Friday, October 13, 2017

SNP vote increases by 6% in Inverurie by-election

Just for once we have an STV by-election result where the classification of "hold" is not misleading - the Tories were defending the Inverurie seat, and also comfortably won the popular vote in the ward in May.

Inverurie & District by-election result (12th October):

Conservatives 48.5% (+12.6)
SNP 33.3% (+5.7)
Liberal Democrats 8.6% (-3.2)
Labour 8.0% (+3.7)
Greens 1.6% (n/a)

What does make interpretation of the result difficult is that the independent candidate Judy Whyte received more than 20% of the votes in May, which were all up for grabs this time.  If those voters were predominantly unionist or small 'c' conservative in character, it may not be any great surprise that the Tories have grabbed the lion's share of them.  Certainly there was nothing inevitable about the substantial increase in the SNP's own vote (Labour's vote didn't go up by as much and the Lib Dems actually contrived to go backwards), so we're entitled to take heart from that.  And, as always, we have to remember that Tory supporters are traditionally more likely to make it to the polls in a low turnout local by-election than supporters of other parties.

Incidentally, since my last update there have been three new Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls, and all of them have shown an SNP lead (albeit a wafer-thin one in the case of today's YouGov poll).  The SNP were also ahead in a BMG subsample from September which was published belatedly.  That means there have now been thirteen subsamples in a row putting the SNP in front, underscoring the apparent change in the political weather since the summer.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unethical constitutions deserve no respect

A guest post by Al Skinner

Spain’s vicious authoritarian response to the referendum in Catalonia got me thinking about constitutions. The constant refrain from Madrid is that the plebiscite was in violation of the Spanish constitution, with former vice-president of the Spanish government Alfonso Guerra going so far as to declare that there can be no negotiating with the Catalan golpistas (“coupists”).

It is, in fact, essentially undeniable that the referendum was “illegal” and in violation of the Spanish constitution.

But here’s the rub: the constitution of Spain is itself illegitimate. But allow me to back up for a moment.

In light of Germany’s central role in the EU, I kept wondering how German politicians and media would respond to the situation in Catalonia. Surely, I thought, they would condemn Spain’s brutal actions even if there was no chance of the German government doing anything substantial. At least, I naively assumed, both state and press would rhetorically uphold certain core values. How wrong I was. Instead they’ve largely been supportive of Madrid, construing recent events as an internal Spanish matter.

The title of a recent article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper absurdly declares that "Self-Determination is an Invitation to Dictatorship", another in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explains "Why Spain is Doing the Right Thing", while yet another in the former publication baldly states that “There is No Unlimited Right to Secession".

The last article is an interview with one Christoph Vedder, who is described as an expert in international law. He explains that while the right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, this does not mean Catalonia has the right to an independence referendum. As I read the article my curiosity grew. How on earth was he going to square that particular circle?

Then came the sleight of hand. Vedder invents a qualification to the right to self-determination. It applies, he explains, only in cases of severe repression. So Kosovo’s independence from Serbia was OK. But Catalonia, being part of a democratic state under the rule of law, does not enjoy that right. For this expert, the Catalans’ right to self-determination is “exhausted” within the Spanish state. If this ideological contortion seems warped and ridiculous to you, then good – it is.

But why are these highly educated and no doubt in many ways liberal-minded Germans twisting common sense into such grotesque shapes?

I don’t think we have to look too far for an answer. This is essentially about power and authority. Existing states are averse to, if not terrified of, the implications of the right to self-determination. They don’t want to lose territory, population and resources. They don’t want a "diminished status in the world". And this brings us to the nub of the matter – the sheer infantilism of most contemporary governments. They care only about perpetuating their own states. The idea that this is about solemn commitment to constitutions is laughable. This is about the state and its ego. This infantilism, of course, leads to terrible ethics. Which is just what we're seeing in Madrid at the moment.

Vedder mentions in the interview that Germany too recognizes no right of its constituent parts to become independent states. But this is like saying, look, women are oppressed everywhere, so what are you complaining about? The fact that the German constitution, like its Spanish counterpart, flagrantly violates the right to self-determination is nothing to be proud of. It should be a source of deep shame. The German commentators alluded to here are being good little servants of the constitution, in a twisted, deeply conservative sort of way.

How different it could and should all be. Imagine a world that truly honoured the right to self-determination. Now, I’m the first to agree that not every bit of the planet should enjoy that right. I recognize no right of Renfrewshire or Hampshire to self-determination. This is the self-determination of peoples we’re talking about. But to deny that right to Catalonia is to strip it of all meaning. Of course the Catalans (by which I mean the citizens of Catalonia) are a people. Of course they must enjoy that fundamental right. There’s no ultimate reason why existing states could not approach the possibility of some of their territory morphing into separate states with calmness and great ethics. There’s no ultimate reason why they couldn’t facilitate the emergence of new independent states. So does the UK government’s approach to the Scottish independence referendum serve as a template here?

Only very partially. Ultimately, the right to self-determination cannot be constrained by the decision of central governments. So the need for a Section 30 order is itself an infringement of this right. Furthermore, the shocking tsunami of propaganda unleashed by the UK government and its unionist coreligionists in the press destroyed any prospect of a sound decision in 2014. I belong to the school of thought that believes there would have been a Yes vote in the absence of this ideological warfare. A handsome victory, I suspect.

As we watch Madrid’s sickening descent into authoritarianism, we should remember that constitutions are not sacred texts. It is vital to challenge the dreadful ethics they often embody. The Spanish constitution is in violation of international law. This is one of the key prisms through which I think we should view current events in Catalonia.

Monday, October 9, 2017

New Scottish poll is "unmitigated disaster" for Ruth Davidson as Tories slip seventeen points behind SNP on WESTMINSTER voting intentions

It's a hat-trick, folks - and in more ways than one.  YouGov's new poll is the third full-scale Scottish poll since the general election, and all three have shown that the SNP's support in Westminster voting intentions has gone back up - a genuinely astonishing consensus that defies all of the expectations during the summer, and indeed the propaganda that was being pumped out by commentators as recently as yesterday.

Scottish voting intentions for next Westminster general election (YouGov) :

SNP 40% (+3)
Labour 30% (+3)
Conservatives 23% (-6)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)

(This is YouGov's first Scottish voting intention poll since the general election, so percentage changes are measured from the actual election result.)

The equally remarkable thing that the three polls have in common with each other is that the anti-independence media outlet that commissioned them buried all mention of the Westminster results - presumably because they'd rather people didn't know the SNP are doing so well.  The Daily Mail didn't report Survation's Westminster numbers at all, the Sunday Times held back Panelbase's Westminster results for a week and then made only passing reference to them, and although I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, I get the distinct impression from those who do that the Times didn't say anything about YouGov's Westminster results in their coverage of the new poll on Saturday.  If there was any mention at all, it can't have been very prominent, because the numbers didn't make their way onto social media.  I eventually found them in the datasets published on YouGov's own website today.

On all three occasions, the unionist newspaper in question has preferred to focus all of our attention on the Scottish Parliament voting intention figures instead - which are spinnable as being a mild setback for Nicola Sturgeon, because although the SNP have an enormous lead on that measure as well, it's down a little from the extraordinary high recorded at the Holyrood election in May 2016.

For the avoidance of doubt, there is no innocent explanation for this selective reporting of the polls.  We've only just been through a Westminster general election, and there is a non-trivial chance of another one being held next year.  By contrast, the next Scottish Parliament election is almost four years away.  Of course Westminster voting intentions are the more interesting of the two sets of numbers at present - so why on earth are London-based newspapers behaving as if Holyrood is the only game in town, and as if Westminster is just some trivial detail?  It makes no sense unless they're in the propaganda business, and are determined that a decrease in the SNP's Holyrood lead should be widely known about, but that a deeply inconvenient increase in the SNP's Westminster lead should be kept a total secret.  It's a cynical game, but to some extent it's working - you may have seen Rachael Swindon (a well-known Corbynite on Twitter) express genuine shock and bewilderment yesterday upon being told that all of the Westminster polls since the election have shown the SNP's vote increasing.  She was utterly convinced that all of the polls she had seen had shown the polar opposite.

If I could blow my own trumpet for just a moment, the YouGov poll bears out what I've been saying for months about the likelihood that an aggregate of subsamples will at least be vaguely in line with the results of full-scale Scottish polls.  Unlike other firms, YouGov's subsamples have been consistently showing the Scottish Tories in third place, so it makes perfect sense that YouGov's full-scale poll has parted company with both Panelbase and Survation by showing Labour in a clear second place and the Tories in a dismal third.  Ruth Davidson must be absolutely horrified by these numbers (and on this occasion that's not hyperbole).  It's even more startling when you bear in mind that Labour and the Tories are essentially tied in the same poll's Holyrood figures.

The SNP would plainly be well-placed to make several gains from the Tories in any early general election if YouGov are correct.  The poll implies a 4.5% swing from Tory to SNP, which in respect of the 'box office' contests means that Alex Salmond would comfortably take back Gordon if he chooses to stand again, and that Angus Robertson would have a 50/50 chance of taking back Moray.

