Friday, October 19, 2018

Why do we allow the Holyrood balance of power to be affected by the choice of Presiding Officer?

I know this is hardly the most pressing problem at the moment, but with talk of John Bercow finally taking his leave, the point has occurred to me again: why do we allow the balance of power in the Scottish Parliament to be artificially affected by the choice of Presiding Officer?  At Westminster, the Speaker and all three Deputy Speakers do not usually take part in votes, which means that two MPs can be selected from the government side and two MPs from the opposition, thus maintaining the balance of power that people voted for (or, more accurately, that the election produced).  But at Holyrood only the Presiding Officer him/herself is barred from voting, meaning that the government's numerical position is inevitably either slightly strengthened or slightly weakened.

This of course ensures that the choice of Presiding Officer is not just influenced by the merits of the individual but also by the tightness or otherwise of the parliamentary arithmetic.  The SNP could 'afford' to install one of their own in the role after winning an outright majority in 2011, but were suddenly happy enough to agree that it was Labour's 'turn' after slipping back into a minority in 2016.  And in 2007, when the SNP won 47 seats and Labour won 46, it was inconceivable that the Presiding Officer would be drawn from anywhere but the ranks of the smaller parties.

So it's an unsatifactory system in more ways than one.  I can see a few potential solutions:

1) The simplest is to replicate the Westminster convention.  Have a Presiding Officer 'team' that is made up of an even number of MSPs, and bar them all from voting.  However, this arguably means that a greater number of voters are not being fully represented in parliament.

2) Replace the Presiding Officer with a new voting MSP as soon as they are selected.  This is simple enough if the new PO is a list member, because they can simply be replaced by the next person on their own party's list.  But if they're a constituency member, there would need to be a by-election, which some people might find a bit needless so soon after a full election.

3) Allow MSPs to elect a Presiding Officer from outwith their own ranks.  This seems totally unthinkable until you stop to question why it's so unthinkable.  Why would a suitable non-MSP do the job any less conscientiously than an MSP?  That person would have their own mandate (albeit an indirect one) and would naturally be expected to swear the same oath and uphold the same standards as any elected MSP.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

If the SNP end up using the 2021 election to seek a constitutional mandate, it must be an outright mandate for independence, not another mandate for a referendum

If Brian Taylor was correct on last night's Reporting Scotland - and I emphasise the word "if" - that there are senior people in the SNP talking up the possibility of letting the mandate for an indyref expire and seeking yet another fresh mandate for a referendum in 2021, then all I can say is no no no no no no NO.  That was a bad enough idea when people were still nursing the theory that Westminster can be cajoled into respecting a mandate if it's somehow 'impeccable' enough, but it's absolute madness now that both the Tories and Labour have decided that Britain is a prison from which Scotland is permitted no exit.  What actually would be the point of seeking an 'even better' mandate than the one we already have if it's going to be ignored anyway?

The only possible answer I can think of to that question is that if we're going to press ahead with a consultative referendum without a Section 30 order, it's best to be as specific as possible about our intentions at the point of actually seeking the mandate for it.  But the problem with that argument is that a consultative referendum is in all likelihood contingent upon the whim of the UK Supreme Court.  If a referendum is blocked by legal challenge, there needs to be a back-up plan, which realistically can only mean using a Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence.  If you've already wasted the 2021 election pointlessly obtaining another referendum mandate that proved to be a dead end, that could mean waiting until 2026.  I know there are a minority of people in the SNP who privately share Theresa May's view that "now is not the time", but with Scotland about to be dragged out of the EU, the single market and the customs union against its will, and with the devolution settlement Scotland voted for in 1997 having just been destroyed, surely nobody can seriously believe that 2026 is the right time.

No, if a consultative referendum is going to be attempted, it has to be done the other way around - before 2021, using the existing mandate, so that if the Supreme Court blocks it, the 2021 election can then be used as the back-up option to seek an outright mandate for independence.

*  *  *

I feel like I've been stranded in Antarctica, rather than the Highlands, because in addition to overlooking the second poll from Survation, I somehow also managed to miss a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase at the weekend.  It shows much the same no change picture as the online Survation poll, leaving little remaining room for doubt that the SNP have escaped unscathed from the hysterical reporting of the Alex Salmond story a few weeks ago.


SNP 38% (n/c)
Conservatives 27% (n/c)
Labour 24% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 41% (n/c)
Conservatives 26% (-1)
Labour 21% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 35% (-1)
Conservatives 26% (-1)
Labour 20% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)
Greens 7% (-1)
UKIP 2% (+1)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Survation telephone poll reveals astonishing recovery in support for independence since last June

So profuse apologies once again for the dog's breakfast of the last two posts.  I spent last night in a Highland hotel with a large Union Jack on the outside and a very dodgy wifi on the inside, and when you're dealing with a non-user-friendly website like Survation's, things are a bit tricky at the best of times.  But thankfully Calum Findlay rode to the rescue and explained everything.  Basically there was not one new Survation poll, but two.  They were published more or less simultaneously, hence the confusion.  One was a telephone poll commissioned by the SNP, and the other was an online poll commissioned by the Sunday Post.  The fieldwork dates were close but not identical - the online poll was conducted between 28th September and 2nd October, and the telephone poll was conducted between the 3rd and 5th of October.

All of this puts a rather different (and for the most part more positive) complexion on things.  It means we can use the online poll to make a direct comparison with the previous online Survation poll in July, rather than comparing apples and oranges by looking at the difference between a July online poll and an October phone poll.  And the direct comparison suggests that nothing much has changed at all - not in respect of Westminster voting intentions, or of Holyrood voting intentions, or of independence referendum voting intentions.


SNP 41% (-1)
Conservatives 26% (+2)
Labour 24% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-1)

In contrast to the telephone poll, then, the online numbers suggest that the SNP's lead over both the Tories and Labour is still significantly more handsome than it was in last year's general election. If that's replicated on polling day, it would lead to dramatic seat gains.  (Although as I pointed out last night, even on the telephone numbers the SNP would be in line to make modest gains.)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 43% (-1)
Conservatives 24% (n/c)
Labour 23% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 32% (-1)
Labour 23% (+2)
Conservatives 21% (+2)
Greens 10% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)

In respect of Holyrood, the big difference from the telephone poll is on the list, where Survation's online methodology is continuing to produce (in my opinion) an unrealistically low vote for SNP.  It's not clear whether that's simply because online respondents are more Green-friendly, or whether Survation's inexplicable decision to describe the list vote to online (but not telephone) respondents as a "second" vote is the major factor.  It may well be a combination of both.

One thing is for sure, though.  This is the first Scotland-only polling since the Alex Salmond story broke a few weeks ago, and there is no sign whatever that the SNP have suffered any lasting damage from that particular lightning bolt.  Unionist hopes dashed again.

Strangely, the Sunday Post tweeted independence figures at the weekend from the SNP's telephone poll, rather than the online poll they commissioned themselves.  (No wonder I was getting confused.)  On the Post's figures, Yes are on 47% rather than 46%, which means that support for independence has remained unchanged, rather than slipping by one point as I wrongly suggested in a previous post.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (n/c)
No 53% (n/c)

And as Calum pointed out, although the telephone poll has Yes a touch lower on 46%, that actually represents a whopping increase of 7% since the Survation telephone poll of June 2017, which is technically the last directly comparable poll.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (telephone fieldwork)

Yes 46% (+7)
No 54% (-7)

I struggle in vain to see much bad news in that little lot.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Survation sensation as new poll puts SNP on course for OVERALL MAJORITY in the Scottish Parliament

My apologies - I'm really playing catch-up with this latest Survation poll.  I've been away on a long weekend in the Highlands which has just been extended for another night because of bad weather, but I'll get home and post some proper analysis eventually!  In the meantime, here are the voting intention numbers for Westminster and Holyrood.  It's intriguing that this poll was commissioned by the SNP and that they've elected to publish the results in full, because as you can see they're a bit of a curate's egg affair.  The last Survation poll back in the summer was conducted by online panel and this one was conducted by telephone, so a meaningful comparison isn't possible, but I've added in the percentage changes from one to the other in italics for the sheer hell of it, as it's the only comparison available.  On that basis the new results are perhaps a bit disappointing in Westminster terms (although even on these numbers the SNP would be gaining seats), static on the Holyrood constituency vote (albeit static from an outstandingly good position) and mind-bogglingly wonderful on the Holyrood list vote.  But if you think the direction of travel on the list is a bit too good to be true, you're probably correct - if it's not an illusion caused by the switch to telephone fieldwork, it looks like it may have been an illusion caused by other methodological differences.

