

    I do think the Greens should have been included, quite apart from anything else they'd provide an alternative viewpoint. But then I don't run a TV company.

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  22. "So 92% of the viewers just aren't that interested in hearing from them in a National debate program. Similarly for PC."

    Which may be true, but spectacularly misses the point. This is supposed to be an exercise in democratic good practice, not in the maximisation of TV ratings. If it was the latter, we might as well just have Nigel Farage and David Cameron mud-wrestling naked.

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  23. James:

    "This is supposed to be an exercise in democratic good practice, not in the maximisation of TV ratings"

    Really? I always assumed it was nothing more than tabloid-style sensationalism. After all, it's what the British media does best!

    Though I like your idea of Farage and Cameron mud wrestling naked. I might actually tune in for that. I'm sure it would be just as informative as any debate.

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  24. C A Moron is bound to bottle out of any debate with Alex Salmond, he simply does not have the moral fibre or the debating skills.
    As to mud wrestling, how about weathergirl Carol Kirkwood Vs A N Other, that would brighten any man's day!!

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  25. Do you remember the solitary poll that gave the Yes campaign a narrow lead, and the subsequent fall in the markets and the pound? Well, today the FTSE 100 plunged to 6211 from a high of 6900 in early September, a fall of almost 700 points. Who on earth are they going to blame now?

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  26. "The broadcasters might as well be saying "we don't like the Scottish result currently suggested by the opinion polls, so we'll shape a result more to our taste instead".

    "Broadcasters are there to facilitate democratic debate, not to shape election results. It is no part of their business to arbitrarily decide that a ceiling will be permanently placed on the support of any party that does not stand candidates in England. This little game must be stopped."

    I think that the corruption in which the NO campaign engaged before the vote, unacceptable practises during the count, and the breaking of the vow by Cameron, gives us the moral and legal right to hold another vote without the permission of the UK government. The vote should be held as soon as possible without any campaigning by anyone. If Westminster does not accept the result, then we will be morally and legally justified in,making a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. The Treaty and Act of Union has already been broken. The Scottish Parliament should acknowledge that it has been broken by Westminster, is no longer effective, and therefore is reversed.

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  27. James

    I did stats, but I also messed around myself, but years ago.

    (boring bit) The sample size to get a 3% Margin of Error is 1,026 I think. I believe this corresponds to a 95% confidence interval (1.96 standard errors).

    First question is does an aggregation of 5 sample sizes of 205 people have the same MOE, and the same validity.

    But the second question is - if there's a high level of correlation between the 5 distinct sub-samples, does this actually reduce the MOE?

    I have a vague memory of this, but no memory of whether it's a standard technique, or something I messed around with in my previous life (I used to be mathematical) - can't so far find anything online about multiple small sample correlation, and my stats books and notes from uni are buried deep in the attic!

    Just a thought.

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  28. James

    I did stats, but I also messed around myself, but years ago.

    (boring bit) The sample size to get a 3% Margin of Error is 1,026 I think. I believe this corresponds to a 95% confidence interval (1.96 standard errors).

    First question is does an aggregation of 5 sample sizes of 205 people have the same MOE, and the same validity.

    But the second question is - if there's a high level of correlation between the 5 distinct sub-samples, does this actually reduce the MOE?

    I have a vague memory of this, but no memory of whether it's a standard technique, or something I messed around with in my previous life (I used to be mathematical) - can't so far find anything online about multiple small sample correlation, and my stats books and notes from uni are buried deep in the attic!

    Just a thought.

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  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  30. the SNP should consider putting up candidates in northern constituencies (Berwick on Tweed/Corby) and perhaps one or two in London. That'll sort out any more arguments from media. The deposit money will be worth it.

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  31. I don't particularly like the conclusions of the argument I'm about to suggest but it maybe it deserves an airing. This is to argue that there is a valid reason for excluding the SNP and Plaid Cymru from TV debates while including the Greens. Assuming that the TV debates are about assessing potential Prime Ministers (a questionable assumption), the reasoning is that, since the SNP and PC are constitutionally committed to ending the union, no SNP or PC MP could ever be Prime Minister while a Green MP theoretically could. (I'm not sure if this is an accurate statement of current PC policy but let's just assume.)