There's another interesting nugget from the YouGov datasets on the Holyrood numbers - the SSP are on 3% of the list vote.  That's not enough to win them any seats, but it does mean that support for pro-independence parties on the list is significantly higher than we first thought.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Stunning rebuke for Ruth Davidson as new YouGov poll gives SNP a mammoth SEVENTEEN point lead - with the Tories set to slip into THIRD place

Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson is full of beans this morning about a new full-scale Scottish poll that his publication has commissioned from YouGov, and which he says shows that "Nicola Sturgeon would lose her pro-independence majority".  My first reaction was that if that's the angle he had chosen, the results of the poll must be pretty good for the SNP, because if there was any danger of the SNP actually losing power that would have been the first thing he'd have mentioned.  And so it has proved.  A kind payer of the Murdoch Levy has sent me the full results, and just like the full-scale Scottish polls from Survation and Panelbase in September, they show the SNP with an absolutely enormous double-digit lead in Scottish Parliament voting intentions - something that surely nobody would have predicted during July or August.

Constituency vote:

SNP 42%
Labour 25%
Conservatives 25%
Liberal Democrats 5%

Regional list vote:

SNP 35%
Labour 24%
Conservatives 23%
Greens 6%
Liberal Democrats 6%

Remarkably, in spite of Farquharson's triumphalism about the supposed loss of the pro-independence majority, the Times' own seat projection shows that the pro-indy parties between them would win 61 seats on the basis of this poll - just FOUR short of a majority.  Which begs a rather awkward question for the unionist media - if the propaganda they've been feeding us over the last few months is correct, why would there seemingly be a fighting chance of the pro-indy majority being re-elected, even if there was a Scottish Parliament election as soon as tomorrow?

This poll follows in the footsteps of the Panelbase and Survation polls in that at the point of publication there doesn't appear (correct me if I'm wrong) to be any sign of Westminster voting intention numbers, even though it seems hard to believe a Westminster question wasn't asked.  In the case of Panelbase, the Sunday Times withheld the Westminster results for a week and then gave them only a cursory mention.  In the case of Survation, the Daily Mail decided not to report them at all, and the only reason we ever found out about them was because they were quietly revealed on Survation's own website.  In both cases, a unionist newspaper was playing a very cynical game - focussing all the attention on the Holyrood numbers because they showed a decrease in SNP support from an extremely high base in May 2016, and ignoring Westminster numbers which inconveniently (and very unexpectedly) showed the SNP gaining support from a slightly more modest base in June 2017.  Is exactly the same thing being done with the YouGov poll?  I don't know, but I doubt if any of us will faint with amazement if that turns out to be the case.

The use of this blatant propaganda technique is why we've got every right to be angry about the following nonsense on the YouGov poll from Keiran Pedley, a pollster and analyst who I believe I'm right in saying is open about his support for the Labour party -

"SNP poll rating in Scotland continues to fall like a slowly deflating balloon"

Well, of course you can pretend to believe that's what happening when your fellow travellers in the media are intentionally giving the public only one half of the polling story.  If this was anyone else but Pedley, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was speaking from ignorance, but as a polling expert he presumably knows perfectly well that both post-election Westminster polls have shown an increase in the SNP vote, and an increase in the SNP lead over both Labour and the Tories.  It's really sad to see him giving people such a misleading impression, and I can only conclude that he's probably doing it deliberately.

Let's stay for a moment on the subject of dubious claims that have been made about the YouGov poll on Twitter.  I can't locate the tweet, but I spotted someone suggesting earlier that Nicola Sturgeon was projected to be left with "even fewer" seats than she currently has.  Er, what?  "Even"?!  The SNP currently has 63 seats out of 129 in the Scottish Parliament - that's 49% of the total.  How many other countries in western Europe can you think of that use proportional representation voting systems and have a party with 49% or more of the seats?  Yeah, exactly.  The SNP had an absolutely phenomenal performance last year by any normal standards, and today's poll suggests they stand to suffer only relatively modest seat losses (six, to be exact) from that high.

As a rearguard defence against people who were quite reasonably pointing out that 42% of the constituency vote for the SNP and a 17-point lead is an extremely good performance, Kenny Farquharson tried this line -

"Dear Scottish Twitter peeps, it's the regional vote that determines shape of Holyrood parly, not constituency vote. SNP polling 35% on list."

Well, of course there's some truth in that - under the Additional Member System the overall composition of parliament is supposed to be broadly determined by the list vote.  But it seems an odd point to make in this particular context, when your own newspaper's seat projection is saying that the SNP would win 44% of the seats - a considerably higher number than 35%.  What's happening here is that the SNP are benefitting from the wrinkles that Labour so carefully built into the system in the late 1990s - if a party (expected to be Labour itself) has a big enough lead on the constituency vote, it effectively overwhelms the list vote and gives that party a hefty 'winner's bonus'.  The SNP are hitting a particularly sweet spot because the unionist vote in the constituencies is split down the middle, allowing them to do even better in terms of seats than would normally be possible with 42% of the vote.  It's certainly arguable that the SNP are extremely fortunate that a Labour wheeze is backfiring so comprehensively, but there's no point sticking your head in the sand and pretending it isn't even happening.

Like Survation, YouGov have found an increase in support for independence, but unlike Survation that increase does not look particularly significant: Yes 44% (+1), No 56% (-1).  Amusingly, the Times use percentage changes from the referendum result itself in an attempt to make it look as if support for independence has dropped slightly!

Respondents were asked three different ways about the principle of whether an early independence referendum should be held.  The most favourable results are on the question of whether a referendum should be held after Britain leaves the EU, where there is almost (not quite) a statistical tie - 38% say yes, 45% say no.  Those results are markedly better than when the same question was asked in April.  Certainly no evidence there for the media's belief that interest in independence and a referendum has fallen away since the election.

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Have you joined Scot Goes Pop's new Facebook discussion group yet?  It's called Scottish Independence Required By Next Tuesday, and it's already attracted several hundred members in its first 48 hours.  You can join HERE.

Friday, October 6, 2017

No wonder the Mail kept it a secret : their September poll gave the SNP a huge Westminster lead

You might remember a few weeks ago that the Daily Mail published a full-scale Scottish poll from Survation, showing that the SNP were maintaining a considerable lead in Scottish Parliament voting intentions.  We knew that a question about Westminster voting intentions had also been asked, and yet mysteriously there was no mention of that anywhere in the Mail's reporting.  The obvious suspicion was that the results were good enough for the SNP that the Mail were too embarrassed to report them.  It looks like the numbers were quietly revealed on the Survation website three days ago (I missed that at the time because I was travelling), and just like Panelbase's full-scale poll they show that the SNP's position has improved since the general election - in stunning defiance of the media narrative.

Scottish voting intentions for the next Westminster general election (Survation) :

SNP 39.3% (+2.4)
Labour 26.4% (-0.7)
Conservatives 26.1% (-2.5)
Liberal Democrats 6.6% (-0.2)

(Note: This is the first Survation poll since the election, so the percentage changes listed above are from the actual election result rather than a previous poll.  The figures are weighted by recalled 2017 vote, so aren't comparable with pre-election polls in any case.)

Ironically, the SNP's Westminster lead is a little more modest than its Holyrood constituency lead, so why were the Mail happy to report the Holyrood figures but not the Westminster ones?  Quite simply, because the SNP's Holyrood vote has decreased since last year's election, allowing the Mail to put a negative spin for the party on a very healthy lead.  By contrast, it's simply not possible to put a negative spin on the Westminster figures - the Mail would have been forced to concede that the SNP stand to gain a number of seats from both Labour and the Tories in any early general election.

To be fair, the Survation poll is a touch less dramatic than Panelbase's.  In particular, the picture is somewhat rosier for Labour - they're in second place (just), their vote share is down by only a trivial amount since June, and the distance between themselves and the SNP has increased by only three percentage points.  Nevertheless, there are so many ultra-marginal seats out there that a modest swing of that sort is more than enough to do plenty of damage.

Of course such small changes could in theory be illusions caused by the standard margin of error.  But with both post-election full-scale Scottish polls showing a pro-SNP swing, it does at the very least seem highly unlikely that the SNP's position has significantly worsened since June.  That goes against pretty much everyone's expectations at the end of summer - and it seems to be an inconvenient truth that the unionist media would prefer you didn't know about.

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Have you joined Scot Goes Pop's new Facebook discussion group yet?  It's called Scottish Independence Required By Next Tuesday, and it's already attracted several hundred members in its first 24 hours.  You can join HERE.

Hammerblow for besieged Ruth Davidson as NINTH subsample in a row puts the SNP ahead - with the Tories in THIRD place

Today brings word of the first Britain-wide voting intention poll for over a week.  The YouGov poll actually shows a minor decrease in the Labour lead in spite of Theresa May's comical mishaps during her conference speech.  Of most interest to us are the Scottish subsample figures, which show: SNP 35%, Labour 34%, Conservatives 21%, Liberal Democrats 6%, UKIP 3%.

YouGov appear to be the only firm that weights its Scottish subsamples separately, although of course with such a small sample size the margin of error is still enormous.  So what matters is not so much the size of the SNP lead, but the impressive consistency of the fact that this is the ninth subsample in a row across all firms that have shown the SNP ahead.  What a contrast to the summer months, when a substantial minority of subsamples were putting Labour ahead, and one or two even had the Tories in front.

