Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remember Gordon 2007?

There was a pretty shocking article in the Guardian yesterday which seemed to come about after a journalist listened to some implausible Liberal Democrat propaganda about the party's election prospects in Scotland, and lapped it up absolutely unquestioningly.  We're told that they are "expected" to retain the majority of their Scottish seats, and that they believe they have a good chance of holding most of the others as well.  The justification for this startling claim?  Well, they weren't actually quoted using the dread words "we've seen the figures", but that was the gist.  Basically it boils down to the results of the Lib Dems' notorious "comfort polls", and their canvass returns.

As plainly nonsensical as this is, I don't think we should totally exclude the possibility that the Lib Dems have succeeded in convincing themselves that it's all quite true.  What it reminds me of more than anything is the Gordon contest in 2007, when Alex Salmond was challenging the sitting MSP Nora Radcliffe.  The Lib Dems were so sure of their canvass results that they briefed the BBC after the polls closed that they had defeated Salmond - at a point when they had absolutely nothing to gain from any more misleading spin.  After the real result became apparent, Malcolm Bruce openly admitted he was stunned, and claimed that people must have been lying to him and other Lib Dems on the doorstep.  He then proceeded to ungraciously cast around for reasons why Salmond might have won after all - of course nobody actually likes the guy, so they must have just fancied the idea of being represented by the First Minister, or something like that.

I suspect we could be treated to quite a few amusing interviews of that sort in the early hours of May 8th.

*  *  *

I rarely disagree with RevStu, but I think he's putting slightly too much trust in Lord Ashcroft's summary of how focus group participants in Scotland feel about the prospect of an early second independence referendum.  First of all, we don't know whether it's a fair and representative summary of what was actually said - Ashcroft is genuinely neutral when crunching the numbers, but he tends to be much more mischievous in his narrative accounts of focus group sessions.  He does, after all, have a well-known political agenda of his own.  Secondly, his Scottish focus groups weren't representative of the whole population - "most of our participants had voted Labour in 2010".  And lastly, all focus groups are potentially prone to a snowball effect, with everyone falling into line with the direction in which the discussion happens to be going.  A good example of that is the bizarre televised focus group run by Frank Luntz in 2005, which identified David Cameron not only as the best candidate for Tory leader, but also as a potential Messiah.

Opinion polls are a much more reliable guide to the state of public opinion on the timing of a second referendum.  They've repeatedly shown that a substantial minority want it to happen within the next five years, and a clear majority want it to happen within the next ten years.


  1. As Nicola has repeatedly said, the next referendum will happen when the Scots demand one.
    If I was an SNP policy maker, I would state that an SNP majority in the Holyrood 2016 election would lead to a referendum.
    I can't see a downside, as the election would give a pretty good idea of how the electorate were feeling.

    1. Without a new Section 30 order, which the UK Parliament would have to legislate for, there will be no referendum.

      Cameron has ruled it out, as has Miliband again today (hilariously at the same time Jackanory Jim was saying a vote for the SNP would lead another referendum).

    2. Interestingly, Professor Robert Black gave a contrary legal opinion in a comment on LPW's blog a few days ago. He thinks a consultative referendum on whether negotiations on independence should take place would still be within the Scottish Parliament's powers, without another Section 30 order.

      At the very least, that means there's some ambiguity over the legal position, which the SNP could put to the test if Westminster really is foolish enough to go down this imperialist path.

    3. Here's what I said in a letter in The Times in February 2012. My view of the law remains the same today.

      Yet again an article in your pages (“Ministers to discuss vote as one-question”, Feb 4) proceeds upon the assumption that before the Scottish Government can lawfully hold an independence referendum there must be a transfer of powers (by means of a section 30 order) by the United Kingdom Government; and that this fact gives the UK Government the opportunity to attach restrictive conditions as the price of any such transfer. This is an all-too prevalent misconception.
      The Scottish Government’s present legal position on entitlement to hold a referendum is a strong one. Any conditions sought to be imposed by the UK Government can therefore be considered strictly on their merits and not as a price that must be paid, however reluctantly, in order to secure authority lawfully to hold a referendum at all.
      Notwithstanding the restrictions on the Scottish Government’s devolved competence contained in the Scotland Act 1998, no-one disputes that it can lawfully make proposals to, or hold conversations or enter into negotiations with, the United Kingdom Government about (i) altering the constitutional position of Scotland or (ii) widening the devolved powers of the Scottish Government and Parliament (including amending or removing some or all of the matters reserved to the United Kingdom which are set out in Schedule 5 of the Act).

      That being the case, it is inconceivable that any court would hold that it was beyond the legal power of the Scottish Government to promote legislation to enable it to consult the Scottish electorate (by means of a referendum) about whether the Scottish Government should or should not make such proposals to, or hold such conversations or enter into such negotiations with, the Government of the United Kingdom. This is reinforced by section 101(2) of the 1998 Act which provides that any provision of an Act of the Scottish Parliament is “to be read as narrowly as is required for it to be within competence, if such a reading is possible, and is to have effect accordingly”.

