Saturday, May 9, 2015
Dear God. There is nothing "technical" about any of this, Fraser. The most basic principle of how democracy works in the Westminster system is that ONLY SEATS MATTER. If any other principle applied, we wouldn't have a Tory majority government at all - instead we'd have a hung parliament in which the Tories hold little more than one-third of the seats, in line with the rather pathetic 37% of the votes they received on Thursday. If that's what you prefer, by all means let's have it. But what you can't do is have it both ways - if you're prepared to justify absolute Tory rule on the basis of seats, not votes, then the SNP must also get exactly the degree of influence in the Commons that their haul of seats fully entitle them to.
On the subject of PMQs, the case for the SNP group leader having two questions per week is absolutely unanswerable - the Lib Dems were given that right after the 1997 election, in which they won 10 fewer seats than the SNP have now.
* * *
I don't entirely agree with RevStu's assessment that it was the interpretation of the opinion polls that was wrong in this campaign, rather than the polls themselves. The margin of error for any individual poll is 3%, but if the methodology is well-founded, different polls should be fluctuating around an average that is much more accurate than that. The average in the closing stages showed the Tories and Labour in a virtual dead heat, so there's no doubt whatever that we've just seen a polling disaster on the scale of 1992. In fact, the similarities to 1992 are absolutely uncanny - even the parliamentary majority the Tories ended up with is almost the same. The one difference is that the exit poll came out smelling of roses this time, although that's only because it was much closer to being accurate than the regular polls. In different circumstances, it might still have come in for criticism, because its central forecast was for a hung parliament rather than a Tory majority.
I'm not sure if anyone has pointed this out yet, but the pollster that has taken the biggest hit is probably Ashcroft. A lot of people expected his two-question approach to constituency polls to be vindicated by a large number of Liberal Democrat holds in England, but the opposite happened. As it turns out, he would have been much closer to the truth in Lib Dem held seats if he had headlined the results of his first question (asking for general voting intentions) rather than the second (asking for voting intentions that take into account local factors). Needless to say, the notorious Lib Dem 'comfort polls' look even more fantastical than they did prior to Thursday.
Ashcroft fared better in Scotland, but even here he made some howlers - he showed the SNP well ahead in Dumfriesshire, and suggested that the Lib Dems were virtually tied for the lead in Berwickshire.
* * *
Dennis Smith asked on the previous thread for suggestions of who the new Secretary of State for Scotland will be, and wondered if there may not be one at all. I'll be amazed if it's not David Mundell, if only because Cameron will be eager to underline the fact that his government does still have a foothold in Scotland, albeit a tiny one. A blogpost that I wrote in February 2010, with the title 'The most lightweight Cabinet minister ever?', suddenly looks well ahead of its time.
Verdict : LIE. 50.0% of the electorate voted SNP, and a further 1.3% voted for the pro-independence Scottish Green Party, making a grand total of 51.3%. By definition, therefore, only a minority of Scots voted for pro-Union parties.
Of course, it would be perfectly fair to point out that not everyone who voted for the pro-independence parties is a supporter of independence (by the same token, not everyone who voted for the unionist parties is an opponent of independence). But that was not the claim the Mail made.
Friday, May 8, 2015
Amidst all the talk of the Labour calamity, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that 14.9% is an all-time low for the Tories as well - their previous record low was 15.6% under William Hague in 2001.
* * *
I was slightly horrified when I turned on the computer a few minutes ago to spot that the Tories had somehow got up to 331 seats across the UK. Officially, that's an overall majority of 12, which is significantly smaller than the 21 that John Major started with in 1992 (and which he eventually lost over the course of the five-year term as a result of by-elections and defections). But the difference is that Sinn Féin had no seats at all in the 1992-97 parliament, compared to the four they have now - none of whom will take their seats. So the de facto Tory majority is a healthier 16. The only scenario that might see a return to a hung parliament over the next couple of years would be a sudden realignment in the party system caused by the EU referendum (ie. if some Tory backbenchers can't stomach Cameron campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU, and march off to UKIP or a completely new party in disgust).