That said, it's not implausible that the SNP lead might have slipped a little over the last couple of weeks due to the relentless focus on Labour and the Tories during the UK party conference season.  Any effect of that sort ought to be only temporary.

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Have you joined Scot Goes Pop's new Facebook discussion group yet?  It's called Scottish Independence Required By Next Tuesday, and it's already attracted several hundred members in its first 24 hours.  You can join HERE.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The attractions of holding a referendum without a Section 30 order

I rarely disagree with G A Ponsonby, but I do part company with him on his belief that it would be a strategic mistake to hold an independence referendum without Westminster granting a Section 30 order (although of course he does very much want a referendum and thinks the Scottish Government should press for a Section 30 next year).  Basically he thinks that the unionist domination of Scotland's mainstream media would doom the referendum to delegitimisation and failure.  I think that argument overlooks a few key points -

1) Just like in Catalonia, there absolutely must be a back-up plan if the state cuts off the most obvious route to an exercise in self-determination.  There isn't much point in being a pro-independence Catalan if you accept the risible argument that voting for independence is illegal, and by the same token there isn't much point in being a pro-independence Scot if you're willing to accept that Westminster has the right to say "now is not the time, and the right time is never".  Most of us agree that it would be preferable to hold a referendum with Westminster's agreement, but if we don't have a prepared answer to an insistent "no" we might as well pack up and go home.

2) It's not possible for the unionist establishment (both political and media) to delegitimise the referendum without also boycotting it.  If there's a unionist boycott, a Yes victory in some form is assured.  As in Catalonia, that will immediately create new facts on the ground - at the very least the anti-independence mandate from the 2014 referendum will no longer be unchallenged.

3) Unlike in Catalonia, the referendum will not actually be illegal.  What we're talking about is legislation that is framed in such a way that the Presiding Officer's legal advisers, and perhaps the courts if necessary, will accept that a consultative referendum is within the Scottish Parliament's existing powers.

4) Irrespective of legality, the referendum will almost certainly not be disrupted by British state violence of the sort that we've just seen from Spain.  The UK population just wouldn't stand for that sort of thing - witness the spontaneous disgust displayed towards Spain's actions by establishment figures such as BBC network newsreader Huw Edwards.  That means the only limit on the number of Yes votes we can attract will be determined by the shortcomings of our own campaigning skills.

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Now I'm back from my travels, I have a couple of things to let you know about.  This year has seen a bumper number of visitors to this blog, culminating in the month leading up to the general election when Google Analytics recorded approximately 35,000 unique visitors - the second busiest month in Scot Goes Pop's nine-year history, outstripping even the month of the 2014 referendum.  Part of the reason for that success is that I was made an admin (or editor, or whatever the correct word is) on one of the most popular pro-indy Facebook pages, and was encouraged to post links to my own content.  I've no idea exactly what percentage of the blog's visitors were coming from that page, but my vague impression is that it was making a significant contribution.  The page was recently taken down, seemingly due to a long-running dispute with Tommy Sheridan and his supporters.  It's now back up again, but the creator has stepped aside, and it appears that as part of the shake-up I've been quietly removed as one of the admins.  I briefly thought about querying that, but I quickly realised that a) I don't actually know who is in overall charge of the page now, and b) it's very unlikely that I would have been removed by mistake.  I'll probably never know the reason why.  This could obviously prove to be a big setback, so it's led me to think about alternative ways of promoting the blog on Facebook.

For many years Scot Goes Pop has had its own dedicated Facebook page, but it 'only' has 1780 followers, probably for the very simple reason that I spend a fair bit of time on Twitter and almost no time at all on Facebook.  (And there are only so many hours in a day.)  I'm wondering if a Facebook group might conceivably work better, because it would allow non-admin members to post their own content, and indeed to annoy friends by adding them directly.  So just as a mad experiment, I've set up a group called Scottish Independence Required By Next Tuesday.  There's probably a 95% chance it'll fall flat on its face, but let's give it a go and see what happens.  If you have a Facebook account, you can join the new group HERE.  Rest assured that if it takes off it'll be an anything goes funfair.

And the other little piece of information is that I have a new article in the October issue of iScot magazine.  If you're not a subscriber to the print edition, a digital copy can be purchased HERE.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Homage to Catalonia

So I was just doing some basic sums.  A little under 92% of Catalan voters who turned out yesterday voted in favour of independence.  The overall turnout, suppressed by Spanish state violence, was 42.3%.  This means that roughly 38% of the entire registered electorate voted Yes.  You could therefore take the turnout all the way up to 75% (not all that far short of what was achieved in the free and semi-fair Scottish referendum), and still be guaranteed of a Yes victory even if all the extra voters were No voters, which would obviously be extremely unlikely.  In reality, even a turnout in the low 80s would almost certainly have produced a Yes majority.

Spain now has a massive legitimacy problem.  Even the dogs on the street know that Catalonia is being held captive within Spain by means of thuggery.  All that Madrid and its apologists have left is the claim that the vote was not "free and fair" - but the problem is that (very unusually) it was the losing side that ensured it was not and could not be free and fair.  The losing side also has the capacity to hold a free and fair re-run at any time it chooses.  The onus is therefore on Madrid to either organise/facilitate that re-run, or accept yesterday's result.  Doing neither is simply unsustainable in the modern world.

I hope the Catalan government's success in creating new facts on the ground by holding an unauthorised referendum has been noted by the SNP leadership.  Thankfully, I doubt if we would have to face British state violence, but if London remains intransigent we might (at some point) have to be brave enough to get the ball rolling without a Section 30 order.

Incidentally, on the subject of London wanting a "strong and united Spain" (and to hell with the democratic choice made by the Catalan people) - I presume that means we'll be handing back Gibraltar?  Madrid does, after all, regard Gibraltar as being every bit as much part of Spain's "indivisible territory" as Catalonia is.  Exercises in Gibraltarian self-determination have been held in exactly the same contempt by Spain as yesterday's vote.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

More misery for beleaguered Ruth Davidson as Tory vote collapses in Tain by-election

I'm not quite back from my travels yet (although I'll be darkening your doors very shortly), so apologies for being a couple of days late with the intriguing result of the Tain & Easter Ross by-election...

Independent - Rhind 49.4% (+33.1)
SNP 23.9% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 14.5% (-5.0)
Conservatives 9.1% (-6.9)
Independent - Holdsworth 2.7% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.5% (n/a)

Obviously the main story here is an outstanding personal triumph for Mr Rhind, who returns to Highland Council after losing his seat only a few months ago.  But I think it's fair to say this is also a very solid result for the SNP, who simply by standing their ground enjoy a 2.5% net swing from the Liberal Democrats, and a 3.5% net swing from the Tories.  Unlike in the by-elections at the start of September, the good news for the SNP in the Panelbase opinion poll hasn't been contradicted in any way - although the obvious health warning is that there was no Labour candidate, and Tain & Easter Ross isn't the sort of ward that could tell us anything about the Labour v SNP battle in any case.

Technically Mr Rhind has gained his seat from the Liberal Democrats - the vacancy was caused by Jamie Stone standing down from the council to concentrate on his work as an MP.  (Highland Council's gain is Westminster's loss, etc, etc.)  However, that's just another of the meaningless quirks of STV by-elections - the Lib Dems finished third in the ward in May, and have done so again this time.  One fewer Lib Dem councillor in the world can't be a bad thing, of course.

Note: The normally reliable Britain Elects account on Twitter reported completely inaccurate percentage changes for this by-election.  The changes I've listed above are the correct ones.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Davidson's despair deepens as latest batch of subsamples shows the SNP ahead across the board

I'm still in foreign climes, so I haven't been staying on top of the Scottish subsamples from Britain-wide polls.  But here's a round-up of the subsamples that have been published since my last update...

ICM: SNP 38%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 6%, Greens 5%, UKIP 2%

YouGov: SNP 36%, Labour 32%, Conservatives 22%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 1%, UKIP 1%

Opinium: SNP 40%, Conservatives 31%, Labour 20%, Greens 6%, UKIP 2%, Liberal Democrats 1%

Ipsos-Mori: SNP 48%, Conservatives 23%, Labour 19%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Greens 1%

Survation: SNP 41%, Labour 23%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 12%, UKIP 1%

There are two omissions from that list.  I can't find the datasets from the BMG poll, and there was another poll from Survation where there doesn't seem to be any Scottish figures in the datasets.  If anyone can fill in those gaps, please let me know.

As far as the five listed above are concerned, obviously there's no consistency on how far the SNP are ahead, or which party is in second place.  But it's really striking that the SNP are ahead right across the board, just as they were in the last batch of subsamples.  We seem to be getting back to the point where it will be quite unexpected to see a subsample with the SNP behind Labour or the Tories, whereas during the summer it was a fairly frequent sight.  This lends some support to my theory that the full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase (showing an enormous SNP lead) took us by surprise not because the subsamples during the summer had misled us, but because the political weather has since changed, and the SNP have recovered from their post-election mini-wobble.  That reality now appears to be showing up in the subsamples, just as it did in that sensational full-scale poll.

