Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dark day for Dugdale as Opinium subsample puts SNP first, and Labour third

Right on cue, here's the perfect antidote to the BMG subsample a few days ago that some people lost all sense of perspective over.  Far from having Scottish Labour in the lead, the new Opinium subsample puts Kezia Dugdale's party in a distant third place: SNP 37%, Conservatives 36%, Labour 23%, Liberal Democrats 2%, Greens 1%.

Given that the threat to the SNP since the election seems to be coming much more from Labour than from the Tories, I'd suggest the SNP's razor-thin lead over the Tories in this subsample is less important than their bigger cushion over Labour.  It ought to cool fears that Labour have quietly opened up a significant lead during a second half of summer that has been frustratingly light on polls.  The balance of evidence in the first few weeks after the election suggested that the SNP were probably maintaining a small lead, and it's perfectly possible that's still the case, although obviously we'll need a lot more information before we can say that with any confidence.

There have now been sixteen Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election, and nine of them have put the SNP in front.  A tenth had the SNP ahead of Labour.

Very unusually for a GB-wide poll, Opinium asked about approval/disapproval of Nicola Sturgeon as a leader.  Jockophobia is so rampant south of the border at the moment that the English results are utterly predictable and thankfully not at all relevant, but among the Scottish subsample the position is almost exactly evenly balanced - 43% approve of Sturgeon and 44% disapprove.   If that's a representative finding (admittedly a big 'if' given the small sample size) it would suggest that Sturgeon hasn't suffered a further loss of popularity since election day.

The Britain-wide figures from Opinium paradoxically suggest that Labour have slightly increased their narrow lead over the Tories in spite of the fact that Jeremy Corbyn's advantage over Theresa May in the personal ratings has been significantly eroded.  The latter finding very much supports YouGov's results from the other day.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Calamity Cable?

You may have heard that there's a new Britain-wide YouGov poll out showing a significant drop in Jeremy Corbyn's personal popularity.  For my money, though, the bigger revelation from the poll is that it suddenly looks like the Liberal Democrats have made a catastrophic mistake by electing Vince Cable as their new leader.  (In fairness they didn't have much choice, given that nobody else wanted the job, for a variety of implausible and pompous reasons.)  Cable's net rating is a dismal -27, which is exactly the same as Theresa May's.  Presumably that can be explained by his involvement in the Tory-led coalition between 2010 and 2015, but it's quite surprising that the passage of time hasn't succeeded in rehabilitating him.

Speaking for myself, I find it difficult to dislike Cable, and he's obviously a serious figure.  I reckoned it was probably in the Lib Dems' own best interests that Jo Swinson had allowed him to take the job (regardless of what her real reasons for doing so were), but it looks like I was wrong about that.  Swinson was in it up to her neck during the coalition period, but the public probably aren't as aware of her role as they are of Cable's.  She would have started with more of a clean slate, however undeservedly.

The Liberal Democrats' collective rating has slipped from -20 in the immediate aftermath of the general election to -33 now, and the obvious suspicion is that this has been caused by Tim Farron being replaced by Cable.  It's hard to see what else has changed for the worse in the intervening period.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BMG subsample turns anxiety into despair for embattled Davidson

After a delay of a few days, the datasets for the new GB-wide BMG poll have finally appeared.  In spite of the Conservatives holding a narrow lead across Britain (unusual in polls since June 8th), we once again see the now-familiar sight of Colonel Davidson's Scottish Tories in third place in the Scottish subsample...

Labour 44%, SNP 27%, Conservatives 18%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 2%

Obviously the sizeable Labour lead is a matter of some concern, but individual subsamples are often wildly unreliable, and it remains the case that the SNP have held the lead in the slight majority of the fifteen subsamples published since the election.  The SNP have been ahead in eight, Labour in six, and the Tories in one.  The SNP have also been ahead of Labour in nine of the fifteen subsamples.

There isn't much doubt that the SNP remained competitive, and probably held the lead, in the immediate aftermath of the election.  The question now is whether that remains the case, or whether Labour's position has quietly strengthened during the second half of summer, which has seen very little polling of any sort.

So what *is* a mid-spectrum blogger?

The world hasn't seen a debate as fierce as this since the fateful day Donald Trump first uttered the word "covfefe".  Up and down the land, co-workers have been arguing, marriages have become strained, children have been pleading with their baffled mothers, and it's all in search of the answer to one simple question: what exactly did Bella Caledonia mean when it tweeted this?

"Mind-numbingly bored of mid-spectrum bloggers spewing their p*** and bile into the public sphere."

Countless domesticated Cybernats begged Bella to be let in on the secret of what a "mid-spectrum blogger" actually is, and which particular mid-spectrum bloggers the tweet was referencing.  No explanation was forthcoming (although, let's face it, a number of us probably weren't going far wrong if we thought we felt our ears burning).  Having done a bit of historical research, I can reveal that this isn't even the first time that the mystery phrase has been given an outing.  Back in March 2015, Bella said the following in an editorial about women-only shortlists -

"I for one am getting bored by mid-spectrum male monotone bloggers who can only speak in the language of anger."

That doesn't actually shed any more light on the situation, because no clarification was provided in that article either.  However, it seems to confirm that Bella has a very well-developed notion of what a "mid-spectrum blogger" is, even if that isn't being shared with the rest of us.  In the absence of any hard facts, here's some speculation about the various possibilities...

1) Autism.  Bella might be suggesting that certain undesirable bloggers are either autistic or have characteristics that are comparable to autism.  Admittedly it seems highly unlikely that Bella would use quite such a tactless insult, especially not on two separate occasions, but the possibility can't be entirely ruled out, for the obvious reason that the word "spectrum" is most commonly used in relation to autism.  People with Asperger's Syndrome and the like are regarded as having "high-functioning autism", those who are severely autistic are regarded as having "low-functioning autism", and those in between are "mid-spectrum".

2) Liberal Democrats.  Bella could be complaining about bloggers who are in the middle of the political spectrum.  Again, that seems a bit of a stretch, but from a RISE perspective "centre-left" may well seem like a downright catty barb.

3) Unexceptional talent.  The spectrum Bella is referring to could be that of ability, with the high-spectrum wordsmiths of Bella (a website I've written for twice, I hasten to add) being contrasted with the mid-spectrum oiks who lower the tone pretty much everywhere else.  But this theory fits in a bit too neatly with the deeply unfair perception of radical left writers as comprising an elitist "Byres Road Cappuccino commie set" that regards itself as intellectually and morally superior to the rest of the Yes movement, so for that reason I'm sure it can't possibly be correct.

4) ZX Spectrum users who prefer the middle of the keyboard.  (Self-explanatory.)

Feel free to chip in with any other suggestions.  We'll get to the bottom of this, no matter how long it takes.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Will "The Democrats" respect the Scottish democratic process?

James Chapman, the former political editor of the Daily Mail, seems to think he's the British Emmanuel Macron.  That's questionable enough, but in fact he thinks he's more than a Macron, because apparently his new political party "The Democrats" is going to save us all from the historic error of Brexit.  Well, good luck with that one.

Bizarrely he's already announcing firm policies for this as-yet-unfounded party (no internal democracy for The Democrats, it seems) and one of them is that referendums will be completely forbidden in future -

"Referendums will be outlawed by #thedemocrats. We believe in parliamentary democracy"

This raises a couple of obvious questions as far as Scotland is concerned.  Firstly, what does it mean for devolution?  Legal opinion may be divided on whether the Scottish Parliament currently has the power to hold a consultative referendum on independence without Westminster's consent, but there's no doubt at all that it has the power to hold referendums on devolved matters.  Are The Democrats planning to follow in the Tories' footsteps by stripping the Scottish Parliament of some of its current powers?

Secondly, if this ban on referendums is indeed going to be arrogantly extended to Scotland, which parliament is James actually talking about when he uses the phrase "parliamentary democracy"?  With referendums no longer a possibility, the decision on whether Scotland should become an independent country would instead have to be taken by an elected parliament - and logically that parliament should be the Scottish Parliament.  That would of course make the path to independence somewhat simpler, because both of the last two Scottish Parliament elections have produced clear pro-independence majorities.  But if James is instead suggesting that Scotland's constitutional future should be entirely at the whim of a parliament in which only 9% of members are elected by Scotland, that would be rather tough to square with the concept of democratic self-determination.

If I was going to offer a small piece of advice, it would be to choose a completely different name for the party.  There is actually a precedent in Britain for a party called The Democrats, and it's not a happy one.  The merger in 1988 between the Liberals and non-Owenite Social Democrats initially produced a party called the Social and Liberal Democrats, but for everyday use that was shortened to The Democrats to avoid the "alphabet soup" of being referred to as the SLD while in competition with the SDP, the SNP and the SDLP.  The twelve months or so that the name was used proved to be a very dark spell, with the party slumping to just 6% of the vote in the 1989 European elections.