[UPDATE : I can't work out whether the BBC are counting John Bercow as a Tory MP. If they're not, the de facto Tory majority is actually 18 - almost identical to John Major's.]
All the same, this government is going to be significantly weaker than the coalition government, which started life with a very handsome majority of 76. We will see a fair number of tight votes, and the whips in all of the three main parties (of which the SNP are now one) will be kept very busy.
If the exit poll is right, Britain is hurtling towards an in/out EU referendum - and the "2017 scenario" for Scottish independence is back on track
If, however, the exit poll is bang-on accurate, the SNP will have limited influence - BUT there will be a clear majority in the Commons for an in/out EU referendum. That obviously opens up the possibility of the one and only event that might lead to Scottish independence in the short-to-medium term - namely British withdrawal from the EU against the wishes of Scottish voters.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
BBC/ITV/Sky Exit Poll result for Scotland :
Liberal Democrats 1
I was watching the UK-wide BBC programme, so I'm making the assumption that the only seat the SNP aren't predicted to win is Orkney & Shetland - hence the "Lib Dem 1". Correct me if I've misunderstood. [UPDATE : Apparently I may have misunderstood - a comment below says it's SNP 58, Labour 1.]
GB Exit Poll result :
Liberal Democrats 10
Plaid Cymru 4
The YouGov on the day poll is not quite as wonderful for the SNP, but still pretty good -
Liberal Democrats 31
Plaid Cymru 3
UPDATE (11.20pm) : Labour tell the BBC that the Lib Dems are on track to hold Edinburgh West - if true that would obviously cast huge doubt on the Scottish portion of the exit poll.
One thistle on a badge, all the polls still gleaming, seven months of hurt, never stopped me dreaming
UPDATE : OK, I'm home. The IBTimes live blog is HERE, and I see they've got Duncan Hothersall sending updates as well, so we've got to compete here, guys. This will be competitive live-blogging.
UPDATE II : I've added the concerns raised by Scottish Skier and James about the mistake in the Survation datasets to the live blog. When I next have six months to spare, I'll get a calculator out and try to decide whether the voting intention figures are wrong!
Here's a photo from today's show at the Traverse. As you can see from the black-and-white, it took place in 1924, so Jim Murphy will be a deeply worried man. From left-to-right : the brilliant singer Chrissy Barnacle, myself, journalist Peter Geoghegan, Green candidate Sarah Beattie-Smith (who was presenting), Juliet Swann of the Electoral Reform Society, the playwright/director David Greig (who was also presenting), and the playwright Linda McLean. There's another show at the same venue (but with a different line-up) tonight at 10.30 if you fancy it - tickets are £8, and you can find details HERE.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Scottish voting intentions for tomorrow's UK general election (Survation, 3rd-6th May) :
Liberal Democrats 7.1%
In line with recent Survation polls, the standard voting intention question produced a somewhat bigger SNP lead than that -
SNP 48.9% (-2.3)
Labour 24.8% (-0.8)
Conservatives 15.5% (+1.2)
Liberal Democrats 5.9% (+0.5)
Greens 2.4% (+1.0)
UKIP 2.0% (n/c)
In reality, only the results of the standard question are much use to us at the moment. There's no point trying to estimate exactly what the true SNP lead is, because different firms are producing very different numbers. What we can try to nail down is the trend. Two of the three polls today have suggested a slight narrowing of the SNP lead (on the standard question), while the third has suggested a slight increase. The odd one out is Panelbase, and it's noticeable that they started their fieldwork three days earlier than YouGov and two days earlier than Survation, so I suppose it's not impossible that they missed an ultra-late swing to Labour that the other pollsters managed to detect.
The most that can be said is that there's no firm evidence of any movement to Labour, but if it has happened it must be very small.