The snag with my theory remains the same as before.  If the SNP are back to having a substantial lead over Labour, and indeed a bigger one than they had at the local elections in May and the general election in June, why did Labour do so well in the Fortissat and Cardonald by-elections earlier this month?  I still can't really offer an answer to that question.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The other type of 'winner'

After the result of the German federal election became clear last night, I posted a couple of tweets about the BBC's misleading headline reporting of the subject.

"My standard complaint about BBC reporting of PR elections - you don't 'win' with 33% of the vote. Who governs is decided by negotiation."

"BBC on Merkel with 33% of the vote: 're-elected, wins'. BBC on SNP with 37% of the vote: 'a baaaad night for the SNP, independence is dead'."

Both tweets came in for some strong criticisms, so I'm going to respond here, free from the constraints of 140 characters.  The objection to the second tweet was basically that I was making a bogus comparison, because the two electoral systems are different.  (In fact one person got a bit hysterical and said something along the lines of "we gotta be better than these bull**** comparisons!")  In reality, of course, the difference between proportional representation and first-past-the-post makes the basic point more telling, not less so.  In Germany, the CDU and CSU not only got roughly one-third of the votes, but proportional representation also ensured that translated into roughly one-third of the seats.  Whereas in Scotland in June, the SNP received 37% of the votes, and first-past-the-post converted that into nearly 60% of the seats.  By any measure, then, the SNP's performance was superior to Angela Merkel's, and there is no excuse for failing to report the SNP's result as a "win" if that's what you're going to do for Merkel.

On the first tweet, I got into an abbreviated repeat of an argument I had  with a German chap last year who pointed out to me after a regional election that the German media also invariably refer to this sort of result as a "win" (and, indeed, that the BBC's reporting of German elections seems to take its cue directly from that).  The original discussion went round in circles on the point of whether the German phrase "klarer sieg" means exactly the same thing as "clear victory" in English, or whether there might be a subtle difference that is being lost in translation.  Not being a German speaker I don't know the answer to that question, but put it this way - if the two phrases do have an absolutely identical meaning, the German media are being just as irresponsible as the BBC.  It's reminiscent of what the CBC did in Canada about ten years ago when on election night they "projected a Conservative minority government", which is not something that can even be projected because a minority government is not an election outcome.  The actual result of the election was a parliament of minorities, which is something that might produce a minority government, but might just as easily produce a coalition government which won't necessarily be led by the largest single party.  And yet when the latter scenario started to unfold in Canada, the public thought something was badly amiss because they had already been told that the "result of the election" was entirely different.

The German public are much more used to coalition permutations and are thus unlikely to react in the same way, but nevertheless as a matter of principle it's just wrong to describe something as a "win" when it's nothing of the sort.  The German who took me to task on Twitter made the point that there is no realistic way that Merkel isn't going to form a government, which boosts her right to be described as the "winner".  But, again, that fact has got nothing to do with the election result in and of itself - arithmetically, an SPD-led government excluding the CDU is viable and could even have a huge majority.  It won't happen, but that's because of decisions made by politicians, not by voters in the ballot box.  It's also worth pointing out that German media seem inclined to declare a "winner" even when there is genuine doubt over whether that winner will lead the government.

In an attempt to rescue his argument, the German chap prayed in aid a dictionary definition of "win" in English as meaning "do better than others".  But you only have to think of some hypothetical examples to see how that definition doesn't tally up with how the word is actually used in real life.  If you had a 110 metre hurdle race in which all the athletes hit the hurdles and failed to finish, there would still be one athlete who did "better than the others".  But is he "the winner"?  Of course not.

By the way, just by coincidence, when the SNP first took office in 2007, they did it on the basis of 33% of the vote - exactly the same as Merkel received last night.  If memory serves me right, the BBC did not declare the SNP as the "winners" or say they had been "elected to government".  Instead, it was very carefully reported that the SNP had "broken through, and replaced Labour as the biggest party".

Friday, September 22, 2017

Land of the valiant, reciprocator of firm friendship

As you know, I'm out of the country at the moment (albeit not in Indonesia, as someone thought on the previous thread).  So I do hope you're duly appreciative of the fact that I forewent my siesta yesterday to write a new article for the TalkRadio website.  It's about the mystery of why BBC Scotland have been so quiet about the Catalan independence referendum - particularly strange when you recall how interested Catalan media were in our own referendum three years ago.  You can read the article HERE.

PhantomPower suggested that while I'm away, you might enjoy watching his latest film, featuring George Reid and Alan Bissett.  Hopefully it will appear by the magic of technology in the space below...

(I can't actually access TalkRadio or YouTube at the moment, so if there's any problem with the above links, please let me know.)

Last but not least, I was contacted a couple of days ago with the news that Scot Goes Pop is number 11 in a new Top 100 list of Scottish blogs.  I've no idea how the rankings were worked out, but you know me - I'll take any accolade that's going.  The full list can be viewed HERE, and there are lots of interesting non-political blogs on it that I wasn't previously aware of, covering topics like travel, fashion and food. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Crisis mounts for embattled Ruth Davidson as three more subsamples put the SNP in the lead

Just for the sake of completeness, here are the three most recent Scottish subsamples from Britain-wide polls -

ICM: SNP 34%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 21%, Greens 4%, UKIP 4%, Liberal Democrats 4%

YouGov: SNP 37%, Labour 29%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 4%

Opinium: SNP 35%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 24%, Greens 6%, UKIP 1%, Liberal Democrats 1%

In a sense these are in line with the full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, because they all show the SNP in the lead, and they all show the SNP well ahead of Labour, who until recently had looked like the main challenger.  There have now been twenty-three subsamples since the election, and fourteen have put the SNP ahead.  Seven have shown a Labour lead, and only two have shown a Tory lead.

If we buy into the theory that there was a Labour surge during the summer which has since subsided, there's one huge mystery that has yet to be solved.  How do we explain the significant swing from SNP to Labour in the very recent Cardonald and Fortissat by-elections, which took place at roughly the same time as the Panelbase poll was in the field?  Perhaps there were local factors at play, and perhaps it's just coincidence that more or less the same thing happened in two different places at once...but we should probably keep an open mind until we have more information.

Note : I'm out of the country for a couple of weeks with intermittent internet access, so blogging may be light.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sensational poll suggests SNP would make sweeping GAINS in an early Westminster election

Rarely have I been so delighted to be proved wrong.  I had suspected that last week's Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times contained a Westminster voting intention question that was being withheld until this week for the purposes of a "blow for Sturgeon" headline, ie. because the results were markedly worse for the SNP than the Holyrood numbers.  Well, I was correct about there being withheld results, but not about them being bad for the SNP - in fact they're so wonderful for the SNP that the Sunday Times have seemingly given them only the most cursory of mentions.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Panelbase) :

SNP 41% (+4)
Conservatives 27% (-2)
Labour 24% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
Greens 2% (+2)

This is the first full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions from Panelbase or any other firm since the general election, so the percentage changes listed above are from the actual election result, rather than from a previous poll.  I know some people will look at the numbers and think "this looks very similar to the pre-election polls that overestimated the SNP by a few points, so the SNP are probably being overestimated again", but of course this poll has been weighted by recalled 2017 election vote, which should have resolved any skew.

If the poll is right, it genuinely looks as if quite a few voters who switched to the Tories or Labour in June have since come home to the SNP.  One of the things that made the election in Scotland so unusual was the large number of seats that were won by knife-edge margins - some of them broke for the SNP (including, remarkably, all four that were decided by fewer than 100 votes), but plenty of others didn't.  Labour's six gains are now marginal seats, and most of them are ultra-marginals.  Based on the Panelbase numbers, the SNP could expect to regain all of those six seats, with only the extreme oddity of Edinburgh South remaining firmly out of reach.  There would also be modest gains from the Tories (Stirling would fall on the tiniest of swings).

In other words, the doom and gloom of the summer is now over.  The SNP can stop fearing an early election, and can perhaps even start thinking of it as a golden opportunity to gain seats - although admittedly none of us need any reminding of how suddenly the political weather can change these days.  One thing is for sure - if these numbers are spotted in the corridors of power in London, it'll put an end to the Tories' silly notion that they can expect the SNP to abstain on a no confidence vote.

Does all of this mean that the picture painted by Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls since June (basically that the SNP only had a very narrow lead, and that Labour had surged into a strong second place) was totally meaningless?  As this poll has taken me by complete surprise, I suppose I should have the humility to say "possibly", but the flip-side of the coin is "not necessarily".  We only have one full-scale Westminster poll to go on at the moment, and it may yet turn out that a 14-point lead for the SNP is 'on the high side'.  I wonder if question sequence may have played a part - if Panelbase asked about independence and Scottish Parliament voting intentions first, respondents may have been more likely to stick with the SNP when subsequently asked about Westminster.  But there may also be a way of reconciling this poll with the subsamples.  YouGov are the only firm who seemingly weight their Scottish subsamples separately - and they suggested in their first few post-election subsamples that there was a tight race between SNP and Labour.  More recently, they've shown the SNP with a bigger lead.  That could be an illusion caused by the enormous margin of error, but it's just possible there was a Corbyn surge for Labour in the summer that has since subsided as memories of the election have grown more distant.  There's no getting away from it, though - to see Labour in third place, and a whopping 17 points behind the SNP, is undoubtedly a big shock.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Massive boost for Sturgeon as Survation confirm SNP have staggeringly sizeable Scottish Parliament lead

Hot on the heels of Panelbase's first Scottish Parliament poll in an eternity comes the same from Survation.  The findings of the two polls are strikingly similar on the constituency ballot (which is all we got from Panelbase).