Scottish voting intentions for next UK general election:

SNP 37% (-5)
Conservatives 28% (+4)
Labour 26% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot voting intentions:

SNP 44% (n/c)
Conservatives 24% (n/c)
Labour 23% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot voting intentions:

SNP 40% (+7)
Conservatives 25% (+6)
Labour 22% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)
Greens 4% (-7)

Other than polling by telephone, Survation have done two things differently that could have contributed to the huge changes on the list vote - they haven't offered UKIP as a specific option this time (thus presumably boosting the Tories) and they haven't referred to the list vote as a "second" vote, which may have helped to bring about an astonishing 7% 'swing' from Green to SNP.   Of course it may just be that telephone respondents are far less into the Greens than online respondents are, but nevertheless it's startling to ponder the possibility that the deletion of a single word might have had a rather big effect.  It obviously raises the question of whether the cause of the SNP's suspiciously poor showings on the list in recent online Survation polls was that many SNP voters were misled into thinking they were being asked for a second preference vote, and were thus plumping for the Greens.

As noted above, the Westminster figures are underwhelming but OK to be getting on with.  The SNP have been as low as 37% in a post-election Survation poll before, and their 42% in the last Survation poll was unusually high, so there's no reason to jump to the conclusion that telephone polls will always show a lower SNP vote for Westminster.  When rounded to one decimal place, the figure is 37.4%, which is still a touch higher than the 36.9% achieved in June 2017.  The SNP's lead over both the Tories and Labour is also slightly higher than it was last year, which is why they remain (just about) on course to gain seats at Westminster rather than to lose them.

As far as Holyrood is concerned, it's been rare in recent times for any opinion poll to point to a pro-independence parliamentary majority, let alone an outright SNP majority.  But arguably, on these figures, the SNP would just about make it over the line on their own.  And that might just be (at least partly) because of the omission of that rogue word 'second'.  Never let it be said that misinformation about how the voting system works doesn't matter, or shouldn't be called out.

UPDATE: Please see Calum's comment below for important information that I'd overlooked (which contradicts some of the above).

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Stupefying Survation survey suggests Scotland will vote Yes to independence if there's a No Deal Brexit

There was a troll in the comments section a week or two back who claimed as a point of 'fact' that support for independence is now lower than it was in September 2014.  I deleted his comment for spreading misinformation, and then he came back with so-called 'proof' (which of course was no such thing) and started squealing about "censorship".  Well, right on cue we have new Survation polling on independence that continues to show a Yes vote that is slightly higher than the 45% recorded in 2014.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46%
No 54%

Attracting more interest, though, are two hypothetical questions asking how people would vote in the event of two Brexit-related scenarios:

In the event of Brexit:

Yes 50%
No 50%

In the event of a no deal Brexit:

Yes 52%
No 48%

Which of course is strikingly similar to the results of a poll by another firm a few weeks ago.  I'm away for the weekend, but I'll update this post with more details and analysis as soon as I can.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Britain is now a prison - the SNP must set out its escape plan

Britain is no longer the country that most of us grew up in, and the transformation has been incredibly recent and sudden.  Every Prime Minister between Harold Wilson and David Cameron accepted that Scotland was only part of the UK on a voluntary basis and could leave any time it wished.  Even in the early days of Theresa May's premiership, Ruth Davidson was still explaining to journalists that it would be 'constitutionally improper' for London to block an independence referendum requested by a majority of the elected Scottish Parliament.  That immaculate principle of self-determination was not compromised until May's "now is not the time" schtick, which was intended to imply a deferral rather than an outright rejection of Scotland's right to choose.  But it's now clear that was merely a staging post on a quick transition towards the new colonial settlement, backed by both Tory and Labour, in which Scotland is told it will be remaining in the UK regardless of its own wishes.  The new Britain is the very Soviet-style prison that Jeremy Hunt, with a record-breaking absence of self-awareness, claimed the EU to be only the other day.  That is a truly staggering development, and the only thing even more staggering is the fact that our useless mainstream media don't seem to feel the attempted murder of Scotland's democracy is worthy of any note.

It may seem naive in retrospect, but the SNP's strategy in firing the starting gun for a referendum in early 2017 hinged entirely on the belief that Theresa May would not say "no".  It was a genuine surprise to the SNP leadership when she did, but even after that point the strategy continued to assume that her "no" had to really mean "maybe, when the pressure builds".  In the light of recent events, such wishful thinking must be dispensed with permanently.  We now know for virtually certain that a method for circumventing a London "no" will be required, and luckily two such methods exist - a consultative referendum held without a Section 30 order (which would probably need to be okayed by the Supreme Court), or a Holyrood election that doubles as an independence referendum. We need to hear from the SNP right now, or very soon, about how one or both of those methods will be used.  That does not in any way prejudge the issue of referendum timing, because regardless of whether the referendum is called next year, or in 2025, or at any point in between, it is clear that London will not give its blessing.  If the SNP is serious about Scotland leaving the prison of the UK at any point in the future, it's absolutely crucial that it now demonstrates that seriousness to the electorate by revealing its escape plan.  Not actually a difficult or challenging thing to do, but without it the credibility of the whole independence cause may start to wither, because the media will be all too eager to triumphantly have people believe that independence is automatically dead just because London says it is.

*  *  *

What else has changed about Britain very recently?  Try the abrupt end of the devolution settlement as we know it.  The whole point of devolution was to end the situation that prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s when the Scottish Tories were manning the Scottish Office and arrogantly calling the shots in this country on the basis of 28% or 24% or 26% of the vote.  We appear to be right back to where we started.  Ruth Davidson, who has never led her party to anything better than second place and 29% of the vote in any election, seemingly has the right to tell the landslide winner of every recent election in Scotland to "sling her hook" when she tries to implement her manifesto.  As the defeated leader of the opposition, Davidson can apparently make "announcements" about which year in the distant future the elected First Minister of this country might possibly be "allowed" to implement the will of the people.  Oddly, our mainstream media believe this state of affairs is somehow inspiring, rather than the democratic outrage it so obviously is.

*  *  *

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Corbyn's day of infamy as Labour become the party of colonialism

If it was the case that Labour were simply saying that winning a majority in Scotland at the next general election would constitute a mandate to block an independence referendum, that might just about be a defensible position.  (It would still be wrong, incidentally, because a Holyrood election is the appropriate arena to seek constitutional mandates.  But at least it would be an acknowledgement that a Scottish mandate is required.)  What they instead appear to be saying is that they will seek a Britain-wide "mandate" to block an indyref, and even if Scotland comprehensively rejects Labour for a third consecutive general election, the wishes of voters south of the border will be imposed in Scotland, and the wishes of voters who actually live in Scotland will be contemptuously disregarded.

That isn't democracy.  That's a hostage situation.  Labour have today embraced the logic of colonialism - indeed, it's precisely the same logic that has fuelled the persecution of the Catalan independence movement.  Incredibly, Labour have looked at what the Spanish government did and thought "wow, that's a template we must copy".  We used to think the idea of a British government seeking the imprisonment of SNP ministers was totally unthinkable...but then the idea that a major UK party would oppose Scotland's right to self-determination was unthinkable until very recently.  Who knows what the future might hold.

There is a very clear lesson here for the SNP.  Attaining a referendum via a Section 30 order is now a non-starter regardless of whether there is a Tory or Labour government.  So from this moment on we shouldn't hear any more about how the SNP leadership are temperamentally opposed to a referendum held without Westminster's consent.  Of course a Section 30 would have been preferable, but you can only choose an option that is actually open to you.  If you will the ends, you have to will the means.  That leads us inescapably to one of two possibilities - either a consultative referendum held without a Section 30 order (which would probably have to be defended at the Supreme Court), or the seeking of an outright mandate for independence at the next Holyrood election.

As for Corbyn's motivation for abandoning his long-standing and principled opposition to colonialism, I can only assume that it must be a cynical electoral calculation aimed at winning back voters who were won over by the moronic simplicity of the Tories' "No to Indyref 2" message in June 2017.  If so, it's an enormous gamble, because there were Yes voters who backed Corbyn last year, but for whom voting for a party explicitly seeking a mandate to block an indyref will be a step too far.  The penny seems to have finally dropped today for Cat Boyd, for example.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Your all-important YouGov subsample update

Apologies for the radio silence of late - I'm out of the country at the moment.  But you know me, I'm a slave to my responsibilities, so here (albeit a couple of days late) is your all-important YouGov subsample update.

SNP 38%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 23%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 4%, UKIP 1%

Just to recap on the significance of this: before the Alex Salmond story broke, YouGov's Scottish subsamples had shown a long unbroken sequence of the SNP in the high 30s or low 40s.  The first post-Salmond subsample put the SNP on 34%, which might have been a meaningless blip, or might have been a sign that the SNP had suffered some genuine damage.  But this is the second YouGov subsample since then, and both have put the SNP back in their 'normal range'.  That would obviously be consistent with the 34% being meaningless margin of error 'noise', or indeed a temporary slump that has since been reversed.  We should find out more soon, because another YouGov poll has been newly released today - but the datasets haven't been published yet, so we still await the Scottish subsample figures from that one.

(Although individual subsamples should not be regarded as reliable, YouGov's Scottish subsamples are of more interest because they appear to be separately structured and weighted - hence the relative stability of the figures.)

