Friday, December 14, 2018

Chortle. John McDonnell wants us to believe that the SNP are only calling for a no confidence vote because they don't want a general election.

Two astonishingly silly statements were made the other day about the SNP's motivations in relation to a vote of no confidence in the Tory government.  Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell claimed that the SNP were only pushing for such a vote to take place so that it would fail, thus ensuring there wouldn't be an early general election, in which Labour would supposedly be breathing down the SNP's necks and poised to make seat gains.  On the other extreme, our dear old friend Mike Smithson, known fondly to thousands of East Dunbartonshire residents as an "impartial election expert", claimed that the SNP would not be planning to vote against the government unless they were very confident that they would hold all of their 35 seats and perhaps make gains.

Two completely contradictory claims, and ironically both wrong.  But which is the daftest of the two?  On this occasion I'd have to say McDonnell just about shades it.  There's something quite exquisitely risible about the claim that the SNP are demanding a vote of no confidence because they don't want a general election.  I know the notion that an election is less likely if you table the motion too soon might seem vaguely plausible to some (and Torcuil Crichton of the Record was predictably credulous about it), but the reality is that a) any no confidence vote is likely to fail regardless of timing, and b) no confidence motions are not a finite resource in any case.  If one fails, it doesn't stop you tabling another later on, and it doesn't prevent the result being different the second time around.  The famous no confidence vote of March 1979 was not the first one that the Callaghan government had faced.

Smithson, of course, is just making his customary mistake of assuming that the SNP have some sort of decision to make on how to vote on a no confidence motion, and that the way they jump will be cynically determined by their own immediate electoral prospects.  It's been pointed out to him umpteen times that it is utterly inconceivable for any left-of-centre party in Scotland to do anything other than vote to bring down a Tory government if the opportunity arises.  But that message just isn't getting through to him, and I suspect it never will.  Can you imagine what would actually happen if the SNP even abstained on a no confidence vote?  It wouldn't just be a problem at the next election, it would haunt the party for decades to come.  No, Mike, that was never an option, and it wouldn't have been an option even if the SNP were at 6% in the polls.

I'm fairly sure that Smithson and McDonnell are both equally wrong about the SNP's expectations for seat gains and losses in a snap election.  The polling average at the moment suggests that the SNP's lead over Labour has increased since June 2017, so it's obviously nonsensical for McDonnell to suggest that the SNP are resigned to losing seats.  But on the other hand, the increase in the lead is not so dramatic that it couldn't be reversed (and indeed more than reversed) if there were the kind of sudden shifts of public opinion during the course of an election campaign that we saw last year.  There are a large number of ultra-marginal seats, some held by Labour, some held by the SNP, meaning that relatively small swings could make the difference between landslide and disaster.  Nobody can possibly say which way it will go on the basis of current polls, or at least not with any confidence.  If the SNP are optimistic about their prospects, I would suggest it's more likely to be because they feel they've cracked the problem of finding a winning campaign strategy.  It may well be (and I'm just speculating) that the recent relentless focus on cancelling Brexit for the whole of the UK has been designed to make the SNP look like the only logical home for Remainers in a 2019 election - and Remainers, let's not forget, make up 62% of the Scottish electorate.  They're in the majority even in Moray (albeit only just).

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

May wins the vote, but loses the narrative

If I was a Brexiteer Tory MP, I think I'd be quietly fuming tonight about the conduct of Sir Graham Brady, who doesn't strike me as being anything like as neutral in his handling of leadership matters as his predecessors.  Every step of the way yesterday and today, he seemed to be acting in collusion with the incumbent leadership and against the rebels.  Downing Street effectively controlled the timing of the announcement that the 48 letter threshold had been met, the timing of the vote itself, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they also had something to do with the neat little stunt of the overall outcome of the vote being announced before the precise numbers.  That's a totally illogical way of presenting the result of any vote, and presumably was intended to provide the TV news with a self-contained clip depicting Theresa May as an unalloyed victor, with the inconvenient detail that 37% of her own MPs want her gone being hurriedly dispensed with later on as if it was of only academic interest.

It was an attempt to set the narrative, but it quite simply failed.  I was struck by the complete contrast between tonight's proceedings and the aftermath of another Tory leadership challenge many years ago.  In 1995, just like today, people were fairly sure that the incumbent leader would be officially re-elected, but the question was always the margin of victory.  In the end, rather more MPs voted against John Major than had been anticipated, but it didn't matter because the rebels grudgingly acknowledged his mandate after the result had been announced.  The complete opposite happened tonight - the ERG doubled down and demanded that May should resign.  Jacob Rees-Mogg may be a buffoon, but the way he laid down a marker within seconds of the result being revealed was an absolute masterclass.  "The vast majority of non-payroll MPs voted against her" was exactly the angle to take, and it's a point that's very difficult for May loyalists to shut down.  It's impossible for them to argue that May doesn't need the support of backbenchers.  If they try to claim she still has that support, by definition that would have to mean that a substantial number of government ministers secretly voted against her, which would be even worse.

The counter-framing from the May camp was much less convincing than Rees-Mogg's effort.  The pre-prepared line that had obviously been given to everyone was that May's percentage of the vote was higher than when she was elected leader in 2016.  That's a complete nonsense, because she wasn't actually "elected leader" at all.  The members' ballot was called off when Andrea Leadsom withdrew, and May became leader by default.  The contest didn't progress beyond a three-way preliminary ballot of MPs, and nobody would really expect any candidate to get 63% of the vote when they have two opponents.  (Although as it happened she got close.)

The other thing that struck me tonight is that anyone who's been thinking there's a non-trivial chance that a "People's Vote" might somehow take place under Theresa May's watch should just forget that idea.  She has a weak renewed mandate, and it was won largely on the promise that she will "deliver the Brexit people voted for".  She is even more boxed in than she was before, and for however long she remains Prime Minister, a referendum with a "Remain" option is inconceivable.  If the assumption is that she will still be around on March 29th, Remainers should probably switch their focus to securing an extension of Article 50 - because if that doesn't happen, Britain will undoubtedly be leaving the European Union.

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Now is the time - but has anyone told Tory MPs?

If nothing else, what today has revealed is just how blatantly the rules for Tory leadership challenges are slanted to help an incumbent leader survive.  We maybe lost sight of that because the same rules were successfully used to topple Iain Duncan Smith in 2003, but he was of course the most hapless Tory leader in post-war history.  Think of how differently things would be playing out under the rules that applied thirty years ago - ie. an automatic annual leadership election in which any MP could stand if they had a proposer and seconder.  We'd be straight into a battle between Boris Johnson and Theresa May (and possibly others) in which the candidates would have parity of esteem, and May's deficiencies would be cruelly exposed.  She'd probably lose.

