Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Who will benefit from the suspension of campaigning?

The short answer to that question is : almost certainly the Conservative party.  At least until Monday morning, the momentum had been running away from the Tories, and even after the U-turn on social care, Theresa May was firmly on the back foot, as witnessed in her interview with Andrew Neil.  Since then, simply by doing what any potential Prime Minister (including Jeremy Corbyn) would do in the same situation, she has probably gone some way towards repairing her "strong and stable" brand in the public imagination.  And, whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, the sight of armed forces on the streets will scare the living daylights out of a lot of voters, leading them to prioritise national security over bread-and-butter issues - a shift which is bound to favour the Tories.

There are a few possible counter-arguments to that reading of the situation -

1) A tragedy like the one we've seen this week may bring about an increase in civic-mindedness, and thus boost the turnout.  Although the surprise socialist victory in the Spanish election just after the 2004 Madrid bombings was attributed to Aznar's dishonesty in blaming Basque terrorists for the atrocity, it may have had just as much to do with the simple effect of a boost in turnout automatically favouring the parties of the left (ie. because the demographic groups most likely to vote for right-wing parties generally turn out anyway).

2) There may now be a modest UKIP recovery.  I've been astonished and dismayed by the number of otherwise sensible people I've seen on Facebook over the last 36 hours calling for mass deportations.  UKIP's campaign message may not go quite that far, but it's certainly the closest fit.  If UKIP do win some lapsed voters back (and remember they're only standing in roughly half the constituencies this time), it's not clear which party would suffer the most, but it's possible it might be the Tories.

3) Power is somewhat more dispersed in the UK than it used to be, so the politicians in leadership roles who have been making high-profile statements on the Manchester bombing and its implications haven't been confined to the Conservative party.  The new directly-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester is of course Andy Burnham, very well known to be a Labour politician.  Nicola Sturgeon's statements have been well-publicised in Scotland, and presumably the same is true of Carwyn Jones' statements in Wales.  The "clinging to the party of power in a moment of crisis" effect is therefore not quite as clear-cut as it might otherwise be.

4) The longer the campaign is suspended, the less time the Tories have to implement their planned "shock and awe" campaign to destroy the credibility of Jeremy Corbyn.

All of those factors should be taken seriously, but even in combination I don't think they outweigh the advantages that the Conservatives are now gaining.  When the next Britain-wide polls are published, I expect to see an increase in the Tory lead.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's more important than ever that pro-independence voters get behind the SNP in this election

First of all, a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website, which was inspired by an exchange I saw on Twitter last week between two passionately pro-independence young people who have become disillusioned with politics of late. The article argues that it's vitally important that the pro-independence movement gets out and votes SNP on June 8th.  You can read it HERE.  (You'll probably be able to spot that it was written before the events of the weekend.)

The promised firecracker of a Welsh poll from YouGov certainly didn't disappoint - it shows a complete transformation in the fortunes of the parties, with Labour not merely regaining the lead, but opening up a commanding advantage.

Wales-only YouGov poll :

Labour 44% (+9)
Conservatives 34% (-7)
Plaid Cymru 9% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
UKIP 5% (+1)
Greens 1% (n/c)

The fieldwork dates were from Thursday (the day of the disastrous Tory manifesto launch) through to yesterday.  Taken in conjunction with the GB-wide YouGov and Survation polls we saw at the weekend, plus a new GB-wide ICM poll released today showing the Tory lead dropping six points, I think we can safely say there is now ample evidence that the manifesto cost the Tories a shed-load of voters.  What we don't know yet is whether the partial and vague U-turn today will be enough to reassure those voters and bring them back into the fold.  (There's also a possibility that they'll be reassured on the specific policy but have new doubts about Theresa May's credibility as a leader.)  I have absolutely no idea what the effect will be, so all bets are off until we see at least one poll that includes fieldwork from today onwards.

Incidentally, in spite of the ICM poll showing a hefty swing away from the Tories, it still puts them 14% ahead, which is a bigger lead than in the YouGov and Survation polls.  But the difference might be partly explained by the fact that ICM appear to have too many Leave voters in their sample - 49% of respondents recalled voting Leave, and only 40% recalled voting Remain.  The poll is correctly weighted to recalled voting from the 2015 general election, but I'd have thought EU referendum vote is just as important a predictor of how people might act now.

*  *  *

For some unknown reason, I'm on the Tory mailing list, and today I received an email from Theresa May informing me (as a presumed Tory supporter) that if she loses just six seats, Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister.  That is absolute and complete rubbish - she's knowingly lying to her own supporters.  It's true that Corbyn could theoretically become Prime Minister without Labour becoming the largest party, but at an absolute minimum he would need the combined forces of Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the SDLP to outnumber the Tories (and in reality it would probably take more than that, because I doubt if the Lib Dems would back him).  That would require the Tories to lose significantly more than six seats.

*  *  *

LAST CALL TO REGISTER TO VOTE : Please check your broom cupboards and attics for anyone who may not have registered to vote - they now have only a few hours left to do so. It's really quick and easy to do it, but if they miss the deadline they'll be powerless to stop the Tories in June. The estimates for the number of people who still haven't registered are absolutely terrifying, and they are disproportionately people who would be likely to vote against a Tory government. If you find someone who needs to register, send them to this link, and they'll be sorted in a matter of minutes.

Tyrannical Theresa's wobbly weekend concludes with another sensational poll showing the Tory lead collapsing

OK, here we go.

*puts on Canadian accent*

It's another terrrrr-ible night for the Conservatives.

Survation telephone poll of GB-wide voting intentions :

Conservatives 43% (-5)
Labour 34% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (n/c)
UKIP 4% (n/c)
SNP 3% (-1)
Greens 2% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)

The SNP's 3% share is a little better than it looks - they were very close to being rounded up to 4% rather than rounded down to 3%.  In the Scottish subsample, they have a decent-enough lead over the Tories of 41% to 26%.  In terms of the gap, that's actually pretty similar to last week's subsample, which had the SNP ahead by 47% to 31%.  Remember that Survation's subsamples are particularly tiny (only 65 respondents in this case after the turnout filter was applied), so we can expect huge variations from week to week which will often be completely random and meaningless.

So we now have three GB-wide polls conducted since the public had a chance to digest the controversial pledges in the Tory manifesto.  The message from two of the three is absolutely unambiguous - there has been a telling swing from Tory to Labour which has brought the Tory lead down to its lowest level of the campaign.  The fact that one of those two polls was conducted online and the other by telephone makes it seem even more likely that a genuine shift in opinion has been detected. The picture is admittedly complicated by the fact that the third poll (the online Survation poll) technically showed an increase in the Tory lead from 11 points to 12.  However, the previous 11 point lead was several weeks ago, and even at the time stuck out like a sort thumb as a potential rogue poll.  In truth, a 12 point lead is on the low side for this campaign, and is well within the margin of error of the 9 points leads.  It's therefore perfectly consistent with the notion that the gap has probably narrowed significantly in recent days.

The big question is whether it will stay narrowed.  What's happening at the moment reminds me very much of the period in the independence referendum when the No-friendly pollsters (TNS, YouGov and Ipsos-Mori) very suddenly showed the No lead dropping sharply.  We reached a crossroads where one of two things was about to happen - either the momentum would prove irresistible and carry Yes to victory (or to a very narrow defeat), or people would for the first time consider the possibility that Yes might win, get very scared, and draw back from the brink.  As we all know, it turned out to be the latter, helped along by an unprecedented 'shock and awe' campaign from the London-based broadcast media.  I do wonder if the same thing might happen now.  Even though the chances of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister in a hung parliament are still extremely modest, people may start taking them a little more seriously, which will make all the old scare stories somewhat more potent once again.  If so, this weekend may actually help the Tories rather than harm them.  Let's hope not.

We know we'll get at least one more poll tomorrow (Monday), and that'll be a Wales-only poll from YouGov.  Professor Roger Scully has already revealed that it's going to show something pretty remarkable, and I don't think he's the sort to lead us up the garden path.  As the previous two polls in the series have shown Conservative leads, I think to qualify as remarkable the new poll would have to show either a big swing back to Labour, or an absolutely enormous Tory lead.  As the latter would be totally against the prevailing GB-wide trend, my strong guess is that we'll see more evidence of a Tory collapse, and Labour reclaiming their familiar position of dominance in Wales.  But I may be completely wrong - time will tell.