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (Survation) :

Constituency ballot -

SNP 42%
Conservatives 26%
Labour 25%
Liberal Democrats 7%

Regional list ballot -

SNP 31%
Labour 25%
Conservatives 21%
Liberal Democrats 10%
Greens 9%

Crucially, the SNP's more modest lead on the list isn't caused by any sort of Corbyn surge or Tory breakthrough, but rather by the more long-standing problem of SNP constituency voters drifting off in large numbers to the Greens on the list.  That means, according to the most ubiquitous seat projection models, that the pro-independence parties in combination would be just two or three seats away from retaining their majority.  In other words, despite all the sound and fury of recent months, we're in almost as good a position as we were when Nicola Sturgeon won the May 2016 Holyrood election with a pro-independence majority of 69-60 - and there's no election due for another four years anyway.

Even better news is to be found on the independence question.  Against all the odds, and in defiance of all expectations, there has been a sharp swing back to Yes, with the pro-independence vote now once again exceeding the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46% (+3)
No 54% (-3)

Of course an apparent 3% swing could be an illusion caused by margin of error, but it would still be good news even if that is the case - because it would suggest the 43% Yes vote in the last Survation poll was more likely to be an underestimate than an overestimate.

Survation also asked respondents when they thought the next independence referendum should be.  As with the equivalent question in the Panelbase poll, the various options were worded a bit ambiguously, which makes it harder to get much sense out of the results.  However, a combined total of 34% want a referendum either before Britain leaves the EU or at around the time Britain leaves the EU, which presumably means in the very, very near future.  That figure is basically identical to the 37% who "never" want to see another referendum.  In between the two extremes are a moderate group of around 20% who either want a referendum "a few years after Britain leaves the EU" or "after the 2021 election".  Those two options sound very similar to me, although I suppose theoretically you could argue that "after the 2021 election" could mean any time between 2021 and infinity.  From a common sense point of view, I think it would be fair to say this poll seems to be pointing towards a majority in favour of holding a second indyref in the short or medium term.

In another sign of how dramatically some social attitudes in Scotland have changed over a short period of time, the poll finds respondents are not far away from being evenly split over whether parents should be banned from smacking children.  36% support a ban, with 42% opposed.  That sort of finding would have been unthinkable a few years ago (ie. there would have been overwhelming opposition to a ban).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Scale of Davidson flop becomes clear as "extraordinary" Panelbase poll reveals that 42% of public want an independence referendum within LESS THAN TWO YEARS

Panelbase have released the datasets for the full-scale Scottish poll that was published (and so comically misrepresented) in yesterday's Sunday Times.  Here are a few points that leap out -

1) As expected, Panelbase have introduced weighting by recalled 2017 general election vote.  In one sense that's very good news, because it means that there's much less reason to be sceptical about the SNP's double-digit lead over both the Tories and Labour.  If, for example, there had been weighting by 2016 recalled Holyrood vote but not by 2017 vote, there would be a danger that respondents might have got the two elections mixed up, which in all likelihood would lead to the SNP's vote being wrongly adjusted upwards (the exact reverse of the effect that was seen when YouGov used to weight by 2010 vote, rather than 2011).  Instead, the SNP have actually been significantly weighted down on recalled vote, with the 385 respondents who said they voted SNP in June being reduced to 346.

The downside is that 2017 weighting was also applied to the independence question.  We know from YouGov polling that the reduction in the SNP vote in June can be partly explained by people staying at home, rather than defecting to another party.  And yet it's not unreasonable to assume that a lot of those people might well turn out to vote in a second indyref, and would be more likely to vote Yes than No.  The problem with Panelbase's new approach is that to some extent it treats those missing voters as if they don't exist - which could, theoretically, lead to the Yes vote being underestimated.  It certainly means that the new poll is not directly comparable with Panelbase's previous independence poll, which was conducted just before the general election.  That factor alone might explain the small (and statistically insignificant) drop in the Yes vote from 44% to 43%.

2) The only possible reason I can think of for still being a little cautious about the SNP's handsome lead is that the independence question was asked before the Holyrood voting intention question.  It's arguable that this might put pro-independence voters in a frame of mind where they'd be more likely to favour the SNP rather than Labour.  That's pure speculation on my part, but I don't think the possibility can be totally ruled out.

3) There's a preamble to the independence question: "If the referendum was held again tomorrow, how would you vote in response to the question..."  There's no way of knowing whether that makes any difference to the result, but I think the wording is unwise, because it invites people to think about how they would vote in a re-run of a referendum they have already voted in - perhaps nudging them back towards their original choice, rather than inviting them to think of the next referendum as a completely fresh vote taking place in a different context (ie. Brexit).

4) Judging from the numbering in the datasets, there are clearly some results from the poll that haven't seen the light of day yet.  In the past, the Sunday Times have sometimes held results back for a week so they can get two weeks' worth of headlines out of the same poll.  If a Westminster voting intention question was asked, and if the results were less favourable for the SNP than the Holyrood constituency numbers (as they probably would be), I'm wondering if they're being held back for a good old "blow for Sturgeon" effort next week.  It does, however, look like there was no question about Holyrood regional list voting intention, because there's no obvious reason why that would have been withheld.  The omission makes it impossible to use the poll to project seat totals in the Scottish Parliament.

5) Although the wording is a bit slippery, there's a finding that seems to imply that 49% of respondents think that Scotland will be independent within less than 20 years, compared to 42% who do not.  And only 32% think that Scotland is not likely to become independent "at any point in the next few decades".

6) An astonishing total of 42.3% of respondents want the next independence referendum to take place within less than two years.  Admittedly that's down on the roughly 50/50 split we've seen on that question in previous Panelbase polls, but nevertheless it's an absolutely stunning slap in the face for the commentators who have spent the last three months trying to convince themselves that the SNP's decisive victory in June somehow rendered the issue of independence "dead".

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Enormous lead for the SNP in first post-June Scottish poll

"The findings are likely to dismay Nicola Sturgeon" says Jason Allardyce of the Sunday Times about a new poll which he must know perfectly well is going to absolutely thrill Nicola Sturgeon, because it shows the SNP have shrugged off the hammering they've been taking in the media since June, and have retained an enormous lead in Scottish Parliament voting intentions.

Holyrood constituency voting intentions (Panelbase) :

SNP 42%
Conservatives 28%
Labour 22%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 2%

No percentage changes are listed because it appears that this is the first Scottish Parliament poll that Panelbase have conducted since the Holyrood election almost eighteen months ago.  They've done Scottish voting intention polls since then, but for obvious reasons the voting intentions being measured were for Westminster or local council elections.  And that brings me to the most important health warning about these numbers.  I rarely disagree with Stuart Campbell of Wings, but he's attempting to use this poll as evidence to support his belief that the pattern shown by the Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls (basically a tight three-way contest, with the SNP and Labour battling it out for first place) is completely meaningless.  Much more likely, I'm afraid, is that the reason for the disparity is that those subsamples relate to Westminster voting intention only.  

Nobody disputes that an individual subsample should be regarded as unreliable, but an aggregate of a large number of subsamples is likely to produce figures that are at least within the correct ball-park.  What they've shown is in line with what seems intuitively likely, and indeed what was apparently borne out by the local by-elections on Thursday - ie. that Labour have built upon their mini-recovery at the general election.  It's not clear whether Panelbase even asked for Westminster voting intentions in the new poll (there's no sign of Westminster numbers on Twitter, and I don't pay the Murdoch levy so I haven't been able to read the Sunday Times article in full), but my strong suspicion is that a full-scale Scottish Westminster poll would show the SNP significantly lower than the Holyrood numbers suggest, and Labour significantly higher.  To believe anything else, you would have to believe that there has been a large swing from Labour to SNP since June, which flies in the face of all logic given what happened on Thursday.  

I suspect that the traditional gap between Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions, which has existed for the vast majority of the eighteen years since devolution, has reasserted itself.  If so, the explanation is the usual one - there is a significant minority of voters out there who like both Labour and the SNP, but think Labour is the more natural choice for Westminster and that the SNP is the most natural choice for Holyrood.

In many ways that's not bad news.  The question of whether a second independence referendum is held will ultimately be decided by Holyrood arithmetic, after all.  This is just one poll, but if other firms corroborate Panelbase's findings, it means that the SNP have only lost around 4% or 5% of support since their decisive victory in May 2016.  If another Holyrood election was held now, it looks highly likely that the SNP would be effectively re-elected as a minority government - probably without a pro-independence majority in parliament, but they're not a million miles away from holding on to even that.  With no election due until May 2021, the unionist parties can scarcely look at this poll and think "all we have to do is hold out until the next election, and then the parliamentary majority for an indyref will automatically disappear and we can all get back to normal".