*  *  *

I haven't been keeping a close eye on the news since I left, but I did vaguely notice the other day that one or two of the usual suspects on the radical left were piling in with the official BBC line that "Nicola Sturgeon wants to avoid a referendum", and were using as proof her call for Brexit to be delayed.  Unless I'm missing something (and maybe I am), that theory makes very little sense.  Nicola Sturgeon calling for something does not mean it will happen, and if a no deal Brexit occurs next March in spite of the SNP's best efforts, the casus belli for an early independence referendum will simply be even more watertight.

*  *  *

I was shocked to learn today that Derek Bateman had been ill, but what an amazing story about his partner donating an organ to him.  All the best to him for a full recovery.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

New YouGov subsample offers reassurance for SNP

So as you'll probably remember, the first polling straw in the wind after the Alex Salmond story broke was a Scottish subsample from a GB-wide YouGov poll, and although it had the SNP in the lead, the party's share of the vote was down to 34% - breaking a long, long sequence of YouGov subsamples that had the SNP in the high 30s or low 40s.  Although no individual subsample can be regarded as reliable, YouGov's Scottish subsamples are unusual in that they appear to be separately structured and weighted - which probably explains the relative stability of the results over time.  So the drop to 34% might have been a coincidental and meaningless blip caused by normal sampling variation - but it might just have been a warning sign that the Salmond story had caused some damage.

As Marcia pointed out last night, a new YouGov subsample is now out which appears to show that normal service has been resumed...

SNP 40%, Conservatives 23%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 9%, UKIP 4%, Greens 3%

If it does turn out that we're back to normal, and that's a big if, it'll be impossible to know whether the dip was real but transitory, or didn't happen at all.  But the local by-election in Fife on Thursday certainly didn't show any sign of a catastrophic drop in SNP support.

Less encouraging are three subsamples from other firms - two from Survation that have the SNP in second place, and one from BMG that have them just about in the lead but in a virtual three-way tie.  But those are based on very small samples, and probably aren't separately weighted in the way that YouGov subsamples are.  For now the YouGov figures are of most interest.

*  *  *

Friday, September 7, 2018

Horror show for Labour in Fife by-election

Tonight we have the result of the first local government by-election in Scotland for several months...

Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay by-election result (first preferences):

Conservatives 37.3% (+0.7)
SNP 28.1% (-2.7)
Labour 12.0% (-4.8)
Liberal Democrats 9.1% (+4.1)
Independent - Collins 8.4% (n/a)
Greens 4.2% (+0.7)
Independent - Macintyre 0.6% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarian 0.2% (n/a)

I know the SNP were talking up their chances of outright victory, but for my money this is a very creditable result in difficult circumstances. In spite of the endless stream of negative headlines about Alex Salmond over the last couple of weeks, the SNP are only down a smidgeon on an election last year in which they won the national popular vote by a relatively comfortable margin. And although the Tories usually have an inbuilt advantage in local by-elections due to the greater motivation of their supporters to make it to the polling stations, the modest swing from the SNP they achieved would not be enough to overhaul the SNP's national lead if extrapolated to the whole country.

Technically this has to be reported as a "Tory gain from Labour", but that's just one of those wildly misleading quirks of the STV voting system. The Tories won the popular vote in the ward last year, and Labour were a distant third, so the chances of Labour 'holding' the seat were always remote (although arguably not totally non-existent, because Labour did finish a strong second in the ward back in 2012). Nevertheless, Richard Leonard ought to be horrified to see Labour's vote slip back more than the SNP's. We all know that any real threat to the SNP's predominance in Scottish politics would have to come from Labour, because there is a natural ceiling on Tory support. So the fact that the SNP have somehow improved their position relative to Labour in this ward is extremely heartening in the current climate. OK, Labour would probably argue that this was a classic third-party squeeze, with Labour voters lending their support to either the SNP or the Tories depending on whether they happen to be unionist diehards or not. But if it's quite as simple as that, why did the Lib Dems and the Greens both increase their vote share in fourth and sixth place respectively?  Is Labour's lack of clarity on Brexit costing them?

*  *  *

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sometimes being ruthless just means losing Ruth

Phantom Power's acclaimed Journey to Yes series is back - and the latest film is perhaps the most remarkable so far. It features Ashley Graczyk, who was elected as a Scottish Conservative councillor in Edinburgh only last year, but who has now left her party and become a passionate supporter of Scottish independence. Watch her story below.

*  *  *

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The case for an early independence referendum has already been made - it can't and mustn't depend on transitory opinion poll results

I'm more than a little troubled by Jason Michael's latest post on Random Public Journal.  Obviously I agree with him that now is the time for the SNP to go on the offensive against the British government, but we really must be careful not to put all our eggs in the basket of what is frankly a ropey interpretation of a single opinion poll.  Jason says that the Deltapoll survey conducted for the Best For Britain campaign shows that "52 per cent of Scots think self-determination is the best option for our nation’s future...this represents a seven-point swing in favour of independence since the 2014 referendum". That simply isn't true.  As I pointed out in my previous post, the main question on independence actually shows a 51-49 split in favour of No, although admittedly it was only the tiniest of tiny fractions away from being rounded up to a 50-50 dead heat.  So in fact the swing to Yes since 2014 implied by the poll is actually around 4 or 5 points.  That's a fabulous showing for Yes by most recent standards, but it's not quite an outright lead and it's not a 7 point swing.

There are also health warnings that need to be put on the poll.  Even the main question had a non-standard wording.  (It's not a wording that in any way contained a pro-independence slant, but nevertheless the question should really have been 'Should Scotland be an independent country?')  It appears from the datasets that the only political weighting in the poll was by recalled EU referendum vote.  It's not unheard of for pollsters to eschew political weighting, but it's certainly unusual - the majority of firms would have weighted by recalled indyref vote and recalled general election vote.  This is also Deltapoll's first foray into independence polling, which means there is no baseline to judge from.  In other words, there is no hard evidence in this poll of a recent surge for Yes.  The unusually good result may just be a 'house effect' generated by how the poll was conducted.  That doesn't necessarily mean the figures are wrong - as Scottish Skier pointed out in the previous thread, it's perfectly possible that weighting by recalled indyref vote is making other firms' results less accurate, not more so.  The fact that Ipsos-Mori (who don't weight politically) were a No-friendly firm before the indyref but are now more towards the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum might conceivably lend some weight to that theory.

But the bottom line is that if No-friendly firms like YouGov and Panelbase were to publish independence polls tomorrow, there's no reason to automatically think they'd show anything other than the type of No leads they usually show.  So if we get too wedded to a narrative of "a referendum is coming because the polls now show a Yes lead", we're just setting ourselves up for a fall in very short order.  The case for a referendum should not depend on whether Yes are currently at 43% or 47% or 49% or 52% - all of those are potential platforms for victory (or indeed for defeat).  I'm particularly aghast to see Jason unintentionally echoing the rhetoric of those who want to see the referendum kicked into the long grass by stating that Yes now need to use their current momentum (which may not even exist) to kick on and reach an utterly fantastical and unattainable target figure of 60% by the date of Brexit, which is less than seven months away. 

If we're serious about wanting an early referendum, we simply cannot afford to run away with ourselves and set unrealistic expectations of what the polls will show over the coming weeks and months.  If a significant swing to Yes occurs, it's much more likely to be after the referendum is called, and not before.

*  *  *

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Deltapoll delirium as new survey finds Scotland split down the middle on independence

There's a lot of excitement tonight because of an independence poll featured on the frontpage of The National which sort-of-shows Yes support at 52%.  The problem is that Deltapoll asked a non-standard question based on the hypothesis that Britain will leave the EU.  Although this is obviously a hypothesis that is extremely likely to come to pass, some respondents may have felt that they were 'supposed' to adjust their current view on independence when the imagined future was taken into account, which could make the results unreliable.  People are notoriously bad at answering hypothetical questions - 'bad' in the sense that their answers don't tally up with how they actually react when the event comes to pass.

But never fear, because there is something very interesting and encouraging about this poll.  Before the hypothetical question was posed, respondents were first asked a more neutral question about independence.  Unfortunately it's still not the standard independence question (ie. 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' Yes/No), so it can't be directly compared with other independence polls.  But there's absolutely nothing about the question that would artificially steer respondents towards a pro-independence position - if anything, the opposite is true.  The results are startling.

In a referendum on independence for Scotland held tomorrow, how would you vote?

For Scotland to remain as part of the United Kingdom: 50.6%
For Scotland to become an independent country: 49.4%

That's as good a result for Yes as we've seen in a long time - essentially a dead heat.  I haven't been able to track down the fieldwork dates yet, so if anyone knows what they are I'd be very interested to hear.  That could obviously be a point of great significance given recent events.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Stuart Campbell kindly sent me the methodological note from the poll last night, which states that the parallel Northern Ireland sampling took place between the 27th and 30th of August, but irritatingly doesn't specify the fieldwork dates for Scotland.  The National article states that polling took place between the 24th and 29th.  Either way it appears to be entirely after the Alex Salmond story broke, which is very encouraging.