As it is, she isn't standing against anyone, so the vote today has become a simple matter of loyalty or disloyalty in the leader.  No wonder so few MPs have been willing to stick their heads above the parapet and say publicly that they are voting to remove her.  That has sucked some of the momentum out of the anti-May drive, a problem exacerbated by the fact that the leadership were in effective control of the timetable of the vote, and chose the ultra-quick option so that wavering MPs have no time to think.  The leadership also effectively controlled the timing of the announcement of the vote, allowing for a choreographed 'shock and awe' campaign of endorsements for the PM early this morning.  The TV news dutifully reported all of that, as if Cabinet ministers supporting their own leader was somehow surprising or significant.

On the other hand, we won't know for sure until the result is announced, and secret ballots of Tory MPs do sometimes throw up wild surprises.  Most famous is the 1975 example, in which large numbers of MPs who had publicly endorsed Edward Heath must have quietly voted for Mrs Thatcher.  And in 1997, the scale of William Hague's victory over Kenneth Clarke took everyone by surprise.  We'll see.  Given what happened on the evening of the EU referendum, I would certainly caution everyone not to read too much into the calmness of the financial and betting markets.

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Yes, Virginia, a two-year polling high for Yes was worth reporting

Every few weeks, I can't resist logging out of Twitter and doing a search for my name, just to see if the small army of people who I've had to block or have blocked me (mostly RISE types, Brit Nat trolls and a handful of militant anti-indy journalists) are saying anything I should know about.  And I'm so very rarely disappointed.  Last night I found a short exchange between David "IT'S THE RUSSIANS!!!" Leask and the SSP's "online coordinator" Scott Macdonald, during which Scott commented on the recent Panelbase poll putting the Yes vote at 47%...

"I know. And like many of the other respectable polls, within the margin of error of 18th September 2014. That's not news, unless you're Scot Goes Pop."

I presume that can be reasonably interpreted as criticism and/or mockery of my blogpost about the Panelbase poll.  If so, I think it's worth taking a moment just to defend that post, because quite honestly, the idea that this particular poll was not worthy of note is a bit batty.

Let's start with the obvious: Scot Goes Pop is a polling blog.  (Not exclusively, but to a large extent.)  Pretty much any full-scale Scottish poll is worth reporting here, even if it shows no change at all.  Scottish polls aren't exactly ten-a-penny outside election periods, so they always tell us something interesting.

Secondly, Scott is quite wrong to imply that I thought the significance of the poll was a 2% increase in the Yes vote since the 2014 referendum.  In reality, I was much more interested in the fact that 47% is a two-year high for Yes in Panelbase polls, and is significantly better than the recent 'normal range' for Yes reported by Panelbase, which has been around 43-45%.  Here is the sequence of Yes votes in the last ten Panelbase polls -

44 - 45 - 45 - 44 - 43 - 44 - 44 - 44 - 45 - 47

If you don't think the 47 at the end sticks out like a sore thumb, you must be pretty determined not to see it.  Now, of course, it's perfectly possible that support for independence has remained steady at around 44%, in which case the standard margin of error could just about produce a freakish 47% result now and again.  That's one possible explanation, and if it's the correct one it'll become obvious soon enough because the next couple of Panelbase polls would in all likelihood show a reversion to the 43-45% norm.  But there is another very obvious possible explanation - that the jump in support for Yes is either real or partly real.  If an unexpected poll result comes along and raises the possibility that Yes has significantly narrowed the gap, are we really supposed to look away in a state of total disinterest?  Come now.

The third and more general point is that Scott is making a schoolboy error (albeit a very common one) by assuming that because a large number of polls are putting the Yes vote within the margin of error of the 45% vote in 2014, no conclusions at all can possibly be reached about changes in public opinion since the indyref.  This is exactly the same mistake people made when they said that it didn't actually matter that Hillary Clinton was ahead of Donald Trump in the vast majority of polls, because in a lot of those polls her lead was within the margin of error.  (As you'll recall, Clinton went on to win the popular vote by some three million votes.)

Take a glance at the recent run of Yes results in polls from Survation, which unlike Panelbase is not one of the more No-friendly firms...

46 - 47 - 46 - 46 - 47 - 47 - 46 - 45

If looked at individually, then yes, all of those polls are within the margin of error of the 45% vote in 2014.  None of those polls on their own would constitute proof of an increase in the Yes vote since the indyref.  And yet if you look at them collectively, it's entirely right and proper to draw the opposite conclusion.  Seven out of eight of the polls have Yes above 45%, and not a single one has Yes below 45%.  That's an extremely improbable pattern if Yes is supposed to have been flatlining at exactly 45%.  If that had been the case, and if the margin of error was the explanation for Yes sometimes getting as high as 47%, it would be more likely that we'd have seen a rather more even spread of results above and below 45%.  So, if by any chance Survation have their methodology exactly right (and admittedly that's a big if), it can be said with a bit of confidence that the Yes vote has generally been a little higher over the last year or so than it was on referendum day in 2014.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Crisis deepens for Tyrannical Theresa as bombshell Panelbase poll shows support for independence at a two-year high

OK, I admit it, I've obviously been living down a hole today, because I've only just noticed this rather significant new poll, which apparently was published early this morning.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (+2)
No 53% (-2)

So you might remember the SIF-funded Panelbase poll from a few weeks ago, which I was first to publish (a bit of a contrast from today) and which I mentioned was an eighteen-month high for Yes?  Not anymore, it's not.  A further two-point boost has taken Yes well above its recent normal range in Panelbase polls.  47% would not be unusually high if this was a Survation or Ipsos-Mori poll, but Panelbase have over the last couple of years become noted for being firmly on the No-friendly end of the spectrum.  The last time there was a result as good as this in a Panelbase poll was way back in the autumn of 2016.

Of course it's possible that the high Yes vote may just be an illusion caused by sampling variation, although if that was the correct explanation you might expect the poll's sample to be unusually favourable towards the SNP as well, and that isn't really the case.  There's no improvement at all for the SNP on Westminster voting intentions (which will be a disappointment to those who hoped recent YouGov subsamples were the first sign of a breakthrough), and although there's a 2% boost on the Holyrood constituency vote, that simply takes the party back to where they were in the Panelbase poll before last.  It's only on the Holyrood regional list vote that the SNP are clearly doing better than the recent Panelbase norm.

Scottish voting intentions for the next Westminster general election:

SNP 37% (n/c)
Labour 26% (+1)
Conservatives 26% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 41% (+2)
Conservatives 25% (-2)
Labour 23%  (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 38% (+1)
Conservatives 26% (n/c)
Labour 22% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Greens 6% (n/c)

Although seats projections from polls need to be taken with a heavy dose of salt, on a uniform swing these figures would give the SNP and Greens 62 Holyrood seats in combination - just 3 short of a majority.  So even if the next Scottish Parliament election was a lot less than two and a half years away, there would still be a fighting chance of retaining the pro-independence majority.

It's not the headline voting intention figures from the Panelbase poll that are making the headlines, though - it's the results of supplementary questions that ask respondents to make a straight choice between independence and two different Brexit scenarios.  Independence is slightly preferred to remaining in Brexit Britain even if there is a negotiated deal (and the wording doesn't specify that the deal has to be Theresa May's deal - it could just as easily mean a better Norway-type deal).  But there is an overwhelming majority in favour of independence if the alternative is a no deal Brexit.  Although we've seen majorities for independence on this type of hypothetical question before, a majority on the scale of 59-41 is unusual.

