Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Daily Record's dilemma in numbers

YouGov have released an enormous poll of 100,000 respondents, which attempts to identify how different segments of the electorate voted on May 7th. From an SNP point of view, I think the most interesting finding relates to newspaper readership...

Percentage of each newspaper's Britain-wide readership that voted SNP :

Record/Mirror : 6%
Sun : 4%
Guardian : 3%
Independent : 3%
Star : 3%
Express : 2%
Mail : 1%
Times : 1%
Telegraph : 0%

It's quite difficult to interpret these numbers, because we'd need to know what percentage of each newspaper's readers are to be found among the Scottish subsample - for example, we know that the Independent has a disproportionately small readership north of the border, so it's hardly surprising that only 3% of its readers voted SNP (if anything, I'd have expected the figure to be lower still). But even allowing for the likelihood that a particularly high percentage of the Mirror/Record's readers in the sample are Scottish, it's quite striking that more Record than Sun readers seem to have plumped for the SNP, even though it was the Sun that endorsed Nicola Sturgeon.

There are two ways of looking at this - a) now we know why the Record had to hedge its bets, and ended up hilariously advising only English people on how to vote, and b) the paper's more subtle attempts at propaganda and smearing were an utter failure. It's hard to see how they can ever go back to being an out-and-out Labour publication after this - their readers would simply desert them.

It's also fascinating to see how impotent the Telegraph in particular were in their endless Nat-bashing - they successfully "persuaded" virtually all of their readers to reject the SNP, and yet the SNP still got 50% of the vote. Says it all, really. The Mail's editorial stance appears to have been almost as great an irrelevance. They were preaching to the converted, while the Record were haplessly attempting Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques on the unconvertible.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Tomkins teaser

Our old friend Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!" Tomkins is someone who has, paradoxically, benefited tremendously from the SNP's brand of open, inclusive, civic nationalism. Thanks to Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, he didn't have to jump through any hoops at all to be a full part of our national debate and decision on independence last year. He didn't, as someone from beyond our borders, have to commit his future to Scotland to vote (just as well, because he indicated he might well have left if there was a Yes vote), and nor did he even have to acknowledge that Scotland is a country (just as well, because he didn't and doesn't acknowledge that). It's entirely right and proper that he and others in a similar position were given their democratic rights automatically - I think all of us on the Yes side are much happier that we lost narrowly on an inclusive basis than we would have been if we had won narrowly on a more exclusive franchise.

But I do find it interesting that Tomkins, in his trademark self-satisfied manner, observed the other week that Yes had "deservedly lost" the referendum. This implies that the arguments put forward were losing arguments, but of course in one sense they weren't - on a more exclusive franchise, of the sort that the UK government wants to use for the EU referendum, those arguments prevailed decisively. According to Edinburgh University research, 52.7% of the Scottish-born population voted Yes, and only 47.3% voted No.

Tomkins has now taken up employment as a constitutional adviser to the UK government. Can that decision be taken as an endorsement of the plan to deny a vote and a voice to citizens of most EU countries, no matter how long they have lived here and no matter how many roots they have put down? I've heard it suggested that "they can become British citizens if they want to" - which is exactly the sort of ridiculous hoop that Tomkins DIDN'T have to jump through to make his baleful contribution to the independence referendum.

To avoid hypocrisy, perhaps he should say in future that Yes "undeservedly won" the argument last year.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"There's no precedent for that in a UK-wide vote"

I'm not having a go at Huw Edwards, who is one of the good guys, but it has to be said that the objection he raised to Nicola Sturgeon's "double majority" idea was the worst I've heard so far.  For pity's sake, there have only been two UK-wide referendums in the whole of history (the Common Market in 1975 and AV in 2011), so when you point to a lack of precedent, you're not exactly harking back to the Magna Carta.

What precedent was followed when the 40% rule was cynically imposed in the 1979 devolution referendums?  It hadn't been there in the 1975 European vote.  What precedent is now being followed in excluding citizens of most EU countries, plus 16 and 17 year olds?  They all had a vote in last year's referendum.  Westminster has always been quite happy to make up the rules as it goes on.