Pop Goes Global

Spotted this on Waverley Bridge when I was on my way to a Fringe show on Thursday night. I was going to sue, but then I remembered that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. ("Imitation" is not a pun about the Jan Ravens half of the picture, although I've just realised that it could be.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Greer makes a sectarian attack - will the self-appointed Civility Police intervene?

Above is the Green MSP Ross Greer, in a cosy chat with the notorious James McEnaney of RISE, using sectarian anti-Irish language to attack Jason Michael of Butterfly Rebellion (who is not Irish himself but lives in Dublin and has worked at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation). This seems to be Greer's revenge for a number of strong (but entirely non-abusive) criticisms that Mr Michael has made of the radical left over the last couple of weeks.  The implication seems to be that Mr Michael is some kind of unhinged militant nationalist.

Mr Greer of course penned a Sunday Herald column at the weekend, which was objectively damaging to the Yes movement in that it contained an ageist comment which deeply upset older Yes activists, and was gleefully seized upon by an array of unionist politicians, up to and including Ruth Davidson herself.  In defence of Mr Greer, the editor of the Sunday Herald argued that "any damage done to the Yes movement is down to absurd conspiracy-theory trolls screaming traitor at folk who are the real stalwarts of Indy". Well, in the above screenshot, who exactly is it that best fits the description of a screaming, absurd conspiracy-theorist troll?  Isn't it Mr Greer himself?  It sure as hell isn't Mr Michael, who has been civil and measured throughout - as you can judge for yourself by reading an example of his writing HERE.

Having been on the opposite side of the debate to the likes of Mr Greer over the last couple of weeks, I can't have been alone in noticing how the radical left feel that their 'moral righteousness' gives them an exemption from the human decency that they demand of others.  I've been on the receiving end of sweary personal abuse from them that is every bit as nasty as the stuff that is supposed to make Stuart Campbell untouchable (engaging with him in any way is now a worse crime than holocaust denial, apparently).  In particular, I had an extraordinary conversation with someone a couple of nights ago in which she patiently explained to me why it was perfectly all right that she had repeatedly called me a "pr*ck" - her defence was basically that she thinks I am a "pr*ck".  The Green party council candidate who I caught 'liking' a tweet describing me as a "f***ing fool" essentially shrugged his shoulders and said "so what?"  (Can you imagine the outrage if an SNP candidate was caught 'liking' a tweet in which Stuart Campbell called someone a "f***ing fool"?  Yeah, exactly.)

It's ironic that Mr Greer made a reference to the Irish revolutionary period, because it seems to me that it's the radical left who are actually caught up in the warped logic of revolutionary zeal.  The designated 'enemies of the revolution' (ie. those who veer by even the tiniest fraction away from approved forms of discourse on identity politics) are effectively non-people, and anything at all can be done to them for the sake of the greater good.  It's hard to see any other way in which leading figures on the radical left can dehumanise others and chuck around abuse while still honestly believing themselves to be champions of civility and decency in political debate.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Westminster bubble yet to catch up with the Scottish Tories' slippage

James Forsyth had a very silly article in the Sun yesterday portraying Ruth Davidson as the kingmaker in any potential Tory leadership contest.  No-one would deny that Davidson is currently enjoying a spell of considerable popularity among the Tory grass-roots (especially south of the border, where the myth of a "Scottish Tory victory" has taken root), but the bottom line is that everyone knows she's on the Europhile wing of the party, and that if she backs Amber Rudd for leader it'll be obvious she's doing it for Europhile reasons.  Anti-European Tory members will listen carefully to what Davidson has to say, and then think "no, actually, we need a Brexiteer in there".

There are also a couple of side-remarks in Forsyth's article that had me scratching my head.  He claims that Jeremy Corbyn would now be Prime Minister if it hadn't been for the Tories' mini-revival in Scotland.  As I pointed out in the immediate aftermath of the election, that simply isn't true.  We'd certainly be in a very different place if it hadn't been for the Scottish Tory gains, because the Tory-DUP deal wouldn't have been arithmetically viable, and as a result we'd be heading towards a second general election in the autumn.  However, there would currently be a Tory caretaker administration, not a Labour one.

And Forsyth notes that Davidson doesn't want 10 Downing Street for herself, because her "immediate aim is to be First Minister of Scotland, not PM".  OK, where to start with that one?  First of all, it can't be that much of an "immediate" aim, because she had a chance to stand for First Minister only last year, and declined to do so.  Incredibly, Willie Rennie stood but Davidson didn't.  There isn't another Scottish Parliament election due until May 2021 - almost four years away.  If she does have longer-term designs on a senior Cabinet position at Westminster, she may have to start planning her escape from Holyrood sooner than that.  Her moment in the sun won't last forever.

But let's assume Davidson is still committed to Holyrood in 2021.  How exactly does she become First Minister?  There are only two realistic ways it could happen -

a) The Tories become the largest single party in the Scottish Parliament and form a minority government with the help of Labour and Lib Dem abstentions.

b) The Tories finish second in the election, but form a government after at least one other unionist party backs Davidson in the First Minister vote.

We can pretty much rule out option b) straight away.  Yes, we all know Labour and the Tories are close allies in Scotland, but their cooperation has largely been of the deniable variety.  The moment you have Jackie Bird telling Reporting Scotland viewers that Labour actively voted for a Tory government, it'll be game over for Labour.  The problem may not be quite so stark for the Lib Dems, but I'm fairly confident they would also regard it as too much of a risk.

Which means the only way for Davidson to become FM is to 'win' the 2021 election - ie. for the Tories to become the largest single party.  Well, right now we're in the afterglow of the Scottish Tories' best election result since 1983 - and the limited available polling evidence suggests they've slipped back to third place.  How are things going to get any better than they are now?  Tired Westminster governments generally lose support, not gain it.  Perhaps Davidson's best hope would be for the Tory government to fall quickly, for Corbyn to become PM and then have time to fail...but there's no guarantee that turn of events wouldn't help the SNP more than the Tories.

Let's face it - Davidson is highly unlikely to ever become Scotland's political leader.  Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson got carried away with the thrilling motion of his pom-poms a few weeks ago and announced that Kezia Dugdale is the next First Minister.  He was getting way ahead of himself, but it's certainly fair to say that Dugdale as FM is now less implausible than Davidson as FM.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

SNP by-election fundraiser

Just thought I'd give a quick plug to a particularly important SNP campaign fundraiser.  There's a local government by-election taking place in early September in the Cardonald ward - and it's one of those STV paradoxes where Labour are defending the seat even though the SNP won the popular vote in the ward in May.  In theory it's a golden opportunity for the SNP to increase its representation on Glasgow City Council from 39 seats to 40, inching slightly closer to the magic number of 43 required for an absolute majority.  Unfortunately, however, the SNP only won the ward by a roughly 43% to 38% margin in May, and there's almost certainly been a swing to Labour since then (even if there's ongoing uncertainty over exactly how big that swing has been).  Labour probably ought to be regarded as the slight favourites for this contest, so the SNP's campaign on the ground will be all-important.

A relatively modest £1000 is being sought for the campaign - if you'd like to contribute, the fundraiser page can be found HERE.

There's also a by-election coming up in North Lanarkshire, which if anything is even more important, because it will decide whether the SNP remain the single largest party on the council.  If anyone spots a crowdfunder for that one, let me know and I'll post the details.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lament for the Colonel as Scottish Tories remain in third place in YouGov subsample

There's been such a drought of polling recently that I was beginning to think we weren't going to get anything more until the end of the English school holidays.  However, a Britain-wide YouGov poll suddenly appeared today, suggesting that Labour's very narrow lead over the Tories has stabilised after falling from a peak of 8 points in early July.  The Scottish subsample continues to show the now familiar tight three-way battle: Labour 33%, SNP 29%, Conservatives 28%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Greens 2%, UKIP 2%.

The most significant thing about those figures is that the Tories are in third place, which has consistently been the case in all four post-election YouGov subsamples.  The lead has been switching back and forth between the SNP and Labour, so it's anyone's guess which of those two parties would be in first place if YouGov conducted a full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions right now.  An average of the four subsamples produces an exact dead heat: SNP 32.3%, Labour 32.3%, Conservatives 26.3%, Liberal Democrats 6.0%.

On a more positive note, the SNP have had the lead in the majority of subsamples conducted across all firms.  There have been fourteen subsamples since the election, with the SNP ahead in eight, Labour in five, and the Tories in only one.  The SNP have been in either first or second place in all fourteen subsamples, whereas both Labour and the Tories have been in third place in some - underscoring the general impression that the SNP are the party most likely to have a small overall lead.