The Record, who commissioned the Survation poll, are making a song and dance about how the ballot paper version of the question points to a marginally less overwhelming landslide for the SNP. They suggest that this is partly because of people who would otherwise be SNP voters drifting off to 'local heroes' standing for the unionist parties, and partly because of anti-SNP tactical voting. The snag, though, is that the YouGov poll also asked an additional question in an attempt to see if local factors made any difference, and found that the SNP lead actually increased. Doubtless Survation would claim that their approach is superior because they name actual candidates, but nevertheless the evidence is obviously contradictory at this stage.
What does look increasingly likely is that the Liberal Democrat vote has strengthened as the campaign has drawn to a close. The YouGov poll at the weekend suggested that the Lib Dems were doing significantly better than at any point since the referendum, and today's poll from the same firm confirms that result wasn't a fluke. The Panelbase poll has the Lib Dems equalling their post-referendum record high, while the 6% in the standard question from Survation is not a record, but is still above average. This development may pose a problem for the SNP in one or two of the tougher Lib Dem-held seats.
Scottish voting intentions for tomorrow's UK general election (YouGov, 4th-6th May) :
SNP 48% (-1)
Labour 28% (+2)
Conservatives 14% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)
Greens 1% (n/c)
UKIP 1% (-1)
Respondents were additionally asked how they would vote in their own specific constituency, producing a very slightly larger SNP lead -
Liberal Democrats 7%
These numbers are marginally better for Labour than the three most recent YouGov polls. That doesn't necessarily mean there's been a late recovery for the party - they could just be a touch on the high side in this poll due to normal sampling variation, and that theory is supported by the fact that today's Panelbase poll suggested a further small increase in the SNP lead. However, the Survation poll may make the situation clearer.
UPDATE : The Survation poll is out - full details, plus more analysis of the YouGov result, will appear in a fresh post HERE.
Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Panelbase, 1st-6th May) :
SNP 48% (n/c)
Labour 26% (-1)
Conservatives 14% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 5% (+1)
UKIP 3% (n/c)
Greens 2 (n/c)
It looks as if there has been little or no change as a result of the events of Thursday. The 1% increase in the SNP lead is obviously well within the margin of error, although it's enough to break yet another record. As I used to say during the referendum campaign, even the smallest of changes is potentially of interest if it takes a pollster outside its previous 'normal range'. However, this result is fully consistent with the trend we saw from YouGov at the weekend - the most plausible narrative is that there was a second telling SNP surge a few weeks ago, and that the position has remained relatively stable since then.
Although there may be no disagreement between pollsters over the trend, what we don't have is agreement on the extent of the SNP's lead. Believe it or not, Panelbase remain the most Labour-friendly of all the pollsters that have been active in this campaign (with the exception of ICM, who haven't reported for quite a while). The 22 point lead in this poll is well short of the 32-34 point leads reported most recently by the two most SNP-friendly firms, TNS and Ipsos-Mori. The divergence we're seeing between the firms is considerably bigger than anything that is going on at Britain-wide level - if that wasn't the case, we might be going to bed tonight not having a clue whether to expect a Conservative majority government, a Labour majority government or a hung parliament.
Given that even the Panelbase result is projected to give the SNP no fewer than 53 seats out of 59, does it even matter which firm is closest to the truth? Of course it does. There could be a very late swing back to Labour. There could be very heavy tactical voting. There could be a 1992-style (or Israeli-style) polling disaster in which all firms turn out to have overestimated one party, and underestimated another. If any of these things are true, the SNP could end up winning significantly fewer seats if Panelbase is nearest the mark. But if Ipsos-Mori turns out to be the best performer, the SNP are already so far out of sight that the result is effectively assured.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
1) Fifteen out of fifty-nine constituencies voted Yes - more than a quarter. Our unionist friends used to love nothing better than a really good gloat about how only four out of thirty-two local authorities voted Yes, but that was always grossly misleading, due to two of the Yes-voting authorities being so enormous.
2) The highest Yes vote was not, as you would think, in one of the Dundee seats, but instead in Glasgow South. Amusingly, that's the seat being defended for Labour by über-Blairite Tom Harris. It's little wonder that our dear old pal "Bomber Admin" may soon be seeking a more constructive form of employment.