*  *  *

First Scottish subsample since the Alex Salmond story broke has the SNP still in the lead

When news of the complaints against Alex Salmond was irresponsibly broken by the Daily Record, I said that we'd just have to wait for opinion poll evidence to see whether there would be much (if any) negative effect on the SNP.  Frustratingly, the end of August has seen an unusual dearth of polls even at Britain-wide level.  (It goes without saying there was never much chance of a full-scale Scottish poll when you really wanted one.)  However, we do at last have a Britain-wide YouGov poll which was conducted on the 28th and 29th of August, and the Scottish subsample shows the following:

SNP 34%, Conservatives 27%, Labour 24%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 3%, UKIP 3%

Now, to state the obvious, any individual subsample cannot be regarded as statistically reliable, and I normally wouldn't dream of looking at one in isolation.  However, when a major event has occurred and you're waiting for any clues at all about the impact, obviously you're going to be interested in the first straw in the wind, no matter how many health warnings have to be attached to it.  The good news is that the above figures are not at all untypical for Scottish subsamples since last year's general election, but the bad news is that they're less impressive for the SNP than the most recent batch of subsamples from YouGov.  The previous eight had the SNP on 38%, 39%, 42%, 40%, 40%, 42%, 38% and 42%.

The dip to 34% might easily be explained as the meaningless effect of random sampling variation, but obviously it could also be a sign that the media hysteria of recent days has had a genuine effect on public opinion.  If it proves to be the latter, I think we should take heart from the fact that there's no sign yet of the SNP losing their lead outright, and that it's perfectly possible that any setback will be quickly reversed once the media obsession eventually blows itself out.

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Friday, August 31, 2018

On the subject of faith, wealth, and personal choice

It's with great trepidation that I even think of writing a little more about the current Alex Salmond story, because no matter what I say, some unionist journalist will doubtless interpret it as a sign that I am taking a side in their fictitious "SNP civil war".  But a few general points that I feel need to be made -

1) It's deeply offensive to suggest that people who have donated to Alex Salmond's crowdfunder have done something wrong by not donating to Women's Aid instead.  That portrays the issue as a zero-sum conflict between the perpetrators and the victims of violence against women, and is self-evidently inconsistent with the principle that Mr Salmond is innocent until proven guilty.  There is obviously a division of opinion within the SNP on the wisdom of Mr Salmond's legal challenge, but the fact is that at the moment he is challenging the complaints process he has been subject to, and therefore any funds raised will not be used for his defence against the complaints themselves.  As has been pointed out multiple times, any deficiencies the judicial review may identify in the complaints process (for example the very obvious lack of confidentiality) could well have negatively affected both Mr Salmond and the complainants, so contributors to the fundraiser are perfectly entitled to say that they are acting in the best interests of both sides.  Not that people have to justify what they choose to spend their own money on, of course.  Every penny ever spent by anyone could always be challenged by a third party as not going to the most worthy cause.  Labour membership fees could perhaps be more usefully spent on expanding access to clean water in Africa, for example.  Rather than playing that moronic game, it's probably best to let people choose to support the causes they personally feel most strongly about.  If someone like Danielle Rowley feels that Women's Aid is an underfunded cause, by all means she should start donating a bigger portion of her own salary to that charity.

2) The people who are saying that Mr Salmond is an independently wealthy man and therefore has no need to run a fundraiser don't appear to have a clue what they are talking about.  Do they know: a) the current state of his bank balance, and b) how much the legal challenge will cost?  If not, they should have the courtesy to allow a fellow citizen to get on with funding legitimate access to the legal system by any legitimate means.  (Oh, and memo to Suzanne Moore: Mr Salmond does not have income from a "Kremlin-backed TV show".  His own production company makes a TV show which is screened on an Ofcom-licensed station that happens to be funded by the Russian state - an important distinction.)

3) There has been a lot of sneering commentary about how the widespread backing for Mr Salmond is "faith-based".  And yes, some of the people who have contributed to the crowdfunder do have fairly wild, unproven theories about the sexual harassment complaints being a dirty tricks operation by the British state (theories that Mr Salmond is not responsible for and does not need to assume responsibility for).  But how is that any different from the faith-based convictions held by Mr Salmond's critics that the complaints would never have been made unless they were probably true?  The reality is that only the people present when the alleged incidents were supposed to have taken place know the truth of what did or didn't happen.  Anyone else passing comment on the facts at this stage (other than to say "I don't know") is guilty of faith-based assumptions.  It would be better for us all to keep an entirely open mind on what any investigation will uncover - and to adhere to the principle that until then, Mr Salmond is entitled to a presumption of innocence, just as anyone else would be in the same situation.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Will the SNP take an electoral hit from the Daily Record's cynical reporting of the allegations against Alex Salmond?

The inconvenient truth for the unionist parties is that polling evidence suggests last year's general election was not some kind of staging-post on the way to a total SNP collapse, as the media narrative optimistically suggested in the immediate aftermath of last June.  All full-scale Scottish polls since the election have suggested that the SNP vote has held up well, and the majority of them have actually put the SNP a little ahead of the 37% achieved on polling day.  If anything, the SNP appear to be on course to gain seats, not to lose them.  Little wonder, then, that the unreconstructed Daily Record reacted with such glee at the opportunity to publish allegations of sexual misconduct against Alex Salmond, which they clearly feel will be harmful to the SNP regardless of whether the complaints eventually prove to be well-founded or not.

Is that correct?  Certainly the experience of the Liberal party in the late 1970s, when their former leader Jeremy Thorpe was charged with (but eventually acquitted of) conspiracy to murder, gives the lie to the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  It's telling that Thorpe's replacement David Steel was warmly congratulated after the 1979 election for severely limiting the damage that had been widely anticipated.  Probably damage limitation is the most that can be hoped for in such circumstances - but of course the allegations against Mr Salmond, although they appear to be relatively serious, are obviously not in the same order of magnitude as the allegations against Mr Thorpe.

Another thing in the SNP's favour is that the public have become used in recent times to the proliferation of sexual complaints against leading public figures, and have learned that sometimes those complaints prove to be accurate and sometimes (for example in the case of Cliff Richard) they don't.  That will hopefully help people to keep an open mind as this process unfolds.

The situation would also have been far worse from an electoral point of view if Mr Salmond had only just stood down as leader, or indeed if he was still a sitting MP.  (The Labour activists who let themselves down by openly celebrating the Tory gain in Gordon will surely be reflecting on the irony that if Mr Salmond had held his seat, the SNP would now be faced with a much more serious dilemma.)  Nicola Sturgeon is clearly now seen to be in total control of both the SNP and the Scottish Government, a point she has underscored by putting out a statement that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, making clear that the Scottish Government will vigorously defend itself against the criticisms made by Mr Salmond.

I'd suggest the public will find her statement rather impressive, taking account as it does of the complainants' right to be taken seriously, the need for a process that is blind to the seniority and political affiliation of the person under investigation, and also the hurt and upset this is causing within the SNP.  The only thing that is perhaps missing is a reminder that Mr Salmond, just like anyone else in the same position, is entitled to a presumption of innocence until and unless proven guilty.  That crucial point seems to be increasingly falling under neglect in the current climate.

We'll just have to wait for new polls to see if the Daily Record get their wish by seeing the SNP vote fall back.  But I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility that any electoral impact will be relatively minor or even non-existent.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

What actually is a "People's Vote" anyway?

It's sad to see an intelligent and talented man such as Rory Bremner (who I genuinely used to be a big fan of and in some ways still am) making a bit of a fool of himself with a hopelessly contradictory attack on the pro-independence movement.  He claimed on Twitter that Yessers need to accept the result of the 2014 independence referendum, stop demanding a rerun, acknowledge that Brexiteers are now the real enemy, the campaign for a rerun of the 2016 EU referendum.  Quite why the 2014 result must be regarded as sacred for all time and the 2016 result must be immediately set aside isn't entirely clear.  Perhaps it's because the Leave campaign only won in 2016 by telling voters a pack of lies, which is completely different from how the No campaign won in 2014 in absolutely no way whatsoever.

Elsewhere, I was one of several people who "profoundly saddened" the leading anti-Brexit campaigner Professor Tanja Bueltmann yesterday.  There was an awful lot of "profound sadness" emanating from that direction, mainly because SNP supporters were challenging her view that any failure to support a UK-wide rerun of the 2016 referendum (a unionist project if ever there was one) constituted harmful "division". She pointed out that "until a couple of hours ago" she had been a supporter of Scottish independence, which begs the obvious question of just how meaningful or thought-through that support had ever been if an argument on Twitter was capable of ending it in the space of a single afternoon.  I mean, if arguing with people on your own side was enough to do the trick, James Mackenzie and the Richard gang would have converted me to No years ago.