Fly on the Wings of love, fly baby fly

I was a bit wary when I started reading Robin McAlpine's reflections on the controversy of recent days, because I thought he might simplistically portray CommonSpace as the victim of the piece - an interpretation which I think is quite difficult to sustain, especially after the ugly descent into witch-hunt territory when the website's editor 'named and shamed' Mhairi Black MP for simply hitting the 'like' button on tweets that were supportive of Scotland's leading pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell.  However, I'm relieved to say there's much more to Robin's article than that, and indeed it's an all-too-rare example of a column published on CommonSpace coming to Stuart's defence and pointing out the lack of perspective of those who constantly demonise him ("vendetta masquerading as virtue").

Basically Robin calls for "kindness not cruelty" towards both Wings and CommonSpace, which is a refreshingly ecumenical attitude.  But I think the deficiency of the article is that it doesn't really acknowledge that CommonSpace itself has failed that test in recent days, and therefore not all of the brickbats that have been thrown at the site are totally unreasonable.  Robin says that he can find nothing malicious in Angela Haggerty's Sunday Herald column about Stuart, and in terms of what she said directly that's true enough - but there was some fairly unsubtle innuendo in there.  She suggested that Stuart was making a mistake that was somehow equivalent to the one made by a well-known politician who was found guilty of perjury.  It's not terribly surprising that some of Stuart's supporters were angry enough to start thinking in the heat of the moment about whether CommonSpace was the sort of site they wanted to continue supporting financially.  Robin suggests there was a "campaign to de-fund" the site - based on what I saw that isn't really true.  Some people spontaneously announced they would be cancelling their subscriptions and there appeared to be a copycat effect.  The only hint I could see of a true 'campaign' was the Butterfly Rebellion explicitly urging people to unfollow the CommonSpace Twitter account en masse, which I thought was way over-the-top (and also very surprising, given that Butterfly Rebellion is an intelligent and quality website).

As far as Jordan Daly's infamous hatchet job on Wings is concerned, Robin's defence is that the column was not commissioned, but was submitted in the normal way and met the criteria for publication, and therefore there was no reason not to publish it.  That's fine as far as it goes, but I think it's a bit naive to imagine that an all-out attack on an important part of the independence movement can just be treated in the same way as any other article without there being negative consequences.  I think CommonSpace could have avoided much of what happened if they had taken the following steps -

1) The title of the column should have been softened.  Over the years I've written dozens of articles for other websites, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times my own suggested title has been used without any alteration.  An editor (or editorial team) can reasonably be expected to take some responsibility for the title of a column, which in this case was needlessly provocative by calling on readers to send the most popular pro-independence site packing.

2) There should have been a very strong disclaimer on the webpage itself that the column reflected the views of the writer, and not the editorial stance of CommonSpace.  There seems to be a feeling that this sort of thing should just be taken as read, but again, I think that's naive.  CommonSpace is well-known to have a past history of publishing brutal attacks on Wings, and not much of a past history of publishing defences of Wings.  Not long before Jordan Daly's column appeared, the editor had tweeted views on the Wings controversy that seemed very much in line with Mr Daly's own perspective - and of course her Sunday Herald column was published not long afterwards.  If there appears to be no obvious distinction between a columnist's views and the editorial line, people are naturally going to conflate the two unless you very clearly and prominently explain what the difference actually is.

3) The column should have been accompanied with another column putting the opposite view.  I have a feeling the justification for that not happening would be that "no column putting the opposite view was submitted", but if you want to be seen as being responsible and not causing unnecessary ruptures in the independence movement, I think you need to be more proactive than that.  A pro-Wings response should simply have been commissioned - ideally from Stuart himself, but if he wasn't interested I'm sure there would have been any number of other people willing to do it instead.

*  *  *

On the subject of the abuse Stuart Campbell has to put up with on a daily basis, here's another invaluable contribution to the cause of civility and solidarity from "Richard Palmer" - the troll ringleader who briefly turned his fire on me last week.  He's now calling himself "Elite Baklava".  Is it just me, or is "we need to do something about w***s like Campbell" a bit of a sinister thing to say?  What on earth would that "something" be?

As you can see, the tweet in which Richard calls me a "f***ing fool" received two 'likes' - and one of them was from "David Al", aka David Allison, who was the Green Party's official candidate in the Barrhead ward at the council elections just three months ago.  Call me biased, but if it's now in fashion to have witch-hunts based on politicians' Twitter 'likes', that's where I'd be starting.

I've no idea whether the Richard gang have any direct involvement in the notorious A Thousand Flowers website, but the overlap in terms of politically correct zealotry and mindless personal abuse is pretty striking.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning...

I'm indebted to a certain controversial rapper, because if I hadn't randomly followed a link in one of his tweets, I would be unaware of the fact that Allan Moore has charged me with (almost) singlehandedly destroying the Yes movement.  I fear Allan may be overestimating my importance just a tad, but it would definitely be worth it if it was true.  Just think of my place in the history books - they'd say the survival of the glorious United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was all down to that Scot Goes Pop blogger bloke.  I'd be the modern-day Churchill.

"We had seen this argument before, with the blogger James Kelly aggressively promoting the 'both votes SNP' argument during last year’s Holyrood elections."

Well, I don't know if that's news to you, but it's sure as hell news to me.  In reality, I must have been one of the few people on either side of the debate who went out of my way to avoid using the 'both votes SNP' line, and continually said how unhelpful and inappropriate it was.  My main preoccupation was with getting the message out that so-called 'tactical voting on the list' was not feasible, and that people should vote for their first-choice party on the list vote - the more important of the two ballots.  In practice, that meant trying to persuade SNP supporters that they should stick with the SNP on the list - because it was SNP supporters who were being targeted by the tactical voting lobby.  The SNP weren't going around telling Green supporters that they should 'tactically' abandon their own party on the list.

"As for the both votes strategy it was a success... except it wasn’t. As the SNP gathered their biggest votes ever for FPTP and beat Labour’s record for list votes their success in the FPTP seats worked against them in the list seats while the thing which lost them the cherished majority was, well SNP losses in North East Fife, Edinburgh Western and Edinburgh Central which did for them."

Simply not true.  Holding on to those constituencies would have been a 'get out of jail free' card for the SNP, but their failure to do so is not the primary reason they lost their majority.  They actually enjoyed a significant net gain in terms of constituency seats, in line with their increased constituency vote share.  But their list vote dropped from 44% to 41.7%, and because the overall composition of parliament is essentially determined by the list vote, their overall number of seats naturally fell.  If you lose support on the more important of the two ballots, more often than not you're going to lose seats.  This isn't rocket science.

"[Cat] Boyd’s appearance provoked obviously a reaction from the one eyed Yessers and also an astonishing response from the aforementioned Mister Kelly of the Scotland Goes Pop blog. Astonishing, because the post to all intents and purposes lays out a manifesto for an ideologically pure pro-Independence drive for votes taking Independence and independence only as the basis for your vote. There is no concession to whether you agree with the SNP on, say, local authority funding, education, taxation or relations with the EU, you vote SNP for independence... or you are the enemy for voting for a ‘Yoon’ party."

First of all, I did not call Cat Boyd "the enemy", and I'm not in the habit of calling either individuals or political parties "Yoons".  (Nor, incidentally, is this blog called "Scotland Goes Pop", so I'm beginning to wonder about Allan's attention to detail.)  However, it's quite true that I believe (and I think this is a statement of the bleedin' obvious) that a vote for an anti-independence party like Labour is a vote against independence, and that a vote for an anti-indyref party like Labour is a vote against holding an indyref.  By the same token, a vote for an anti-European party like UKIP is a vote against remaining in the EU, the single market and the customs union, and people would rightly laugh at you if you tried to pretend it was anything else.

Any party is likely to have policies you disagree with, and so you're inevitably going to end up 'voting for' things you don't actually believe in.  For example, I'm not mad keen on the fact that my vote for the SNP was an endorsement of NATO membership.  But that didn't stop me, because leaving NATO isn't a high priority for me.  And that's the bottom line - voting "proudly" for an anti-independence party doesn't mean that you're no longer in favour of independence, but it does mean you're not that bothered about it in comparison to other things.  That's a pretty incredible position for the co-founder of a party that portrayed itself in last year's Holyrood election as passionately pro-independence, and sought pro-independence "tactical" votes on that basis.  (Indeed, the 'I' in the acronym "RISE" actually stands for independence.)

"Kelly’s plot was well and truly lost right at the start when he said that RISE were now vulnerable...the point missed by Kelly is that RISE were canvassing for votes from the Radical Independence wing of the Independence constituency, votes that would only go to the SNP tactically anyway."