    It's hugely unlikely that we will see a Green PM in the near future but it's not impossible. Consider the following scenario. In May 2015 Labour and the Tories get exactly the same number of MPs, the Lib Dems and UKIP have broadly comparable numbers and there is a solid wedge of SNP, PC and Northern Ireland MPs, plus at least one Green. It's hard to see any viable coalition emerging from this. The likely outcome is another general election soon after, but the UK needs a functioning government in the meantime. Both Labour and the Tories might well veto a PM from the other party (giving a unfair advantage in the run-up to the next election) and the Lib Dems and UKIP cancel each other out. The SNP and PC are unthinkable. So a caretaker Green PM might appear the least bad option (and some 'caretakers' prove surprisingly durable).

    As an afterthought, why is a PM from Northern Ireland so unimaginable? Are we moving into territory where a PM from Scotland or Wales might be equally unthinkable? The UK's unfolding constitutional nightmare has a long way to run.

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  32. Dennis, there's no such thing as a "constitutional commitment", if by that you mean a commitment that somehow has a formal constitutional standing and that precludes anyone from holding office. Quite the reverse - if a party wants constitutional change, there's no simpler way of delivering it than to become the government, or part of the government.

    Doubtless the SNP will point out that they prefer a confidence-and-supply arrangement to full coalition - which, as it happens, is identical to UKIP's stance! So no excuse to be found there for excluding the SNP and Plaid from the debates.

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  33. MSM dirty tricks section, mobilised for the GE. It's as simple as that. We have witnessed what they are capable of, recently, we should not be surprised; more over we should be angry. Angry at the way they show utter disdain for Scotland and Wales.

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  34. James - OK, "constitutionally committed to ending the union" was maybe not the best way of putting it. But so long as the SNP remains politically committed to ending the union as currently constituted I don't see how a SNP MP could without hypocrisy aspire to be Prime Minister of the UK, or how a non-Scottish majority at Westminster could contemplate accepting this. It's not easy to draw the line between reforming a constitution and rejecting it completely (this is one reason why Scottish and English commentators disagree fundamentally about what happened constitutionally in 1707). But it's not obviously outrageous to say that the raison d'etre of the SNP is to overthrow the existing UK constitution. On a purely technical issue, does an incoming PM not have to swear some kind of oath? Could an SNP MP honestly do this?

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  35. "But so long as the SNP remains politically committed to ending the union as currently constituted I don't see how a SNP MP could without hypocrisy aspire to be Prime Minister of the UK"

    Why? Obviously no SNP MP is actively seeking to be Prime Minister (and nor is Nigel Farage, which hasn't precluded the broadcasters giving him an invite to the debates), but in principle there's nothing particularly odd about Prime Ministers coming in with the intention of fundamentally changing the status quo - and the ones that succeed become the great historical figures.

    "or how a non-Scottish majority at Westminster could contemplate accepting this"

    They're entitled to contemplate or not contemplate what they want, but that's separate from the democratic argument that the SNP have exactly the same rights as any other parliamentary party, and must be treated accordingly by the broadcasters.

    "On a purely technical issue, does an incoming PM not have to swear some kind of oath? Could an SNP MP honestly do this?"

    That's an argument for saying that no republican can ever become an MP, because they have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. I don't see how any democrat could say that was a sustainable argument, although to her eternal shame Magnus Linklater's wife did try to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Roseanna Cunningham seeking elected office in the Perth and Kinross by-election in 1995.

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  36. I was in the HoC on the day Roseanna took her seat. A kindly SNP researcher managed to blag enough passes to the public gallery for most of the London Branch activists to get in.

    I remember she had to stand for quite a long time while the house debated something about support for film companies. (Alex Salmond spoke to deplore the fact that none of the initiatives proposed was in Scotland, to get the condescending reply that the Scots would get to see the films that were made so they should think themselves fortunate.) During that time Margaret Ewing was beside her, an arm around her waist, keeping her company. It was nice to see the two SNP women together like that, facing up to Westminster.

    Anyway, I could see that because Roseanna had her back to the visitors' gallery, then and all through the proceedings that followed. I can state with absolute certainty that she did indeed have her fingers crossed behind her back when she took the Loyal Oath.

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  37. Meanwhile it's informative that one of the 'mainstream' parties the broadcasting executives are so eager to suck up to is back to proving it's the nasty party and full of ministerial scum with deplorable attitudes to the disabled.