I'm a bit puzzled by the whole "People's Vote" schtick in any case.  It seems to be intended to contrast with the 2016 referendum, which must have been some kind of "Elite Vote", in spite of the fact that 33 million people took part in it.  Yes, OK, it was a deeply unsatisfactory process because of the fact that the Leave campaign broke the rules, but how do you prevent that happening again?  Rules can always be bent or broken and nothing is likely to be done about it until long after the vote is over.  What else could be made different from the 2016 People's Vote?  Theoretically the franchise could be widened to include EU nationals and 16 and 17 year olds, and yes, that should be done as a matter of principle.  But in practice it would simply mean that Brexiteers wouldn't accept any narrow Remain vote as valid, and would immediately start campaigning for a third referendum.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Let's state the obvious again: waiting until Yes support is at 60% is a recipe for Scotland never becoming an independent country

You might have seen that I was name-checked the other day in an article by Iain Macwhirter about a supposed danger of SNP disunity after Nicola Sturgeon makes her long-awaited decision in the autumn.  I think the first thing to say here is that any implication that there could eventually be a threat to Ms Sturgeon's own position as leader is faintly ludicrous.  She's by some distance the party's greatest asset, and it's obvious that any replacement in the foreseeable future would be a step backwards.  The two most credible alternative leaders are Humza Yousaf, who is probably the long-term heir apparent but needs more experience, and Angus Robertson, who has left active politics for the time being.

Nevertheless, Iain claims that Ms Sturgeon "wants to see support for Yes heading in the direction of 60% before she acts".  And it's quite true that, if this reading is correct, I and a great many others within the SNP would believe she's about to make a terrible mistake.  But my question is the same one I've asked of the BBC's Sarah Smith: how does Iain actually know that Ms Sturgeon intends to 'wait' for the impossible 60%?  Is he guessing?  Does he have a reliable source?  Has he had direct conversations with Ms Sturgeon on the matter?  He doesn't tell us, and doesn't even give us any clues.  I'll be more open and concede I have absolutely no private insight into Ms Sturgeon's thinking, but I do find it incredibly hard to believe that she would be foolish enough to set herself a fanciful target for pre-campaign Yes support that every scrap of logic suggests will not and cannot be met.  Even amidst the initial shock after the Brexit referendum result, Yes support only reached the low 50s.  Bearing that precedent in mind, how can anyone expect to get close to 60% without even campaigning?  The only people who would seriously set a 60% target are those who don't want an independence referendum to take place, and who don't want Scotland to become an independent country within their political lifetimes.  I believe Ms Sturgeon does want independence as soon as humanly possible.

Iain also suggests that Ms Sturgeon might use her autumn statement to abandon an independence referendum in favour of a push for a second EU referendum, but that sounds even less plausible than the 60% claim (which makes me suspect the whole thing may be wishful thinking on Iain's part).  In doing that, she would be endorsing the right of the UK electorate as a whole to overrule Scotland's own constitutional preference.  In short, she would be embracing the logic of unionism.  That is quite simply unthinkable for any SNP leader.  She could of course stipulate that the SNP would only support another EU vote if a double mandate was required (ie. the UK as a whole would only leave the EU if Scotland voted Leave), but as that would mean she would remain opposed to any referendum that might actually take place in the real world, what would be the point?  It would just be a monumental distraction from the real task in hand, which is to keep Scotland in the EU by means of independence.

I was interviewed about this subject on Radio Sputnik a few days ago, and you can read a transcript HERE (the audio file is also available at the bottom of the page).  Of course when you speak off the cuff you always forget to mention one or two things - basically the point I was trying to make is that the whole purpose of delaying a decision until the autumn of this year was to make sure there was clarity on the shape of Brexit at the time a referendum is called, and to demonstrate that the SNP had sincerely tried (but failed) to keep Britain as a whole in the single market and customs union before turning to an independence referendum as a last resort.  If the necessary clarity arrives on schedule this autumn, a decision can still be made at the planned time.  If it doesn't arrive, a nonsense would be made of the SNP's strategy if they pushed ahead immediately with an indyref just because of a date on a calendar, and I suspect most of the party membership would have no great problem with Ms Sturgeon deciding upon a very short further delay of a few weeks or months until we know whether there is going to be a no deal Brexit or not.  But what would not be accepted is any suggestion that the delay will be open-ended and could lead to the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum expiring altogether. 

And I just don't believe that the membership will be asked to accept any such thing.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

John Curtice is wrong: the Yes rank-and-file would not accept the independence referendum being "kicked into the long grass" this autumn

"Ask John Curtice" was a Twitter meme a few years ago.  It was based on the BBC's endless attempts to get their money's worth out of Curtice's role as a studio pundit by asking him about topics that went quite a way beyond his true expertise as a psephologist.  People started to wonder only half-jokingly if Gordon Brewer might eventually invite Curtice to give relationship advice to viewers.

I was reminded of that earlier today when I saw that Ruth Davidson had jumped on a Courier article in which Curtice is quoted as saying that the odds are against a second independence referendum being held within the next five years, but "probably only marginally".  Needless to say, Davidson didn't mention the "only marginally" bit, which presumably should be taken as meaning that Curtice thinks there is at least a 40% chance of an early referendum.

What made me raise my eyebrows, though, is that Curtice seemed to be basing his assessment mostly on a psychological analysis of Nicola Sturgeon - something that as a psephologist he is no more or less likely to get right than you or I.  He clearly believes that Ms Sturgeon cares more about keeping her job than she does about independence, and therefore won't risk calling a referendum because she supposedly knows that she would have to resign as First Minister if she lost.  If I was Ms Sturgeon, I would feel somewhat insulted by that assumption.  She did, after all, join the SNP at a time when Labour would have been the more natural option for a careerist.  I see no reason to doubt that her commitment to independence is genuine, and that she will judge the success of her career by whether she achieved independence or brought it closer, and not by the number of years she stayed in office.  So, for what it's worth, our knowledge of Nicola Sturgeon's motivations would lead me to the opposite conclusion to Curtice's - ie. that an early referendum is more likely than not.

Curtice also attempts a bit of Kremlinology by reading huge significance into the supposed lack of activity during the summer.  Well, maybe, but remember that the referendum announcement in the spring of 2017 was a complete bolt from the blue as far as the media were concerned.  If Ms Sturgeon wants the same element of surprise the second time around, she wouldn't telegraph a decision in quite the obvious way that Curtice seems to have been looking out for.

What's missing from Curtice's psychological analysis is the psychology of the SNP membership and the wider Yes movement.  Expectations that the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum will be used are sky-high, and it's hard to understand why Curtice thinks the rank-and-file would just shrug their shoulders if the announcement this autumn is a decision to kick the referendum "into the long grass", as he thinks is marginally more likely.  They might accept a very short further delay if the shape of Brexit was still not known, but not a decision to let the mandate expire.  They would quite reasonably ask: if the double-whammy of the destruction of the devolution settlement and Scotland being dragged out of the EU is not sufficient grounds for a referendum, what on earth would be?  What magnitude of disaster would we actually be waiting for?

Lastly, I'm bemused by the Courier alleging that SNP depute leader Keith Brown had "signalled" that a referendum would not be announced this autumn, and then providing a quote from him in which he signals no such thing.  I suspect there's a touch of journalistic wishful thinking in there.

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Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser 2018: You can find information about the fundraiser HERE, or you can make a donation HERE.

Independence remains the only viable Brexit parachute

You may have seen that Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity has written a blogpost in which he turns conventional wisdom on its head by suggesting that Magnus Linklater's notorious article in The Times (claiming that "the SNP's dithering" on EU membership is turning immigrants "angry") makes a perfectly logical argument which he largely agrees with.  In fairness, it's true that the generous interpretation Thomas puts on the article is not irreconcilable with the actual text, but I think most people would say that the operative words are "by Magnus Linklater".  This is not a man who wants Scotland to become an independent member state of the EU or who believes such an idea is even worthy of consideration, so the obvious conclusion is that he is indulging in sophistry by very vaguely giving the impression that the SNP can somehow secure Scotland's place in the EU without independence being required.

Thomas notes that it is correct to say that he, as an immigrant from another EU state, is angry about the SNP's alleged "dithering".  I think what we're seeing here is the tension between an EU citizen who puts the prize of continued EU membership above all else and sees Yes as a means to that end, and those of us who may be extremely pro-European but who nevertheless would be Yes anyway, and indeed probably would have been Yes even in the 1970s when the independence cause was associated with Euroscepticism.  I remember Thomas reacting with horror when I listed a number of extreme concessions that the UK government could theoretically make that I thought might be sufficient to justify the SNP dropping its opposition to Brexit in return for a deal.  One of my suggestions was Devo Max (genuine Devo Max, obviously, not the Jackie Bird version).  Thomas wanted to know why on earth I thought any deal that didn't involve staying in the single market or customs union could possibly be acceptable, and my answer was simply that genuine Devo Max would be such an enormous concession from London that it would be worth making our own sacrifice for.  That makes sense to me as someone whose primary goal is Scottish self-government.  (I think most of us, if forced to make such an improbable binary choice, would prefer an independent Scotland outside European structures to non-independence inside the EU.)  I can easily appreciate why it doesn't make any sense at all to someone for whom the whole point of Scottish self-government is as a means to remain in Europe.