LAST CALL TO REGISTER TO VOTE : Please check your broom cupboards and attics for anyone who may not have registered to vote - they now have less than 24 hours to do so.  It's really quick and easy to do it, but if they miss the deadline they'll be powerless to stop the Tories in June.  The estimates for the number of people who still haven't registered are absolutely terrifying, and they are disproportionately people who would be likely to vote against a Tory government.  If you find someone who needs to register, send them to this link, and they'll be sorted in a matter of minutes.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Finally the election explodes into life as YouGov poll moves the race closer to hung parliament territory

Whenever you see a Britain-wide poll showing a huge Tory lead (which has basically been every single poll in this campaign so far), it's worth bearing in mind that Jeremy Corbyn's theoretical objective is not to overturn that lead, but simply to bring it down to a level that might conceivably translate into a hung parliament rather than an overall Tory majority.  That's still a mind-bogglingly tough hurdle for him, but it does put a slightly different perspective on things, because depending on the distribution of votes even a 6 or 7 point Tory lead might not be quite enough for a majority.
Earlier today there were two polls which showed modest declines in the Tory lead, but which still left Theresa May with a very comfortable 12 or 13 point cushion.  However, both of those polls were largely conducted before people became acquainted with the controversial Tory manifesto, and the million dollar question was what impact that would have.  Expectations genuinely differed - some commentators thought working-class voters would be taken in by the faux 'redistributive' aspects of the manifesto, while others thought the Tories were taking a big risk with their core vote.  Judging by the newly-released post-manifesto poll from YouGov, the latter analysis may have been closer to the mark.

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 44% (-1)
Labour 35% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-3)

For the first time in the campaign, then, we have a poll that makes it look just about plausible that we could end up with a hung parliament - the Tory lead would only have to slip two or three points more.  I still think that's highly unlikely - if anything, it's more probable that this is just a blip and the gap will widen again as polling day approaches.  But it's certainly electric shock treatment for a campaign that until now has been the dullest since at least 2001.

For reasons only they can explain, YouGov never reveal the SNP's vote share until the following morning, but judging from the percentage changes of the other parties there's no obvious reason to suppose the SNP have slipped back.  [Update : The SNP and Plaid are unchanged on 5%, and the SNP lead the Tories in the Scottish subsample by 44% to 28%.]

UPDATE : Hot on the heels of YouGov comes a post-manifesto Survation poll which goes some way towards confirming that there has been a telling swing from Tory to Labour, but which still leaves Corbyn with a bigger deficit than he has in the YouGov poll.

GB-wide voting intentions (Survation) :

Conservatives 46%
Labour 34%
Liberal Democrats 8%
SNP 4%

A more realistic hope than a hung parliament is that the Tory surge we saw at the start of the campaign may have now gone into reverse, and that we'll see the effects of that in Scotland as well as south of the border.  If so, the SNP lead over the Tories might just start to inch up, and some of the Tories' longer-shot constituency targets might begin to look out of reach.

UPDATE II : I've removed the percentage changes from the Survation numbers above, because they were comparing apples with oranges - this is an online poll, and Survation's other recent polls (for Good Morning Britain) have been conducted by telephone.

Never forget that more than 42% of Moray voters backed independence in 2014

Matt Singh of Number Cruncher Politics has drawn attention to the fact that the SNP (at least according to the latest YouGov poll) have lost most of the anti-independence people who used to vote for them, and that the Tories now have roughly 50% of both Leave voters and No voters.  He reckons this points to "big swings in NE + Moray".

Common sense will already have told you there's a danger that the SNP-to-Tory swing in areas like Moray and Aberdeenshire will be significantly bigger than the national average, because those are the places where large numbers of people have traditionally floated between SNP and Tory/Lib Dem, rather than between SNP and Labour.  That does leave several SNP seats looking very vulnerable.  However, there's also an "up to a point, Lord Copper" element in this - you really do have to go back to basics and remind yourself that both Moray and Aberdeenshire actually voted to remain in the European Union, and both had significant minorities that voted Yes in September 2014.

It's true that Moray had the highest Leave vote in Scotland last year, but even if three-quarters of those voters break for the Tories, that would only take the party to roughly 37.5% of the electorate (leaving aside for a moment the complicating factor of turnout).  OK, the Tories will also attract a percentage of Remain voters, but the vast majority of 'Tory Remainers' will have voted No in 2014 - and three-quarters of the constituency's No voters would still only take the party to roughly 43.2%.  It's not hard to see why Angus Robertson is likely to at least be competitive in a constituency which had a 42.4% Yes vote and a 50.1% Remain vote, especially once you factor in his personal following and a potential "leader's bonus".

There was an almost 40% Yes vote in Aberdeenshire, so again, it scarcely stretches credulity to believe that the SNP may be able to hold on there in first-past-the-post contests.  Having said that, Aberdeenshire is a vast and varied local authority, and West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine looks to be tougher terrain than Gordon or Banff & Buchan.

Perhaps the more important question here is what the loss of anti-independence voters means for the SNP's strategy.  Do they conclude that those people have basically gone for good, and instead concentrate on firing up the Yes vote, and perhaps winning over the 25% of current Labour voters who are pro-independence?  Do they look at the unionist parties' success at using the fear of independence to dramatically reduce the number of No voters who vote SNP, and conclude that talking up the independence issue is the obvious way to deter Yes voters from backing unionist parties, especially Labour?  At the moment, the SNP's answer to both of those questions appears to be a firm "no".  They've instead gone back to the 2015 strategy of not scaring the horses on independence, which presumably indicates that they believe they can win some No voters back, even in the face of the unprecedented paranoia about independence being whipped up by the unionist parties.  I do have a slight doubt in my mind as to whether that's the correct call, but thankfully this is all way above my pay grade, so I'll just wait and see how it plays out.

*  *  *

Public Service Announcement : As a matter of urgency, please ask everyone you know if they're registered to vote.  If they're not, they can register by following this link, and it only takes a few minutes.  The deadline is Monday evening.

Friday, May 19, 2017

YouGov poll : Labour's current voters are less hostile to independence than the class of 2015

Since my last post I've had a chance to look at the YouGov datasets, and I was particularly interested in seeing what has happened to SNP voters from 2015.  It's important to stress there has been movement in both directions - 10% of people who voted Labour two years ago are now planning to vote SNP, as are 7% of people who voted Liberal Democrat, and even 1% of people who voted Tory.  But obviously that is more than offset by the people who have moved from the SNP to a unionist party. 

It shouldn't be any great surprise that 10% of the SNP's support has moved direct to the Tories - there are bound to be voters, especially in rural areas, who used to vote SNP for reasons that had nothing to do with the constitution, and who now feel that a stridently pro-Brexit/anti-independence party better reflects their views.  More interesting, though, are the 8% of SNP voters who have switched back to Labour.  Because the SNP's vote was twice as big as Labour's in 2015, that means (if the poll is accurate) there has actually been net movement from the SNP to Labour, in spite of the fact that Labour's overall vote has continued to fall.  I'm not convinced that finding can be explained by people having a change of heart on independence, because Labour's current coalition of support is considerably less anti-independence in character than its 2015 coalition was.  25% of people who currently plan to vote Labour would vote Yes to independence, compared to just 13% of people who voted Labour in 2015.  So it looks very much like there is a significant number of people out there who are pro-independence, and who have actually voted SNP at least once in the recent past, but who are nevertheless planning for some inexplicable reason to vote for the sinking ship that is Labour.  If the SNP are looking to recover some lost ground, that group may be the most obvious low-hanging fruit.

It's smaller beer, but we can also take some heart from the fact that 2% of SNP voters from 2015 say they plan to vote Green.  With no Green candidate to vote for in the vast majority of constituencies, it's not unreasonable to suspect that most of those votes will be heading back to the SNP - which could be enough to boost the overall SNP vote share by 1%.

SNP vote increases in "heartening" full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov

After an insanely long wait of several weeks, we finally have the fourth bona fide full-scale Scottish poll of this campaign, and it comes from YouGov.

Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election :

SNP 42% (+1)
Conservatives 29% (+1)
Labour 19% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

I can't find any sign of the fieldwork dates yet, but judging from the number of people who mentioned being interviewed by YouGov a couple of days ago, it's probably safe to assume that the poll is close to being bang up-to-date.

So what can we take from the numbers?  They're not necessarily inconsistent with the impression of recent days (derived from anecdotal evidence and from the Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls) that the SNP have bounced back somewhat after a ropey spell earlier in the campaign.  Obviously a 1% increase is underwhelming and not statistically significant in itself, but the standard 3% margin of error is perfectly capable of disguising a bigger jump.  We'll just have to await further polls for more information.  In the meantime, we can take great heart from learning that the first poll conducted after 4th May has completely failed to detect any sign that the Tories generated significant additional momentum from the local election results, and ate deeper into the SNP's lead.  There was always an obvious danger that they'd manage to do that, and the fact that they seemingly haven't may lead us to wonder whether we've now more or less reached Peak Tory - ie. the absolute limit of potential Tory support, from where they can only stand still or go backwards.  Put it this way - if the Tories can't poll higher than this when they're pushing 50% in some UK polls, when will they ever?