As RISE received only 0.5% of the national list vote, it's quite difficult (and perhaps not particularly important) to work out who those people were.  Nevertheless, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that RISE very much wanted SNP supporters to lend them their list votes on a "tactical" basis.  A press release was put out to that effect.  If the same pitch is made next time around, it'll be undermined by the lack of commitment to independence demonstrated by a leading figure like Cat Boyd.  That's the point I was making.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The easily distracted

Angela Haggerty is well within her rights to use her Sunday Herald column to further exacerbate the feud between CommonSpace and Wings Over Scotland if that's what she wants, but in doing so she's made a number of dubious points - and one of them is downright reprehensible.  At the start of the piece, she recalls the immense political and personal damage done to Tommy Sheridan as a result of his legal action against the News of the World.  Later, she notes that Sheridan "took his ego with him" to court, and that Stuart Campbell of Wings is "displaying those same signs of hubris" in preparing a defamation action against Kezia Dugdale.  This appears to be a weasel word-ish (ie. conveniently deniable) way of implying that Stuart is the sort of person who would either commit perjury, or commit a wrongdoing of equivalent gravity, to win his case.  Angela has got no conceivable justification for that kind of nasty innuendo.  Doubtless if Stuart suffers the embarrassment of losing his case, she'll claim that was the risk she was referring to, but there's a world of difference between losing a court case after pursuing it in good faith, and ending up in prison after being ruled to have misled the court.

Angela also draws a rather heroic comparison between the action against Ms Dugdale, and the one against Green MSP Andy Wightman, who she notes would be forced into bankruptcy if he loses, which would automatically cost him his seat in parliament.  Again, this seems to be a way of implying that because one defamation case against a politician has troubling implications for democracy, the same must automatically be true of another defamation case against a politician.  In reality, the differences between the two cases are not hard to spot.  It seems unlikely that Kezia Dugdale would face ruin if she loses, given the more modest damages sought, and especially given that powerful and wealthy people presumably have her back.  It's also not the case that Ms Dugdale is being hounded by a person or organisation that has unlimited access to the law due to their fabulous wealth.  Indeed, one of the main criticisms of Stuart is that he isn't able to cover the costs himself and has had to run a fundraiser - something which anyone could theoretically do with the help of social media if they were persuasive enough.  So which is it?  Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the 'little guy' has the same access to the law as Andy Wightman's pursuers?  The reason Stuart's fundraiser has succeeded is that the backers perceive Ms Dugdale as the establishment figure who thinks she can act with impunity - very much the reverse of the Wightman scenario.

Angela warns Stuart that his posting history will be dragged up in court - for example his controversial views on the Hillsborough tragedy, and his alleged "transphobia" in comments about Chelsea Manning.  Well, that's as may be, but none of that will be directly relevant to the much narrower point being adjudicated upon.  Stuart is specifically claiming that Ms Dugdale defamed him by calling him homophobic.  Transphobia and homophobia are self-evidently not the same thing, and it's even harder to see how an opinion about the cause of a disaster in a football stadium twenty-eight years ago will constitute proof of prejudice against gay people.  It's perfectly possible to think Stuart is offensive while still accepting he is not homophobic.

The conclusion of the article contains the standard warning that this whole thing is just oh so terribly damaging to the independence movement.  Well, it's only a week ago that Angela said it was damaging to the independence movement that Cat Boyd was being criticised for pursuing her political objectives in her own chosen way (ie. by voting for an anti-indy party at the general election), so it seems pretty illogical that Angela now thinks savaging Stuart for doing his own thing is somehow helpful.  She thinks the court case will be a "distraction" for the movement, and yet in the notorious attack piece she ran on CommonSpace the other day, Wings (an astonishingly popular website read by hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland) was sneeringly dismissed as "nothing more than a man with a blog...[with] a bit of a strange cult following".

How much of a "distraction" could anything done by such a 'fringe' figure ever be?  Unless, of course, some people are determined to be "distracted" at great length in pursuance of their own agendas?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Why should a citizen exercising his legal rights cause a "schism"?

As a result of last night's bizarre episode, I was left with little option but to block another batch of 'trendy Yessers' on Twitter, so perhaps now I have even less to lose by saying what I think about the latest controversy related to Wings.  I am, to put it mildly, a bit bemused by the suggestion that Stuart Campbell is causing a "schism" in the Yes movement simply by seeking legal redress.  If a schism occurs over this (and I don't think it will), it'll happen because some people have lost their sense of perspective about Stuart to such an extent that they feel he shouldn't be able to exercise his basic legal rights.  In the first instance, this is a private matter between Stuart and Kezia Dugdale as individuals.  But, in order to bring a legal action against Ms Dugdale, Stuart requires funds.  Some people have sufficient private means to go to court, but those that don't have to seek alternative methods.  There is nothing illegitimate in the method Stuart has selected.  On the face of it, it's very hard to see why anyone thinks they have a right to be angry about what he's done so far.

It seems to me the subtext of the complaints (and for the most part it is only a subtext) is that Stuart is 'obviously' guilty of homophobia, and that the court action is compounding it - in other words that taking Ms Dugdale to court is in itself a form of homophobia.  That's getting into very dangerous territory, and it will come back to bite people if a judge decides that Stuart is not homophobic and was defamed.  It may be a different story if the opposite verdict is reached, but that's a very big 'if', and at the moment too many people are putting the cart before the horse.

My own personal view is that what Stuart said about David Mundell was extremely hurtful but not homophobic.  The comment would have been particularly wounding because it went to the heart of the experience of gay men in a society that doesn't accept them - ie. not being able to be true to themselves to such an extent that they might find a life partner of the opposite sex and start a family with them.  It also arguably implied that any children that result from such a relationship 'shouldn't have happened', which is profoundly insulting for the individuals involved.  But that's the point - it was insulting and hurtful for the individuals.  To have crossed the boundary and actually become homophobic, I believe the comment would have had to say that society is/was right not to be accepting of gay relationships, and in fact it did the complete opposite.

The other justification for the "schism" argument is that Stuart is demanding support for his case as a "test of loyalty".  As far as I can see, that's wholly untrue.  He was irritated by attacks on him from the direction of CommonSpace, largely because he had strongly backed that website's editor in her dispute with the Sunday Herald and felt he deserved better as a result.  But 'deserving better' does not necessarily mean active support - it could have just meant the absence of a rather gratuitous savaging. The idea that Stuart is trying to set himself up as some kind of overlord of the Yes movement is...well, it's a pretty obvious straw man.

More inspiring civility from our friends on the radical left...

It's genuinely quite disconcerting when half a dozen people you don't know from Adam suddenly launch a downright nasty, childish tag-team attack on you on Twitter for no apparent reason.  These are people who clearly know all about me, hold very strong views about me, some of which appears to go all the way back to Christmas when I wrote a satirical poem that was a bit too close to the bone for some people on the radical left.  And yet during all of those months of them nursing such a bitter personal grievance, I heard nothing from them, leaving me unaware of their existence.  Then suddenly it all explodes in the space of a few minutes.  Why?

Having thought about it, I've come to the strange conclusion that this was a pre-planned trolling operation.  I think a few radical left activists got together after seeing me ask an inconvenient question, and decided it was my turn to get a playground monstering.  In my view this sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable, but I'm not holding my breath for the self-appointed Civility Police on the radical left to actually condemn it - as they would do in an instant if it was coming in the opposite direction.

Utterly bizarre.  If anyone has a clue who Richard and his chums are (there was also someone called Rachel McCormack), and what their agenda is, please do enlighten me.

UPDATE: I am reliably informed that Rachel McCormack is "a slightly contrarian, Scottish nationalist food and whisky writer" who has hated my guts for some time, even though she gets me mixed up with my Labour MSP namesake.  You learn something new every night.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

#50YearsLegal (except for readers in Scotland)

As you probably know, today is the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual sex between men in England and Wales.  It was part of a sweeping range of 'permissive' reforms introduced during the Labour government of 1964-70, which also included the relaxation of divorce law, the legalisation of abortion, and the abolition of the death penalty (except for treason).  The changes were so swift and transformative that it's hard to understand why Harold Wilson isn't remembered as one of the Prime Ministers who 'changed the weather', in the same way that Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher are.  Probably the answer would be that the reforms were generally 'matters of conscience' that the government didn't directly take the lead on, but nevertheless it's hard to dispute that most of them wouldn't have happened, or at least not so quickly, if Wilson hadn't led Labour to overall majorities in 1964 and 1966.

In Scotland, of course, homosexual sex between men remained illegal until 1980.  It's not uncommon for southern commentators to use that delay as evidence of Scotland being a more backward country than the rest of the UK.  To which there is a very obvious and indisputable reply - Scotland did not have self-government until July 1999.  The decision was taken for us by an English-dominated parliament in London.  Yes, the point can be made that Westminster imagined it was taking into account different societal attitudes in Scotland, and perhaps a different mindset among the Scottish legal establishment.  But the fact remains that if Scotland had been in possession of its own elected parliament and government in the 1960s, our representatives might well have decided not to be a slave to prejudice but instead to lead public opinion, just as decades later Wendy Alexander took a lead on the repeal of Section 28, and Jack McConnell took a lead on a smoking ban in public places.