    Welfare reform minister Lord Freud clings on after saying disabled workers 'aren't worth' minimum wage

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/welfare-reform-minister-lord-freud-clings-on-after-saying-disabled-workers-arent-worth-minimum-wage-30668160.html




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  38. James - Sorry, I don't get your point about Nigel Farage not actively seeking to be Prime Minister. Surely that is precisely what he is doing. His chances may not be high (at least, not in 2015) and deep down he may recognise this, but that is the game he is playing. In contrast the SNP - to put it at its crudest - don't want to govern the UK, they want to liquidate it. In that sense the SNP are not a parliamentary party like any other.

    This is the point I was struggling to make in my reference to 1707. Michael Keating once wrote that “the genius of unionism is that it allowed very different ways of being British and of conceiving of the state. The common habit in the south of referring to the state as England allowed one section of the political community to believe that they lived in a unitary nation-state, while the Scots were able to separate state and nation and believe that their national distinctiveness was being nurtured”. Like most Scots (and the SNP) I understand the UK as a union of two or more distinct nations which can in principle be dissolved. But this is not how most unionists, and most people in England, see the UK - they don't see it as a union at all. In this respect the SNP is a completely different kind of beast from any unionist party.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not trying to justify the exclusion of the SNP from the TV debates, just to understand it by placing Scottish and English perspectives side by side. The two sides are arguing from different, incommensurable premises and therefore talking past each other. I doubt if any amount of reasoning can resolve this impasse. Court action looks like the only real option.

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  39. "In that sense the SNP are not a parliamentary party like any other."

    I'm losing the thread of your logic here. All parliamentary parties are different from each other in respect of their policies (including constitutional proposals), but not different from each other at all in respect of their democratic rights and obligations. And I would have thought the equivalence between UKIP and the SNP was obvious - both are seeking to influence policy via a confidence-and-supply arrangement, rather than to become part of the government itself.

    By the way, the final government of East Germany was, to a man and woman, in favour of the "liquidation" of that state. Were they hypocrites to take up office after being elected on that prospectus? Of course not. For all I know there may well have been TV leaders' debates before that election - should the pro-liquidation politicians have been excluded? Of course not. In a democracy you don't censor like that.

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  40. The House of Lords is an integral part of the westminster establishment. Granted, it's a complete waste of money and is corruptly used to deliver 'favours' to those friendly and free with their cash to the governing parties. Nonetheless, it is as westmisnter as it gets. So are those parties who have at least given lip service to abolishing (or indeed "liquidating" lol) it hypocrites? Hardly. Devolution happened and is still ongoing. Constitutional positions change. Simple as that.


    Nor is the racist Farage about to become PM no matter how much the unionist BBC drool over him and give wall to wall media coverage over his every witless brainfart.

    The kippers are a pressure group on the tory party and always have been. You need only look at the panic from the coward Cameron right this second. He is ineptly trying to make yet another "Cast Iron Vow"/"Red Line in the sand" over Europe today in the Sun to appease his panicking and gullible backbenchers.

    Farage wants to push the tory party to a full blown OUT position on Europe and always has. Even if the public schoolboy twit Farage only gets a handful of MPs he will still put incredible pressure on the tory party to move to a full blown OUT. If he fails to push the tories to OUT then he will still undoubtedly split the tory party over IN or OUT and give BOO and Eurosceptic tories unhappy with a pro-EU leader somewhere to go. As potty as Farage is even he doesn't think he is going to become PM in 2015.

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  41. Personally, I can only see the exclusion of the SNP from debates as benefiting the pro-indy movement.

    Right now we have the majority support of Scots SNP, Lab, Lib, Tory and UKIP voters for full devo max. Westminster has succeeded in turning even its most ardent supporters to all but independence.

    Dave is hugely unpopular with Miliband liked even less. Clegg is a joke and Farage hated.

    The most anti-Scotland / anti-devolution party is now Labour with Labour and the BBC making this as clear as possible to the Scottish electorate over the EVEL issue.

    The situaiton has developed now to make the SNP the party of Devo Max and the obvious choice for 2015. Going by polling back to 2010 for Westminster, Scots have already worked this out all by themselves.

    Everyone is getting excited by the recent SNP surge. This dates back in earnest to 2011; it's not new. It has just accelerated recently.

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  42. >>we might as well just have Nigel Farage and David Cameron mud-wrestling naked

    Somewhere out there a TV executive is giving this idea serious consideration...

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  43. I am actually surprised that Labour want the debates to go ahead.

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  44. re Dennis Smith:

    Why should UKIP be allowed to participate in debates about the European Union (as they were earlier this year) when they are constitutionally committed to the UK no longer being part of the EU?