That said, I think Thomas is dead right to point out again that the SNP has at least partly lost sight of the moral obligation it owes to EU citizens after persuading them to stay in Scotland in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum on the basis that an indyref was coming and that it would secure full EU membership for Scotland.  Somehow the clarity of that pledge has got lost as the SNP fret about the votes shed to the Tories in places like Moray.  But those lapsed voters in the north-east were always unlikely to back independence in a referendum anyway, so there really oughtn't to be any tactical conflict between those who prioritise EU membership and those who prioritise independence - the most promising way to achieve both goals is to push ahead unapologetically with an indyref, either next year or the year after.

Unfortunately Thomas himself is now departing from that script by effectively abandoning independence as the most effective Brexit parachute, and is instead pinning his hopes on another UK-wide referendum to reverse the outcome of the last one.  That's not something the SNP can realistically be expected to campaign for, because they'd be conceding the right of the rest of the UK to overrule Scotland's constitutional wishes.  As it happens, I don't think it's a viable way of furthering Thomas' own priority either, because I cannot see any circumstance in which a Tory government would allow a referendum in which Remain was a possible outcome.  It would be electoral suicide for them to do so.  A snap general election followed by a second referendum held by an incoming Labour government is just about possible, but there would still be the formidable obstacle of Jeremy Corbyn's private but well-documented Euroscepticism.

The bottom line is that there is a far greater percentage chance of maintaining EU membership because of an indyref than there is of maintaining it because of a second UK-wide vote.  So although Thomas' priorities may differ slightly from most of the Yes movement, I can't see any reason why there should be a corresponding divergence on strategy.  We should still be marching in the same direction down the same road.  I do understand why Thomas feels misled and let-down, though, and I hope that Nicola Sturgeon's long-awaited decision in the autumn will remedy that.

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Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser 2018: You can find information about the fundraiser HERE, or you can make a donation HERE.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser 2018: An Update

Click here to go straight to the fundraising page.

There are times in life when you realise you're in the middle of making an incredibly stupid mistake, and you have to decide whether to see it through or to try to reverse what you've done, no matter how awkward and embarrassing that might be. As regular readers will be aware, I've been trying to fundraise over the last few weeks to help keep this blog going for another year, but I've been doing it in a fairly low-key way as a sort of bolt-on to last year's fundraising page. That was a really daft idea, because the £7000 target on that page was met twelve months ago and the money has since been completely used up, so there was no proper indication of how much I was trying to raise this year or how far away the new target was from being met. A significant amount was raised during July and the first couple of days of August - more than £3000, in fact, and a million thanks to everyone who has contributed. That's not quite halfway towards the rough target, though, and I began to realise that I was potentially going to have to bore people to tears with reminders about the fundraiser for months to come if I didn't bite the bullet and set up a new page with a more meaningful target figure. I was just in the middle of doing that when I suddenly noticed that it was perfectly possible to edit an existing fundraiser and adjust the target! Remind me to actually check these things in future. So I've now adjusted the target to £15,500. For the avoidance of doubt, that does not mean I'm seeking to raise anything like that amount during the current fundraising period - the running total stood at £7,800 after last year, so if/when the £15,500 target is met, that will mean that just over £7,500 has actually been raised this year.

Here are a few questions and answers about the fundraiser...

What's the plan for Scot Goes Pop over the next twelve months?

The mind boggles as to what might happen over that period. A Tory leadership contest? A snap general election? A referendum on the terms of Brexit? The calling of a second independence referendum? Any or all of the above could happen at any time and at very short notice. The beauty of these fundraisers is that it gives me the flexibility to drop everything and provide extensive polling analysis when called for, even if that temporarily becomes a task almost on a par with a full-time job. That was very much the case during the 2014 independence referendum, the 2015 and 2017 general elections, and the 2016 EU referendum. (Oddly enough, there was no spike in visitor numbers during the EU referendum in the way that there was for the other three votes, but I still gave you the round-the-clock polling analysis whether you wanted it or not!)

What gap in the market does Scot Goes Pop fill?

We generally only ever see opinion polls through a unionist filter. The vast majority of Scottish polls are commissioned by anti-independence clients in the media, and even if the results are favourable for the SNP or Yes, that's rarely the story that people actually read about. Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage is a pro-independence corrective to that bias, although I would stress that it isn't about propaganda or wishful thinking - I also spend a fair bit of my time correcting misinformation about polls put about by Yes people.

How many people does Scot Goes Pop reach?

I have to sheepishly admit at this point that I'm not quite sure. I've had Google Analytics installed for years, but it suddenly dawned on me a few months ago that I've had it set up incorrectly all along, and that the figures I was seeing completely excluded visitors to the mobile version of the site. So any traffic/visitor numbers I mentioned until the end of the last year were likely to be a very significant underestimate.  According to the latest figures from Traffic Estimate, the blog reached a combined total of 55,400 unique visitors across two domains over the last 30 days (48,400 for, and 7000 in the early part of the month for the now-defunct domain).  I've no idea how accurate that is, but to give you a rough guide, it compares to an estimated 39,500 unique visitors for The Ferret, and 74,100 for Bella Caledonia.

Are the fundraisers your sole income?

No, of course not, and I really must stress that point for the benefit of our resident troll who likes posting comments along the lines of "get out of bed and do a proper job, you Jocknatsis scrounger". I have other writing-related income, and I'm glad to say I also do some work that has absolutely nothing to do with either writing or politics. However, I simply wouldn't be able to devote anything like as much time to the blog if it wasn't for the fundraisers.

Does the fundraiser help towards running costs?

Strictly speaking no, because the blogging platform I currently use is free.  However, there are a few miscellaneous expenses that are indirectly associated with blogging - for example travel costs if I'm asked to go somewhere for a podcast or rally or whatever, so the fundraiser does help with that.  In the past I've also experimented with using a portion of the funds on Facebook advertising, which is hopefully a win/win for all concerned - promoting this particular blog while also widening the reach of the wider pro-indy alternative media and its message.

Why don't you use the funds to commission an opinion poll?

In an ideal world I'd love to do that (if I can find a polling firm that is still willing to speak to me, that is!).  However, polls are expensive and I'd realistically only be able to do it if the target was significantly exceeded.  I've found in the past that fundraisers tend to only just about reach their target, so it's probably unlikely that I'd ever be able to take the idea forward, but I'll certainly keep an open mind about it.

What happens to the funds if you can't keep blogging?

That point always troubles me, because fundraisers are effectively there to cover a mountain of work that hasn't actually been done yet, and it's impossible to know when personal circumstances might suddenly change and get in the way.  As I've said in past years, if I wasn't able to keep going for any reason I would pass any remaining funds on to other pro-independence alternative media.

If everyone who has read this blog in the last month donated just 50p, would the target be met straight away?


Click here if you'd like to donate.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Questions for the BBC on the YouTube controversy

A great deal has been written about the closing down of the Wings and Moridura YouTube accounts, but there are a few points that I don't think have received enough attention yet.  The BBC suggested in their statement that the initiative for targeting the two accounts did not come from themselves, but rather that they always take action on copyrighted content when they receive a sufficient number of complaints.  This implies, somewhat implausibly, that dozens if not hundreds of public-spirited citizens have been spontaneously sending in complaints in an attempt to protect the BBC's copyright.  If there's any truth at all to it, much more likely is that any complaints sent to the BBC were malicious and politically motivated.  That would drive a coach and horses through the BBC's insistence that they take action on copyright regardless of the political views of the alleged "infringers", because self-evidently their own policy means that they would be taking more action against one side of the constitutional debate if it was the other side that happened to be putting in the bulk of complaints.

It may be, of course, that the "we take action whenever we receive complaints" thing is just a face-saving PR cover story anyway.  It has that sort of ring to it, a bit like Radio 1 pretending recently that they pulled an interview because it "wasn't good enough", and not because of the sea of outrage about the interviewee.  One obvious question is: how would someone actually go about alerting the BBC to a copyright infringement?  If there is an established procedure for doing that, is it really likely that large numbers of ordinary people would know about it?

The BBC appear to be alleging that the copyrighted material on the two channels was extensive enough to negate the "limited" fair use exemption.  That's a subjective argument, and one that a court might well disagree with.  But even if the BBC truly believe that their copyright has been technically infringed, it doesn't automatically follow that a state-owned and publicly-funded broadcaster always has to seek redress, or that it would be in the interests of those they serve for them to do so.  If it was drama or comedy, it would be an entirely different matter - they would be protecting the creative work of actors, writers, comedians, etc, who have a right to receive revenue when their product is viewed.  But who is being protected when the words of a politician who just happened to be speaking on the BBC are censored?  If there's a public interest in these videos being removed, why can't the BBC articulate what it is?  Why have they not even attempted to do so?

There's also an issue here about BBC centralisation and disrespect towards Scotland.  We were told a few months ago that BBC Scotland were about to make a conscious effort to build bridges with Yes voters and to win back the trust in the corporation that was lost during the independence referendum.  What looks like a political attack by the BBC in London on two leading pro-independence bloggers makes that task ten times harder.  Shouldn't it have occurred to the people responsible to clear such an enormously sensitive move with BBC Scotland, who after all were best placed to understand the repercussions?  If it didn't occur to them to do so, what does that tell you?