Do you believe Scottish independence or a no deal Brexit would be better for Scotland?

Scottish independence: 59%
No deal Brexit: 41%

Do you believe Scottish independence or remaining in the UK but outside the EU under a negotiated Brexit deal would be better for Scotland?

Scottish independence: 53%
Remaining in the UK but outside the EU under a negotiated Brexit deal: 47%

The snag, of course, is that the results of hypothetical polling questions can't be regarded as being quite as credible as the results on the standard independence question.  People can very easily overestimate how big an impact a hypothetical event will have on their own voting intention.  We might find that, if and when no deal Brexit becomes the status quo, people's instinctive passivity and small 'c' conservatism will kick in and there won't be much of a boost for Yes at all.  However, it's interesting that people clearly feel that Brexit ought to increase their support for independence, and that might be a point of some significance in the heat of an indyref campaign.

Last but not least, there is a sizeable majority in favour of a snap general election if Theresa May's deal is voted down by the Commons - something that should happen this Tuesday (yikes!), unless the vote is cancelled.

If the Prime Minister fails to secure a majority in a vote in the House of Commons for the Brexit deal, would you favour another general election being held?

Yes: 61%
No: 39%

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Wondrous SNP wangle wizard win in windy Wester Ross

I was up to my neck yesterday, so apologies for being a bit late with this excellent news from the Highlands. In a break from the pattern of the recent past, the SNP have not underperformed expectations in a local council by-election - quite the reverse, in fact.

Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh by-election result (first preferences):

SNP 33.1% (+7.0)
Conservatives 26.0% (+7.6)
Independent - Greene 15.6% (+1.4)
Greens 9.0% (-2.2)
Liberal Democrats 8.0% (-5.4)
Labour 4.4% (-0.7)
Independent - Davis 3.3% (n/a)
UKIP 0.4% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.2% (n/a)

Technically, this was an SNP gain from the Liberal Democrats, but that's just one of the familiar quirks of the STV system - in fact the SNP topped the poll in the ward last time around, and the Lib Dems trailed in fourth. Nevertheless, by any standards this was a dismal attempt from the Lib Dems at defending the seat - they suffered a net swing to the SNP of more than 6%. We probably shouldn't get as excited about the SNP surge as we would do if it had happened in a central belt ward - there's much more of a tradition in Highlands local politics of electing an individual, rather than a political party. But a splendid result for the SNP is always preferable to the alternative.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Congratulations to the Independent for the silliest, most misleading headline about polling since...well, since the last one

The Independent is a digital-only newspaper these days, but it still nominally publishes a "front page", and today it bears the following headline: "Just two constituencies back May's deal...and 600 of the 650 want to remain in the EU, poll finds".  That gives the strong impression of a dramatic swing to Remain, because there would have to be a very large gap between the two sides for Leave to only be ahead in 50 seats.  But you perhaps won't be surprised to hear that things are not quite as the Independent are presenting them.  In fact that's the understatement of the millennium - incredibly, the headline is in fact referring to a poll which shows that there would be a very significant risk that a second EU referendum would produce the same outcome as the first, even if the question offered a stark choice between Remain and No Deal.

YouGov asked an enormous sample of more than 20,000 people to choose between different Brexit options, and found that there was a 50/50 split when the choice was between May's deal and Remain, and that there was a razor-thin 52-48 margin in favour of staying in the EU when the choice was between Remain and No Deal.  In other words, almost regardless of the question asked in any referendum, the public is essentially split down the middle and it's anyone's guess what would happen.  The only choice that doesn't produce a virtual dead heat is between May's deal and No Deal, but as either of those options would mean leaving both the EU and the single market, that's no great comfort.

So how on earth did the Independent manage to turn this Leave-friendly poll into a headline that implies a renaissance of Europhilia in the English shires?  Well, YouGov also invited respondents to make a three-way choice between Remain, the May deal, and No Deal.  46% chose Remain, and 54% chose one of the two Brexit options - meaning that the Independent's claim that the vast majority "want to remain in the EU" is the polar opposite of the truth.  But because support for the two Brexit options was split down the middle, that technically means Remain's 46% was enough for a handsome lead on a first-past-the-post basis, and that's what the Independent are getting at.  I've no idea what the relevance of that is supposed to be, given that there isn't a cat in hell's chance that any multi-option referendum would actually be conducted by first-past-the-post.

The Daily Record would have been proud of this one.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Why a no deal Brexit may still be more likely than a "People's Vote"

There's an anonymous commenter on this blog who keeps trying to get a narrative going that a second EU referendum is "almost certainly" going to happen.  The latest event which has supposedly made this almost certain outcome even more almost certain is the confirmation from the DUP that they will rescue the government on any no confidence motion that follows the rejection of Theresa May's Brexit deal, which should mean that Labour then revert to supporting a so-called "People's Vote" (if they stick to their word).  With Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Tory rebel support, the theory goes, there would be majority support for a referendum and it would be bound to happen.  And yet, if you check the betting markets, you'll find that punters currently rate the chances of a referendum next year at significantly less than 50%.

As long-term readers know, I don't share Neil "Alligators" Lovatt's faith in the betting markets as some sort of predictive God.  But in this case, I've no doubt that they're a lot closer to being right than our "almost certain" friend.  First of all, although it's true you get to a majority if you add up all Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Plaid Cymru MPs and add on the likely Tory rebels, it's far from being a comfortable majority.  It's inevitable that there will be a Labour counter-rebellion against a referendum, meaning that it's very difficult to know which way the vote would go.  Self-evidently, if there's a reasonable chance that a pro-referendum amendment will not be passed, there's also a reasonable chance that a referendum will never take place.

But it doesn't end there, because even if a pro-referendum amendment is passed, that still doesn't guarantee a referendum will actually happen.  It would take primary legislation to bring about a referendum, and it's phenomenally improbable that would happen without government support, or at least acquiescence.  The bottom line is that the government may not have the ability to get its own preferred option through, but it's certainly in a strong position to prevent anyone else's option getting through if it's determined to do so.  If we assume that Theresa May will remain Prime Minister through to the spring, and most people do seem to make that assumption, the question we should be asking ourselves is which undesirable option she would be most able to live with.  She doesn't want Remain, she doesn't want a referendum of any sort, she doesn't want No Deal, and she doesn't want a soft Brexit that would entail the retention of free movement.  But only three of those four possibilities would constitute an outright betrayal of what she has been saying to her political base.  The one exception is No Deal.

Some people are nursing the fond belief that No Deal simply can't happen, because there's a natural parliamentary majority against it, and parliament would therefore eliminate it as a possibility.  But this gets back to the old joke about parliament voting against bad weather - there are some things that MPs are simply powerless to do anything about.  If a deal isn't approved, the default position is not Remain, and it's not a second referendum.  The default is No Deal, and that's the case even if parliament passes a non-binding amendment "ruling out No Deal".  Positive action would have to be taken to change that default, and that means action by a government which may have no inclination to do any such thing.