It's worth remembering that of the three polling firms that produced Scottish polls earlier in the campaign, YouGov reported the lowest SNP share.  That may have just happened by chance, or there may be a 'house effect' at play.  If it's the latter, it's possible that the next polls from other firms will put the SNP as high as 44% or 45%.  The bad news, though, is that Panelbase also reported a much higher Tory vote than YouGov did, so there's no particular reason to suppose that YouGov are underestimating the SNP's lead over the Tories - which ultimately is the most important thing in a first-past-the-post election.

Which leads me on to the big nagging worry - differential turnout.  If the SNP's real lead on the ground is somewhere between 10% and 15%, there's a risk that will translate into a sub-10 lead on polling day (exactly as happened in the local elections), due to the party's main opponents being strongest among the demographic groups that are most likely to turn out to vote.  We're going to need a Rolls Royce get-out-the-vote effort simply to achieve a result that properly reflects the state of public opinion.  But the more positive way of looking at it is that it's all in our own hands - the prize of 45 seats or more (an overwhelming landslide by any standards) is there for the grabbing.

The indispensable first step in that process is to make sure that potential SNP voters are actually able to vote, and time is running out in that respect.  If you know anyone (perhaps a young person) who you suspect is not on the electoral roll, don't delay in making an intervention - they can very quickly register by following this link.  But they have to do it by Monday evening, or they'll be powerless to stop the Tories in June.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

SNP lead by more than 16% in latest subsample average

The run of exceptionally good subsample results for the SNP was finally broken today when Ipsos-Mori actually put the Tories ahead of the SNP.  That hasn't happened previously in this campaign, but it's a somewhat artificial finding because the SNP were slightly ahead (and on a very healthy 45% of the vote) before the turnout filter was applied.  As ever, individual subsamples are prone to huge error and should be treated with extreme caution, but an aggregate of several subsamples might conceivably tell you something interesting.  Here is what the average of results over the last seven days shows...


SNP 46.6% (+0.2)
Conservatives 30.1% (+2.1)
Labour 14.9% (+0.3)
Liberal Democrats 4.3% (-2.2)

I had a bit of a dilemma with this update, because Kantar/TNS provide partial information about their Scottish subsample, but don't reveal what the turnout-weighted figures are.  I decided to take the view that you just have to go with the information that's actually available, so this update is based on subsamples from seven polls - two from YouGov, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from Kantar/TNS, one from Survation, one from Panelbase and one from ICM.  The GfK subsample published today (which shows an enormous lead for the SNP) is excluded because the fieldwork began more than seven days ago.

A few people mentioned being interviewed by YouGov the other day for what seemed to be a Scotland-specific poll, so if it's intended for public consumption, we may not have to read the runes from subsamples for much longer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Drama as Lib Dem manifesto implicitly concedes the case for an independence referendum

This is a direct quote from the Liberal Democrat manifesto published today -

"Keeping the UK in the EU will remove the basis for the SNP’s divisive proposed referendum on independence."

With the exception of the word "divisive", I don't think anyone in the SNP would disagree with that.  The one and only reason another independence referendum has been proposed relatively soon after the last one is that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against its will.  In the highly unlikely event that the United Kingdom never leaves the EU, the grounds for holding a referendum in the near future will no longer exist.

But of course the reverse is also true.  If keeping the UK in the EU removes the basis for a referendum, failing to keep the UK in the EU will by definition ensure that the basis for a referendum remains intact.  The Liberal Democrats should be congratulated for implicitly (and probably accidentally) conceding that vitally important democratic point.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Latest subsample average suggests SNP have a huge 18% lead over the Tories

We may simply have had a run of good results by complete chance, but it has to be said that the last week of Scottish subsamples has made for considerably pleasanter reading as far as the SNP are concerned.  There hasn't been even a single one in which they've slipped below the 40% mark, which certainly wasn't the case earlier in the campaign.  Their best showing was 56% in a Panelbase subsample released today, and there have also been four others in the high 40s.  The obvious hope is that the media hype over the Tory gains in the local elections has backfired, and that anti-Tory voters are now coalescing behind the SNP.

The following subsample average is based on eight polls - two YouGov, one Survation, one ComRes, one ICM, one Opinium, one ORB and one Panelbase.


SNP 46.4% (+3.6)
Conservatives 28.0% (-2.3)
Labour 14.6% (-0.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.5% (-1.0)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Subsample average fails to find any post-locals momentum for the Scottish Tories

Well, the "remarkable" poll in the Sunday Times did turn out to be an anti-climax, not for either of the reasons I speculated last night, but simply because it was a poll that had already been published and that we already knew about!  It was a GB-wide Ashcroft poll, but the Sunday Times are reading huge significance into the results of the Scottish subsample, because "far more" Scottish respondents were interviewed than for a standard full-scale Scottish poll.  That gives the entirely misleading impression that the results are more accurate than a full-scale Scottish poll, whereas in fact a properly weighted poll of 1000 people should be more accurate than an unweighted subsample of 3,500.  In any case, even a weighted poll of 3,500 wouldn't be dramatically more accurate than a poll of 1000.

Even if you take them seriously, the Ashcroft numbers are already a couple of weeks out of date (they precede the local elections) and don't show anything radically different from what we've seen in the campaign so far.  The SNP's lead is 11% - exactly the same as in the full-scale Panelbase poll.

So we still await the first Scottish poll since the local elections, and in the meantime all we can do is look at an average of the very small number of Scottish subsamples conducted over the last seven days, which suggests there hasn't been any further momentum for the Tories.


SNP 42.8% (-2.2)
Conservatives 30.3% (-1.2)
Labour 15.0% (-0.8)
Liberal Democrats 7.5% (+2.7)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

"Remarkable" Scottish poll incoming?

Probably the less said about my Eurovision prediction the better, although I've got a few crumbs of comfort to cling to - I was correct about Bulgaria finishing second, I was right about Moldova doing better than the betting suggested (although I still underestimated how well they would do), and all of the songs I had in the top five finished in the top six.  However, I've been completely wrong about Belgium the whole way through, and I significantly overestimated Italy and underestimated Portugal.  I was right about the UK doing much worse in the public vote than with the juries, but that wasn't exactly a tough prediction.

I'm delighted that a song performed entirely in a language other than English has won for the first time since 2007 (last year's winner was partly in Crimean Tatar but also had English segments).  Mysteriously, Julia Hartley-Brewer said it was "a victory for the English language", so if anyone has the slightest clue what she might mean by that, be sure to let her know.

Turning back to the general election, there is apparently a "remarkable" Scottish poll in the Sunday Times, but I can't find any trace of the results online yet, and with it being almost 2am presumably we're going to have to wait a few more hours for whoever drew the short straw to #buyapaper.  I would imagine "remarkable" is most likely to be code for "good for the Tories", but let's not jump to conclusions - I suppose it could also mean a record low for Labour or something like that.  But even if our worst fears are confirmed, we should treat the poll with a measure of caution - it's likely to be from Panelbase, who have already produced the Scottish Tories' best showing in this campaign so far.  It's just possible there's a house effect at play.  We could really do with a much wider range of full-scale Scottish polls than we've had, but of course after the polling disasters of the last two years, newspapers are much more reluctant to spend money on polls that have no guarantee of accuracy.

(There's also the possibility that this will be an anti-climax and it won't even be a voting intention poll at all.)

UPDATE : As has been pointed out in the comments section below, there is a Britain-wide YouGov poll in the London edition of the Sunday Times, which could be classed as "remarkable" due to the strength of the Tory vote and the collapse of the UKIP vote.  It's possible that's what Jason Allardyce was referring to in his tweet, in which case we'll all be able to breathe a sigh of relief.  I had just assumed he was talking about a poll in the Scottish edition of the paper, which he edits.  Doubtless the mists will clear soon enough.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Eurovision 2017 : Prediction for Saturday's grand final

When I thought ahead to making this prediction a few weeks ago, I imagined it would be the routine task of explaining why I was going along with the conventional wisdom by backing the overwhelming favourites Italy.  So it's a tad disconcerting to reach the day of the grand final and find that Italy are no longer the overwhelming favourites - in fact for a short period yesterday and today, they were no longer favourites at all, although they've now marginally overtaken Portugal again.  I do rate the Portuguese song (in fact I voted for it in Tuesday's semi), but I'm puzzled by the amount of people who see it as an outright winner.  An unusual back-story will only take a song so far in the public vote, and in theory the juries should be totally unmoved by that sort of thing.  There's always just the slight concern that the surge in the betting may be influenced by inside knowledge of how voting went in the semi, but I'm going to discount that theory and stick with my gut feeling - that Portugal is more of a natural third or fourth place, rather than a natural winner.