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  45. re: Chalks

    Labour want to take part because they think that if Ed stands up straight and doesn't swear he will beat his pathetically low expectations. A bit like Darling in the first referendum debate.

    They also like the proposed format because it would probably harden more (ex?) Tories into voting UKIP.

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  46. I am actually surprised that Labour want the debates to go ahead.

    Aye, Dave, Nigel and even possibly Nick would slaughter Ed on the EVEL issue live on TV. Ed is anti-democratic, anti-Scottish and anti-English...

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  47. James – apologies for the delayed reply. You have to sleep sometime and this post then turned out to be too long for Blogger. I'll try to break it into two or more bits.

    I’ll try to explain, starting from first principles, why I think the SNP is a different kind of party from the unionist parties and why it would be wrong in principle for an SNP MP to become Prime Minister of the UK. States and nations are things of different logical types, though they interact continuously and modify each other. States can to some extent create nations (through education, etc.) while nations can give legitimacy to states and – ideally at least – hold them to account.

    Any functioning democratic state needs its own demos - a matching nation or people. This raises the question: what is the demos of the UK state? How many peoples or nations are there in the UK? There are many varieties of Scottish nationalism, disagreeing on many issues, but there is widespread agreement that Scotland is a nation and the Scots are a people or demos. The same must be true of the English. (The idea of a demos in Northern Ireland is obviously controversial, so let’s leave Northern Ireland and Wales out of the discussion for now.) If the Scots and the English are separate peoples, I think it follows directly that there can’t be a British demos. In that sense the UK is not a conventional democracy. I think this is true for all kinds of reasons. Asymmetric devolution is a democratic abomination because it violates the basic democratic principle that every citizen should have an equal voice and all votes should have equal value.

    To be continued (I hope)

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  48. (Continued)

    The SNP participates in Westminster politics for pragmatic reasons, basically because it has no alternative. But its participation is contingent and conditional because it rejects both the assumption of a UK demos and the Westminster doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of Parliament. The latter is another crucial marker of Scottish difference. Scottish constitutional law is vague and poorly developed: it virtually came to a halt in 1707. But there are at least vestiges of a tradition, dating back to George Buchanan and maybe even the Declaration of Arbroath, that sovereignty is vested in the people rather than the crown and that monarchical powers are limited rather than absolute. Though sidelined, Scottish constitutional law has never been extinguished. This is the force of Lord Cooper’s famous obiter dictum in MacCormick v the Lord Advocate in 1953. These two separate lines of argument, a specifically Scottish legal tradition and a general argument from democratic principle, both favour a doctrine of popular as against parliamentary sovereignty.

    I think this helps to explain the SNP policy of limited engagement with Westminster, abstaining on principle in England-only votes. (I should maybe say that I am not an SNP member, so I am interpreting party policy from the outside.) This is another reason why the idea of an SNP Prime Minister is so problematic. When so much parliamentary business relates only to England an SNP Prime Minister would be obliged to abstain on many of the bills promoted by his/her own government.

    The doctrines of popular sovereignty and limited monarchy are relevant to the oath issue that I mentioned earlier. They do not commit their adherents to republicanism but they do commit them to rejecting any doctrine of absolute parliamentary sovereignty. On these grounds the monarch appears as a kind of hereditary president for life. There are always ways of equivocating, but I don’t see how a principled SNP Prime Minister could accept the standard Westminster interpretation.

    Finally (at last) I don’t think your East German analogy works. The German Democratic Republic functioned as a (not really democratic) state but there was never an East German people or demos. The GDR was a historical accident, created when the Allies divided Germany into four zones in1945, then frozen when the USSR fell out with the others. In liquidating the GDR its government were just returning the German people to an earlier, more legitimate status.

    Apologies for the length of this but I was obviously not making myself clear when I tried to keep things brief.

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  49. @James

    I disagree I think David Cameron would pretty much destroy him. Miliband is a whimpering fool who cannot think on his feet. As Skier says, the EVEL issue is one which would be picked up by the media. We saw in the referendum how the media pick one issue from the debates and go big on it.

    Throw in the other 2 against him and he'd be completely out of his depth and that really is saying something. Labours best hope to avoid a total defeat in 2015 is to batten down the doors and not make any sudden movements.

    They are goosed, in Scotland and in the North of England.