There's a new article by Ian "Smug? Moi?" Dunt, which lambasts Brexiteers for suggesting a non-binding parliamentary vote could simply be ignored.  He suggests that this would be as outrageous as Remainers ignoring the outcome of the 2016 referendum, which was also technically non-binding.  But I'd suggest the government will have a pretty straightforward answer to that point - they could say that however important the will of parliament is, it can't be allowed to overrule the will of the people as expressed in the referendum.  So this, they could argue, is the one narrow circumstance in which the government has a democratic justification for disregarding an instruction from parliament.

That's not to say that No Deal would in any sense be a pain-free option for May - it would trigger yet another wave of resignations and once again threaten to topple her government.  But she may well still do it, because what other option is there that wouldn't unleash similar chaos?

Incidentally, on the subject of parliament not being able to legislate to change the weather, I was struck by the DUP's logic for committing to prop up the Tories in a confidence vote.  Nigel Dodds said that it would be odd to bring down the government if his party had only just achieved its objective of forcing the government to negotiate an alternative deal.  But rejecting the current deal doesn't actually have that effect.  It doesn't require the government to take any particular course of action, and it certainly doesn't require the EU to play ball with any renegotiation.  I just wonder what the DUP's attitude would be if Labour were to delay the confidence motion for long enough that it became clear that the government were planning to put the original deal (perhaps with a few cosmetic modifications) to the vote for a second time.

But even if the DUP never pull the plug on the Tories, there would still be a decent chance of an election at some point in 2019.  If a government simply can't get its business through, there comes a point where it has to take its chances and seek a fresh mandate at the most promising available moment.

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Be warned: the remainder of this post is a self-indulgent stats post.  Here is the latest ranking of Scottish alternative media sites, based on estimates of unique visitors over the last 30 days from Traffic Estimate.  (I was going to post this on Twitter, but I came up against the character limit.)  As you can see, Scot Goes Pop is sitting pretty in a very creditable fourth place.

1) Craig Murray: 291,200 unique visitors
2) Wings Over Scotland: 181,400 unique visitors
3) CommonSpace: 103,100 unique visitors
4) Scot Goes Pop: 73,900 unique visitors
5) Wee Ginger Dug: 71,800 unique visitors
6) Talking Up Scotland: 68,500 unique visitors
7) Bella Caledonia: 57,400 unique visitors
8) Random Public Journal: 43,500 unique visitors
9) Indyref2: 40,900 unique visitors

Monday, December 3, 2018

Is a new route-map to independence starting to take shape?

The Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter today rebuked those who were pushing for alternatives to an independence referendum by pointing out that a referendum is firm SNP policy, and that she personally does not believe that there is any route to independence without a referendum.  That argument troubles me a bit, because the vast majority of people who are talking about alternatives are not doing it because they oppose a referendum - quite the reverse, in fact.  A referendum is their preferred option, but they feel it has now been closed off.  If the referendum policy must be regarded as gospel, then by all means let's hold a referendum - but even the dogs on the street know that will entail going ahead without a Section 30 order, which both the Tories and Labour appear to be committed to refusing for the foreseeable future.  We're told that Nicola Sturgeon would never go ahead without a Section 30, which is exactly why there needs to be an alternative to a referendum.  It would be intellectually dishonest to maintain that you're in favour of a referendum if you're implacably opposed to actually taking the steps necessary to bring a referendum about in the real world.  That would be a strategy for not even really seeking to obtain independence, while having a good excuse with which mollify your supporters.

Fortunately, however, it appears that other senior SNP people disagree with Mhairi and are giving serious thought to possible methods by which an outright mandate for independence can be secured by an election, rather than by referendum.  An article in the Sunday Times suggested that the next Westminster election could be used to reinforce the current mandate for an independence referendum, and if that was ignored a subsequent Westminster election could then be used to obtain an outright mandate for independence itself.  It was implied that the second mandate would require some kind of super-majority in terms of seats won, but not necessarily an absolute majority of votes cast.

I must say that sounds unnecessarily convoluted to me.  We already have the mandate for a referendum, that mandate has already been ignored, so the obvious next step is to seek an outright mandate for independence at the next appropriate election - which I think logically should mean the next Holyrood election.  Even if we did end up seeking yet another mandate to hold a referendum, it seems a bit odd to say that we need a majority at Westminster for that, given that the 2014 indyref was held when the SNP had only 6 out of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons.  The much more natural arena for settling these questions is the Scottish Parliament.

On the plus side, though, at least there's a chance that the next Westminster election could only be a few months away - that's largely outwith our control, but it could well happen.  If that's the way it pans out, at least we wouldn't be mucking about indefinitely.  And even if I'm slightly dubious about the exact details of this strategy, I'm very glad that consideration is being given to credible options for breaking the logjam.

There was a unionist chap on Twitter yesterday who described any suggestion of abandoning the referendum idea in favour of an election as "fundamentalist".  If that's true, the source of the fundamentalism is a newly-radicalised British nationalist establishment that has made the holding of a referendum either difficult or impossible, and has left us with no option but to find an alternative.  Taking the best available option within the constraints that others have placed on you is a form of pragmatism, not extremism.  (The alternative course of action, which I fear Mhairi Hunter is agitating for, would be impotent utopianism.)  One thing I've started to do is delete comments on this blog which gloat that "there isn't going to be a referendum", not on the basis that the Scottish people don't want one, but simply on the basis that Westminster will block it regardless of circumstances.  If the only argument you've got is "you're living in a dictatorship, suck it up", you haven't really got an argument at all.

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

How the dice could be loaded in favour of Brexit in a "People's Vote"

There's been a lot of talk over the last few days about the increasing possibility of the ludicrously-dubbed "People's Vote" actually taking place, partly because Sam Gyimah has resigned to support it, and partly because John McDonnell has been making unusually positive noises on behalf of Labour.  I still don't think it will happen, because there would inevitably be a substantial Labour rebellion against it, and even if it got to the point where it looked like the arithmetic was there, the Prime Minister would then come under Tory pressure to preempt the issue with a snap general election.

If by any chance it does go ahead, though, everything would hinge upon the format.  McDonnell seemed to be hinting at a multi-option referendum, which presumably would include the May deal, remaining in the EU, and no-deal.  But how would a three-option vote actually work?  Nobody would ever seriously contemplate a first-past-the-post rule, because that would be like settling the constitutional future of the UK on a lottery (although of course that does beg the question of why we routinely choose governments that way).  A bit more plausible would be a preferential voting system or a French-style run-off, which I suspect would be Remain's best realistic hope.  But my guess is that we might instead end up with a two question format - the first question would ask whether the May deal should be approved, and the second question would give a straight choice between no-deal and Remain if the answer to the first question is "No".  (The result on the second question would be voided if there was a majority 'Yes' on the first question.)