Scotland can't be held responsible for something over which it had no power.  All that can be accurately said is that "the British Parliament, for whatever reason, decided to keep homosexual sex illegal in Scotland for more than a decade after it had been decriminalised in England and Wales".

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Next time we're going to party like it's 1987

Stormfront Lite is beside itself with excitement this afternoon about a Populus analysis suggesting that the SNP would lose all but six of its seats at the next UK general election if it found itself tied with both Labour and the Tories on 30% of the popular vote.  (Labour would have thirty seats and the Tories would have eighteen.)  The problem here is not so much that the analysis is wrong (although it might well be - how the votes for each party would be geographically distributed can only be guesswork), but rather that the scenario it's based on is pretty implausible, and therefore not nearly as interesting as is being made out.  Even now, when we have a reasonably tight three-way battle, it looks like the Tories have slipped to third place, and it's very hard to imagine a situation in the foreseeable future in which they'll by vying for the outright lead or even for parity.

Much more likely is that 2017 will prove to be Peak Tory, and that Conservative support in places like the North-East is going to gradually - or perhaps not so gradually - drop back as the realisation hits home that Tory voters were actually voting to help keep a dire Westminster government in power, rather than for the Ruth Davidson Strong Opposition We Said No And We Meant No Party.  If that happens, it's difficult to see how the SNP aren't going to regain seats from the Tories, even if they're locked in a tight battle with Labour nationally - or indeed even if Labour move into a clear lead.  What we could see is a repeat, albeit on a more dramatic scale, of what happened in 1987, when the SNP lost two seats to Labour, but made up for that with three spectacular gains from the Tories.

That translated into a net increase in overall SNP representation - whether we'd be so lucky this time is debatable given that there's much more to lose to Labour than there was three decades ago.  But predictions of one-way traffic against the SNP just don't pass the smell test.  The Tory surge of 2017 may have been much smaller than the SNP surge of 2015, but the two are probably pretty similar in the sense that they were both relatively sudden, were caused by very specific short-term circumstances, and perhaps involved voters who didn't have any real depth of commitment to their new party.  I expect the tide to recede for the Tories at the next general election, and the party ideally-placed to benefit from that is the SNP.  There is no other credible challenger in the vast majority of Tory-held seats.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Has Colonel Ruth FALLEN OFF HER TANK? Another day, another third place for the Scottish Tories

In the continued absence of any full-scale Scottish polling, arguably the most meaningful guide to the state of play is the Scottish subsamples of YouGov's GB-wide polls - the reason being that YouGov are the only firm that claims to weight their Scottish samples separately.  (And, indeed, the figures they produce tend to be more stable than other firms.)  The third post-election YouGov poll has now been released, and the Scottish subsample has the SNP narrowly ahead: SNP 33%, Labour 29%, Conservatives 27%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 2%, BNP 2%.

Of course, even properly-weighted subsamples have extremely high margins of error, but that problem can be reduced by looking at an average of all three YouGov subsamples since June 8th, which produces the following figures: SNP 33.3%, Labour 32.0%, Conservatives 25.7%, Liberal Democrats 5.7%.

That confirms the general impression of subsamples from across the polling industry, ie. that it's a very tight three-way battle, but that the SNP are probably just about still in the lead, Labour have probably moved up to second place, and the Tories have probably slipped back to third.  There have now been thirteen Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election - eight have put the SNP ahead, four have put Labour ahead, and only one has put the Tories in front.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Logic problems

I'm confused, and I'm wondering if you can help me out.

We've been repeatedly told over the last few days that people are "damaging the Yes movement" by criticising Cat Boyd for voting Labour.

Implicit in that reproach is that people can and should be called out if they do anything to damage the Yes movement.

A prominent Yes activist declaring her "pride" in voting for a rabidly anti-independence party is self-evidently damaging for the Yes movement.  It makes independence less likely.  It makes an independence referendum less likely.

Isn't it therefore logical that such a person should be called out for damaging the Yes movement?

What am I missing here?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Is saving the universe a girl job or a boy job?

As long-term readers may recall, I'm a lifelong Doctor Who fan.  I'm basically a fan of what has become known as the 'classic series' (ie. the period between 1963 and 1989), but I've watched and enjoyed the revived series since 2005, and I was particularly pleased when Steven Moffat used the 50th anniversary in 2013 to create a 'narrative bridge' between the classic series and the new, making the two seem more like an integrated whole (in spite of the very obvious differences of format and style).

What people may not be aware of is that talk of casting a woman as the Doctor goes all the way back to the days of the classic series, and in particular to a press conference in 1980 when Tom Baker announced his resignation and mischievously wished his successor well, "whoever he or she may be".   The tabloids initially took that seriously as a possible hint that radical change was on the way, and ever since then there has been fevered speculation about a female Doctor whenever a vacancy has occurred.  Somewhere I must still have a copy of Doctor Who Magazine from early 1987, just after the excellent Colin Baker was idiotically sacked from the role for no discernible reason, containing an impassioned plea from a young reader that the Doctor must remain male.  "I'm not a sexist," he wrote, "but a female Doctor is as ridiculous as a male Miss Marple".

That eerily echoes the much-mocked arguments of the sceptics three decades on.  But is it so obviously wrong?  If the well-remunerated Derek Thompson was ever to finally stop playing Charlie in Casualty (which, yes, is still running after thirty-one years!) and if the BBC were to recast the role, nobody would think it was remotely odd if only male actors were considered.  Doctor Who's status as a make-it-up-as-you-go-on sci-fi show means that the same rules need not apply, but nevertheless I think there's at least an arguable case that, until very recently, the 'fact' that Time Lords retain the same gender throughout their life-spans had been clearly woven into the programme's 'lore' over a very, very long period, creating certain fixed expectations among viewers.  The Doctor has had thirteen incarnations so far and they've all been male.  Borusa had four and they were all male.  Romana remained female when she regenerated (and she also 'tried on' several female appearances before settling on her second incarnation).  The Master was of course always male until she suddenly wasn't a couple of years ago...and it's arguably only the acceptance and success of that innovation that made Jodie Whittaker's casting possible.

I think she's a good choice, and a new departure like this could be a shot in the arm for a long-running series which is always battling against the danger of becoming stale.  It's liberating that Doctor Who has the opportunity to do this when, say, the James Bond franchise doesn't, but in a sense that's the nub of the matter.  The only reason why changing the lead character's gender isn't self-evidently a strange thing to do is that Doctor Who is such an unusual series.  And that's why I've been so troubled by the extreme and intolerant reaction to the minority (and it is only a minority) of long-term fans of the show who are struggling to accept a woman Doctor.  Although I don't personally agree with those fans, neither do I think it's inherently daft for them to choose, if they wish, to say "we think the Doctor is a male character, just like Ken Barlow is a male character".  Instead of it simply being accepted that this is based on nurtured ideas about who a specific much-loved character that they've grown up with should be, they're all simplistically dismissed as Neanderthal sexists who are resisting proper female representation on television.  Maybe a few of them do deserve that characterisation, but believe me, if someone with an American accent was ever cast as the Doctor, the controversy over female anatomy would pale into utter insignificance.  And would that mean Doctor Who fans are anti-American?  No, of course it wouldn't.

I've tried gently making the point to a few feminists on Twitter that much of the negative reaction is Doctor Who-specific and not a rejection of on-screen gender equality, but to very little avail.  A couple of hours ago, I got a highly abusive response ("f***ing clueless") when I pointed out that "the Doctor isn't an MP, she's a fictional character".  Extraordinarily, the same person then angrily declared that "I'm done justifying myself to men. Help the cause or get out of our f***ing way."  I just think all this dogmatic shoutiness is terribly, terribly sad, and it's little wonder a dialogue of the deaf has developed as a result of it.  You're not going to gain much sympathy for your cause by effectively telling someone that their favourite TV programme has become no more than a box to be ticked on an ideological checklist.  It would be far more constructive to say (as Jodie Whittaker has done herself) that "I know this is new, but don't be scared of something new, it'll be fun".  And if you took that less confrontational approach, you might also be pleasantly surprised to find that the person you're talking to isn't the monster you assumed they are, and is actually extremely positive about female lead characters in other series.

If you're aiming for greater diversity, I think it's generally best not to do it in an artificial way.  For example, when the BBC were belatedly trying to address the absence of major network dramas filmed in Scotland, they should have created a new series that organically belonged here, rather than awkwardly transplanting Waterloo Road to Inverclyde.  By the same token, if more female lead characters are required, they should in general be devised from scratch, rather than lazily saying "oh let's bring Arthur Daley back and make him a woman".  With Doctor Who it can work - but it wouldn't go amiss for us to acknowledge the obvious point that this is the exotic exception, not the rule.  And once you do acknowledge that, you can perhaps begin to empathise with the people who resent the fact that their own favourite series is the designated exception.  You don't have to agree with someone to empathise with them.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ipsos-Mori subsample adds to the weight of evidence suggesting the SNP are still ahead

Ipsos-Mori's subsamples (just like Survation's) tend to be very small and produce extremely volatile results.  However, for what it's worth, the subsample from the firm's first post-election poll is very positive for the SNP...