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On an unrelated subject, I just thought I'd bring the following to your attention.  Faisal Islam of Sky News has posted a screenshot of Pembrokeshire County Council's planning for Brexit, which makes an observation about devolution -

"There are powers in devolved areas which HMG [Her Majesty's Government] wishes to withhold from WG [Welsh Government] under the EU Withdrawal Bill that are currently implemented under EU law by Welsh local authorities.  How long they will be withheld, and for what purpose, is unclear.  This introduces some legal uncertainty for Welsh local authorities."

Perish the thought that there's any sort of power grab going on, eh? 

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

The Chequers shambles brought UKIP back from the dead - and May's fear of UKIP could increase the chances of a no deal Brexit

One of the paradoxes of last year's general election is that the Tories had to increase their vote sharply just to avoid going backwards any further than they did.  Theresa May took 42% of the popular vote and yet lost the overall majority that had been won by David Cameron two years earlier with only 37% of the vote.  It's easy to dismiss what happened as a form of general polarisation in which both the Conservatives and Labour were bound to see their support increase while smaller parties were inevitably squeezed out, but in fact the processes that led to the Tory and Labour increases were largely separate.  UKIP voters went home to the Tories because the issue of Brexit seemed to be settled (laughable in retrospect, I know), while Labour were only able to capture former abstainers and Green voters because Corbyn had become leader - something that had absolutely nothing to do with Brexit.  So if circumstances had been different it would have been perfectly possible for the Corbyn surge to occur without any corresponding swing back from UKIP to Tory - and we're now starting to see what the effects of that would have looked like.

As you probably know, for several months in the early part of this year, the Tories had re-established a small but significant GB-wide lead over Labour, but that was reversed at the time of the Chequers "deal"/shambles.  Labour briefly went into the lead, but we now seem to be back to roughly a neck-and-neck race.  Although Labour may have taken some support direct from the Tories, the most important impact of Chequers appears to have been to bring UKIP back from the dead.  In every poll published in May and June, UKIP had been somewhere between 2% and 4%, and in most cases they were on 3%.  Since Chequers, they've been hovering between 5% and 8%, with the most common figure being 6%.  So their support has essentially doubled, and needless to say a lot of the extra votes are coming from the Tories.  In the last two YouGov polls, 9% or 10% of respondents who voted Tory in 2017 said they would now vote UKIP, which compares to an equivalent figure of just 3% in the last YouGov poll of June.  Labour's position relative to the Tories could therefore have improved without any direct boost for Labour at all (and indeed after the reversal of a temporary bounce that is effectively what has happened).

The question that forms in my mind is whether what we're currently seeing is merely a staging-post.  UKIP's support may be double what it was a few weeks ago, but it's still only half of what it was at the 2015 election.  With talk of Nigel Farage just possibly returning as leader next year, there's surely scope for a much bigger swing back from Tory to UKIP if the narrative of "Brexit betrayed" is allowed to develop.  There's no particular reason to think Labour would lose support to smaller parties at the same time, which means that the polls could move firmly into Labour overall majority territory by default.  Fear of that happening could be another constraint on Theresa May that will make it less likely that she'll agree to any deal remotely acceptable to the EU - thus further increasing the chances of a disastrous no deal Brexit.

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Any Blairite breakaway from Labour could be Christmas for the SNP

Subscribers to iScot magazine might remember that for my December 2017 column, I made a series of non-predictions for the year ahead.  That is to say, I made the point that the range of possibilities was much wider than the conventional wisdom would have you believe, and that there were a number of perfectly conceivable events being prematurely ruled out by pundits because of what the mood music happened to be at the end of the year.  For example, it seemed silly to me that the possibility of a Blairite/"moderate" breakaway from Labour at some point during 2018 was being completely excluded.

The small minority of you who bother trying to get past the New Stateman's intensely irritating registration-wall may have seen a recent piece by Stephen Bush in which he suggested that the prevailing private view among many Corbynsceptics is that a new party may well be necessary.  Now, admittedly there are only five months left in 2018, so if a breakaway does happen it's likely to be in 2019 or later.  But nevertheless this gossip (which should be taken seriously given Bush's track record) does go some way towards vindicating my point that the cowing of the Blairite tendency at one particular point in time did not tell you a great deal about what the position would be a few months later.  The rebels have cynically used the issue of antisemitism to breathe life back into their cause, and the question has reverted to being how to fight back against Corbyn rather than whether to do so.

If a new centre party emerges, would it be Christmas for the SNP?  Answer: probably, but not necessarily.  It's just possible that a fresh political force with a charismatic leader could ride the backlash against no deal Brexit and sweep all before it, including even the SNP in Scotland.  More likely, though, is that the new party would be strong enough to do severe damage to Labour, but not strong enough to come close to taking power itself.  The outcome would be a split and demoralised Labour and ex-Labour vote, which in a first-past-the-post Westminster contest would be a boon for any parties in competition with Labour in marginal seats.  That would obviously include the SNP.  There might even be limited benefits in a Holyrood election fought under proportional representation, because if either Labour or the new party fell below 5% of the list vote in any region, any votes they did receive in that region would be effectively wasted and would free up list seats for other parties.

It's worth bearing in mind, though, that the last time there was a breakaway from Labour, it was less widespread in Scotland than elsewhere.  It's no coincidence that George Robertson was one of only two members of the SDP's predecessor group in parliament who didn't ultimately join the new party.  Other Scottish MPs on the Labour right, such as John Smith, who would have been prime candidates to defect if they had represented constituencies south of the border, didn't even entertain the idea for a nanosecond.  There was a stronger cultural and emotional attachment to the Labour brand here than there was in parts of England.  Of course things have changed in the intervening few decades, and until the advent of Richard Leonard the Scottish party was almost starting to look like the last bastion of Blairism.  Many Scottish Labour MSPs will probably be sorely tempted to join a new party, but will sense deep down that by abandoning the Labour brand they would be giving up the one and only thing that makes them vaguely electable.  

Even if the history of the SDP breakaway repeats itself and Scottish Labour manages to basically hold together as English Labour falls apart, we can rest assured that the new party will still be beamed into Scottish homes courtesy of our wonderful homogenising broadcast media.  A split vote would effectively be imported from down south, and I suspect the SNP would still cash in quite heavily.

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Tonight (and every other night until the end of time) Scottish Labour are gonna whinge like it's Nine-teen-Se-ven-ty-Nine

It's always bemused me that there are two opinions about the SNP's history that seemingly nobody is allowed to express because the self-appointed experts have already long since decided that they are wrong.  Those opinions are:

1) That the SNP did the right thing by withdrawing from the Scottish Constitutional Convention after initial discussions.

2) That the SNP did the right thing by voting in favour of a motion of no confidence in the Callaghan government in 1979.

The first opinion is actually very easily defensible, and indeed in my view is probably correct.  Labour were refusing to even nominally allow independence to be considered by the Constitutional Convention as a valid possible outcome.  Therefore, by staying in the Convention, the SNP would have been endorsing an explicitly anti-independence endeavour.  That would have been a strategically foolish thing to do, because the constitutional proposals of all the main non-Tory parties would have become identical.  Why would anyone have bothered voting SNP when you could back exactly the same devolution policy by voting for a Labour government?  As it turned out, the SNP were electorally more successful in the 1990s than they were in the 1980s (their 32.6% share of the vote in the 1994 European election was at the time a new record high), which would tend to suggest that leaving the Convention and retaining their USP was extremely wise.  And of course devolution happened as quickly as it would have done if the SNP had been inside the Convention.  Indeed there's an argument that it happened more quickly, because external electoral pressure from the SNP helped keep Labour honest.

The 1979 question is more finely-balanced, because it's fair to say that neither the SNP nor Scotland gained anything by the decision to vote against Callaghan.  But here's the thing: it's not at all clear that anything would have been gained by not voting against Callaghan.  Which is probably why Tommy Sheppard said the unsayable a few days ago by noting that, even with the benefit of hindsight, he would have voted the same way if he had been an SNP MP in that position.  The Daily Record then provided a helpful reminder that they remain a completely unreformed Labour fanzine by leaping on that comment with the disgraceful headline "Senior SNP MP slammed for claims nationalists would vote for Thatcherism again".  Sheppard of course had said no such thing, because the SNP did not 'vote for Thatcherism' in 1979 or at any other time.  The vote against Callaghan was not a vote for a change of government, but was instead a vote for hastening a general election in which the British people could elect any government they liked.  The public could, for example, have significantly improved Callaghan's position by re-electing Labour with an outright majority.  If they had done so, would it have meant that the SNP had "voted for Callaghanism"?  No, it would still have meant that they voted for a slightly earlier election and for nothing else.

The subtext of Scottish Labour's decades-long whinge about the 1979 vote is that the SNP allowed the British people to overrule Scotland's wishes by installing Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.  It's hard to know where to start with hypocrisy like that.  Suffice to say that Labour believe as a matter of principle that the British people should be able to overrule Scotland's choice of government, and the SNP categorically do not.  When Labour campaigned for a No vote in the independence referendum, they were shamelessly campaigning to allow the 1979 scenario to play itself out again and again and again and again into infinity.  If we had a media worth its salt, that point would be put to Labour every time the subject is raised.