If you think it through, the dice would be loaded in favour of Brexit on that format.  There would be extensive polling on both questions, and if the second question polling showed a clear majority for Remain (as you'd intuitively expect it to), Brexiteers would have every incentive to make a tactical switch in favour of campaigning for a Yes vote on the question about the May deal.  With government, media, and Brexiteer support, the deal would in all likelihood be approved, and Britain would leave the EU as a result.

Incidentally, it's impossible to know whether there is already a natural majority in favour of the May deal without that sort of tactical switch.  A Survation poll the other day showed a narrow majority in favour of the deal for the first time, but a new YouGov poll conducted at roughly the same time continues to show a massive majority against.  That sort of difference can't be explained by the standard margin of error - either one firm is getting it completely wrong, or they both are.  The YouGov poll also continues to show that Scotland is less supportive of the deal than any other part of Great Britain...

Support for the Brexit deal by region:

London: 22%
Rest of South: 29%
Midlands & Wales: 27%
North of England: 23%
Scotland: 20%

*  *  *

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

If Ruth Davidson, David Mundell and Theresa May "hate" the Common Fisheries Policy, why did they all vote Remain?

There has been a lot of disquiet in recent days about how the mainstream media is effectively allying itself with the Tory party in either falsely claiming that the SNP want Scotland to remain in the Common Fisheries Policy, or that the SNP's opposition to the CFP is some sort of farcical sham.  For the avoidance of doubt, SNP policy is that the CFP should be scrapped, or comprehensively reformed (which amounts to the same thing).  But because the SNP aren't Brexiteers, this would have to be achieved by agreement with our European partners.  It couldn't be done unilaterally.

"Unilaterally" is an interesting word, because it calls to mind the issue of nuclear disarmament.  Thirty years ago, the Labour party abandoned the cause of unilateral nuclear disarmament, but insisted (as it still does today) that this didn't mean it wasn't still committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons.  It just wanted to achieve that objective by multilateral means.  In other words, the implementation of the policy depended on the agreement of other medium-sized nuclear powers such as France and China, in much the same way that the SNP's hopes of abolishing the CFP depend on the consent of our European partners.  But, as you've probably noticed, the media have never seemed to find the concept of multilateral disarmament inherently ridiculous.  So it seems more than a touch odd that journalists and TV presenters are inviting us to to accept that no political party can be regarded as truly opposing the CFP unless they want to scrap it unilaterally.

The irony is, of course, that Labour's support for nuclear disarmament is a sham in a way that the SNP's opposition to the CFP isn't.  Labour are hiding behind multilateralism because it's too awkward to admit that they want to retain Trident, come what may, as a national status symbol.  By contrast, nobody can seriously doubt that the SNP genuinely loathe the CFP and would make the case for reform as an independent Scottish government, however likely that might be to fall on deaf ears in other European capitals.  And if journalists honestly believe, as they are forever telling us, that Nicola Sturgeon privately wants to kick Indyref 2 into the long grass and is therefore reconciled to Brexit occurring in some form, what would be so hard to understand about the SNP saying: "Withdrawal from the CFP is the one and only part of Brexit that would actually be in the Scottish national interest, so you'd damn well better at least deliver that if we're going to have to suffer the rest"?

A final point: someone quite reasonably asked in this blog's comments section the other day why journalists don't challenge the hypocrisy of Ruth Davidson, Theresa May and David Mundell, who all voted Remain in 2016, and therefore by their own standards (and by the media's standards) were all voting and campaigning for Scotland to remain within the "hated" CFP.  Why did they support the CFP back then?  Why have they changed their minds now?  They can scarcely argue that the Tory government would have agitated for reform of the CFP in the event of a Remain vote.  David Cameron had a golden chance to prioritise fishing in his pre-referendum renegotiation, but failed to do so.

*  *  *

Andrew Gilligan (he of Hutton Inquiry fame) claimed a couple of days ago that the Scottish Government had left its plans for gender self-identification open to legal challenge by changing its Twitter cover photo to the words "Dear transphobes, we have a phobia of your hatred.  Yours, Scotland".  This was clearly intended to coincide with the publication of the outcome of a consultation on self-ID, in which 60% of respondents were in favour of the proposal.  I would be amazed if there is any prospect of a legal challenge succeeding, but I do think the timing of that change of cover photo was deeply ill-advised.  Imagine how it must have made opponents of self-ID feel, especially if they participated in that consultation in good faith.  One perfectly plausible interpretation was that the 40% who didn't support self-ID were being implicitly branded as transphobes.  If so, the consultation was not a genuine listening exercise, but was instead a presentational stunt that always intended to make an example of ideological undesirables.

Where does this identity politics zealotry end?  We've had the newly-elected SNP Equalities Convener openly use the dehumanising slur "TERF" against her ideological opponents on the self-ID issue, and express her generic distaste for the male gender.  In years to come, will people who persist in opposing self-ID find themselves expelled from the SNP on the grounds of "transphobic hate-speech", in the same way that Grouse Beater has just been expelled on a highly questionable charge of anti-Semitism, having had his guilt prejudged weeks in advance by the aforementioned Equalities Convener?  And if the SNP are ever foolish enough to go through with their relatively new policy of implementing the Nordic model on prostitution law in Scotland, thus defining certain types of consensual sex as "violence against women", will those who oppose the law be shunned by all right-thinking people as "enablers of violence"?

If you've ever wondered what Robespierre would have been like if he'd been an avid fan of A Thousand Flowers, we could be about to find out.  Let's reinject a bit of common sense before we meet that ghastly fate.  Let's debate those we disagree with, and not attempt to destroy them.  Politics, not pulverisation.

*  *  *

Monday, November 26, 2018

Sky News are hellbent on undermining Scottish democracy - they must be challenged, and stopped

You may have seen today that SNP depute leader Keith Brown has written to Sky News chiding them for their apparent plan to exclude Nicola Sturgeon from the proposed TV debate on the Brexit deal.  Now, it's possible that Sky may argue that this is not a general election debate, we're not in a regulated general election period, and therefore all that is needed is the leading representative from the pro-deal side (Theresa May) and the leading representative from the anti-deal side (Jeremy Corbyn).  But that won't wash, for the simple reason that Sky News are right in the middle of a bizarre months-long crusade to exclude Scotland's leading party from future general election debates as well, so their plans for the Brexit debate are clearly fuelled by exactly the same Anglocentric mindset.

Not that they're being upfront about their desire to exclude the SNP, of course - they're simply badgering viewers to sign an innocuous-sounding petition to "make leaders' debates happen".  But the very few explanatory words at the top of the petition set out exactly what Sky's definition of a "debate" is, and it's nothing short of extraordinary.

"Genuine leaders' debates took place in 2010, but in the next two elections didn't happen."

What?  What?  What?  The "genuine debates" in 2010 excluded the SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Greens.  Whereas in 2015 there was an immaculately inclusive debate on ITV that included the leaders of all of those parties, alongside the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  According to Sky that was not a "genuine debate".  Why?  Presumably because the Jocks and the Taffies were cluttering up the set and making it hard for viewers to concentrate on the "real choice" between the terribly important London-based parties, who are terribly important because they're based in London.