Of course Nicola Sturgeon knows perfectly well that the double majority will be rejected, but that doesn't mean her logic for putting it forward can be faulted.  She put the case more explicitly today than I've ever heard it before - her proposal is specifically designed to prevent the necessity for Scotland becoming independent as a direct result of an "Out" vote in the EU referendum.  If unionists don't take her up on it, they only have themselves to blame for the potential consequences.

Charles Kennedy's two major legacies - and the third he was denied

When I did the Scottish Politics module at Glasgow University, one of my perennial sources of amusement was Professor James Kellas' attempts to name-check his 'celebrity' former students. He'd say : "You just never know what will happen to you when you take this course. We've had Charles Kennedy,, Alan Clements, he's the husband of Kirsty Wark..." And then he'd tail off, because he couldn't actually think of anyone else!

Still, Charles Kennedy wasn't too shabby an example to be getting on with. There aren't many people who can claim to have reshaped the British political party system before the age of thirty, but that's a feat Kennedy pulled off. He was one of just five MPs that the SDP were left with after the Alliance's disappointing showing at the 1987 election, and initially all five seemed to be implacably opposed to David Steel's proposal for a merger with the Liberals.  Regardless of the state of opinion among the rank-and-file membership, it's hard to see how the merger could have gone ahead if the parliamentary party had maintained a united front - but it was Kennedy that eventually broke ranks, possibly due to his closeness to Roy Jenkins.

So his biggest single legacy is simply the existence of the Liberal Democrats.  Given what happened last month, it would perhaps be unwise to call that a "lasting" legacy, but any degree of uncertainty on that front is scarcely his fault.  Not only did he help to found the party, he gave it a clear and popular centre-left identity when he was leader, delivered two record-breaking election successes in a row, and in general just left the place in a better state than he found it.  What occurred afterwards is entirely the responsibility of the ambitious men who squandered a golden inheritance after taking to the airwaves in a coordinated and determined effort to depose him in early 2006.

His other major legacy, of course, is to conclusively prove that British leaders and parties can survive unscathed (and can indeed thrive) after taking a stand against Anglo-American military adventurism.  Although he failed to prevent the war in Iraq, he arguably paved the way for the thwarting of military action in Syria.

And was he denied a third legacy that he should have been destined for?  You'd think he was the obvious choice to lead the anti-independence campaign during last year's referendum - there was simply no-one else on the unionist side that could have gone toe-to-toe with Alex Salmond in the popularity stakes.  In the end, he barely even had a role.  Salmond is quite right to point out today that Kennedy's heart wasn't in the campaign, but that's not because he wasn't passionate about staying within the UK - it was entirely because of the way the campaign was fought.  He was much more passionate about Home Rule than he was about doom-mongering.  If you can imagine an entirely different No campaign, fronted by an on-song Kennedy, making a positive and authentic-sounding case for Scotland to take on sweeping new powers within the UK...well, that could have been more like a 65-35 result, and then it really would have been over for the fabled "generation".  All of us on the other side of the argument can count ourselves very fortunate that he was so foolishly sidelined.

Monday, June 1, 2015

YouGov's first post-election Scottish subsample hints at increasing support for the SNP

The dearth of polling data since the general election has been almost unbelievable.  YouGov's daily polls ground to a complete halt from May 8th onwards, and as far as I can see Survation's poll immediately after election day is the only voting intention poll we've had from any firm until today.  OK, I know the pollsters have been feeling chastened after their second "Waterloo" in twenty years, but this is getting ridiculous - it's no exaggeration to say that we're moving into the period where the next general election could be won and lost (look at what happened to the Tories in the months after the 1992 election), and public opinion is barely being tested.

As far as the state of play in Scotland is concerned, all we've had to go on is the Survation subsample, and a full-scale Scottish YouGov poll that only probed voting intentions in a very indirect way.  Both seemed to indicate that the SNP may have further increased its support.  That impression is bolstered today by YouGov, who have finally broken their drought by publishing a Britain-wide voting intention poll.  The Scottish subsample shows -

SNP 56% (+6)
Labour 20% (-4)
Conservatives 15% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-3)
UKIP 3% (+1)
Greens 1% (n/c)

Percentage changes are from the actual result of the general election.  Of course individual subsamples are not especially reliable, and I wouldn't normally highlight one on its own, but as it's literally all we have to go on at the moment, it's probably worth making an exception.