If it's not going to be Portugal, it surely has to be Italy.  Apart from being possibly the best song in the contest on its own merits, it's also got no fewer than three irresistible gimmicks in the shape of the "ale!" chant, the gorilla, and the silly dance moves.  One or two irresistible gimmicks have more than sufficed for previous Eurovision winners, so I strongly suspect Italy will at least win the public vote.  If so, the million dollar question is what the juries will do - and there is a genuine warning here from the Sanremo Festival (which doubled as the Italian national selection), where the song failed to win the jury vote by quite some distance, and indeed was only barely in second place.  So it's possible Italy may have to come from behind in the second stage of voting (as Ukraine did last year), but even if that's the case, I think they'll have just about enough public support to seal the win.

I've had a sneaking suspicion for a while that the betting may be underestimating Sweden somewhat - it's possible they may even outpoll Bulgaria on the public vote, although presumably the juries will favour the worthier Bulgarian entry.  I'm still baffled by the expectations that Belgium could be in the top five - it's a great song, but it's very low-key, and I thought the live performance in the semi was distinctly ropey.

Winners : ITALY (Occidentali's Karma - Francesco Gabbani)
2nd : BULGARIA (Beautiful Mess - Kristian Kostov)
3rd : SWEDEN (I Can't Go On - Robin Bengtsson)
4th : PORTUGAL (Amar Pelos Dois - Salvador Sobral)
5th : MOLDOVA (Hey, Mamma! - Sunstroke Project)

Possible dark horses : Croatia, UK

There's been an authentic buzz about the UK in a way there hasn't been for many a year, but I think the fears of political voting are more than just paranoia, especially this year of all years.  My guess is there'll be a respectable result on the jury vote, and then a rude awakening when the public vote is revealed.

List of links to SNP crowdfunders in battleground seats

As you probably know, many individual SNP candidates are running crowdfunders for the forthcoming general election.  All of them are well worth supporting, but it's fair to say you'll get the best bang for your buck if you particularly donate to candidates in constituencies which the SNP are not guaranteed to win.  So as a public service, here is a list of links to SNP crowdfunders in constituencies which the party did not win in 2015, or where there is some sort of evidence (sometimes strong, sometimes questionable) that there may be a chance of another party winning this time around.

JOANNA CHERRY, Edinburgh South-West
CALLUM McCAIG, Aberdeen South
JOHN NICOLSON, East Dunbartonshire
STUART DONALDSON, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
RICHARD ARKLESS, Dumfries and Galloway
TONI GIUGLIANO, Edinburgh West
EILIDH WHITEFORD, Banff and Buchan
JIM EADIE, Edinburgh South
TASMINA AHMED-SHEIKH, Ochil and South Perthshire
PHIL BOSWELL, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
ROGER MULLIN, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath
BRENDAN O'HARA, Argyll and Bute
CHRIS STEPHENS, Glasgow South-West
ANGELA CRAWLEY, Lanark and Hamilton East
KIRSTEN OSWALD, East Renfrewshire
CALUM KERR, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
MIRIAM BRETT, Orkney and Shetland
MÀIRI McALLAN, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
CORRI WILSON, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Eurovision 2017 : Prediction for Thursday's second semi-final

I'm a bit short of time, so this one will have to be a bare-bones prediction.  The ten countries I think will qualify tonight are...

FYR Macedonia

Ruth rues the day as Google survey suggests a small swing back to the SNP

Although the methodology for the new breed of Google voting intention surveys is dubious, comparisons between one survey and the next may at least be of some assistance in keeping track of the trend as the election campaign progresses.  Today's survey shows a swing back to the SNP - not big enough to be statistically significant, but there's certainly no sign of a Tory surge.  The snag, though, is that I can't find the fieldwork dates - if we don't know whether the survey preceded or followed the local elections, it's difficult to make much sense of the numbers.

Google survey of Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Don't Knows NOT excluded) :

SNP 40.7% (+1.8)
Conservatives 24.4% (-0.2)
Labour 16.8% (-1.0)
Greens 7.0% (-1.4)
Liberal Democrats 5.3% (-0.9)

One of the oddities of these surveys is that, unlike almost all voting intention polls, the headline figures don't exclude Don't Knows.  However, it's easy enough to do a rough calculation to strip out the Don't Knows, which takes us to...

SNP 43.2%
Conservatives 25.9%
Labour 17.8%
Greens 7.4%
Liberal Democrats 5.6%

A 17% SNP lead is the biggest of the campaign so far - and remember, the Greens' 7.4% share is pretty meaningless given that they aren't standing in the vast majority of constituencies.  It can't be automatically assumed that most of their vote is really destined for the SNP, but a decent chunk of it certainly is, and hardly any of it is destined for the Tories.  So, if this survey can be taken seriously, the SNP's lead is somewhat bigger than 17%.

More details and analysis to follow...

Boost for SNP as post-locals YouGov subsample fails to find a Scottish Tory surge

As we've discussed many times, Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls are of only very limited use, but I always think that one time it's worth keeping a beady eye on them is immediately after a potentially 'disruptive' event, because they'll often be the first warning sign that public opinion has changed.  From that point of view, it's an enormous relief (particularly in the light of yesterday's Panelbase numbers) to find that the first YouGov subsample conducted since the local election outcome was fully digested shows an entirely familiar picture : SNP 46%, Conservatives 26%.  If anything, that's a little better for the SNP than most recent subsamples.

The potential error in an individual subsample is so enormous that this doesn't rule out the possibility of a post-locals Tory surge.  But the fact that we've got such a typical result does at least make it somewhat less likely that there's been a transformative shift.

Subsample average puts SNP on 45%

You may have heard a rumour today that Panelbase's latest Scottish subsample puts the Conservatives in the lead, but that's not actually true.  On the headline figures excluding Don't Knows, the SNP and the Tories are tied at 42% apiece. That's sobering enough, but to put things in perspective, a Survation telephone subsample yesterday put the SNP ahead of the Tories by more than 30 points.  Even if they were properly weighted (which they're not), individual subsamples have such a huge margin of error that both of those results are perfectly consistent with what we've seen in the full-scale Scottish polls during this campaign, ie. an SNP lead over the Tories of between 11% and 15%.  The slight cause for concern, though, is that Panelbase's fieldwork finished much later, and there's a theoretical possibility that it was picking up genuine momentum for the Scottish Tories brought about by the reporting (or misreporting) of the local elections.  All we can do is wait and see.  The next straw in the wind will be a YouGov subsample released in the morning.  In the meantime, here is what an average of subsamples over the last seven days looks like...


SNP 45.0% (+2.2)
Conservatives 31.5% (+2.2)
Labour 15.8% (-0.7)
Liberal Democrats 4.8% (-2.2)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Housekeeping Note

If you leave a comment on this blog, please ensure that you don't use extreme or excessive swearing.  Please also refrain from making defamatory comments (even as a joke) against any individual, regardless of their political background.

Locating and deleting offensive comments is a very time-consuming process, especially when I'm on my mobile phone, and yet I'm having to do it more and more.  Please don't force me into a situation where the only way to keep things manageable is to switch comments off completely.

Eurovision 2017 : Prediction for Tuesday's first semi-final

Well, I always hate to break a sequence, so for the tenth year in a row (gulp) here is the annual ritual of the Scot Goes Pop Eurovision prediction.  The ten countries I think will qualify from tonight's first semi-final are...


Of the main favourites, the one I've left out is Belgium.  That'll probably come back to haunt me (it usually does when I leave out a favourite), but I've been slightly baffled from the start as to why it's so strongly tipped.  It's a decent song, but it's very low-key, and it looks like the rehearsals haven't been a rip-roaring success.

If you're looking for a small bet, you could do worse than Montenegro - not because I think it's likely to qualify, but simply because the odds are crazy.  It probably has around a 20-25% chance, not the 10% chance the odds would imply.  So it ought to be a value bet.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Popular vote totals revealed : the over-hyped Scottish Tories took just a QUARTER of the vote

So, three days later than we might have hoped, we finally have the popular vote figures for the Scottish local elections.  Both of the predictions I made a few hours ago were slightly off - the Tories were in the mid-20s rather than the low-20s, and the SNP's vote was unchanged since 2012 rather than slightly up.  (Although of course the latter point also means that John Rentoul has egg on his face after telling anyone who would listen on Saturday that it was an established fact that the SNP's vote share had fallen.)

Scottish local election results :

SNP 32.3% (n/c)
Conservatives 25.3% (+12.0)
Labour 20.2% (-11.2)
Liberal Democrats 6.8% (+0.2)
Greens 4.1% (+1.8)

It should be noted that the comparison with 2012 isn't totally exact because this time a handful of councillors were elected unopposed.  So strictly speaking this wasn't a completely nationwide election, although the difference that makes is only trivial.

Both the SNP and the Tories underperformed in comparison to their recent showing in opinion polls, but the divergence is much greater in the case of the SNP.  That could mean the polls have been overstating the SNP all along, but personally I think this result has got 'differential turnout' written all over it.  The Tories, and to a lesser extent Labour and the Lib Dems, worked their supporters up to fever-pitch over the issue of an independence referendum, while the SNP remained in a different universe fighting a very traditional, 'worthy' local election campaign that was never likely to excite their core support in the same way.  It appears as a result unionist voters were significantly more likely than pro-independence voters to make the trek to the polls - which is a problem that can be successfully addressed over the coming weeks.