SNP 39%, Conservatives 26%, Labour 23%, Greens 7%, Liberal Democrats 6%

There have now been twelve subsamples from various firms since the election, of which seven have put the SNP in the lead, four have put Labour in the lead, and only one has put the Tories in front.  As Labour appear on balance (albeit not in today's numbers) to be the main challengers, it's particularly significant that the SNP have been ahead of Labour in eight of the twelve subsamples.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The crumbling of Colonel Calamity : evidence begins to mount that the Scottish Tories have slumped to third place

Just as a slight corrective to the recent string of good polling results for the SNP, there's a new ICM poll which has the SNP a little behind Labour in the Scottish subsample: Labour 35%, SNP 33%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 4%, Greens 3%.  However, the potential error in an individual subsample is enormous, so those figures are very easily consistent with the SNP holding a small lead.  That still appears to be where the balance of probabilities lie - there have now been eleven subsamples from various firms since the general election, of which six have put the SNP in the lead.  Perhaps more to the point, the SNP have also been ahead of Labour in seven of the eleven subsamples.

That said, the battle between SNP and Labour seems to be close enough that it's not possible to say with absolute confidence which of the two parties is in front.  The Tories have slipped out of that conversation, and it now looks increasingly likely that they've dropped to third place.  If it gradually becomes an accepted fact that Scottish politics has reverted to a traditional SNP-Labour duel, what on earth will happen to the love affair between Colonel Ruth and the media, both north and south of the border?  I believe the line is "she was the future, once".

Monday, July 17, 2017

But we can still RISE now, and vote for a unionist party again...

So is there anything to be said for Cat Boyd of RISE "proudly" voting Labour at the general election?  Well, there's certainly something positive to be taken from the fact that she's admitted doing it.  There's been a tendency among the unionist commentariat to treat the 27% of people who voted Labour as if they were part of some pan-unionist bloc vote comprising more than 60% of the population.  The reality, as we already know from the opinion polls, is that Labour's support was a coalition incorporating people who voted Labour because of its stance on independence, and also people who voted Labour in spite of that stance.  It'll be very useful to have a high-profile example like Cat Boyd to illustrate that point.  This episode may also be helpful to the SNP on the list vote at the next Holyrood election, because RISE (or whatever succeeds RISE) will find it even harder to pitch for 'pro-independence tactical votes' now that their commitment to independence has been shown to be rather superficial.

However, there's an idea doing the rounds that we must show veneration and respect towards Ms Boyd for voting Labour as part of an alternative strategy for achieving independence.  That is, it has to be said, a bit silly.  Voting Labour in the hope of furthering the cause of independence is no more and no less irrational than voting UKIP in the hope of keeping Britain inside the European Union.  It's been suggested to me that I'm missing some incredibly sophisticated point here, ie. that pro-indy people voting Labour are starting a conversation with the party that will eventually lead to a change in its constitutional stance.  But voting is essentially a passive act - you're not entering into a dialogue with the party you vote for, you're simply endorsing them.  It doesn't matter if Labour are privately conscious of the fact that much of their support is pro-indy - the lesson they'll draw is that those people have already proved stupid enough to vote for them, and so they can just persevere with the same policy and expect the same results in future.  If you reward undesirable behaviour, don't complain if you get more of the same.  For the proof of that, simply consider the fact that a substantial minority of Labour's voters in the decades leading up to the 2014 referendum were solidly pro-indy.  That had no impact at all.

Entryism can sometimes be a viable tactic for changing a party's stance, but that involves actually becoming members and activists (and then trying very hard not to get expelled).  Merely voting for a party you disagree with and have no influence within is entirely counter-productive - and that really ought to be a statement of the bleedin' obvious.

Are there any circumstances at all in which voting for an anti-independence party can help independence?  I can perhaps think of just one.  In the closely-fought 1992 general election, Labour were firmly committed to the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament.  It was not unreasonable to take the view that devolution was a necessary first step if independence was ever going to happen (as Margaret Ewing put it, there was never going to be a "Big Bang"), so the priority had to be to ensure that devolution happened.  There were a very small number of Labour-Tory marginal seats in Scotland, such as Stirling, that were going to help decide whether there would be a pro-devolution Labour government or an anti-devolution Tory government.  There was therefore a case to be made that tactically voting Labour in a seat like Stirling was a constructive act for a pro-independence voter.

Nothing that happened in this year's election was remotely analogous to that.  Labour were not making any sort of constitutional offer at all, and there were no Labour-Tory marginals in any case.  If Cat Boyd voted Labour in an SNP-Labour battleground seat, she was helping an anti-independence party against a pro-independence party.  If she voted Labour in an SNP-Tory battleground seat, it was even worse than that, because she was harming both independence and Corbyn's chances of becoming PM.  It was, in short, a very foolish thing to do, no matter which way you look at it.

More good polling news for the SNP - this time from YouGov

YouGov are the only firm I'm aware of that claim to weight the Scottish subsamples of their GB-wide polls separately.  Given the small size of those subsamples, a huge margin of error still applies (something in the region of 8%) but nevertheless it was a cause for some concern when the first YouGov subsample since the election gave Labour a modest lead.  I'm relieved to say that has been reversed in the second post-election poll, which was released today: SNP 36%, Labour 31%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 1%, BNP 1%.

Those figures are very much in line with the subsamples from the Opinium and Survation polls released on Saturday.  The situation now is that there have been ten Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election, with six putting the SNP ahead, three putting Labour ahead, and one putting the Tories in front.  The information we're going on is admittedly very limited, but it does look as if perhaps Labour have leapfrogged the Tories into second place, but haven't quite managed to overtake the SNP.

Elsewhere in the YouGov poll, there is plenty of other evidence of how Scottish public opinion continues to be radically different from opinion south of the border.  Across Britain, Theresa May has moved back into a small lead over Jeremy Corbyn on the question of who would make the best Prime Minister, but respondents in Scotland prefer Corbyn by a near 2-1 margin.  Across Britain, a narrow plurality feels that the UK is right to leave the European Union, but respondents in Scotland take the opposite view by a whopping margin of 56% to 33%.

SNP buoyed by two new polls

I'm not sure if it was Wimbledon or the Doctor Who announcement that distracted me, but I completely forgot to check on Saturday night whether there were any new opinion polls.  As it turns out there were two Britain-wide polls - one from Opinium and one from Survation.  Both had the SNP slightly ahead on the Scottish subsample...

Survation: SNP 33%, Labour 25%, Conservatives 24%, Liberal Democrats 14%, UKIP 4%

Opinium: SNP 35%, Conservatives 31%, Labour 29%, UKIP 1%, Liberal Democrats 1%

Survation's subsamples are always particularly small and not correctly weighted, but as it happens the recalled vote of the sample on this occasion is reasonably close to the actual result in June, so there's one less reason to be sceptical than usual.

In conjunction with the SNP's creditable near miss in the Elgin by-election, where the swing against them since May was negligible, I'd say these new figures move the balance of probability back towards the SNP having some sort of continuing lead in Westminster voting intentions.  There have now been nine Scottish subsamples from various firms since the general election, with five putting the SNP ahead, three putting Labour ahead, and one putting the Tories in front.  The SNP have never been lower than second place, whereas both Labour and the Tories have been third some of the time.

My best guess is that if a full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions was conducted now, it would probably show the SNP with a narrow lead over Labour, with the Tories in third place.  I certainly wouldn't exclude the possibility that Labour have a small lead, but I don't think there's any real danger that the Tories are ahead.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Colonel says "Phew"! Huge scare for Ruth as SNP run Tories close in Elgin by-election

It always looked fairly predictable that the Tories would win yesterday's Elgin North by-election.  They had won the popular vote in the ward in May, their tails were up after winning the Moray parliamentary constituency in June, the local SNP were presumably a tad demoralised, and of course we know from long and bitter experience that Tory supporters are more likely to make it to the polling stations in low turnout local by-elections than supporters of other parties.  Given all of those disadvantages, it's really quite striking just how close the SNP came to pulling it off...

Elgin City North by-election result (first preference votes) :

Conservatives 40.0% (+7.1)
SNP 38.8% (+6.1)
Labour 15.8% (+3.9)
Independent - Monaghan 5.4% (n/a)

We shouldn't get carried away by the increase in the SNP's vote, because like the other parties they benefited from the much reduced vote share for independent candidates.  Nevertheless, the closeness of the result gives us a fair bit of reassurance that things have not worsened for the SNP since the general election in areas where the Tories are their main opponents.  (For what it's worth, there's also no sign of any Tory bandwagon effect in the Scottish subsamples of opinion polls.)  It remains to be seen what is happening in the SNP-Labour battleground areas.