YouGov have naturally changed their methodology to introduce weighting by 2015 recalled vote, but I'm not clear whether they're still taking special care to make the Scottish subsample representative in its own right, as they were in the months leading up to the election.  Annoyingly (and inexplicably given the circumstances), the SNP are suddenly being lumped in with 'others' in the part of the datasets which show whether each party's 2015 voters have been upweighted or downweighted.  It certainly looks as if the SNP are being upweighted - although perhaps that isn't surprising, given that most of YouGov's pre-election subsamples underestimated Nicola Sturgeon's party, something that now has to be corrected for.

There are two particularly fascinating supplementary questions in the poll.  A grand total of 65% of respondents in Scotland think that it is either "almost certain" or "more likely than not" that Scotland will become an independent country within the next TEN YEARS.  Even in England and Wales, 51% of respondents take the same view.  But there is a much sharper divergence between Scotland and the rest of Britain on the question of how Labour should position itself in future - by a margin of 41% to 24%, respondents in Scotland think that Labour should move to the left rather than "the centre" (the latter is presumably code for the right, as in many ways Labour's current positioning is already centre-right).  In England and Wales, there is a more than 2-1 majority in favour of Labour moving to "the centre".

How do Labour square that circle, if they decide to go down a Blairite path to pursue "aspirational" English voters?  I can only think of two ways - either a) give up on the idea of recovering in Scotland and accept the inevitability of any Labour government being reliant on the SNP, or b) make the Scottish Labour party a totally independent entity.

The Cult of "Tactical Voting on the List" : No Dissent Will Be Tolerated

Nigel Mace asked me on the previous thread to have a look at the 'EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland' Facebook page, because he was fighting a lonely battle there arguing against the stubborn misconception that it's possible to "vote tactically" on the regional list.  I was quite shocked when I eventually found the discussion - it seems that the belief in tactical voting has almost become a religion, with any dissenting views regarded as being so offensive that they must be instantly censored from existence.  Just look at this -

Oliver Rattray : Please edit the original post because it is misleading - it's simply false. I'll show you if you want what I mean...Scot goes pop is talking utter nonsense.

Admin : Thanks point taken, Nigel's advice taken from Scotpop has been removed

Oliver Rattray : Nice 1 sorry if it seems I was going on but given the campaign to maximise pro-indy votes alluded to in the times has only just began and this was potentially damaging. Cheers!

Hamish Allan : please remove Nigel Mace's synopsis from the blurb to this link. It is completely mistaken, as pointed out by several commentators here.

Admin : Done

Hamish Allan : Thanks guys, much appreciated.

One or two of you criticised me the other week for not "allowing people to make up their own minds" by putting forward both sides of the argument in my own blogposts on this issue. It's quite true that I stuck to my own point of view in those posts, but what I didn't do was delete views that I disagreed with from the comments section, even when they were factually incorrect or grossly misleading. I disputed them, I debated them, but I didn't delete them. If anyone really does want to make up their own mind on the question of so-called "tactical voting on the list", I'd suggest looking away from Facebook discussions that are so heavily censored they would make the Stasi blush, and instead read open and free debates like the ones that took place HERE and HERE.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

This is why Labour may never recover

If you want a startling insight into the comprehensive failure of commentators down south to "get" the enormity of what has just happened to Labour in Scotland, you could do worse than listen to the latest episode of the Polling Matters podcast. The early part of the show is full of penetrating commentary about what Labour should and should not do in trying to recover its position, and it's significant that this comes from Scottish-based contributors - Professor Curtice and George Foulkes (yes, really!). Curtice is on particularly fine form, delivering what he must know will be a deeply unwelcome message for much of the English political class - namely that Labour simply can't afford to move to the right to chase the fabled "aspirational" vote in England, because there is clear evidence that the voters they lost in Scotland are mostly left-wing people who noticed that the SNP's positioning is closer to their own views. And it's practically impossible for Labour to win an overall majority without recovering a significant number of their former Scottish seats, because they would otherwise require a 12-point nationwide lead over the Tories, almost on a par with the record set in 1997.