That's not to say there's no danger at all of this result recurring in June.  The SNP had an in-built disadvantage last week (albeit one that was partly of their own making), but it goes without saying that they also face an in-built disadvantage in any Westminster election because of the skew towards media coverage of the London parties.  They are fortunate in the sense that Labour aren't regarded as a credible government-in-waiting, so on this occasion the SNP are less likely than usual to be crowded out by a binary Tory v Labour choice.  Nevertheless, the challenges ahead are considerable, and another safety-first campaign may not be a great idea.

One interesting aspect of the result is that both the SNP and Labour ended up with a proportion of seats that slightly exceeded their vote share, while for the Tories the reverse was true.  That may have just happened by complete chance because of the way votes were distributed, but it also may be that the Tories remain a toxic party and are significantly less likely than others to pick up lower preferences.  I'm sure someone will trawl through the results to shed some light on that question.

The untold story of this contest is Labour's relative resilience - they've done somewhat better than their consistent sub-20 showings in recent opinion polls, and ran the SNP closer than expected in several councils.  Aside from differential turnout, I'm wondering if that may simply be because of their historic strength in local government, and the large number of familiar names they were able to put on the ballot paper.  Even after everything that's happened over the last few years, the act of voting Labour is still a bit like slipping on an old coat for some people.

Take a bow, SNP voters of Irvine Valley - you voted till you boaked, and stopped the Tories

I know that some people are looking for reassurance that the "vote till you boak" message didn't go totally unheeded on Thursday.  So allow me to present to you Exhibit A - the Irvine Valley ward in East Ayrshire, which has become famous for its new 'Rubbish Party' councillor, but which should really be better known for its shrewd use of lower preferences to prevent a Tory from being elected.  This was the result on first preferences -

SNP 1128
Conservatives 920
Rubbish 784
Labour 775
SNP 551
Others 468

You wouldn't have been terribly optimistic about the chances of stopping the candidate in second place from being elected in a three-seat ward, but that's exactly what happened.  The decisive moment was the elimination of the less popular SNP candidate after five counts.  With the top-placed SNP candidate having already reached the quota and been declared elected, there were now only three candidates left in contention for the two remaining seats, and so whoever found themselves in third place on the sixth count was going to draw the short straw.  The Tory looked safe-ish, with a lead of 75 votes over the Rubbish Party, and 84 over Labour.  But then 112 of the votes from the eliminated SNP candidate transferred to Labour, 147 transferred to the Rubbish Party, and only 25 went to the Tory.  That meant the Tory was brutally leapfrogged by the other two candidates simultaneously - but only just.

Sixth count (votes rounded to nearest whole number) :

Rubbish 1036
Labour 992
Conservatives 989

Councillors elected : 1 SNP, 1 Rubbish, 1 Labour

So the equation here was really simple and stark - if all SNP voters had only ranked the two SNP candidates, they would have ended up with a Tory councillor.  But because a significant number of them used their lower preferences, they got a Labour councillor instead.  Maybe not something to dance in the streets about, but I think most of us would regard a Labour councillor as the lesser of two evils in the current circumstances.  The flip-side of the coin, though, is that the majority of SNP voters did not use enough of their lower preferences, which made the Labour-Tory battle for the final seat much closer (3 votes!) than it needed to be.

*  *  *

We still don't have the nationwide popular vote totals, but a lot of the gaps have been filled over the last 24 hours.  In most councils that I've been able to find figures for, the SNP vote share was up.  That's been offset by sharp declines in a limited number of SNP/Tory battleground areas (such as Moray and Angus), but given that those are not the most populous councils, I'm struggling to see how the national SNP vote share isn't going to be up at least slightly.  I may end up eating my words, but that's how it looks at the moment.

I'm more confident in saying that the Tories' vote is only going to be in the low 20s.  The increase in their vote in some councils looks reasonably impressive until you recall that it's being measured from a pathetic 13% national vote at the last local elections in 2012.  When the exact percentage figure is finally revealed, there are going to be some red faces among the media organisations who indulged in wishful thinking over a Tory performance that in reality is almost certainly well short of the high 20s/low 30s recorded in recent opinion polls.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Setback for Tyrannical Theresa as shock YouGov poll reveals the extent of tactical voting against the Scottish Tories

With all the excitement surrounding the local elections, it appears I overlooked more results from a Scottish-only poll conducted by YouGov towards the end of April.  Two results stand out.  A total of 36% of respondents say they would at least prefer to vote for a pro-independence party at the general election, and a total of 42% say they would at least prefer to vote for an anti-independence party - which, intriguingly, is a slightly narrower gap than on the headline question about independence.

Even more importantly, the poll suggests that anti-Tory tactical voting could be practically as big a phenomenon in June as anti-SNP tactical voting.  14% of respondents say they will switch tactically to the candidate best-placed to beat the Tories if their own preferred party cannot win in their constituency, while 17% say they will switch to the candidate best-placed to beat the SNP.  The difference between those two numbers is within the margin of error.

The snag for the unionist camp is that the Tories are the main challengers in most seats where the SNP are thought to be vulnerable, so it could well be that the two types of tactical voting will more or less cancel each other out in those seats.  The much-heralded unionist Brucie Bonus may not materialise at all.  Logically, it will be a different story if Labour or the Lib Dems are the main challengers in a constituency, but that's where local election results like the one in East Renfrewshire become a bit problematical...

East Renfrewshire local election result :

Conservatives 38.3% (+8.6) : 15,588 votes
SNP 24.3% (+4.5) : 9,886 votes 
Labour 17.4% (-13.7) : 7,073 votes
Liberal Democrats 2.2% (-1.2) : 907 votes
Greens 1.4% (+0.6) : 571 votes

Total valid votes : 40,699

For the next month, Blair McDougall will be traipsing around East Renfrewshire telling anyone who will listen : "Only I can beat the SNP.  Unite behind my Labour campaign to defeat the SNP."  But if enough people have spotted that Labour are actually on course for third place, a fair few may start replying : "Sorry, Big McD, I normally vote Labour, but this time I'm going to vote for the sitting SNP MP Kirsten Oswald to keep the Tories out."

The final and most important piece of the jigsaw : what was the popular vote on Thursday?

I had a brief chat a few hours ago with Craig Murray, who feels that it's very strange that the BBC haven't published the nationwide popular vote for the Scottish local elections yet.  I said to him that it wasn't all that unusual based on past experience, and that in 2012 we had to wait ages - but as soon as I put the phone down I started to question what I had just said.  I think I may have been getting mixed up with what happened in 2003 and 2007, when the council elections took place on the same day as the Holyrood poll, and thus attracted much less media interest.  In 2012 I think we actually got the numbers a fair bit quicker.

Incredible though it may seem, I suppose it's possible that the reason the BBC haven't spilled the beans yet is that they genuinely don't know what the full numbers are.  It's conceivable that in the first instance they just keep track of who has been elected in each ward, and then wait for the councils themselves to publish the full results.  As far as I can see, not every council has done so yet (I can't find anything from the Western Isles, for example).

This matters enormously, because Fake Nooz is springing up all over the place in the absence of hard information.  Most disgracefully, the journalist John Rentoul repeatedly claimed it was an established fact that the SNP vote share had fallen - before finally admitting that he hadn't seen the vote totals and was just guessing.  His excuse was that STV is a proportional representation system, and on the basis of the BBC's notorious claim that the SNP had "notionally" lost seven seats, it was possible for him to conclude that the SNP's vote must also have fallen.  I can honestly say that is the most fatuous claim I have heard made about these elections so far (and the competition is stiff), for the following three reasons -

1) "Notional" election results are, by their very nature, only estimates.  Small errors are therefore almost inevitable, even if the methodology is basically sound (and there are often question marks over whether it is).  A 7-seat "notional" drop in the SNP's seat total is far, far too small for anyone - even the BBC - to be able to say with confidence that there definitely would have been a drop if the 2012 and 2017 elections had both taken place on the new boundaries.

2) STV is a proportional system, but it is not even intended to produce a result that is proportional to how people voted on first preferences alone.  Lower preferences are also taken into account if candidates are eliminated, or elected with surplus votes.  The allocation of seats in each ward will therefore often differ significantly from what the "popular vote" (ie. first preference votes) would lead you to expect.

3) Even leaving aside the issue of lower preferences, STV in the form we use in Scotland isn't all that proportional anyway.  There are too few councillors per ward to produce true proportionality across a local authority, let alone across the whole country.