3) Glenrothes is sometimes cited as an example of a constituency that Labour might just hold, but these figures would suggest otherwise. It was one of the fifteen Yes seats (albeit only very narrowly).
4) Slightly to my surprise, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey voted Yes fairly decisively. I knew Inverness was a Yes city, but I had thought perhaps the rural parts of the seat tipped the balance in favour of No. To stick with a recurring theme, Danny Alexander is toast.
5) Gordon isn't quite the hard-core No area it's sometimes portrayed as - the Yes vote there was 41.7%. So Alex Salmond was scarcely defying gravity when he got 43% of the vote in the January constituency poll from Ashcroft. There's no particular reason to think his support will have dipped since then, so if the Liberal Democrats seriously believe their spin about being on the brink of victory, the tactical voting in their favour is going to have to be on an industrial scale. They were on just 26% in the Ashcroft poll, and unlike in so many other Lib Dem-seats, their candidate doesn't have a personal vote to fall back on.
6) The most No-heavy seat in the country was Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, where Yes only received 32.9% of the vote. But ironically, if Ashcroft is to be believed, that vote share might conceivably be enough to win the seat for the SNP. The reason is that the unionist vote is split down the middle between the Tories and the Lib Dems, and it will be virtually impossible for anyone to work out which is the more promising anti-SNP tactical option.
Scottish Labour leadership crisis deepens as Jim Murphy's personal ratings sink to catastrophic levels
Do you think Nicola Sturgeon is doing well or badly as First Minister?
Well: 75% (+7)
Badly: 19% (-7)
NET RATING: +56
Do you think that Jim Murphy is doing well or badly as leader of the Scottish Labour party?
Well: 27% (-5)
Badly: 62% (+8)
NET RATING: -35
The gap between the net ratings of the two leaders is now a mind-boggling 91 points, which is 27 points bigger than in the last YouGov poll.
Whatever the die-hard Murphy fans in the media may believe, it is utterly inconceivable that any leader with these ratings could make a case for remaining in harness if he loses his parliamentary seat on Thursday. And even if he clings on in East Renfrewshire courtesy of tactical votes from Tory supporters, there will still be a huge question mark over his position. It's not good enough to pretend that his personal popularity is being dragged down by Labour's generic woes - Ruth Davidson has proved that it is perfectly possible to be associated with a toxic brand, and yet still be held in reasonably high esteem by the public.
It's obviously impossible to quantify exactly how much of a drag the Murphy Factor is on Labour's support, but to persist with the belief that he is (or will miraculously become) a net positive for the party is utterly delusional.
The fieldwork for this poll was conducted between Wednesday and Friday, so as I suspected it mostly predates the Question Time leaders' special on Thursday night, and Miliband's indication that he would be willing to put Cameron back in power in some circumstances. So we're not much closer to knowing what the impact of that development was, other than the little clues provided by Scottish subsamples in GB-wide polls. Today's YouGov subsample is : SNP 44%, Labour 26%, Conservatives 18%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Greens 2%. Yesterday's result was a bit closer, but I haven't spotted anything out of the ordinary since Thursday.
* * *
I recently took part in a short interview for an online Al Jazeera article about the general election - you can read it HERE.
That may sound plausible, but there are a number of caveats. First of all, it's not actually clear that the ICM and Ashcroft polls are even in disagreement. The two results are within the margin of error of each other, and it's particularly noticeable that ICM have Labour fractionally ahead before applying the turnout filter and the 'spiral of silence' adjustment. Secondly, it can't automatically be assumed that naming the candidates down the phone produces a more accurate result. That certainly doesn't replicate the polling booth experience, because while some voters may scan the ballot paper carefully for the names of the candidates, others will just quickly look for the party emblems before marking their cross.