      That does not, of course, exclude the possibility that referendum legislation might be challenged, as being beyond the Scottish Parliament’s powers, in the courts of Scotland and all the way to the UK Supreme Court. But any such challenge would be doomed to failure.

    4. The problem with that kind of referendum is that Noes tend simply not to turn out, thereby ensuring that the result isn't taken very seriously. We saw this with the Keep the Clause referendum in 2000. Instead of voting for the abolition of the clause, I thought a better approach would be to damage the credibility of the poll by abstaining. And that seemed to work, as turnout was around 30% and the government had little difficulty ignoring the overwhelming result in Souter's favour.

      Of course, a poll conducted by an elected government already has more legitimacy than one billionaire's pet project, but the Catalonian referendum - which had about half the turnout of the Scottish one, and whose result has largely been ignored - suggests the same tactics worked in that case.

    5. "If Westminster really is foolish enough to go down this imperialist path.

      Well it certainly hasn't harmed 'scottish' Labour so far.
      The red tories are doing splendidly according to the uber-Blairite Murphy.


    6. Keaton : Both of the comparisons you're drawing are completely inappropriate. This would be a referendum put in place by legislation, just like any other referendum. It would bear no resemblance at all to a private vanity project like the Section 28 vote. The Catalan vote was declared illegal and had to be organised informally, so it was little wonder the turnout was so low.

      Of course people can always attempt to undermine the legitimacy of a referendum by not turning out, but they can do that even in a binding referendum - look at the nationalist boycott of the 1970s border poll in Northern Ireland.

    7. It doesn't even require the SNP itself to win a majority, only for there to be a majority in favour of holding the referendum elected to the parliament. Such as the Greens or the SSP. Who knows, after the kicking the FibDems are about to get, in the aftermath they may recover their sense and realise electoral success requires they embrace it too. Stranger things have happened.

    8. The referendum question will be greatly effected by any referendum on membership of the EU.

      The 'right to self determination' would make it all but impossible for Westminster to deny us a referendum, but if the UK voted to leave the EU?

  2. Rennie is in cloud cuckoo land just now on Scot Beeb or is that LBC.
    Just now the DON'T KNOW's have it. the have not got a clue's MAY believe him

  3. The article doesn't say the Lib Dems "are expected" to hold these seats, but that they expect to. This is a cruicial distinction.

    And you shouldn't make assumptions that the writer of the article "lapped it up" simply because she repeats what the Lib Dems are saying. As a journalist you don't ignore someone's belief in a fact simply because you don't agree with it. You publish it, attribute it and allow the reader to make up their own minds. To me, the language is perfectly neutral reporting.

    1. Crikey. Did you think the judge's summing up in the Jeremy Thorpe trial was fair and balanced as well?

    2. To be fair, as I was reading the article, I pictured the journo smiling at them and just not having the heart to tell them how it really is.

    3. Nah, it's just lazy and shit journalism pal.

      Anyone with even a passing interest in politics would have checked just how credible the polls the lib dems were basing all their spin on was before basing an entire article on them and taking them as gospel.

      It's not as if their notorious comfort polls haven't been debunked by serious poll watchers multiple times by now. Even those hired to do the poling wanted their names off them because they don't conform to BPC standards.

    4. Despite my generous mood, I couldn't use the word "journalist".

    5. Fair point well made Pads. "Creative writing" would seem to be more apt. ;-)

    6. You misspelled "Sasannach". It has no E.

    7. Sassenach
      /ˈsæsəˌnæk; Scottish -næx/
      (Scot, sometimes Irish) an English person or a Lowland Scot
      Word Origin
      C18: from Scot Gaelic Sasunnach, Irish Sasanach, from Late Latin saxonēs Saxons

    8. That there is the Scottish MSM's biggest problem Sassenach, and why they have lost so much credibility (and readers/licence fee payers)

      Simply repeating a politicians press release, does not fulfil the role of the 'forth estate' as they are supposed to be a system of balances and checks, for ordinary citizens.

      The 'freedom of press' is based on this role, as the press's freedom to counter any dishonesty or investigate any wrong-doing from politicians, and to then inform the electorate, is essential for any genuine democracy.

      To simply repeat a LibDem press release that is an obvious attempt to hoover up a lot of the don't know voters who may want to vote tactically for a unionist party, certainly does not fulfil the role of the 'Forth Estate'

      What makes it all the more disgusting, is we see the press fulfilling this role with gusto, when and only when, they are dealing with the SNP.

    9. If you want to use Sassenach in a Scots context go for it, but it's a Gaelic loan word so I'm just giving you the Gaelic spelling that we Gaels use every day.

      It also doesn't mean "Lowland Scot", it means Englishman (i.e. a Saxon), because English people come from Sasainn (England). If we were to talk about Lowlanders we'd say goill, or "gall" in the singular, because they come from the Galltachd (land of the foreigners).