Because of all those factors, it is perfectly possible that the SNP vote share has risen from the 32% achieved in 2012, in spite of the party's failure to secure a big increase in seats.  My reading of what Professor John Curtice said on the BBC results programme is that this is exactly what has happened.  While we're waiting for confirmation of that, I thought I'd try to tally up the popular vote from some individual councils, to at least give ourselves part of the picture.  I'll start with the really easy one - Glasgow, which is already available in full on Wikipedia.

Glasgow local election result :

SNP 41.0% (+8.4) : 70,239 votes
Labour 30.2% (-16.5) : 51,778 votes
Conservatives 14.6% (+8.7) : 25,018 votes
Greens 8.7% (+3.2) : 14,925 votes
Liberal Democrats 2.9% (n/c) : 5,013 votes 

*  *  *

Renfrewshire local election result :

SNP 37.6% (+2.3) : 23,467 votes
Labour 28.2% (-19.4) : 17,599 votes
Conservatives 21.0% (+11.9) : 13,124 votes
Liberal Democrats 4.1% (-0.3) : 2,580 votes
Greens 3.3% (n/a) : 2,030 votes

Total valid votes : 62,365

*  *  *

West Dunbartonshire local election result :

SNP 40.1% (+9.8)
Labour 33.6% (-13.0)
Conservatives 12.5% (+8.2)
Liberal Democrats 0.4% (n/a)
Greens 0.3% (n/a)

(Note : A minor party and independent candidates outpolled both the Lib Dems and Greens in West Dunbartonshire, but I'm just concentrating on the five main parties.)

*  *  *

My favourite tweet of the year so far, from Andy-SNP...

"Tory Facts:

1st man on moon - Buzz Aldrin
Winner 1966 World Cup - W Germany
Winner Tortoise & Hare - Hare
Scottish local elections - Tories"

And my second-favourite tweet of the year so far, from David Halliday...

"The 23% have spoken: no more referendums."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The vastly over-hyped Scottish Tory surge

Just a quick note to let you know that I have new article in The National, which takes a look at the SNP's local election victory, points out that the Tory comeback has its limitations, and asks whether the SNP may have suppressed its own turnout by focusing so relentlessly on local issues.  You can read the article HERE.

Friday, May 5, 2017

SNP soar to best ever result in local elections

As the BBC are busily misleading their viewers by claiming that the SNP have "lost seven seats since 2012", I thought it might be useful to post the real numbers.

Councillors won with changes since 2012 :

SNP 431 (+6)
Conservatives 276 (+161)
Labour 262 (-132)
Independents 172 (-28)
Liberal Democrats 67 (-4)
Greens 19 (+5)

The 2012 result was the SNP's best ever showing in a local election, so by exceeding that they have set a new record high.  Even taking into account the slight change in the overall number of seats, it's also a record high for the SNP in terms of the proportion of seats they've won.

The BBC's excuse for giving inaccurate figures is that they are using 'notional results' to provide a baseline - in other words, they are using rough estimates of what the 2012 result might have been if the new boundaries had been used.  In my view that is unsatisfactory.  The difference between a 7-seat drop and a 6-seat increase is a trivial one, but it does have a big psychological impact, and to give viewers such precise numbers based on educated guesswork seems wholly wrong.

One other obvious point I didn't hear anyone on the BBC programme making is that if Scotland had been using the English voting system (you know, the one that artificially produced the hundreds of "incredible" Conservative gains we heard so much about), we'd have been looking at an SNP landslide and much more sweeping gains.

All the same, the three unionist parties have in combination narrowly failed to win a majority of the council seats in Scotland.  It's likely that there are enough pro-union independent councillors out there to swing the balance - but it's also highly likely that those independent councillors were not elected on the basis of their constitutional views.  So the Peter Kellner propaganda line that this was some sort of vote against an independence referendum simply does not stack up.

In fairness, though, perhaps we should be raising our glasses to the propagandists in London, because the over-hyping of the Tory gains is going to send expectations of a Ruth Revolution sky-high.  If the SNP win three-quarters of the seats in June (which is still eminently possible), it's going to be hard for the media to plausibly switch narrative and argue that Nicola Sturgeon should be winning every single seat, and that anything short of that is all terribly unexpected.

Given the hoo-ha over the Tory surge, it's truly extraordinary just how close the Tories came to remaining stuck in third place in terms of seats - which would have been acutely embarrassing for them and would have enormously complicated their spin operation.  It'll take time to pick over the entrails of the results, but I'm wondering if anti-SNP lower preferences from Tory voters helped Labour win significantly more seats in SNP/Labour battleground areas than they otherwise would have done, and paradoxically almost kept Labour in overall second place.  That might also help explain why an increase in the SNP's popular vote was not replicated in the form of a significant increase in their number of councillors.

If it turns out that Labour have indeed proved a little more resilient than expected in their former heartlands on the back of Tory transfers, there may be reassurance at hand for the SNP as far as the general election is concerned.  With just one vote at every Tory supporter's disposal, it's unlikely that the zealous new converts will be lending their support back to Labour in sufficient numbers to make much of a difference.

I was mightily relieved that the SNP managed to become the largest single party in my home council of North Lanarkshire by the absolute skin of their teeth.  Labour and the Tories do still have the numbers in combination to freeze the SNP out of power, but will Labour take such an enormous gamble?  It's one thing for them to do deals with the Tories in places like Stirling, but in North Lanarkshire they would be crucified for it.

It's fascinating to see that the Tories were "only" 11% ahead of Labour on UK-wide projected vote share - much lower than the lead suggested by most recent opinion polls for the general election.  It's true that there are ample precedents to demonstrate that local election results can flatter the main opposition party, but nevertheless with Labour morale at rock bottom it wouldn't have been surprising to see carnage on a much bigger scale.  Opinion polls in Britain have very rarely overestimated the Tories, but it's an interesting possibility.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A video guide to the local election voting system - and how to use it to defeat the Tories (and other unionist parties)

It's crept on us, but tomorrow is local election day.  It'll be only the third time that the Single Transferable Vote system has been used in Scotland for nationwide elections.  Instead of marking a cross on the ballot paper, we'll be using numbers to rank the candidates in order of preference.  With the Scottish Tories seemingly on the march, it's now more important than ever that pro-indy voters use all or most of their preferences to rank every non-Tory candidate ahead of every Tory candidate - and, for that matter, to rank every non-unionist candidate ahead of every unionist candidate.  If you're still unsure about why that's the case, the following video guide may help - it's a collaboration between myself and the amazing Phantom Power, creator of the recent Journey to Yes series.  Feel free to pass it on to anyone who may find it useful.  The direct link to the video on YouTube is HERE.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Day! May Day! It's not May's Day, as Google survey reveals 57% of Scottish public prefer independence to Brexit

I'm not sure if the Record have abandoned Survation as their regular pollster, but for whatever reason they've commissioned Google to produce a Scottish political survey, which is apparently demographically representative (albeit on the basis of algorithm-derived 'inferences' rather than definite information).  However, it's not yet clear that it's been politically weighted in the way that would be standard for an online poll conducted by a BPC firm, so we should certainly be very cautious about the results.

What stands out is a question asking whether people would prefer independence within the EU, or to remain in the UK under a Tory government after Brexit.  The result is startlingly decisive -

Independence within EU : 56.7%
Brexit under the Tories : 43.3%

It's important to stress that this is not a "Yes lead", any more than yesterday's widely misreported Panelbase poll was.  There are undoubtedly people out there who would answer "no" to the straight question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" because of misplaced doubts over whether an independent Scotland could really remain in the EU, or over whether staying in the UK really means Tory rule for the foreseeable future.  But that's not to say that these findings are meaningless - they chart a course to how a Yes vote could conceivably be won, if the choice is framed correctly.

There are also voting intention numbers for the general election, which are initially quite hard to make sense of, because (in contrast to the practice in standard polls) the Don't Knows haven't been stripped out.

Westminster voting intentions :

SNP 38.9%
Conservatives 24.6%
Labour 17.8%
Greens 8.4%
Liberal Democrats 6.2%

A rough calculation suggests that the SNP would be on around 40.6% of the vote if Don't Knows were removed - essentially identical to their 41% showing in the recent YouGov poll.  However, the Tories would be on only 25.7% - making this their worst showing of the general election campaign so far.  The SNP's 15% lead over the Tories also equals the record in the Survation poll as the biggest lead of the campaign (compared to 13% with YouGov and 11% with Panelbase).  Far more important, though, is the implausibly high vote for the Greens.  If it can be assumed that a decent chunk of that vote is actually destined for the SNP, this poll is effectively implying a very, very healthy SNP lead.