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  50. I had to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen when I became a citizen of Canada. I almost choked! I had never taking such an oath when living in Scotland. I took it in good faith because I was not taking an oath to the Queen as a person, or to the monarchy (I't not like the Nazi oath of allegiance to Hitler), but to the head of state and her heirs. When Canada or Scotland becomes a Republic we will be keeping the oath to the Head of State and her heirs because the President of the Republic will be her legitimate heir (The meaning of "heirs of her body" is "legitimate").

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  51. why is everyone so hooked on lazy US style debates centralising debates via gatekeepers who decided as to who is and who isn't eligible to be controlled by them?
    Something I'm not getti9ng here, were has all the spinal fluids gone, can't we have a historically more adult discourse? I just got used to the genetically imprinted party political landscape nobody can be without, seemingly, what's next a two party political system? Is that what the aim is? trying to adopt the donkeys and elephants, but getting the owls.... what a debate....

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  52. SNP and Plaid can never hope to win enough seats to form an overall majority.

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  53. Anon : You're really not listening, are you? Did you even get past the title?

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  54. dennis Smith " why is a PM from Northern Ireland so unimaginable?"

    Pul-eeze ! The Loyalist DUP, largest party in NI represents up to 48% of NI people - they do not support abortion, blood donations from homosexuals, and believe the world was formed 4,000 years ago. they spend their time refusing to take part in talks and negotiations with other parties, annoying envoys from the US, trying to ban plays, marching with the orange order and taking orders from them etc You can read all about them and the orange order on eurofree3.wordpress.com
    I would not wish them as PM on my worst enemy. God save England and the UK if that ever happens!.
    Sinn Fein representing most nationalists/republicans (up to 46% of the NI population) has an abstentionist policy - they do not take their seats in Westminster (ever hear of Bobby Sands MP?). Maybe an abstentionist PM would be the best choice for westminster?
    the other NI parties(nationalist, greens, unionist, UKIP ) are very small and are not linked to the Cons, lab or Lib-dems. What about the leader of a minority party in a minority region with hardly any votes as PM? Surely the UK could do better than that?

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  55. @ Anonymous

    In policy terms I completely agree. I wouldn't wish a Northern Ireland Prime Minister on anyone. But there is an issue of democratic legitimacy here. Why should Northern Ireland voters be denied the opportunity of voting for an MP who could theoretically become the Prime Minister of the state of which they are citizens? Let's bear in mind that Scotland and Wales could be moving in the same direction. I don't often agree with Gordon Brown but he may have a case in arguing that the implementation of English Votes for English Laws could potentially disqualify any MP from Scotland and Wales from becoming Prime Minister.

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  56. This suggestion of a de facto (if not written) rule preventing people from Scotland (and possibly Wales) from becoming PM, Chancellor, etc is absurd and anti-democratic.

    Imagine a conversation with an American and telling them that the situation of Scotland was the equivalent of (say) people from Alaska being barred from the Presidency, or other federal positions. Most foreigners would think that was legitimate grounds for pursuing independence.

    Brown often accused the SNP of wanting to create a "colonial" relationship between an independent Scotland and rUK in respect of the proposed currency union. Well, having a scenario where only English representatives are allowed to be the PM of the UK would appear to be the definition of colonialism to me.

    As Vernon Bogdanor put it a few weeks ago, asymmetry is the price that England has to pay for Union (and they weren't willing to do this for Ireland). In any union or federation there has to be some "unfair" representation given to smaller populations to prevent majoritarianism. For example, each state in the US has two senators, whether they have less than 1 million people (Delaware, Wyoming) or tens of millions (California, Texas).

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  57. @ James

    I'm not saying that any de facto (if not written) rule currently exists. I'm saying that such a convention might become tempting, especially to English voters, if EVEL is ever introduced. Of course this would be absurd and anti-democratic. My whole point is many existing UK constitutional practices are absurd and anti-democratic, and there is a danger this could get worse.

    The comparison with the USA is irrelevant. The USA has a federal system and no party currently has properly developed plans to introduce federalism in the UK, not even the Lib Dems. As I said above, systems of symmetric devolution, like federalism, can be fully democratic. But asymmetric devolution can't because it fails the basic test of giving all citizens an equal voice and all votes an equal value.

    For the record, I can see real see real advantages in a confederal UK where each constituent nation has constitutionally entrenched sovereignty. But no UK party is currently offering this.