And as far as the prospects for actually dislodging the SNP from government are concerned, this poll is an absolute hammerblow for the unionists.  The Tories seem to have a natural ceiling of around 30% support, so realistically if any party is going to defeat the SNP it'll have to be Labour - and yet even after a very favourable summer, Labour still seemingly find themselves twenty points behind the SNP, and in a dismal third place.  It appears that no matter how good things get for Labour in Westminster terms (or even perhaps in local government terms) there will always be gravity holding them back in Scottish Parliament elections.  Perhaps the only way to overcome that handicap would be to find a truly inspirational leader - but instead they're going to be stuck with either Anas Sarwar or mystery man Richard Leonard (and I suspect it may well be Sarwar, who is the worse of the two).

Panelbase also asked a voting intention question on independence -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 43% (-1)
No 57% (+1)

For my money, the SNP leadership will be very pleased (or at least monumentally relieved) about those figures.  Although we haven't had a post-election party political voting intention poll until today, there was an independence poll from Survation in mid-June which suggested a substantial drop in support for independence.  There appeared to be a danger that the momentum was running away from Yes, in which case there was a chance that things might have worsened significantly over the course of the summer.  Instead, the situation seems to have stabilised.  The percentage changes listed above are from the Panelbase poll conducted in the days leading up to the general election, so it appears that there hasn't been a statistically significant swing since then.  Yes remains firmly in the game.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Could the sort-of-rise of "BUSP" be a boon for the independence movement?

Much synthetic excitement in the unionist media today about the exploits of an "obscure unionist party" that narrowly beat the SNP into third place in the Fortissat by-election - a feat that looks considerably less impressive when you realise that the same party came within a whisker of taking a seat in the same ward at the local elections in May.  (It also looks like they've probably hoovered up the support lost by an independent candidate with past links to the Orange Order, who saw his vote share halved since May.)

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that the snappily-named "A Better Britain - Unionist Party" (aka "BUSP") is entirely confined to a Fortissat ghetto.  Largely unnoticed, they somehow took 1% of the list vote in Glasgow at the Holyrood election last year - more than the Women's Equality Party and the same as RISE.  If the Fortissat result emboldens them to put up more candidates in future, it's probably going to be beneficial from a pro-independence point of view - they would split the unionist vote in a Westminster first-past-the-post election, making it slightly easier for the SNP to hold off challenges from Labour and the Tories, and as long as they stay below roughly 5% of the vote in any of the Holyrood regions they choose to stand in, they'll harm the chances of Labour and the Tories taking list seats while not winning any of their own.

An endorsement of sorts for the new party has come from the predictable direction of Stephen Daisley, who described them as a "centrist", "Labourish" unionist party.  Well, let's see - they're standing former Tory candidates, they want to abolish the Scottish Parliament, and are in favour of the hardest of hard Brexits (and not just to "respect the will of the people" either).  I dare say that must look like the epitome of moderation to the Daily Mail's favourite "centre-right socialist".

*  *  *

Today has seen more of the so-called "metrosplaining" that Stormfront Lite is so renowned for -

"The Lib Dems are the one party fully united on what should come next on Brexit and who can be relied upon, more or less, to vote as a bloc. But there are only 12 of them."

And there are 35 SNP MPs, which is a rather bigger number.  On what planet is the SNP not fully united on what should come next on Brexit (ie. remaining in the single market and retaining freedom of movement)?  On what planet will they not be voting as a bloc?  No answer to either of those questions is forthcoming, although the SNP do get a cursory mention later on in the piece -

"Not everyone is all that bothered about Brexit. Some parties, notably the SNP, see it as just another tool for pursuing an entirely different agenda."

Just how ignorant would you have to be of the modern SNP to think that, because their number one objective is independence, they can't really be "that bothered" about Brexit?  It's like saying that the Tory obsession with Europe is all an affectation because their first love is the free market economy.  In reality, the European project has aroused extremely strong passions in the SNP since the 1970s - initial hostility gave way to strong support, albeit the constant along the way has been opposition to the Common Fisheries Policy in its present form.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Blow for the Tories in Fortissat and Cardonald by-elections

As I suspected might happen, Labour have won both of today's local by-elections - although as is often the case with STV by-elections, the results require a fair bit of interpretation, and classifications like "Labour hold" or "Labour gain" are not really adequate.

Cardonald by-election result :

Labour 48.6% (+10.1)
SNP 36.7% (-7.5)
Conservatives 10.3% (-1.7)
Greens 2.7% (+0.2)
Liberal Democrats 1.5% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.2% (n/a)

This is technically a "Labour hold", but it's arguably the worse of the two results for the SNP because they won the popular vote in the ward in May, and have since suffered a swing of 8.8% - enough to put Labour ahead if repeated nationwide.

Fortissat by-election result :

Labour 38.5% (+2.0)
A Better Britain - Unionist 23.3% (+12.2)
SNP 20.6% (-8.4)
Conservatives 11.5% (-1.8)
Independent - Cefferty 5.0% (-5.1)
Greens 0.7% (n/a)
UKIP 0.5% (n/a)

This is officially a "Labour gain from the Conservatives", even though Labour comfortably won the popular vote in May with the SNP in second place. The drop in the SNP's vote is slightly steeper than in Cardonald, but probably more important is the fact that the swing to Labour is more modest at only 5.2%, which would actually leave the SNP narrowly ahead if repeated across the country.

The average swing in the two by-elections is roughly 7%, implying an extremely tight race between SNP and Labour nationally - which has been very much the message of recent polling subsamples. Juteman told us the other day that a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase appeared to be in the field, which if true would be the first poll of its type from any firm since the general election. If I was a betting man, I would guess that it will show a very small SNP lead, but on tonight's figures it's obviously impossible to rule out a small Labour lead. I'd be very, very surprised if Labour have powered miles ahead, though - there's no evidence at all to support that notion.

Even though the Labour gain from Tory in Fortissat is a bit of a technicality, it's reasonable to say that both results are mildly disappointing for the Tories - their vote is down in both wards in spite of Tory voters being traditionally more likely to make it to the polling stations in low turnout local by-elections. It could be a sign that Peak Tory was reached in May and June, and that there's been some modest slippage since then.

I haven't been able to find details of lower preference transfers in Fortissat yet, but what happened in Cardonald was pretty incredible (if not surprising) - 253 Tory voters transferred to Labour, and only 35 to the SNP.  It really does appear that Tory voters hate the idea of their own country governing itself to such an extent that they'd rather vote for a party led by the far-left.  Who in the 1970s or 80s would ever have thought we'd reach this point?

Oddly, although the Scottish Libertarians are a pro-independence party, not a single one of their twelve voters transferred to the SNP.  Four went to the Greens, two to the Tories, two to the Lib Dems, one to Labour, and three votes were non-transferable.

Two key by-elections today

You may not be aware of this, but today (Thursday) marks the biggest electoral test in Scotland since the general election on June 8th, with two crucial local government by-elections taking place in the west of the central belt.  The Fortissat by-election in North Lanarkshire could almost have been devised as an illustration of just how barmy the world of STV by-elections is - the Tories are defending a seat in a ward where Labour won the popular vote, and yet if the SNP don't gain the seat, they will lose their hard-won position as the outright largest party on the council.  Doesn't sound entirely fair, does it?!  Meanwhile, in the Cardonald by-election, Labour are defending a seat in a ward where the SNP narrowly won the popular vote, meaning on the face of it that the SNP have a golden opportunity to increase their representation on Glasgow City Council from 39 seats to 40, edging them closer to the 43 required for an absolute majority.

The only other real-life election we've seen in Scotland since June 8th was the Elgin City North by-election in mid-July, which resulted in a moral triumph for the SNP - they didn't quite win the seat, but there was a negligible swing from SNP to Tory, implying (if that ward is typical) that things hadn't got any worse for the SNP since the general election in places where the Tories are their main opponents.  But the limited polling evidence of late has suggested that the main problem for the SNP is no longer the Tories, but Labour.  So today's two contests in SNP-Labour battleground areas may tell us quite a bit.  Given that Labour won the popular vote in Fortissat in May, I'd suggest they're quite strong favourites to gain that seat because there appears to have been a nationwide swing towards them over the intervening months.  It's a different story in Cardonald where the SNP start with a bit of a cushion, but even there Labour probably ought to be regarded as slight favourites.  If you want to do something about that, here is a public service announcement I spotted on Twitter -

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Deny a shared language, deny a shared history, deny a shared culture…deny who you are

A guest post by Edward Freeman

I feel I must chime in on the subject of Scots language deniers, who are, I think, usually in that group of people we can call “proud Scots but”. I am a trained United Nations translator, with degrees in languages, linguistics and whatnot (especially whatnot). I am now retired, but I routinely translated into English from Russian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and I can cope with Dutch and German (having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria). There are various others in the Romance and Slavic groups that I can cope with too. Shove in Latin and ancient Greek as well - I had a peculiar education. It is certainly true that the more languages you learn, the easier it gets. It is also true that language is the thing that distinguishes humans from other animals, and is probably our supreme intellectual achievement as a species.