Most importantly, the Lib Dems mustn't get away with claiming that their 'comfort polling' - including the poll purporting to show Jo Swinson narrowly ahead of the SNP in East Dunbartonshire - is now vindicated simply because it names the candidates. The main reason those polls have no credibility is that they use a question sequence designed to get respondents thinking positively about the local Lib Dem MP just before they are asked the voting intention question. Needless to say, ICM haven't done anything as silly as that.
But if we assume for the sake of argument that the ICM poll in Sheffield is a useful guide to how much Ashcroft may be underestimating the Lib Dem incumbency bonus, what does that mean for the SNP's prospects in Lib Dem-held seats north of the border? Ashcroft has polled seven such seats, including six in which the SNP have emerged as the main challengers. In those six, the smallest SNP lead he's found is 11% in East Dunbartonshire. The difference between the Ashcroft and ICM polls in Sheffield is equivalent to a 4% swing - so if the same applies in Scotland, the SNP would still be ahead in all six seats. Admittedly, it would be a close run thing in a couple of them - but not in Inverness. Unless Danny Alexander turns out to have a bigger personal vote than Nelson Mandela, he really is toast.
Monday, May 4, 2015
YouGov poll : 76% of voters south of the border would NOT pay even £1 per year to keep Scotland in the UK
A new YouGov poll for the Economist finds once again that far more voters think independence would be a bad thing for the rest of the UK than think it would be a good thing. So, surely, you'd imagine, it would be well worth paying just £1 a year to prevent that "bad thing" from happening? Er, apparently not.
Suppose that you had to pay to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. How much would you pay? (Respondents in England & Wales only) :
More than £500 a year : 1%
Between £250 and £500 a year : 2%
Between £1 and £250 a year : 7%
NOTHING AT ALL : 70%
I would pay money FOR an independent Scotland : 6%
So that's a grand total of 76% who would either refuse to pay even £1, or would be willing to fork out for us to "leave" (as the jargon goes). Hmmm. This "we want you to stay" rhetoric is all very well, but if people aren't even prepared to pay half the price of a lottery ticket once per year to make it happen, clearly the sentiment doesn't run as deep as we're led to believe.
By the way, the equivalent grand total in Scotland is only 64% - but that includes a much higher figure of 26% who would pay money to get Scotland out of the UK.
It's always interesting to look out for any divergence in opinion between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and possibly the most significant example in this poll is...
Which of these outcomes from the general election do you think would be more likely to lead to Scottish independence at some point in the future?
Respondents in Scotland :
A Conservative-led government with David Cameron as Prime Minister : 32%
A Labour-led government with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister : 13%
Respondents in England & Wales :
A Conservative-led government with David Cameron as Prime Minister : 18%
A Labour-led government with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister : 20%
In truth, both Cameron and Miliband are acting in a way that's likely to increase support for independence, but there's no getting away from it - Cameron is the one who is directly saying "Vote Conservative to ensure that the result of the election in Scotland has no impact whatever on British affairs". It would be interesting to sit down with some of the voters south of the border who think that is somehow a strategy for reducing support for independence, and ask them to explain their reasoning.
Intriguingly, though, there is broad agreement among Scottish and English voters on the overall likelihood of independence -
Do you think that Scotland will or will not be an independent country in 20 years’ time?
Respondents in Scotland :
Will : 52%
Will not : 39%
Respondents in England & Wales :
Will : 47%
Will not : 34%
If there's one thing that I find even more irritating than Jim Murphy's mannerisms, it's the grotesque spectacle of a Scottish Tory innocently claiming that her party must be opposed to proportional representation for principled reasons, because first-past-the-post is such a rotten system for them. Oh yeah, so that's why you had absolute power in Scotland between 1979 and 1997, without ever having got more than 31% of the vote? Hint : it's only a bad system for you if it doesn't work massively in your favour at UK-wide level. I think it's probably fair to say that quite a few Scottish Tories would have undergone a Damascene conversion on the electoral system if Scotland had voted Yes last year.