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  58. Muttley, I agree that the precise increase in the SNP membership doesn't really matter -- unless we become Britain's party. At which point it matters a whole lot in PR and hence leverage terms domestically and internationally, and also morale-wise -- great for us, not so great for Lamont and Murphy.

    And 150000 isn't going to happen without a concerted campaign. But plans are afoot. I'll keep you posted.

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    Replies
    1. become Britain's *biggest* party. (chuckle)

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  59. I doubt very much if the Union could survive as a (con)federal state. It's just not workable
    See http://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/squaring-the-circle-what-no-means/

    other people think the same
    http://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/th-whole-worls-in-a-terrible-state-o-chassis-good-luck-with-that/

    So English votes for English people is a problem because the scots, Welsh and Irish may never get the chance to have a PM. That's one giant red herring -

    Sinn fein doesn't even bother to attend westminster and has no interest in becoming PM.The irish in NI already have one foot out the door of the Union and will have both out as soon as they get a majority in NI.

    Unionist parties appear to be on the way out in Scotland. The SNP MPs don't vote on English matters. The majority of scottish people seem to want Devo max, with 45% wanting independence. i suggest their ambitions are directed elsewhere.
    The Welsh are clamouring for Devo max like the scots
    http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/welsh-assembly-leaders-back-fast-track-7940186? so I imagine their energies would also be directed elsewhere.
    The evidence all points to very few, if any, politicians in Scotland, Wales and NI actually wanting to be PM outside of their own countries.

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  60. The UK could quite easily survive as a Federalist country.

    They don't want to dilute power though, it's easier to control london than it is 3 other areas.

    At present none of them are competing against London, they don't have the economic weapons to do that.

    If federalism happened, they would.

    We all know London is the priority, the remembrancer in the House of Commons has that particular responsibility to see that no harm comes to the City of London.

    Would they see federalism as harming the City of London?

    Of course they would.

    To say federalism wouldn't work in the UK is nonsense though, it would work, but it'll never happen as long as London is the way it is.

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  61. Labour on 19% in Yougov Scottish sample this morning. I believe that's the lowest share they've had ever.

    Dave seen as the preferred option as a UK PM by Scots even though the Tories are hated.

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  62. Tories are ahead of Labour in the Scottish subsample in the Populus poll.

    SNP 35, Tories 24, Labour 21, LD 10, Greens and UKIP 4 each.

    http://www.populus.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/OmOnline_Vote_17-10-2014_BPC.pdf

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  63. TNS poll in the Herald.

    Voters trust Sturgeon the most to deliver new powers

    MORE Scots trust the SNP and its leader-elect Nicola Sturgeon to deliver extra powers to Scotland than any other party or politician, despite the Yes campaign losing the independence referendum, a survey has found.

    The research by pollsters TNS suggests the First Minister-in-waiting is poised to inherit a strong legacy of trust when she takes charge of the Nationalists next month.

    But the survey of almost 1,000 people who were eligible to vote in last month's referendum poll delivered a sombre message for the main UK parties, in whom there is little trust to deliver their pledge of enhanced powers for Holyrood...

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  64. I saw a tweet that said something along these lines:

    If we are to have English votes for English laws, then surely we should have English nuclear weapons for English people?

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  65. I'm not sure what the best way to play this will be to be honest.

    A broadcast ban in Scotland wouldn't do much in my view. You can switch regions for BBC1 on iPlayer, for example, and as far as I recall watching ITVplayer doesn't switch you to STV if your IP is in Scotland. With the Virgin package in my place you also have the different regions on separate channels. I don't watch much TV (my brother sorted that out) so I'm not that clued up on the different services but I assume you can do that with most other pay services and even Freeview?

    So I imagine the purpose of any legal action would be to try to block the debates entirely unless we were invited or we'd just be blowing hot air.

    If the Scottish debates go ahead then should the SNP refuse take part? I don't think that will reflect well with a lot of those we're trying to attract, even if it seems like the 'right' thing to do. When I take my indignant hat off I can see that.

    We could refuse to put Nicola in and put in whoever the new deputy will be, or put in one of our WM contingent arguing that it's a WM election and none of the Holyrood leaders have a chance of being a WM MP - you could possibly work that angle and obviously it plays on the BBC's argument that Nicola isn't running as a possible PM but it would be tricky to put that case properly too. I suspect that we'll suck it up in the end (as we always do) since we understandably don't want to portray ourselves as a protest party. As much as it annoys me, I think that, ultimately, that will be our safest card given the tools at our disposal at this time - it remains to be seen how much exposure the 'new media' can gain without a terrestrial broadcast license - and I'd have to support it. The SNP can't hurt the BBC, only license fee payers can...