Make no mistake - Sky's agenda is to destroy Scotland's political distinctiveness and to impose a one-size-fits-all London model on the entire UK.  They must be stopped.

*  *  *

Sunday, November 25, 2018

YouGov poll suggests that Scotland is even more opposed to May's Brexit deal than the rest of the UK

"The British people want us to get this done!" says Theresa May, implying that they want parliament to endorse her Brexit deal.  The only snag: opinion polling suggests they want no such thing.  Here are the latest GB-wide numbers from YouGov...

Support the deal: 23%
Oppose the deal: 45%

In fairness that represents an 8% increase in support for the deal, which mean things have gone from catastrophic to merely disastrous for May.  But if the Scottish subsample of the poll is to believed (and yes, there are the usual caveats about the reliability of any individual subsample) things are even worse for her here.  Only 14% of Scottish respondents support the deal, and 51% oppose it - more than a 3 to 1 margin against.

The likes of Kenny Farquharson, and May loyalists in the Tory government, have tried to get a narrative going that says the SNP should act responsibly and in the national interest by letting the deal through. But for as long as only 14% of the public actually support that notion of "responsibility", there will be absolutely zero pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to reverse her plans to vote the deal down - and with a bit of luck to bring the wretched May premiership to a long-overdue end.  Now is the time, Prime Minister, now is the time.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Putting a second indyref on pause for the last eighteen months may yet prove to have been beneficial, but only if that pause ends soon

Robin McAlpine has another article over at CommonSpace in which he castigates the leadership of "the movement" (by which he presumably means Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues) for inaction on an independence referendum, and for potentially letting a historic opportunity slip by.  I'm trying to work out how much of it I agree with.  There's one small part that I definitely disagree with, because it's factually inaccurate - Robin claims that it's been almost two years since an opinion poll last pointed to a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, but that's categorically not true.  A Survation poll as recently as July suggested that the SNP and Greens between them would have a fairly comfortable majority.  Obviously there are a number of different projection models, but there was another poll as recently as last month that might just about have translated into a pro-indy majority.  It's true that most recent polls have suggested the SNP and Greens would fall short, but not all that far short, and there are still two and a half years to go until the next election anyway.

I'm also inclined to disagree with Robin's call for the development of a detailed prospectus for independence.  Clearly the public need to be inspired by the possibilities of independence, but what we shouldn't do is require "the movement" to monolithically support something that closely resembles a party political manifesto for a post-indy election.  There needs to be space for centrist or centre-right indy supporters to say that they hope to take Scotland in a very different direction from the one Robin McAlpine has in mind.  For similar reasons, I'm agnostic about Robin's calls for the SNP to abandon the Growth Commission report, which is very much a radical left preoccupation.

But on the main thrust of the article, I'm just not sure.  As the old joke about the French Revolution goes, it's probably too early to tell. 

In the immediate aftermath of last year's general election, I was extremely worried that the SNP leadership might have lost their heads (over what was, after all, a clear victory), and were about to make a terrible mistake by putting an independence referendum on the backburner as a sop to voters in the minority of seats that were now held by the Tories.  I wrote blogpost after blogpost urging that the triple-lock mandate for a pre-2021 referendum should be honoured, and at one point I was even quoted in the Financial Times with words to that effect.  That attracted the anger of a number of fellow SNP members who loudly told me, in defiance of quite a bit of publicly-available evidence, that the leadership's position was absolutely unchanged.  "Just trust Nicola" was a common refrain.  When the new policy was eventually revealed, it of course turned out that there had been a significant shift, but I nevertheless breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I didn't personally agree with an eighteen month pause in the plans for a referendum, but as long as we were still headed towards the same destination, that was all that mattered.  And I could see that there was a plausible argument that voters would in the long run be more accepting of a second indyref if the SNP had spent a decent period of time concentrating on securing the least worst Brexit for the whole UK, and had been seen to fail in spite of their very best endeavours.

But of course everything hinges on the assumption that the SNP leadership were being honest that this attempt to improve Brexit is strictly time-limited, will come to an end soon and will give way to a renewed all-out push for independence.  If that's what happens, the delay could well have been beneficial and Robin will be proved wrong.  But if the pause was instead a cover story for the beginning of an indefinite delay and for the SNP's gradual transformation into a primarily anti-Brexit party, then Robin is right and those who "trusted Nicola" made a mistake.  I genuinely don't know which way it's going to go, but I still very much live in hope.

One thing Robin is undoubtedly right about is that it's not good enough for the leadership to say to the rank-and-file: "stop thinking and talking about process, just leave all of that to us, we know what we're doing, and you don't need to know what we're planning".  I am inclined to trust Nicola Sturgeon, but at the end of the day those of us who are members of the SNP joined because we believe in Scottish independence, and not because of a quasi-religious belief in the infallibility of one person.

*  *  *

Here's why the Scotland in Union propaganda poll should not be included in any list of independence polls

A few hours ago, I was bemused to be contacted on Twitter by graph-wielding unionist uber-troll Steve Sayers, who I'm quite sure I blocked a year or two back in a successful bid to free up an extra three hours of leisure time per day.  Presumably he must have cunningly set up a new account at some point, and we're all going to have to block him all over again.  Anyway, he presented me with a graph (gasp!) which purported to track a decline in support for independence over the last few years, and which needless to say depended for its impact on the inclusion of a poll which had absolutely no business being there - ie. Tuesday's propaganda poll from Scotland in Union, which was portrayed in some quarters as an independence poll but was no such thing.

After "discussing" this point with Steve for a little while, it suddenly occurred to me that I'd better check Wikipedia's list of independence polls, just to reassure myself that nobody had been mad enough to add the SiU poll.  I wish I hadn't bothered, because sure enough it was there.  (The words "non-standard question" had been added in the notes section, as if that made the whole thing OK.)  Let me try to explain why it shouldn't be there, and why it should undoubtedly be removed, if such a thing can be achieved without triggering a destructive edit war.

As I pointed out in my original post about the poll, Survation online polling using the standard independence question typically produces a Yes vote in the mid-to-high 40s.  The last one was published less than a month ago and had Yes on 45%, which was actually a touch on the low side, probably due to random sampling variation.  It is phenomenally improbable that there has been a genuine 5-point slump since then, especially given that last week's Panelbase poll suggested that support for independence was holding up and perhaps even increasing.  The overwhelming likelihood is that the atypical result instead came about purely because of the usage of the ridiculous question, "Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?", which bears no resemblance to the question asked in normal independence polls.

There have been at least two suggestions made about why the remain / leave question would produce such a radically different result.  One is that some respondents may not actually know what "the United Kingdom" is and may wrongly assume that "leaving the United Kingdom" is tantamount to abandoning the monarchy.  The second suggestion is that the words "Remain and "Leave" are now so strongly associated with the EU debate that a minority of respondents may have not read the question correctly, and wrongly assumed that by selecting the "Remain" option they were indicating a desire for Britain to remain in the EU.  I gather there is anecdotal evidence that one respondent almost did exactly that.  Personally I think the monarchy is the more plausible explanation, because there have been similar findings in polls that predated the EU referendum.  But it may well be a bit of both.