It's also, of course, complete garbage for Ruth Davidson to claim that Scotland voted heavily against electoral reform in the 2011 referendum. That's like claiming that a death row prisoner in America who is forced to choose the method of his own execution has made a decision not to live. People certainly voted against AV for incredibly stupid reasons, and they probably didn't understand the system they were voting against, but there was still a widespread instinctive appreciation that the option being put before the country was nothing remotely like the Holy Grail that the Liberals and the SDP used to fight so passionately for.
By the way, is it just me, or has the unionist media given up to such an extent that they can't even be bothered trying to spin this debate as "another win for Jim Murphy"?
* * *
It's possible that we may have at least one more full-scale Scottish poll to come before polling day - I was emailed within the last hour by someone who was polled by Panelbase this morning, and it seemed to be a Scottish poll. If so, I would guess it can't have been commissioned by Panelbase's usual newspaper client, because obviously the Sunday Times wouldn't be able to publish until after the election. So the client could be an alternative media outlet (such as Wings), or the SNP. If the latter, we may only see the results if it's tactically advantageous to release them.
Sunday, May 3, 2015
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 47% (-1)
No 53% (+1)
This is more likely to be margin of error 'noise' than a genuine easing down of support for independence. It looks to me as if the Yes vote with YouGov has been hovering around the 48% mark since the big methodological change a few months ago. Similarly with Survation, it's been hovering around the 49% mark - sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower, but it was bang on 49% in the most recent poll a few days ago. Bear in mind that both firms now weight by recalled referendum vote, so we can be fairly sure that the Yes share has genuinely increased from the 45% recorded on September 18th. This also means that poll results now are not directly comparable with pre-referendum poll results, so the people (and unfortunately they do exist) who claim that "YouGov's figures are much the same as before referendum day, and look what happened then" are barking up the wrong tree.
The percentage of respondents who want another independence referendum within ten years has slipped slightly from 40% last month to 36% now. That figure is obviously much lower than the 59% who said the same thing in the Survation poll, but that's largely because of different methodology. Survation don't seem to offer a Don't Know option on that question - so every respondent is forced to give an opinion. More importantly, they also offer a far more realistic range of options than YouGov, with the two extremes being that a referendum should never take place, and that there should be another referendum within two years (there's also an option of within five years). In YouGov's case, the option of a referendum within ten years IS one of the two extremes, and seems to be presented to respondents last. Other than Don't Know, the six options are "never", "not for at least 50 years", "not for at least 25 years", "not for at least 15 years", "not for at least 10 years" or "within 10 years". The unspoken message being sent to respondents is that you're on the fringes if you select the last option - and the fact that 36% still did so speaks volumes. Even more significantly, a combined total of 49% selected one of the last two options, which clearly implies there should be a referendum within 15 years (ie. less than the fabled 'generation') -
Less than fifteen years : 49% (-2)
More than fifteen years : 44% (n/c)
By the way, a mere 16% say there should never be another referendum.
Encouragingly, there is now an absolute majority of respondents who think that, regardless of their own preference, there will be another referendum within ten years. Clearly, Jim Murphy's sterling efforts in talking up the prospect of that happening is helping to normalise the idea. Thanks, Jim!
There probably WILL be another referendum within ten years : 54% (+4)
There probably WON'T be another referendum within ten years : 33% (-4)
Curtice also implies that roughly half of the Lib Dems' 7% support is made up of tactical voters. This may be a cause for concern for the SNP, because in most cases that will presumably be anti-SNP tactical voting. The only likely exception is in Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk, where some voters may still (wrongly) assume that the Lib Dems are the best hope of keeping the Tories out. It's noted by Curtice that many people voting tactically this time did the same thing in 2010, so in a sense the phenomenon is already 'factored in' to the baseline numbers - but that may not be much comfort to the SNP in Lib Dem-held seats. There won't have been many Tories voting Lib Dem to keep the SNP out five years ago - of if there were, they were behaving totally irrationally.
I still haven't been able to track down the fieldwork dates for the poll, although it seems to have concluded on Friday, which presumably means that only a small proportion of interviews took place after Miliband revealed on Thursday night that he might be prepared to help Cameron stay in office.