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  66. Philip, if by "block the debates entirely" you mean prevent them from taking place or being broadcast in England and Wales, that wouldn't be the aim. Blocking them in Scotland might be a last resort objective (as it was last time), and if there was a court order to that effect the broadcasters would just have to take every reasonable step. When an interview with John Major was blocked in Scotland in 1995, the BBC also had to withdraw it in some northern parts of England to prevent the signal reaching Scotland.

    More constructively, the real aim of legal action would be to gain some form of inclusion in at least one of the main debates, or failing that to get some dedicated prime-time coverage to repair the imbalance (the Scottish debates can't do the trick because the already grossly over-represented London parties will be present in those as well).

    Whatever the outcome, there's no way the SNP will boycott the Scottish debates altogether, although you might remember that they put forward Angus Robertson rather than Alex Salmond for the first one in 2010.

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  67. James,

    regarding the Major scenario, I'm not sure that could be effective in the digital era. If there's some way the rUK regional channels could be blocked from set-top boxes based on IP then that might work.

    You're point about the Scottish debates was also on my mind. If you go ahead with them, yes, you are getting some airtime, but you're also giving even more airtime to the London parties. If we can't get on to at least the third debate but receive some dedicated airtime, I still don't think that resolves the issue of the SNP being portrayed as a fringe i.e. out with the mainstream. The thing about dedicated airtime is that it's still going to be tough to draw in those who, for now at least, aren't listening to the SNP message. SNP supporters would obviously tune in.

    To elaborate, let's take floating voters who may still be swaying to the old mantra of voting Labour to stop the Tories: they're much less likely to tune-in to an SNP broadcast but would watch a debate between all parties, and the hope would be that we can use the exposure of the debate format to point out that voting Red to stop Blue has never worked in the past. We can also highlight that Labour may 'win' the election but, going by polling percentages at the moment, a right-wing coalition would still outpoll a 'progressive' coalition percentage wise (which is something I've been meaning to ask you about and I'll come to it shortly). In that case, who do you want to stand up for Scotland against that nightmare? A Scottish Labour contingent who'll be wary of playing up the representation issue for fear of undermining their beloved Union, or an SNP contingent who won't bow down and accept what's thrown at us without a fight? It's a rhetorical question, of course, but that's one of the main points we should be making to voters who might hold their noses and still vote Labour i.e. "voting Labour in Scotland is a wasted vote".

    As to your last point, I agree, and had Angus or Stewart in mind - both excellent debaters.

    Quickly coming back to the polling question I had: according to the last update I looked at on http://ukpollingreport.co.uk, it had Lab+LD = 42%, Con+UKIP = 48% but according to http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ukpr-projection-2 that still gives Labour an outright majority of 12 with the SNP winning between 1-10 seats. That doesn't seem to stack up with the SNP polling over 40% in Scotland. Can this data be trusted or is it out of kilter with the latest polling info?

    (I saw Mike Smithson tweeting that Lord Ashcroft is planning to conduct polling in Scottish Labour seats only. Hopefully that clarifies some of these questions.)

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  68. Philip, the UK Polling Report seats projection is based on Uniform National Swing, which is hopeless. I'm not even convinced that he factors in the SNP's improved showing on a GB-wide basis (and that wouldn't be anything like sufficient to take account of the current surge) - he just seems to assume that "minor parties" like the SNP will remain unchanged from 2010, and instead calculates the effect of swings between the three "main" parties.

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  69. To give an example of the stupidity of using Uniform National Swing, I pumped tonight's ComRes figures into Electoral Calculus, and discovered to my surprise that UKIP can look forward to gaining Inverness, Gordon, Aberdeenshire West and Argyll & Bute!

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  70. Thanks for clarifying that, James. I thought it looked seriously dodgy.

    It seems to me that the best argument would be, from an SNP perspective, to say that Labour may well 'win' the election but, based on polls, they have little chance of sustaining themselves in government in the face of a right wing majority.

    If Inverness ever voted UKIP then I'd have to start telling fibs about where I was born, but thankfully those figures have to be nonsense. For all the talk of Glasgow and Dundee being the Yes cities, it looks like Inverness voted Yes too.

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