Now, I know some people will raise the objection that the possibility that respondents may have misunderstood the question does not in itself invalidate a poll.  After all, there are a lot of very stupid people out there, and some of them are probably even capable of misunderstanding the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  But the problem with the Scotland in Union poll goes a lot further than that, because even on the literal meaning of the question it is quite simply not a poll about independence.  It's no exaggeration to say that respondents would have had to read something into the wording of the question that was not actually there if they were to understand that it was intended to be an independence poll.

To put it in a nutshell, "leaving the UK" is not synonymous with "becoming an independent country".  There are several possible outcomes if a territory leaves a sovereign state, of which independence is only one.  Others are that the territory can become an integral part of a different state, or can become a dependency of either the existing sovereign state or another state, or can become an associated state (see the relationship of the Cook Islands to New Zealand).  Now, it's arguably pretty likely that most respondents would correctly infer that "leaving" probably means "independence" in our own case, but I don't see how Scotland in Union can have their cake and eat it on this point.  If no allowance can be made for respondents incorrectly interpreting the question, the basic premise can only be that people were answering the question that was actually in front of them, without making any additional assumptions.  Polls can't depend on respondents being mind-readers - that would be ridiculous.

That being the case, this was not an independence poll.  It's not inconceivable that a poll containing the pejorative words "leave the UK" could be regarded as a genuine independence poll (albeit that would be highly unsatisfactory), but only if there were additional explanatory words, ie. "leave the UK to become an independent country".  There is no such clarification in the Scotland in Union poll, and it should therefore be removed from Wikipedia's list of independence polls.

My strong suspicion is that it only ever found its way onto the list because of the spurious credibility given to it by the Scotsman's front page story.  It's unlikely that a similar propaganda poll run by a pro-independence organisation would ever make the list.  This is the problem with the lack of plurality in our mainstream media - it distorts our sense of reality.

*  *  *

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Will tactical voting in the next general election be anti-SNP, anti-Tory, or both?

As I mentioned in previous posts, last week's Panelbase voting intention poll (which was both a GB-wide poll and a full-scale Scottish poll) was funded by the Scottish Independence Foundation.  The results were revealed in a press release that was put out on Thursday, and which I contributed some analysis to.  What happened afterwards was a bit of an eye-opener for all concerned, because as far as I can see not a single media outlet reported the numbers.  Britain Elects belatedly mentioned them a few days after I published them here, but I strongly suspect they got them direct from Panelbase, rather than from the press release.  The Herald then finally reported the numbers and cited Britain Elects as the source!  I can't help feeling there's a touch of snobbery and Anglocentricity at play here - as far as the media is concerned, a poll is something that comes from "proper" sources, preferably ones that have a London office.  If it comes from an unconventional source, it might as well not exist, at least until it's been given a mark of approval from elsewhere.  A completely ludicrous attitude, because it was a properly-conducted poll from a BPC firm, and indeed it intentionally avoided the type of brazenly leading questions that marred the propaganda poll that The Scotsman cleared their front page for yesterday.

When I was preparing the analysis for the press release, I did something which I don't normally do for poll analysis on this blog - I projected the vote shares into hypothetical seat numbers, because I knew that journalists tend to lap that sort of thing up.  And it brought home to me once again how silly that whole exercise is, because the chances of there being the type of uniform swing that would make seat projections meaningful are pretty slim.  For example, because both the SNP and Lib Dem vote shares were unchanged since the general election, all that could be said about the North-East Fife seat is that it would remain on a knife-edge, and it would be impossible to know whether the SNP or Lib Dems would win.  But in the real world, a no change election nationwide would almost certainly not translate into the status quo being maintained in North-East Fife, because the result last time would in itself affect the campaign next time.

North-East Fife result, June 2017:

SNP 32.9%
Liberal Democrats 32.9%
Conservatives 24.1%
Labour 9.6%
ISDB 0.5%

We know that the Lib Dems and the Tories are swimming in the same pond - they both attract centrist, centre-right and right-wing unionist voters who want to stop the SNP.  In most constituencies where the SNP looked vulnerable last year, there seemed to be an informal arrangement that one unionist party would be given a free run - it's hard to think of any other explanation for the Lib Dems' renaissance in seats like East Dunbartonshire, while they were completely collapsing in former strongholds such as Gordon.  But it looks like North-East Fife was one of the few target seats where such an understanding proved impossible, allowing the SNP to hold on due to a split unionist vote.  There will presumably be a lot of Lib Dem pressure on both the Tories and Tory voters to prevent a repeat of that outcome, with the Lib Dems' close second place being used to make the case that they've earned the right to a free run against the SNP.

That doesn't mean that the SNP have no chance of holding the seat, but I don't think they can do it by standing still.  They must assume that the Lib Dem vote will probably increase at Tory expense, and that extra votes will be needed from somewhere, maybe from people who stayed at home last time.  (It would also help if it occurs to the Tories that they may never get their hands back on the seat if a Lib Dem MP gets in and becomes too entrenched, as Menzies Campbell did after his win in 1987.)

In Tory/SNP battleground seats, though, it's possible that the opposite is true - that nationwide swings may understate the SNP's chances of regaining seats.  Both the Panelbase poll and yesterday's Survation poll suggested that the SNP would only regain one Tory seat on a uniform swing - Stirling.  But take a look at last year's result in Moray, for example...

Moray result, June 2017:

Conservatives 47.5%
SNP 38.8%
Labour 10.9%
Liberal Democrats 2.3%
Independent 0.4%

The question that forms in my mind is: who are those Labour voters?  In the central belt, die-hard unionists may well have voted Labour to stop the SNP, but they had no reason to do so in an SNP/Tory marginal seat like Moray, especially not when Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party.  So are they in fact genuinely left-wing voters who would quite like to get the Tory government out?  If so, there may be some potential for the SNP to squeeze the Labour vote by a few percentage points, thus making their path to victory that much easier than national uniform swings would suggest.  OK, the Tories might equally be looking to squeeze the Lib Dem vote, but there's much less of a Lib Dem vote to squeeze.

*  *  *

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Scotland in Union's "yawns" turn into blind panic as its OWN POLL backfires spectacularly: half of Scots want to leave the UK if there's a no-deal Brexit, and a clear majority want a second indyref before 2026

As you'll doubtless be aware, there was a crisis a few days ago at Johnston Press, which appeared to place in some doubt the future of The Scotsman newspaper.  Many independence supporters responded jubilantly, saying the paper had got what it deserved after treating half of this country's population with utter contempt for years.  The notoriously thin-skinned journalistic contingent on Twitter were furious about any celebrations over the potential (albeit very unlikely) demise of a newspaper, building themselves up to a level of righteous hysteria that gave the impression they thought Yessers were guilty of something roughly equivalent to the incitement of genocide.  But incredibly, The Scotsman have today taken a step which they must know perfectly well goes a long way towards proving the Yessers' point.  They've given over their front page lock, stock and barrel to what amounts to a propaganda press release by the fundamentalist anti-independence outfit Scotland in Union.