One of the fascinations of local elections conducted under STV is seeing how Labour voters transfer when faced with a choice between SNP and Tory.  The answer in this case was pretty evenly : Conservatives 91, SNP 90.  If the SNP suffer significantly from unionist tactical voting in the next general election, it's unlikely to be in Tory-SNP marginals.  I have my doubts as to whether it will happen very much even in Labour target seats, because Tory voters will surely feel increasingly conflicted about helping a left-wing Labour leadership into power.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Tories begin their Great Attempt to Destroy Devolution

So it's official - the Tories have not only betrayed the promise that new powers will come to the Scottish Parliament after Brexit, but they have also announced that some of the existing devolved powers will be taken away.  Unless you count a minor change over powers relating to Antarctica which were devolved by mistake, this will be the first time that powers have been snatched back by Westminster since Devolution Day in 1999.  Don't let anyone fool you into thinking this is happening as an automatic consequence of Brexit - as things stand, the Scottish Parliament has total control over devolved matters except where limited by EU legislation.  For that to change, the Tory government has to effectively repeal parts of the Scotland Act, and that is what they have set about attempting to do today.

Is there any hope that the power-grab can be stopped in its tracks?  Under the Sewel Convention, the Scottish Parliament can withhold legislative consent for its powers to be removed.  We already know that the Supreme Court regards the convention as legally unenforceable (in spite of the fact that it's written into law!), so everything will depend on whether the UK government feels that it is too politically damaging to abandon Sewel.  Remember they will have an eye on the next independence referendum (regardless of whether that happens in two years or in fifteen) and will know that one of the big topics of debate in that campaign will be whether or not "The Vow" was honoured.  If Sewel is ripped up just two years after being written into statute, it'll be extremely hard to argue that the part of "The Vow" relating to the permanence of the Scottish Parliament was fulfilled.

The other big advantage the Scottish government have is that they appear to be of one mind on this subject with the Labour-led Welsh government.  We know that Labour no longer give a monkey's about protecting Scottish devolution, but because of the Welsh dimension there'll be pressure on them to resist anything that undermines devolution in both Scotland and Wales.  Now that we have a hung parliament, a united front between Labour and the SNP could open up the possibility of the Tory government suffering defeats on the floor of the Commons.

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Hot on the heels of Julia Rampen's fearless and groundbreaking "Aren't Scottish Labour adorable?" series of articles, the New Statesman have served up a somewhat less innovative "The Nats are doomed!" piece from James Millar.  I just thought I'd do a quick run-through of the highly dubious points made in the article, and also the outright inaccuracies.

* "Many in the party repeat the mantra that they won the election in Scotland, but some sound like they are trying to convince themselves."

In all honesty, Mr Millar, they shouldn't be finding it terribly hard to convince themselves, given that they won the popular vote by a whopping 8.3% margin, and also won 59.3% of the seats. As I've noted a couple of times before, the scale of the SNP's triumph last month was roughly on a par with the UK-wide Thatcher landslide of 1987. It is actually perfectly possible to simultaneously acknowledge that a party won an election, and also lost some ground in the process. Consider for example the difference between the Republicans' showings in the 1984 and 1988 US presidential elections. In 1984, they carried 49 states and won 525 electoral votes. In 1988, that had dropped to 'only' 40 states and 426 electoral votes. The extent of the slippage was noted, but if anyone had tried to claim that the Republicans hadn't 'really' won the 1988 election, they would have been laughed at, and rightly so.

I can't remember if I've ever listened to one of Mr Millar's podcasts, but I did notice that he gave his post-election podcast the understated title of "SNP Apocalypse!"  The mind boggles as to what he would have come up with if the SNP hadn't won the election comfortably.

* "Another [MP] admits that that the result in June could’ve been worse. “If the election had taken place on the Friday rather than the Thursday, I’d have lost my seat. It was one-way traffic to Labour.”"

I've been quick to dispute the claims that the Scottish Labour recovery was a 'mirage', but it's important not to go to the other extreme either.  If you think back to the council elections in May, long before the Corbyn surge, it looked like Labour were competitive in a handful of parliamentary constituencies.  In June, they won a handful of parliamentary constituencies.  The situation was scarcely transformed out of all recognition in the intervening month. I've seen a number of SNP activists contradict the suggestion that there was significant direct slippage to Labour, so it does appear that Mr Millar is only reporting the private conversations that actually concur with his own preferred narrative.

In fairness, no-one can say for sure that an extra day wouldn't have made a difference in Glasgow East or Glasgow South-West...but those seats were so close that a good sneeze could have made a difference.

* "Not only has the group in Westminster been trimmed from 56 in 2015 to 35 just two years later, but many of the survivors have seen their majority slashed, some to double figures, Stephen Gethins’ majority in north east Fife is just two."

Which ignores the fact that the North-East Fife result was comparatively good.  Even when the conventional wisdom was that the SNP would win around 45 seats, it looked like North-East Fife would probably fall.  Holding that one against the tide was a considerable bonus.

* "Many in the party have never known a reverse before. The last time the party went backwards was 1979."

That, I'm afraid, is just complete and utter rubbish.  I could at this point give you chapter and verse on the occasions that the SNP have lost ground in European and local elections, but doubtless someone would come along and insist that there is a big difference between 'first order' and 'second order' elections.  So instead I'll just give you the examples since 1979 that are indisputably from 'first order' votes.

In the 1983 general election, the SNP's vote share fell from 17% to 12%.

In the 2001 general election, the SNP vote share fell from 22% to 20%, and they lost one of their six seats.

In the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP's constituency vote share fell from 29% to 24%, and they lost eight of their 35 seats.

In the 2005 general election, the SNP's vote share fell from 20% to 18%.

Conclusion?  You'd have to be very, very young not to be able to remember a time when the SNP went backwards in an election.  And in truth, if anyone out there wasn't expecting some kind of correction after a freakish election in which the SNP won 50% of the popular vote, they were being a bit naive.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Relearning the oldest truth : voting Tory doesn't produce results for Scotland

I've been having my latest technological meltdown, but 24 hours late, here's a quick note to let you know I have a new article on the TalkRadio website!  You can read it HERE.

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After an insanely long wait, ICM have finally released the datasets from last week's GB-wide poll.  The Scottish subsample figures are: Labour 37%, SNP 32%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 3%, Greens 2%, UKIP 2%.  The Labour lead can be partly explained by the fact that respondents who said they would vote SNP were sharply weighted down from 64 to 43 - that may have happened for good reasons, although if we assume YouGov are right that a disproportionate number of SNP-inclined voters simply didn't turn out on June 8th, weighting to past vote recall may start to underestimate the SNP's potential strength.

We've now had seven Scottish subsamples from various firms since the election, with three putting the SNP in the lead, three putting Labour in the lead, and only one putting the Tories in front.  I think all we can say with confidence now is that it looks like a tight three-way battle, and that the Tories probably aren't in first place.  I'm not convinced the Scottish Labour recovery will survive any return to public infighting between the Corbynites and the "moderates", so perhaps that's what we should be keeping the closest eye on.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Tories take a hammering in new YouGov poll

If the Tories imagined their narrow lead in the GB-wide Survation poll a few days ago was some kind of turning-point, they appear to have been mistaken.  We've since had an ICM poll (albeit one with radical methodological changes) putting them two points behind Labour, and tonight brings word of a YouGov poll putting Labour eight points clear - the biggest Tory deficit for many a year.

Of most interest to us, of course, is the Scottish subsample, and the news isn't that great : Labour 36%, SNP 31%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 1%.  This is the third subsample that's put the SNP in second place since the election, but it's the first one of those that I take remotely seriously, because the previous two were absolutely tiny Survation subsamples which you could tell were clearly skewed by looking at the past vote recall of respondents.  As far as I know, YouGov still weight their Scottish results separately, which means they should produce results that are slightly more accurate and stable than other firms' subsamples.  However, even when properly weighted, a subsample has a much greater margin of error than a full-scale poll - I make it roughly 8% in this particular case, which means YouGov's figures are entirely consistent with a small SNP lead.  I still think that's the most likely state of play, because in total we've had six subsamples since the election, with three putting the SNP in the lead, two putting Labour in the lead and only one putting the Tories ahead.  It's also significant that the SNP haven't been in third place in any of the subsamples, whereas both Labour and the Tories have.  However, even if the SNP do still have the advantage, it's plain enough that we're faced with a fairly tight three-way battle for the time being.