But leaving Labour's nonsense aside, did the SNP make the right call in 1979?  Look at it this way.  For years, they had used their voting power within a hung parliament to attempt to bring about an elected Scottish Assembly.  They had done so by repeatedly backing the Labour government in confidence votes on the condition that devolution legislation would go ahead.  What actually happened is that dozens of Labour MPs sabotaged the Scotland Bill by inserting the 40% rule, and Callaghan let them get away with it by indicating he was not going to respect the majority Yes vote in the 1979 referendum.  (Contrary to popular belief, the Scotland Act 1978 did not say that a failure to reach the 40% threshold would automatically lead to repeal.  The Secretary of State was required to table a repeal order, but Callaghan could then have whipped Labour MPs to vote against it, which if done successfully would have meant devolution going ahead as planned.  He chose not to do that.)  The informal agreement between Labour and the SNP had therefore been broken, and it had been broken by Labour.  Were the SNP really supposed to react to that state of affairs by saying "oh it doesn't matter, we'll reward your broken promises and continue propping up your government in return for absolutely nothing?" 

Four decades on, Labour's answer to that question, and indeed the Labour-supporting media's answer to that question, is "yes".  I would suggest that's not remotely a realistic answer. 

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Latest figures suggest Scot Goes Pop is Scotland's fifth most-read alternative media site

Apologies for another self-indulgent stats post (in fairness I think the last one was in March!), but like other bloggers I do sometimes have to fight to make sure Scot Goes Pop gets the full recognition it's due.  Indyref2 have today published a ranking of Scottish alternative media websites based on monthly traffic estimates from the appropriately titled Traffic Estimate site.  Scot Goes Pop is on the list in sixth place with 44,400 visitors, but that's an underestimate because for some reason Traffic Estimate are now splitting the blog's traffic between two domains - (44,400 visitors) and (16,800 visitors).  Given that we're talking about unique visitors, can those two figures be treated cumulatively?  Not necessarily - there may be a little overlap, although I strongly suspect that most people who visit the blog multiple times in a month do so on the same domain every time.  So the correct figure is probably much closer to 61,200 than to 44,400.

When I first discovered Traffic Estimate a few months ago, the .com domain was showing zero visitors and the domain was showing anything between 60,000 and 80,000 visitors.  Why the flipover?  I don't really know, although one possible explanation is that Facebook links to Blogger now seem to be automatically directing to the .com domain, no matter which address is manually added.

I've also noticed that John Robertson's and Jason Michael's sites are missing from Indyref2's ranking list.  Assuming there are no other omissions, and assuming that other sites aren't suffering from the same multiple domain problem, here is the correct top nine.  I've put an asterisk next to Scot Goes Pop's traffic to take account of the slight uncertainty over how to treat the cumulative figure.

Wings Over Scotland 211,400
CommonSpace 88,800
Wee Ginger Dug 80,000
Bella Caledonia 79,800
Scot Goes Pop 61,200*
Talking Up Scotland 59,000
Indyref2 48,600
Random Public Journal 42,200
The Ferret 42,100

Obviously these are very broad ballpark estimates, but if Scot Goes Pop really does receive in the region of 60,000 unique visitors every 30 days, what would that mean?  It would suggest that getting on for 1% of this country's entire population drops by every month.  Not too shabby for a one-man operation.  That being the case, it may be a good moment (ahem, cough, violent sneeze) to mention the ongoing fundraiser.  I've been using last year's fundraiser for the sake of convenience, although that may prove to be a mistake because a specific target figure can often be a motivating factor for donations.  Basically you have to subtract £7800 from the figure on the page to calculate how much has been raised so far.  That means just over £2000 has been donated in the current fundraising period, and a million thanks to everyone who has contributed.  I have £7000 in mind as a very rough target, so that will be reached when the page says £14,800.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The exclusion of the SNP from the summaries of poll results is arbitrary, Anglocentric and indefensible

As I've spent a fair bit of the last 48 hours having exchanges (sometimes downright surreal exchanges) about this subject on Twitter, I thought I might as well make the point here as well.  It's a very simple one.  Here is how the Britain Elects account reported the results of the new YouGov poll a couple of days ago...

I'm not having a go at Britain Elects specifically, because the above is absolutely typical of how most news/political outlets summarise such polls - ie. with no sign of the SNP (or indeed of Plaid Cymru).

How do you think any reasonable person would be most likely to interpret the absence of the SNP?  I'd suggest they'd reach one of two conclusions.  Either: a) respondents in the poll were not given the option of expressing a voting intention for the SNP, or b) the SNP were on less than the 2% of the vote enjoyed by the Greens, the lowest-placed of the five parties that were deemed worthy of a mention in the summary.  But both of those conclusions would be completely incorrect, meaning that by either accident or design people are being very seriously misled.  In reality, the SNP and Plaid Cymru received 5% of the vote in this poll, putting them in a clear fifth place ahead of the Greens, and only just behind UKIP in fourth place.  (Because YouGov lump the SNP and Plaid together as a single option for GB-wide polls, it's impossible to separate out the support for each of the two parties, but given what we know about their respective levels of support it's inconceivable that the SNP would have received less than 4% if offered as an option in their own right, and would still have been well clear of the Greens.)  Why, then, is the sixth most popular party reported as if it was the fifth most popular?  Why is the fifth most popular not even mentioned at all?

A mistake?

An oversight?

Nope, it's the intentional withholding of information, and it's done as a matter of routine.  Over the last two days, apologists for this downright weird practice have put forward a number of speculative justifications for it, and not one of them makes any sense.  I'll go through them individually.

"Not editing out the SNP's vote would give a misleading impression of the trend in Scotland, because trivial changes that might barely register at Britain-wide level would be enough to make a big difference in terms of seats."  This doesn't stack up, because essentially the same is true of both the Greens and UKIP - any seats that they might win depend on very localised contests, meaning that their national share of the vote is hardly even relevant.  In 2015, UKIP took 13% of the vote but won just a single seat.  If the media can 'take the risk' of revealing information about the popularity of the Greens and UKIP that has little or no relevance in terms of seats, it's murderously hard to understand why the public must be 'protected' from similar information about the SNP.  The bottom line is that in a first-past-the-post election, the number of seats won by each party is only very weakly correlated to the share of the vote.  The winner of the popular vote may or may not be the largest party in terms of seats.  A third party with 17% of the vote may win more than twice as many seats as it did a decade earlier with 23%.  The purpose of polls is not first and foremost to predict the number of seats for each party, but rather to estimate each party's absolute popularity in terms of votes.  In that respect, the fact that the SNP is on 5% of the vote in this YouGov poll is no more or less important than the fact that the Greens are on 2% or that UKIP are on 6%.

"The estimated vote for the SNP is less reliable than the vote for Britain-wide parties, because it is drawn from a tiny subsample, not the full-scale GB sample."  Not true.  YouGov allow respondents across Britain to select the SNP/Plaid as a voting intention option, as can be seen from the fact that the two parties between them have 1% support in London in this particular poll.

"Nevertheless, in practice the vast bulk of support for the SNP and Plaid comes from Scotland and Wales, so effectively is based on a subsample that is too small to be statistically reliable."  That's really an argument for not taking individual subsamples too seriously, which indeed they shouldn't be.  But the SNP's GB-wide vote is not a subsample figure - it's rounded to the nearest percentage point and therefore normally falls in a range between 3% and 5%.  If anything, the SNP's reported vote is more stable than the reported vote for the Britain-wide parties and isn't subject to random variations outside the standard margin of error - which is what you'd expect if the charge of an unusual level of statistical unreliability had any truth to it.

"The SNP's support is not only effectively drawn from a small Scottish subsample, but one that might be incorrectly structured - for example, it might have far too many pensioners, or too many women."  Not so.  YouGov indicated a couple of years ago that they had decided to start structuring and weighting their Scottish subsamples separately to improve the accuracy of their polls.  It seems highly unlikely that they reversed that decision at any point, because their subsample figures have become (relatively) more stable since then.

"The SNP should be edited out of poll results because not everyone in Britain can vote for them."  That's a British nationalist argument rather than a statistical one, but it doesn't even make sense on its own terms, because not everyone in Britain can vote for UKIP or the Greens either.  In the 2017 general election, the Greens stood in only 467 of the 650 constituencies, and UKIP stood in only 378 of 650.  Both figures were sharply down on the candidates for each party in the 2015 election.  Nobody has a clue how many candidates UKIP and the Greens will put up at the next election, which means that in all probability many respondents will have told YouGov in good faith that they plan to vote for one party or another even though they will not be able to do so.  If reporting the SNP's Britain-wide vote "lacks context", reporting the Green or UKIP vote must inevitably lack a great deal more context.  And yet nobody would dream of withholding that information (unless of course the numbers fell to a statistically insignificant level).

There is no possible logic to the exclusion of the SNP from poll summaries.  It's an arbitrary decision rooted in Anglocentricity.

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Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.