    10. It certainly did, in fact the first recorded literary reference according to the OED was :

      "The Highlanders have no other name for the people of the Low country, but Sassenagh, or Saxons", from Humphrey Clinker, written by Tobias Smollett in 1771.

    11. And yet in all my time as a Gaelic speaker and in every piece of recorded Gaelic I have seen or heard from the late 1500s to the modern era (I have read a LOT of Gaelic poetry, songs, listened to recordings etc, the bulk of it pre-1700) I have never ONCE heard of the Lowlanders being referred to as Sasannaich. Find me an example of a Gael referring to a Lowlander as a Sasannach in any context at all and I will believe you - by that I'm asking you to actually look for a text/piece of Gaelic written by a Gael or produced by a Gael in Gaelic that uses that word in that way.

      In addition to examples found in modern news reports, documentaries, radio programs etc I can give you at least 10 examples of poetry and prose/short stories from the 1500s to 1745 in which Lowlanders are referred to as "goill". Can you do the same for your point of view? Unless you think Tobias Smollett knew better than Gaelic speakers do today. Maybe you think the "first recorded literary reference" of a word shouldn't include anything in 1000 years of Gaelic literature, which would be a very Anglo-centric attitude to have.

      I mean, for god's sake... the arrogance of it. "The first recorded literary reference"... It's a bloody LOAN WORD.

      It's always been "goill", because to most Gaels it didn't matter where the folk were from, just that they weren't Gaels. That's all goill means - non Gaels. Goill could be from the southern Lowlands, from Caithness... the only time I've heard a distinction was in later poetry where they referred to the Vikings as a distinct ethnic group i.e. Lochlannaich. Later Gaelic poetry e.g. Jacobite propaganda made a distinction between the Lowlanders (goill) and Sasainn. Sasainn was populated by Sasannaich, Machair nan Gall was populated by Galls.

  4. If there is demand for another referendum, and a government in Holyrood has that in their manifesto, then it's pretty hard for Westminster to realistically refuse it.
    We now have a precedent.

    I think the chance of a second referendum depends on how further devolution plays out. If we end up with nothing worthwhile, then last minute promises next time will have little effect.

    1. The point about 'precedent' is a good one Onwards.

      English Law is based on 'precedence' as in once something has been established by precedence it becomes the law, so to now deny a referendum, would require Westminster to give a legal reasoning.

      Just saying 'the SNP said once in a lifetime' or other such crap, would not cut the mustard in any legal ruling.

      Great point mate, that needs further examination by our legal eagles, 'lallands peat worrier' maybe?

  5. The SNP won't hold a referendum until they feel it can be won. If they feel it can be won, Westminster will do everything and anything they can to ensure there won't be one.

    1. There's only so much Westminster can do to be obstructive, though. If a referendum was blocked for a full five year term, the SNP could eventually throw their hands in the air and say : "What else can we do? Self-determination mustn't be thwarted, so instead we're using the next Holyrood election to seek a direct mandate for independence."

    2. Timing is everything, that is I think there's little point in legislating for another referendum until it can be won, i.e. when Yes develops a clear poll lead. Would any of us really want to go through the rollercoaster of another campaign only to face the trauma of being dashed again?

      For that reason I suspect, there is a fringe school of thought amongst a few No types that another referendum should be held as soon as possible, their thinking being that another defeat would demoralise us so much that we simply wouldn't have the heart to try for a third time. Of course if you held it right now it would probably still be a No vote, but one even more marginal than last year, so that argument only holds so much water (and possibly very little at all). Nevertheless I think we should bide our time and be patient. It's creeping slowly in our favour.

    3. @James Kelly
      I agree with you. That is effectively the same as seeking permission at the ballot for UDI. Having got that mandate if Westminster will still not engage then UDI will be the only possible option.

      For the record I don't think it will come to that, UDI will hurt rUK as much as it hurts us and be a huge clusterfuck for a long time. Not something they will entertain lightly. But nevertheless that is why UDI should never be off the table as somewhere we will go if pushed hard enough. Otherwise our bluff will be called.

  6. Ipsos Mori incoming, says Mark Diffley on Twitter.

    Mark Diffley @markdiffley1 · 41m 41 minutes ago

    Look out for our latest #GE2015 poll for @STVNews later this morning

    1. http://news.stv.tv/scotland-decides/318815-stvipsos-mori-poll-snp-set-to-win-all-scots-seats-at-general-election/

      SNP 54%

      Labour 20%

      All before Murphy's car crash this morning on GMS.

      Having difficulty posting so sorry if this doubles.

  7. The Scottish Conservative vote holding up is the best news the SNP can hear right now. Labour going into total meltdown. The only non SNP MP left might be Carmichael !

  8. SNP 54
    Lab 20
    Con 17
    Lib 5
    Grn 2