I also spent years in Kenya, where English and Swahili are the official languages, though English is preferred for official business and Swahili is more widely used for interethnic communication, except with us wazungu. There are 47 tribes in Kenya, a few of them very small - and not counting the wazungu - and basically they all have their own languages, though languages shared between different tribes bring the total down to about 42. (I'm keeping this as simple as I can.)

Swahili has many native speakers, though not as many as in neighbouring Tanzania, where it is - or rather, was - the sole official language. In origin, Swahili is a creole between a Bantu substrate and the Arabic used by the Arab traders and slavers who travelled up and down the African east coast in sync with the monsoon winds. Its pre-eminence as a trading language allowed it to penetrate far into the interior, as far as modern-day Rwanda and even the eastern DRC.

It is probably worth pointing out that the Europeans did not exactly “discover” Africa; the locals knew it was there all the time, and other outsiders frequently “discovered” it before Europeans ever did.

English, obviously, is a much later linguistic add-on, but it is actively kept up because it is so useful, internationally, and for the formal (as opposed to the traditional) legal system, because it is based on English common law. English is also used in education and general official business, of course.

There is a distinctive form of Kenyan / East African English - which I really enjoy, frankly - an example would be "the cahs clashed buttock to buttock" = the cars reversed into each each other at speed. It remains English, though, as English as American and Indian and Downton Abbey English. And, of course, Scottish English.

Most of the tribal, home-grown languages are Bantu-based, including Swahili, which has many native speakers - down on the Coast in particular - whereas the others are Nilotic, except, of course, English. The Bantu-based ones maintain varying degrees of intercomprehensibility - Kikamba and Kikuyu are pretty close, for example, and contiguous geographically, and as people in those tribes / groups live in such close proximity to each other (not to mention intermarriage), there's a high degree of interoperability, if you can call it that. If I do mention intermarriage, it will be to say only that exogamy is very widespread, and the UK's Royals should probably have done a bit more of it.

There is a great deal of harmless amusement derived from people's varying accents in Swahili and so on, depending on their own native languages, and the funny ways they speak the closely related Bantu languages. Kisii and Embu come to mind in that respect (Embu has front rounded vowels, like French (3) – or Glaswegian (1) – unless I’m confusing Embu with Meru).

If you want to get a better idea of the complexity involved in all this, have a look at this short article in Wikipedia. If you look at the table on the right of that page, you will see the language “Gikuyu”. This is Kikuyu, and the reason for the G is because the language is currently undergoing an active process of dissimilation. I know about this because I gave one of my colleagues at the UN in Nairobi, a native speaker of Luganda (Buganda), the majority (Bantu) language of Uganda, some assistance with her linguistics MA dissertation – she ran her English-language examples by me, and explained what she was up to with the rest of her dissertation in return.

The Nilotic group of languages are a different kettle of fish entirely. Completely different, and rather difficult to get one's head around, for me, anyway. I am most familiar with Maa, as spoken by the Maasai, though one of my foster sons is Luo.

The Nilotic group and the Bantu group are in different categories of language entirely, like Arabic and English. English - Kiingereza in Swahili - is in a completely different language group from either. Swahili is a creole of Bantu and Arabic, as I said, and the Bantu languages and Arabic again are in two completely different language groups. English and Russian, in contrast, are in the same, Indo-European group, as are Greek, Hindi, and Farsi (Persian/Iranian). That’s right, I said “in the same” language group. As is Gaelic.

So, my "houseboy" Ntosho (Alex) Ole Kisaika, a Maasai (as is obvious from his name), grew up speaking Maa and Swahili and English, all three of them refined at school – primary school only - picked up more Kikuyu when he came to live in Nairobi, and could communicate with my Kamba guy Augustine in English, Swahili and Kikuyu. Meanwhile, Augustine was cheerfully picking up more Kikuyu himself, and some Maa from Alex and my Maasai foster son Lekishon.

It is far more common, worldwide, to be at least bilingual than it is to be a monoglot. Of course, it is far easier when you grow up with it. Many Scots are at least to some degree bilingual between Scottish English and Scots, but because it comes naturally to them, they don't even realize it. Bilingualism is very good for the brain - all the studies show it. Multilingualism is even better, in my view. Monoglots, alas, even the ones who only think they are monoglots, are the only ones who do not recognize this, because they simply do not know from experience, or do not realize that they do. Doubting Thomases! Take my word for it, you monoglots, or call me a liar!

Nairobi urban dialect is known as Sheng, a composite of Swahili and English favoured by smart young things who want, like all young people, to bamboozle their fuddy-duddy old parents. Of course, all my guys could use that as well. Example: "sasa" in Swahili means "now". Spoken with extended first vowel, short second, and rising intonation, accompanied by quickly raising the chin, in Sheng it is a greeting which I gloss as "Wassup?" Sheng is not a creole, or a pidgin; I don't think it ever can be, actually, not least because in order to use it you have to be heading towards bilingualism already, so you don’t actually need to put together a new language to communicate.

Note to readers - this is from Wikipedia: "Creoles also differ from pidgins in that, while a pidgin has a highly simplified linguistic structure that develops as a means of establishing communication between two or more disparate language groups, a creole language is more complex, used for day-to-day purposes in a community, and acquired by children as a native language. Creole languages, therefore, have a fully developed vocabulary and system of grammar."

The exception to the rule of multilingualism in Kenya is - you guessed it - the native English speakers among the white tribe. One of the reasons I got to be so well liked among the non-wazungu was because at least I tried! So, monoglots, next time you hear someone furren not getting their English quite right, do please think before you sneer?

My guy Alex never spoke English with a native speaker until he was well into his 20s, Augustine a bit earlier. Both are very smart cookies. I am proud that we can call each other friends. Rafiki.

Remember: Maa, Swahili, English - are in three different, unrelated language groups entirely, with Swahili partially composed of a fourth - like English, Chinese, and Arabic, with a bit of an admixture of Algonquian into one of them. My guys spoke all three of those, and learned them without the aid of bilingual dictionaries, because such things are rare, not very good at all, or far too expensive for poor Kenyans living in rural areas. Or they simply do not exist, because no one has ever compiled them. Pretty amazing, eh, to learn another language when the only book you have in common is the Bible, originally translated more and less badly or well by non-native-speaking European missionaries?

And yes - Scots IS a separate but closely related language to English. I just wish I were more fluent in it.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Have London Tory ministers been heeding siren voices about the SNP?

Faisal Islam, the Sky News political editor, had a 22-part thread on Twitter last night in which he suggested that the Tories are moving towards something a little mushier than their previous preferred Hard Brexit model.  There may be some truth in that, but one part of the thread leapt out as very obviously wrong -

As I've noted before, it's important to separate out two different questions - a) have the SNP concluded that an early general election is undesirable? and b) would they vote in favour of an early general election if the option was put before the Commons?  If Faisal Islam is correct, the Tories are making the huge mistake of assuming that if the answer to a) is "yes", the answer to b) must by definition be "no".  They may have been encouraged in that view by listening too much to so-called metrosplainers such as Mike Smithson of Stormfront Lite, who has repeatedly pushed the idea that the SNP will inevitably vote for their own self-interest and help block an early election.  Tory ministers really need to get out more and start listening to people who understand Scottish politics - although in truth they should have long since learned the lesson themselves by now.  Have they really not noticed how toxic the Tory brand has been for decades among the pool of voters which the SNP and Labour compete over?  Or have they fallen for their own propaganda, and think that Scotland is suddenly relaxed about Tory rule now that Ruth Davidson is here?

The reality is that it doesn't actually matter whether the SNP have privately reached the view that an early election is more of a threat than an opportunity, or even whether they think it would be a certain disaster.  They would have no choice but to vote to bring down the Tory government, because the long-term consequences of doing anything else hardly bear thinking about.  There would be no point in avoiding a short-term hit if the price is decades of Labour taunts about the SNP helping to keep the Tories in power.  I doubt if there's a single SNP MP who doesn't fully understand that point.

In any event, it's far from clear that the SNP should fear an early election.  The danger they face in the central belt has been well-rehearsed, but the flip-side of the coin is that they look well-placed to regain a few rural constituencies from the Tories.  It hardly needs to be stated what a psychological boost it would be if Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond were to quickly regain their former seats.

*  *  *

Memo to Anas Sarwar : There's little point in pitching yourself as the unity candidate who will bring Corbynites and moderates together, if you're then going to unveil a long list of the usual suspects (such as Iain "the Snarl" Gray, Ian Murray, the Daily Mail's very own Alan Roden, Catherine Stihler and Jackie Baillie) as your loyal supporters.  You might as well just have the words Chicken Coup : The Sequel tattooed on your forehead.  Severin Carrell's initial claim that Sarwar was the man to watch because he would have Corbynites flocking to his cause is looking more and more eccentric with every passing day.

The Labour selectorate are faced with a genuine dilemma, though.  Whether wisely or unwisely, Nicola Sturgeon has nailed her colours to the mast today with a breathtakingly radical programme for government that will make it much harder for a Leonard-led Labour to outflank the SNP on the left.  For all Ruth Davidson's half-hearted claims that the SNP have nicked one or two Tory policies, I can't see anything in there that could reasonably be described as right-of-centre - but there's quite a bit that's to the left of even Corbyn himself.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sarwar is seething, Leonard is livid and Rowley is raging as two new subsamples show the SNP way ahead of Labour

I find it pays to aim for maximum alliterative inclusivity at moments of particular chaos for Labour.