All of this does of course depend on whether we can trust Google's methodology, and given that it's so untested, I'm not at all convinced that we can.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tyrannical Theresa takes a timely tumble in the weekend polls

As the late, great Professor Anthony King would have said in his inimitable Canadian accent, "it's another terrrr-ible night for the Conservatives".  When a GB-wide YouGov poll a couple of days ago saw the Tory lead fall sharply from 23% to 16%, there was always just a chance it was a meaningless blip caused by random sampling variation, but that possibility has been snuffed out tonight by a new YouGov poll showing a further fall.  The lead now stands at just 13% - meaning it has been almost halved over the course of just a week.

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 44% (-1)
Labour 31% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 11% (+1)
UKIP 6% (-1)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 4% (-1)

It's possible (perhaps likely) that there will be some kind of reversion to the mean in the next YouGov poll, but there can be no real doubt that at least some of the narrowing of the gap is genuine.  Other pollsters confirm it, with both ORB and Opinium agreeing that Labour have now broken back through the 30% barrier.

Britain-wide voting intentions (ORB) :

Conservatives 42% (-2)
Labour 31% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)
UKIP 8% (-2)
SNP 4% (-1)

Britain-wide voting intentions (Opinium) :

Conservatives 47% (+2)
Labour 30% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-3)
UKIP 7% (-2)
SNP 5% (+1)

Of course the support Labour have been clawing back is merely the low-hanging fruit - in other words, core voters who were perhaps never likely to desert the fold after considered reflection, but who temporarily got caught up in the hoo-ha over the calling of the snap election.  It's interesting to speculate what the receding of the Tory surge is going to mean for Scottish voting intentions, because the surge we saw here seemed directly tied to the Britain-wide one.  The obvious hope is that the new British trend will also be replicated north of the border, ideally with some Brexit/No supporters moving directly back to the SNP after flirting with Theresa May's "strength and stability" (ahem).  Less ideally, we'll see Tory flirters switching to Labour - but thanks to the vagaries of first-past-the-post, that would actually work in the SNP's favour more than Labour's.  By far the most important objective for the SNP is to increase the gap between themselves and the second-placed Tories - a healthy raw percentage share of the vote would just be the icing on the cake.

For what it's worth, the Scottish subsamples of both the ORB and Opinium polls give the SNP a very solid 20% advantage over the Tories.  The YouGov datasets haven't yet been published at time of writing.

If (and it is still a very big if) we find that the Scottish Tory surge has now passed its peak, we may have dodged a bullet as far as Thursday's local elections are concerned.  Most people who cast a postal vote do so as soon as they receive their ballot paper, which means that many will have voted prior to Easter - and of course the Tory surge wasn't triggered until the Tuesday after Easter, when Theresa May dropped her bombshell about a snap general election.  So if postal voters largely voted before the surge, and everyone else votes after the surge has receded, we could end up with a pretty decent result.

*  *  *

When the Sunday Times commission full-scale Scottish polls from Panelbase, they have an odd habit of holding back some of the supplementary results for a full week.  Accordingly, we now have some more details from last week's poll, and they're pretty encouraging from a pro-independence point of view.  Although (as we already knew) the headline independence question produced figures of Yes 45.2%, No 54.8%, it turns out that Panelbase also asked the question in a different way, with three possible options - independence within the EU, independence outside the EU, or remaining within the UK after it leaves the EU.  There is a small combined majority in favour of the two pro-independence options, with 41% favouring independence within the EU, and a further 10% wanting independence outside the EU.  The snag is that taking advantage of this natural majority would, on the face of it, require a kind of Schrodinger's Indy - ie. the prospect of somehow being inside and outside the EU simultaneously.  But it's not impossible that there may be a way of squaring that circle in the heat of an independence referendum.

The chances of that referendum taking place have been boosted by Panelbase's finding that a majority of respondents (52%) think that the SNP would have the right to hold a vote if they win a majority of Scottish seats at the general election.  That outcome is, of course, already pretty much a nailed-on certainty, regardless of whether the Tory surge recedes.  It would only require the SNP to win 30 seats - and yet the unionist media want us to believe that 45 seats (a 75% super-majority) would somehow be a disastrous result for Nicola Sturgeon!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Your anti-Tory tactical voting guide for the 59 Scottish constituencies at the 2017 general election

As Marcia has pointed out, a lot of tactical voting at the forthcoming general election will be aimed at keeping the Tories out, or at least minimising the size of their overall majority.  One handy side-benefit of the current polarisation of politics in Scotland is that it makes anti-Tory tactical voting extremely straightforward - if you live in any constituency that the Conservatives might conceivably win, the rational option is to vote SNP.  No other party can stop the Tories in any of their target seats.  However, where there may still be some confusion is over exactly which seats are competitive enough to make tactical voting necessary, and which seats the Tories can't realistically win.

In the hope of clearing the mists slightly, I've drawn up the following lists.  Feel free to share them with the Lib Dem or Labour supporter in your life.  It goes without saying that the advice on tactical voting only applies if your Number 1 objective is to stop the Tories.

*  *  *

There is a VERY HIGH RISK of the Tories winning the following 5 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to vote tactically for the SNP.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
East Renfrewshire
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

*  *  *

There is a SUBSTANTIAL RISK of the Tories winning the following 3 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to vote tactically for the SNP.

Aberdeen South
Perth and North Perthshire

*  *  *

There is a MODERATE RISK of the Tories winning the following 5 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to vote tactically for the SNP.

East Lothian
Edinburgh South
Edinburgh South-West

*  *  *

There is an OUTSIDE CHANCE of the Tories winning the following 8 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to err on the side of caution and vote tactically for the SNP.

Argyll and Bute
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
Banff and Buchan
East Dunbartonshire
Edinburgh West
North-East Fife
Ochil and South Perthshire

*  *  *

There is NO REALISTIC PROSPECT of the Tories winning the following 39 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, there is no need to vote tactically, and you should feel free to vote for your own preferred party.

Aberdeen North
Airdrie and Shotts
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Central Ayrshire
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East
Dundee East 
Dundee West
Dunfermline and West Fife
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
Edinburgh East
Edinburgh North and Leith
Glasgow Central
Glasgow East
Glasgow North
Glasgow North-East
Glasgow North-West
Glasgow South
Glasgow South-West
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
Kilmarnock and Loudoun
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath
Lanark and Hamilton East
Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Motherwell and Wishaw
Na h-Eileanan an Iar
North Ayrshire and Arran
Orkney and Shetland
Paisley and Renfrewshire North
Paisley and Renfrewshire South
Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Rutherglen and Hamilton West
West Dunbartonshire

Another reader's question on STV : How do you solve a problem like an eejit in the Western Isles?

I received another question the other day about the STV voting system for the local elections, and once again it's probably worth answering it in a public post in case anyone else has the same doubt in their mind.

"In my council ward in the Western Isles I have 6 candidates, one of whom is SNP and the remainder (supposedly) independent.

I intend to put my 1 for the SNP candidate.

Of the remainder there is one eejit whom I can't see far enough, and to whom I would like to give a resounding 6.

The others, I neither know nor care about.

Is it allowable to just vote 1 and 6 with nothing in between?"

The simple answer is "no".  Although you don't have to give preferences to all of the candidates, any candidates you do give preferences to must be ranked in strict numerical order starting from 1.  So if you give preferences to only two candidates, they must be ranked 1 and 2.  By doing that in the example given above, you would be ranking the number 2 candidate ahead of the four candidates you have not ranked at all.  The only way to rank the "eejit" bottom of the pile would be to give your top five preferences to the non-eejits.  If you genuinely cannot find any way of choosing between four of the five non-eejits, your only option would be to rank them in random order.

You don't have to rank them if you don't want to - but bear in mind that if you don't, you're abstaining in certain circumstances and potentially helping the eejit to win.  If you attempt to give only a first and sixth preference, the first preference will be counted but the sixth preference will be ignored (effectively as a spoilt ballot).

Friday, April 28, 2017

Support for independence shoots back up in crucial YouGov poll

Tonight brings word of YouGov's first full-scale Scottish poll since Theresa May called the snap general election, and it provides tremendous reassurance on the independence question.  After two consecutive YouGov polls that have had the Yes camp below the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum, something approaching normal service has been resumed.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 45% (+2)
No 55% (-2)

As ever, it's worth bearing in mind that YouGov probably haven't interviewed 16 and 17 year olds, so even assuming their methodology is otherwise sound, the 45% for Yes could conceivably be a slight underestimate.

We've now had five different polling firms report on independence in April, and four of them have shown some sort of movement towards Yes (although it was only a trivial 0.1% swing in the case of Survation).  The increase is so small in each poll that the pattern may just be coincidence, but the important thing is that there is absolutely no corroboration for the Kantar/TNS findings suggesting there has been a dramatic drop in the Yes vote.  That poll sticks out like a sore thumb to an even greater extent now.

With depressing predictability, a heavy dose of spin is being applied to the YouGov poll tonight by unionist propagandists in the mainstream media - a graphic has been put out with the title "Losing Ground".  It's quite true that the No side appears to be losing ground, but I suspect that's not what they meant.  I'm sure it makes some kind of weird sense in their own heads.