So left-wing voters in Scotland suddenly matter. Curtice isn't saying that Labour should move to the left to accommodate them (that would be suicidal in southern England, after all), but he's pointing out that both sides of the equation are equally important. No longer is it the case that Blairites have a "free hit" in pushing Labour to the right in pursuit of votes in Middle England, safe in the knowledge that Scottish lefties have "nowhere else to go".

You'd think this would be an utterly unanswerable point, but it seems that the notion of the impotent Scottish voter is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of the southern commentariat that not even an electoral tsunami can displace it. The podcast's two English-based contributors, Rob Vance and Leo Barasi, are asked for their views on Curtice's analysis, and immediately launch into a scattergun assault, spurting out every reason they can possibly think of for why it MUST be wrong. They don't even seem to notice that many of the reasons are directly contradictory.

'The SNP didn't win because they were able to position themselves to the left of Labour. It was SNP competence in government that did the trick.'

This is just a modified version of the old "nowhere else to go" argument. The implication is that Labour can do whatever it takes to win English votes, and the Scottish problem will just magically sort itself out as long as the party looks "competent".

'Scots voted in huge numbers for Gordon Brown in 2010 because they thought he had done well by Scotland, and they came to the same conclusion this time about Nicola Sturgeon. They looked at Ed Miliband and didn't want him as Prime Minister.'

The suggestion here is that the unprecedented swing in 2015 was just a superficial thing caused by leadership and perceptions of relative competence, and that Labour can easily reverse the process in 2020 by having a better leader. The painful soul-searching that would be required in England after a landslide defeat is apparently an optional extra in Scotland, and just the thought of it is really rather tiresome.

'In terms of winning in England, chasing left-wing votes in Scotland could be almost irrelevant to the argument.'

Curtice didn't say it was relevant to winning in England. He said it was relevant to winning in Scotland, where Labour need to win because of the electoral arithmetic. You guys really are struggling with this "Scotland mattering" concept, aren't you?

'Scotland isn't really more left-wing than England.'

It sure as hell has a track record of voting for identifiably left-wing parties. You'd think after five decades that pattern would have been noticed by now, even in London. Apparently not.

'It's all very well saying that you need to appeal to left-wing voters in Scotland, but what does that really mean?'

Absolutely, do these weird people in Scotland even KNOW THEIR OWN MINDS?

'Labour can't afford to go Blairite because of Scotland?  Well, Tony Blair wasn't too bad at winning in Scotland, was he?  You didn't think of that, did you?  Hmmmm?   HMMMM?'

Blairism wasn't discredited in Scotland at the moment of Blair's election. It was what he did in office that made the brand toxic. It's no coincidence that the SNP were first elected to government just weeks before Blair stepped down as PM in 2007 - they probably wouldn't have been if he had done his own party a favour and departed a little earlier.

'The Tories are going to go so far on constitutional reform that Labour will need an English majority to hold power anyway, so Scotland doesn't really matter.'

Hang on, I thought you said that Scotland didn't matter because we would just dutifully fall into line as before? Which is it? Labour had certainly better hope that they're not reliant on winning an English majority, because the electoral mountain that would have to be climbed isn't going away any time soon - in fact, boundary changes will just make it a whole lot worse.

'Labour don't have to worry about Scotland because the Tories will get them off the hook by introducing full fiscal autonomy, which let's face it the SNP don't want, because there would be a £7 billion black hole. That will make Labour's challenge north of the border less difficult.'

Let's face it, my friend, you could have saved us all time by having "ME NO UNDERSTAND JOCKLAND" tattooed on your forehead. Or maybe "A DEFICIT IS ONLY A BLACK HOLE WHEN IT'S A JOCK DEFICIT". By the way, the Tories are currently doing a bloody good impersonation of a government that has no intention of even honouring the Smith agreement in full, let alone introducing full fiscal autonomy - which I think you'll find was one of the flagship policies in the SNP's manifesto.

Make no mistake about it - these are the siren voices of complacency about Scotland that are currently dominating the debate over Labour's future. Unless the Scottish party can make its own voice heard (harder than ever with almost no presence at Westminster), there may be no way back for it.  Not this side of independence, at any rate.