The Scottish subsample from the new Britain-wide Survation poll shows something quite rare and exotic - a Tory lead.  The figures are: Conservatives 36%, SNP 33%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 10%.  Survation's subsamples are particularly tiny, and the Tory lead can be explained by the fact that there are too many Tory voters from June in the sample.  By contrast, the SNP's sizeable advantage over Labour can't be dismissed quite so easily - there are too few respondents who recall voting Labour in June, but there are also too few who recall voting SNP.

Meanwhile, a new Scottish subsample from YouGov, which unlike Survation's is probably weighted correctly, puts the SNP into the 40s for the first time since the general election.  The full figures are:  SNP 40%, Labour 26%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 4%, UKIP 1%.

It seems to me there are grounds for cautious optimism here.  Thirteen subsamples out of the twenty conducted since the election have shown the SNP ahead of Labour.  Eleven out of twenty have given the SNP an outright lead, with seven putting Labour ahead.  Survation's new subsample is only the second one to put the Tories in front.  As the Tories have been third most of the time, it seems highly unlikely that they hold the lead - it looks very much like an SNP v Labour battle at the moment, and it also increasingly looks like the SNP have the upper hand.

*  *  *

Stephen Daisley has today continued his determined quest to make himself the laughing-stock of linguists throughout the world.  There may be continued debate over whether Scots should be regarded as a language in its own right or as a dialect of English, but nobody who understands the subject - literally nobody - describes Scots as "slang English" or an "accent".

Actually, I do have another question as well.  Stephen is well known for regarding himself as a "Zionist", to such an extent that he once penned an article that referred to the 1967 invasion of Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem as "the liberation".  (Seriously.)  So what I'm wondering is this.   If Stephen had been around more than a century ago when Hebrew was a dead language but was in the process of being artificially revived, would he have advised people not to bother with it and to learn a "real language" that might be of some use in a job interview?  I mean, if enough people had taken that attitude, self-evidently Hebrew would not currently be the dominant language in the State of Israel.  Would that be a good thing or a bad thing, Stephen?

Can a Leonard change Labour's spots?

We've all been having tremendous fun over the last week with the almost comical obscurity of Richard Leonard, a man who somehow stands on the brink of becoming leader of the third-largest party in the Scottish Parliament, in spite of the fact that nobody seems to know anything about him.  Ever since the leadership election was triggered, I've been trying to find out personal details as basic as what age he is, and have so far drawn a blank.  But we mustn't lose sight of the bigger picture here.  I entirely stand by what I said on Twitter the other day -

"A rational party would hear the news that Anas Sarwar is standing for leader, and think 'OK, we must elect whoever stands against him'."

It looks like that will mean electing Leonard, and actually, Labour could probably do worse.  At least he's relatively articulate and isn't another dreary Blairite clone.  He does seem to be hopelessly stuck in the 1950s as far as Scottish identity and constitutional politics are concerned, but I suspect much the same is true of just about every other leading Scottish Labour figure as well.  Because he's a Corbynite, it's doubtless only a matter of time before Owen Jones declares "the SNP should FEAR him", and there may be a tiny grain of truth in that in the sense that the SNP will be disappointed if Labour fail to make their customary mistake of electing the weakest candidate.  (However, neither Leonard nor Sarwar are in remotely the same class as Nicola Sturgeon, or even Ruth Davidson for that matter, and assuming this is the last leadership election before 2021, it's suddenly very hard to imagine Labour posing much of a threat at the next Holyrood election.)

Is there any case at all to be made that Leonard could end up doing even worse than Sarwar would have done?  In a rather ugly development, the Labour "moderates" are already zeroing in on Leonard's English accent as a potential issue, and I suspect clueless metrosplainers in the London media will be along any moment now to "warn" that the SNP will make hay with Leonard's Englishness.  In reality, of course, nothing could be further from the truth - the SNP's vision for Scotland is of a country where there is no barrier to someone like Leonard holding the highest office.  But, there again, the SNP do not control the prejudices of ordinary voters.  The good news for Leonard is that the last time Scotland had political leaders with English accents (Malcolm Bruce and Ian Lang), they achieved tolerably good election results in the context of the period.  It's conceivable that a Labour leader might face a slightly greater handicap, given that a successful Labour party is more reliant on working-class votes than either the Lib Dems or the Tories.  But I doubt if it would be the enormous problem that some people are rather conveniently suggesting.

No, I think the bigger issue is that Leonard's left-wing credentials could herald the beginning of the end of the informal unionist alliance that harmed the SNP in June.  We've begun to take it as read that the first priority of unionist voters will always be to keep the SNP out, but that could rapidly change if Tory supporters start to feel (rightly or wrongly) that a Corbyn premiership is a more immediate threat than an independent Scotland.  In this year's election, even leaving aside the fact that a Labour victory seemed an extremely remote prospect, Tories in Scotland who voted tactically for Labour could tell themselves that they weren't 'really' voting for Corbyn, because Scottish Labour was still controlled by 'moderates' like Dugdale and Sarwar.  It's a stretch to imagine that a Leonard leadership will result in those people doing a 180 degree turn and tactically voting for the SNP to keep Corbyn out, but they may well just revert to their natural home of the Tories, thus making it a little easier for the SNP to hold seats in former Labour heartlands.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Murdo Most Foul

Just a quick note to let you know that, if you're a subscriber to iScot magazine, you can find an article by me on pages 40 and 41 of the September edition.  It's an appeal for greater tolerance and understanding of Murdo Fraser.  (And I mean that most sincerely, folks.)

If you're not a subscriber, a digital copy can be purchased for £2.99 HERE.  (I'm not suggesting my article is worth paying £2.99 for, but there's 114 other pages as well, with contributions from the likes of Peter A Bell, Paul Kavanagh and Derek Bateman.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Kezia Dugdale's electoral record is mostly grim

There's a tiresome article on LabourList which can basically be summarised as: "Kezia Dugdale is a woman, so if you were critical of her leadership, you're a misogynist".  It starts off with the following question, which is supposed to be rhetorical -

"She writes in her resignation letter that she leaves the party in a better state than she found it, and my goodness isn’t she right."

No, she's completely wrong, actually.  Her electoral record is mixed, but it's undoubtedly more bad than good.  Excluding the Brexit referendum, she fought three nationwide elections as Labour leader, and these were the results...

May 2016 Holyrood election: Labour suffered a net loss of 13 seats, slipping from 37 to 24.  This was by far the party's worst performance since devolution in 1999, and the first time they had slipped to third place - both in terms of seats, and the popular vote on the list ballot.

May 2017 local elections: Labour dropped roughly 11% on the popular vote, finishing with just 20%.  They lost 132 seats across Scotland, relinquished control of Glasgow City Council for the first time in decades, and slipped to third place nationwide behind the Tories.

June 2017 general election: Labour slumped to third place for the first time since 1918 in terms of seats, and for the first time since 1910 in terms of the popular vote.  Paradoxically, however, they enjoyed a small gain of 2.8% in the popular vote, and jumped from one seat to seven.

Dugdale's claim to "success", therefore, rests almost exclusively on the seat gains in June.  The recovery in the popular vote was pretty small beer, and only looked impressive in the context of the lowered expectations that the leader herself can be considered partly responsible for - Labour would initially have been expecting pretty much any successor to Jim Murphy to do a little bit better than 24%.

But even the seven seat haul looks considerably less thrilling when you bear in mind that the Lib Dems won 11 seats in 2010 with just 19% of the vote, and the SNP won six seats at the same election with 20% of the vote.  Murphy was actually pretty unlucky to win just one seat with his 24% share - it only happened because the first-placed party was unusually dominant.  The modest gains this year were thus a resumption of normal service for a party languishing in the 20s, not some kind of great leap forward.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Disbelief as Dugdale dream is dramatically discontinued

I suppose I should be claiming the prediction of the year, because I did say when the general election was called in the spring that Kezia Dugdale's days as Scottish Labour leader were probably numbered.  But I must admit I was expecting the resignation to happen after Labour's vote share went down, not after a mini-recovery.  As far as public appearances were concerned, there's been no pressure on her at all since the election.

So what does this all mean?  A Corbynite takeover?  Maybe...or maybe not.  Remember how well Owen Smith did in Scotland.  This is a Blairite party to its core, or at least it was until very recently.  We could be in for a handover to yet another dreary clone, which to be fair might even be preferable to Neil Findlay.

UPDATE : Some really heartening news for the SNP in the Scottish subsample from the new Britain-wide YouGov poll.  They're ahead of Labour by 38% to 28%, with the Tories yet again in third place on just 23%.  YouGov subsamples should probably be taken a little more seriously than subsamples from other firms, because they appear to be separately weighted (although they still have a big margin of error due to the sample size).

Not quite such good news from the new ICM subsample, although of course that one isn't correctly weighted.  Labour are very slightly ahead on 32%, with the SNP on 31% and the Tories on 27%.

Across all firms, the SNP have now had the lead in ten out of eighteen subsamples published since the election, and have been ahead of Labour in eleven out of eighteen.