Admittedly, there is less good news on Westminster voting intentions, where the SNP have slipped to an unusually low 41%.  However, the Tories have failed to make the type of breakthrough suggested by Panelbase recently, leaving Nicola Sturgeon's party still holding a commanding lead.

Westminster voting intention (YouGov) :

SNP 41%
Conservatives 28%
Labour 18%
Liberal Democrats 7%
Greens 3%

That's quite an odd set of numbers, because other polls have implied that the SNP are basically losing support direct to the Tories, but YouGov seem to be suggesting that some of the support has gone elsewhere.  If you'd told me in advance that the SNP were going to be as low as 41%, I would have expected the Tories to be in the thirties.  At the end of the day, the lead of the first-placed party over the second-placed party is the most important thing in any first-past-the-post election, so we can draw considerable comfort from the 13% gap - and also from the 3% support for the Greens, some of which may find its way to the SNP by polling day (partly for tactical reasons, and partly because the Greens won't be standing in all constituencies).

*  *  *


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.0% (+0.3)
No 54.0% (-0.3)

(The Poll of Polls on independence is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov, Kantar/TNS and Survation.)

Westminster voting intentions :

SNP 42.8% (-0.8)
Conservatives 29.3% (-1.1)
Labour 16.5% (+1.2)
Liberal Democrats 7.0% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The ghost of #Pounds4McDougallGate

I must admit I burst out laughing when I heard that Blair McDougall is going to be Labour's general election candidate in East Renfrewshire, but once I regained my composure I realised that this is a symptom of a major dilemma for the unionist camp.  There's no doubt that the SNP are vulnerable in East Renfrewshire, but they'll start looking a hell of a lot less vulnerable if the Labour/Tory vote is split right down the middle.  Budding unionist tactical voters can't do much until they work out who the real challenger is, and that's far from clear at the moment.  The political history of the area, taken in combination with current opinion polls, would suggest the seat ought to be a straight fight between SNP and Tory, and that Labour's resilience in 2015 was a one-off due to Tories temporarily lending their support to Jim Murphy on a mass scale.  And yet anyone 'tactically' voting for the Tories this time will have to take a leap of faith and assume that natural Tory voters won't be coaxed by the electrifyingly charismatic McDougall and his trusty Lib Dem-style bar-charts into believing that "only Labour can beat the SNP here".  There will be a similar dilemma in East Dunbartonshire, where diehard unionists will have to guess whether Jo Swinson's candidacy means there will not be the mass-switch from Lib Dem to Tory that you might otherwise expect in an area with such a strong Tory tradition.

* * *


The second update of our Poll of Polls for Scottish voting intentions at the general election is based on two full-scale Scottish polls (from Panelbase and Survation), and eight subsamples (two from ICM, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from Panelbase, one from ComRes, one from Survation, one from Opinium and one from YouGov). The GB-wide poll from Kantar/TNS has had to be excluded because no geographical breakdown was provided.

SNP 43.6% (-0.7)
Conservatives 30.4% (+6.1)
Labour 15.3% (-0.7)
Liberal Democrats 7.0% (+0.7)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Drama as No-friendly TNS poll finds half of the Scottish public want an independence referendum

I've been having a look at the newly-released datasets from TNS to see if there is any potential explanation (other than the obvious one of data collection method) for why they are contradicting three other pollsters in showing a big swing to No.  What leaps out at me are the weightings for recalled Holyrood vote, and the highly unusual way TNS treat respondents who say they didn't cast a vote last year.  Most pollsters who weight by recalled vote do not try to upweight abstainers until they reflect the actual abstention rate.  There are two very good reasons for that approach : a) people are embarrassed to admit that they didn't vote, meaning a significant proportion will lie and claim they did turn out, and b) people who do openly admit they didn't vote are particularly unlikely to vote again in future elections anyway.

That being the case, you'll quickly spot the problem in the fact that only 27% of the unweighted TNS sample either said they didn't vote last year or can't remember how they voted, and that TNS decided to massively upweight that group to 42%.   It looks highly likely that disproportionate weight has been given to a hard-core of non-voters.  That doesn't explain all of the swing to No by any means - there is movement in that direction almost across the board among voters for most parties.  But the swing among abstainers from last year is very large - they've gone from being virtually split down the middle in the last TNS poll to being in favour of No this time by a 21-point margin.  The massive upweighting will obviously have artificially magnified the effect of that.

The biggest downweighting on the recalled vote is among people who say they voted SNP - 38% of the unweighted sample were SNP voters, and they were scaled down to count as just 27%.  That obviously has a significant detrimental effect on the reported Yes vote.  It's not unreasonable to speculate that 'embarrassed abstainers' who falsely claim to have voted last year may have defaulted to saying they voted for the winning party, so while it's possible that TNS may have interviewed too many SNP voters by chance, it's also possible that this group has been downweighted too much, leading to distorted headline numbers.

In addition, there's a very familiar problem with respondents who recall voting for an "other" party - meaning a party other than the SNP, Tories, Lib Dems or Labour.  This small group often ends up being very sharply downweighted, because people are asked how they voted on the constituency ballot, but instead find themselves recalling their vote for the Greens or UKIP on the list.  In the new poll, this had led to them being scaled down from 3.4% of the raw sample to count as just 0.6%.  It's blindingly obvious that TNS aren't giving them sufficient weight, and as it happens, they are the only group that didn't show any movement to No at all.  They also broke only very marginally for No overall.  If there had been a more realistic target figure for "others" to take account of the confusion between the constituency and list vote, this factor alone could conceivably have slightly reduced the reported swing to No.

You'll have seen a lot of hysterical coverage today about how this poll supposedly shows that the public don't want an independence referendum.  You probably won't faint with amazement to discover that it shows no such thing.  Excluding Don't Knows, 49% of respondents chose one of the four pro-referendum options provided by TNS, and 51% chose the sole anti-referendum option provided.  That's within the margin of error, so must be regarded as a 'statistical tie', and is strikingly similar to the findings of recent Panelbase polls which have also shown voters split down the middle.  It's also worth pointing out that if the TNS poll does turn out to be a rogue poll with too many No voters in the sample, the 49% in favour of holding a referendum is likely to be an underestimate.

Nostalgia night as TNS reverts to being an extreme No-friendly outlier

You might remember that throughout much of the long campaign leading up to the 2014 independence referendum, TNS was one of the group of No-friendly pollsters, before sensationally swinging in the opposite direction just before polling day.  That dramatic reversal survived into the post-referendum period, with a TNS poll in the autumn of 2015 putting Yes in the outright lead.  Now, incomprehensibly, and in total contradiction of the vast bulk of polling evidence from other firms, TNS has returned to its old ways by showing a very large No lead.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (TNS)

Yes 40% (-7)
No 60% (+7)

This is by some distance the worst poll for Yes from any firm since September 2014.  The previous low was Yes 43%, No 57% from YouGov.

The ever-reliable buffoons who insist that "only the last poll we set eyes upon matters" will inevitably lose all sense of perspective over this, but those of us who are a little more level-headed will recognise an indisputable fact here - that this poll can't possibly negate the much more favourable polls we've seen for Yes over the last few days, for the simple reason that it was conducted earlier.  TNS polls are always way out of date by the time that we see them, and this one is no exception - fieldwork started in late March and concluded two weeks ago, which dates it well before the Panelbase and Survation polls.  The majority of interviews also took place before BMG found a virtual 50/50 tie.  So the verdict from those three online pollsters is clear enough - they are more up-to-date, and they do not corroborate the findings of TNS.

That's not to say that if a more recent TNS poll had been conducted, it would necessarily have produced a healthier result for Yes.  TNS traditionally use a distinctive face-to-face data collection method, and that could largely explain why they've suddenly bolted off in a different direction from other firms (assuming this isn't an outright rogue poll, which always has to be considered a possibility when the numbers are this unexpected).  And yet it seems highly unlikely that the new No-friendly trend is going to be seen across all non-online polls, because as recently as early March, a telephone poll from Ipsos-Mori put Yes in a slight outright lead - a better result, ironically, than has been seen in any online poll so far this year.  It's going to take time to make sense of what's happening, because at the moment there's just no comprehensible pattern in any of this.  The BMG, Survation and Ipsos-Mori numbers are simply not reconcilable with TNS - the standard 3% margin of error can't explain such a big divergence.

You would have to say that the balance of probability is that Yes are trailing at the moment, but whether they are trailing by 20% as TNS say, or by 2% as BMG say, or whether the truth is somewhere in between those extremes, is anyone's guess.  We mustn't forget just how absurdly far adrift Leave were in most telephone polls before pulling off victory in the EU referendum last June - so it's perfectly possible that online polls are more accurate these days.

*  *  *


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 45.7% (-1.1)
No 54.3% (+1.1)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov, TNS and Survation.)