'For the time being' are the operative words, because it's entirely predictable that a major political shock like the one we saw last month will radically shift the opinion polls in the immediate aftermath.  Sometimes the change is superficial and temporary (for example the brief Conservative surge during the fuel crisis of 2000 which was completely reversed at astonishing speed), and sometimes it's meaningful and lasting (for example the Tory slump after Black Wednesday in 1992, which they didn't properly recover from for well over a decade).  We'll just have to wait and see which category the current situation falls into.  The irony is that if Labour have hopes of exploiting this apparent moment of relative vulnerability for the SNP and winning back a truckload of central belt seats, their own strength in the opinion polls may end up preventing them from doing so.  The Tories aren't going to willingly call an election unless they think there is a good chance of winning an overall majority, and as I've noted before, there is no realistic prospect of them being forced into an election by a vote of no confidence in the Commons for at least three years (unless Tory MPs defect to other parties).  The more I've thought about the parliamentary arithmetic, the more I've come to the conclusion that it's not totally inconceivable that the new parliament will stagger on for the full five-year term.

The Tories are very lucky that the exit poll was wrong about them only having 314 seats.  The difference between 314 and 318 may not sound all that great, but it could well be enough to swing the balance between a very short parliament and a very long one - which apart from saving the Tories' bacon, could also rescue the SNP from having to defend their own 35 seats for a good number of years.  Ideally Scotland will be an independent country by 2022 (Nicola Sturgeon's recent statement very much leaves that possibility open), but even if it isn't, Labour could be in a completely different place by then.  There are already plenty of signs that the truce between the Corbynites and the "moderates" is starting to break down.

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Stormfront Lite's notorious Deputy Editor is a reliable source of painful prose and unwitting comic genius, and yesterday morning's effort was no exception -

"I know I’m not the only Tory who somehow hopes Ruth Davidson becomes an MP before the next Tory leadership election but I suspect she sees her role for the next few years as ensuring Scottish Nationalism really is killed stone dead and that can only be achieved in Holyrood and not Westminster."

Which suggests that Scottish nationalism hasn't "really" been killed stone dead thus far?  Well, quite.  It's a tad difficult to boast about killing Scottish nationalism when you've only just been beaten by Scottish nationalists in a sixth successive nationwide election.

The roll of shame for Ruth is : the 2012 local elections, the 2014 European elections, the 2015 general election, the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, the 2017 local elections, and the 2017 general election.  Every single one an SNP victory.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Scottish Labour may be dinosaurs, but it wasn't a dead cat bounce

As you may have seen on social media, there was a post on the LSE politics blog yesterday arguing that the notion of a "Corbyn bounce" in Scotland at the general election is a "myth" and a "mirage", and that the SNP should not be sidetracked into strategies to fend off Labour when the Tories are the real enemy.  It would be comforting to agree with that, and to tell ourselves there is only one unionist party worth worrying about, but I do think the conclusion is wrong.  The main flaw of the blogpost is that it treats the results of the 2015 and 2017 general elections as if they are the only pieces of information available to us.  When you look at it that way, it does appear superficially that the entire drop in the SNP vote can be explained by a natural 'correction' after the freakish result of 2015, and that the very small revival in the Labour vote (from 24% to 27%) was an inevitable side-effect of that readjustment, rather than being caused by the phenomenon that generated a much bigger Labour surge in England.

However, if you widen your gaze to take account of opinion poll evidence (and indeed the Holyrood election of last year), the picture suddenly looks very different.  There is overwhelming evidence that Labour's true recovery in Scotland was not from the low of 24% recorded in 2015, but from the much worse position that the party slumped to after that election.  Survation, who proved to be the most accurate pollster, had Scottish Labour languishing at just 18% as recently as mid-April, but by the end of the campaign that had jumped to 29%.  Other firms showed a similar trend (even if the exact figures were very different).  That sort of big shift is much more in line with the Corbyn surge that occurred in England, and given that it happened at exactly the same time, it's not unreasonable to suppose that it probably happened for much the same reason.  It can't really be explained by the correction in the SNP's vote share, because the SNP had dropped to the low 40s (and the Tories had risen to the high 20s) before the Labour surge even started.  It looks much more likely that the SNP suffered a drop from an unsustainable high, and then suffered a further small drop as a direct result of voters switching to Labour because of enthusiasm for the Corbyn project.

Even though the premise of the LSE blogpost is wrong, I do think it's correct to argue that the SNP shouldn't head off on a radical left wild goose chase to try to deal with the Corbyn threat.  If you're losing voters who are inspired by the prospect of a radical left government at Westminster, you can hardly counter that by offering a radical left opposition at Westminster (and an opposition with third-party status at that).  You can only compete by putting forward an alternative inspiring vision that Corbyn can't/won't offer - and that means a much greater focus on independence than we saw in the recent campaign.

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Elsewhere in the LSE blogpost, a reasonable point is made about the SNP's "heroic" determination to conflate support for independence with support for remaining within the European Union, which may have cost the party votes from Brexit supporters.  That factor may also go a long way towards explaining the Tories' seemingly puzzling failure to defeat the SNP in places like Perth & North Perthshire and Edinburgh South-West - both constituencies that voted Remain by a much more emphatic margin than the rural north-east did.

But this is not just a dilemma for the SNP.  Could the Scottish Tory surge be a similar phenomenon to the SNP surge of 2015?  In other words, was it partly caused by temporarily energised Brexit supporters who were determined to reinforce their vote from the referendum last year?  If so, the Scottish Tories are very likely to suffer their own natural 'correction' at the next general election (as long as it doesn't take place in the near future).  Those new north-east Tory MPs, especially the ones with the narrowest majorities, probably shouldn't get too comfy in their seats.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Live stream

Just a very quick note to let you know I took part in a live stream on Independence Live earlier today, answering questions on a variety of topics related to the current political situation.  You can watch it HERE.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I'm going to make some mild criticisms of an article written by Neal Ascherson (some viewers may find these scenes distressing)

Just very, very occasionally (maybe once every four months or so) Christopher Silver sends me a passive-aggressive tweet with a "Don't diss the intelligentsia, man!" subtext.  Today was one such occasion.  Clearly even the mildest criticism of Neal Ascherson was just too much to be borne.

Free from the constraints of 140 characters, allow me to briefly set out why I did not misread Ascherson's Sunday Herald piece, whether wilfully or unwilfully, "in the service of latent insecurity" or otherwise.

In the fourth paragraph of his article, Ascherson says this : "What’s true is that the SNP and their leader have been seriously damaged – possibly holed below the waterline in ways which aren’t yet visible. What isn’t true is the assumption that independence sinks or swims with the SNP’s fortunes."  In paragraph 8, he expands on what he means by that : "Neither can we know who will surf that tide. But it might well not be the could be some hybrid, say a rebel Scottish Labour Party linked with the Greens and radical seceders from the SNP, which finally leads a free Respublica Scotorum out into the world. Less probably, it could be a much angrier, more impatient formation now hidden in its chrysalis. Remember how Sinn Fein came from behind and wiped out the Irish parliamentary Home Rulers in 1918?"  In paragraph 9, he also speculates about the possibility of Tories leading Scotland to independence.  

In fairness to Ascherson, there is plenty of "possibly" and "might well not be" in there, but I scarcely think it's unreasonable to detect in those segments of the article an assumption that the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon are probably on the way out (and that unambiguously refers to the general election result which saw the SNP win almost 60% of the seats), that the independence cause will survive this upheaval, and that independence supporters will find another vehicle to deliver their goal - which might involve some wildly implausible alliance of pro-indy Labour rebels and the Greens.

For those like Christopher who think that anyone who is dubious about this prospectus must simply be an 'insecure SNP supporter', I'd suggest it might be a useful exercise to look at the current political landscape in Scotland in a hard-headed way and try to work out what a truly objective person would think is the most promising road-map to independence in anything like the foreseeable future.  Is it likely to involve in some way a pro-independence party that currently holds almost 60% of Scottish seats at Westminster and almost 50% of the seats in the Scottish Parliament?  Or is the vehicle more likely to be an as yet unformed splinter group from a much smaller party that has been rabidly anti-independence for as long as anyone can remember?  The answer seems self-evident to me, and if others disagree, perhaps they'd better explain their reasoning in a rather more credible way than they have thus far.  Pipe-dreams could tie us up in knots for decades.

The notion of a new right-of-centre pro-independence party perhaps isn't quite so fanciful, because at present pro-indy Thatcherites don't have a remotely comfortable home in either the Tories or the SNP.  However, people have been talking about that sort of thing for decades and nothing ever materialises, so it appears the critical mass simply isn't there.  Even it did happen, the chances are that the new party would have to work with the SNP to bring independence about (and that the SNP would be the senior partner in that arrangement).

Leaving aside his musings about how the SNP might be replaced, Ascherson's article is primarily about the notion that Scotland should act as if it already is independent, and that the Scottish government should essentially exceed its legal powers and only stop doing so when the UK government forces it to.  I don't have any objection in principle to that, but a more practical objection is that the UK government won't necessarily be the obstacle - where legislation is involved, it would first have to get past the Presiding Officer and his legal advisers.