Basically SiU commissioned an independence poll from Survation, but insisted that a non-standard question be used in the full knowledge that it was likely to give the misleading impression of a more favourable position for No than is usually the case.  We don't need to cast our minds back very far to recall just how susceptible poll respondents are to changes in question wording - there have been polls in the last few months that misleadingly showed a "Yes vote" in the low 50s, but that was only because respondents were invited to assume that Brexit would go ahead.  OK, it's highly likely that Brexit will indeed go ahead, but if respondents are asked to make any sort of assumption, it's likely that at least some of them will subconsciously believe that it is "supposed" to change their view.

If one sort of leading question can produce an illusory gain for Yes, it's not at all surprising that a different sort of leading question can produce the opposite, and that's exactly what has happened in the SiU poll.  We know that in standard Survation online polling, the Yes vote stands in the mid-to-high 40s, but by instead asking the non-standard question "Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?", SiU were able to produce the false impression that Yes support has slumped to 40%.  In a disgraceful betrayal of basic journalistic ethics, The Scotsman has played along with this propaganda stunt, and has cynically left its readers with the sense that the poll figures represent a real change in public opinion.

Why would respondents react so differently to a "remaining in/leaving the UK" question?  We don't know for sure, but what we do know is that this is nothing new - there were polls in the run up to the first indyref that showed exactly the same effect.  One possibility is that a minority of respondents may be unsure of what "the United Kingdom" actually is, and may wrongly assume that they are being asked about their views on Scotland retaining the monarchy.

Amusingly, though, the poll has backfired on SiU in a couple of ways.  Firstly, it shows that, if Don't Knows are removed, a clear majority of respondents want there to be a second independence referendum before May 2026, ie. within the next seven-and-a-half years.  It's hard to overstate just what a staggering finding that is for a poll commissioned by Scotland in Union - it essentially proves that one of their central claims about public opinion is the polar opposite of the truth.  Here are the figures with Don't Knows removed -

When should another referendum on Scotland leaving the UK be held if at all?

Total for before May 2026: 54.0%
Total for after May 2026 or never: 46.0%

Incidentally, even with the leading wording about "leaving the UK", a very substantial minority of 46.7% want a second referendum before May 2021, ie. within just two-and-a-half years.

The other amusing detail is that there is a statistical tie on the question of whether Scotland should "leave" the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit, ie. the result is within the standard margin of error of the poll, meaning that it's impossible to know which side is really in the lead.

If the UK leaves the EU WITHOUT a deal in place, and there is a subsequent referendum on Scotland leaving the UK, how would you vote?

For Scotland to remain as part of the UK: 52.3%
For Scotland to leave the UK: 47.7%

There are also Westminster voting intention figures, which continue to show a handsome double-digit lead for the SNP over both the Tories and Labour.

Scottish voting intentions for next UK general election:

SNP 39% (-1)
Conservatives 26% (-1)
Labour 24% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)

The percentage changes listed above are measured from the Scottish portion of the recent GB-wide Survation mega-poll for Channel 4.  If the last full-scale Scottish poll from Survation for the Record is used as the baseline instead, the SNP are actually up 3 points.  Either way, though, these new figures put the SNP on course for substantial seat gains -  mainly from Labour, who would be almost wiped out once again.

*  *  *

Monday, November 19, 2018

Any indyref strategy that could leave us powerless to act until 2026 is a strategy that should be rejected

You may have seen a YouTube video doing the rounds of Nicola Sturgeon being unusually candid on Saturday about her strategy for seeking a mandate for independence if the UK government refuses a Section 30 order.  Here's a transcript...

"And the same would be true if we ended up trying to have a referendum that the other side would say was illegal.  The beauty of 2014 was that it was an agreed process.  So all this is taking me to the point of: I don't have an easy answer to this, because we may get into a situation where the UK government says 'No, we're not going to agree to a Section 30 order' and you know, I think if that happens we need to look above that, we need to make a case of how unreasonable that is, and ultimately if the only way through that is to take that to an election, and ask the people of Scotland to use an election to say no, we will absolutely have the right to do this, maybe that's what that would take."

Let's start with the good news.  Although some people are interpreting this as the first concrete evidence that Ms Sturgeon might be minded to adopt the Pete Wishart "Hold! Hold! Hold! Hold! Hold! Hoooold!  Hoooooooold! HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD!" strategy and let the current mandate for a pre-2021 independence referendum expire, on my reading that very clearly isn't what she is saying at all.  It sounds much more like she is at least planning to attempt to use the mandate, and will at some point over the coming weeks or months renew her demand for a Section 30 order.  If so, fantastic, that's just what most of us are crying out for.

The bad news is that her thinking on a consultative referendum doesn't appear to have moved on since early 2017 (a time when everyone still naively thought London would accept Scotland's right to democratic self-determination).  In other words, Ms Sturgeon still doesn't believe a referendum is worth holding unless it has London's consent, and therefore if a Section 30 order isn't granted, we won't go ahead in the immediate future.  That needlessly gives London a veto of sorts, at least in the short term, and that doesn't seem satisfactory at all.  I'm particularly puzzled by her use of the word "illegal", because any consultative referendum held without a Section 30 would almost certainly only go ahead if the Supreme Court upheld the legislation, which would remove any doubt about the legality of the process.  The Tories and Labour would just look silly if they tried to claim something the Supreme Court had endorsed was "illegal".

However, a needless aversion to a consultative vote isn't the end of the world as long as there is a credible alternative plan, and that's what makes the ambiguity in Ms Sturgeon's closing words so tantalising.  Most people are interpreting it as meaning she would use the 2021 election to seek yet another mandate for a referendum, even though we already have a perfectly good one.  (As our dear old American gun nut friend Kevin Baker used to say: "Do it again, only HARDER!!!!")  I agree that's probably what she meant, but it's not at all clear.  I would suggest that it's entirely possible to interpret "use an election to say no, we will absolutely have the right to do this" as meaning that the election will be used to seek an outright mandate for independence itself if a Section 30 order is denied.  That would be a strategy most of us could happily unite behind.

But if the 'seek yet another mandate for a referendum' interpretation is the correct one, I think we're going to have to speak out against it, because the problems with that strategy are pretty obvious.  If we win a pro-independence majority at the 2021 election (not a given, of course), and Westminster still says "no" to a referendum, what do we do then?  We already know that Ms Sturgeon is unlikely to go ahead with a consultative referendum, so even if she belatedly accepts at that point that an election must then be used to seek an outright mandate for independence, there would be the rather enormous problem that another Holyrood election wouldn't be due until 2026.  Any strategy that could leave us powerless for another eight years does not strike me as being a promising one.

Of course snap Westminster elections can sometimes appear out of the blue, and might offer an opportunity to seek a mandate (of whatever sort) more speedily than would otherwise be the case.  But relying on blind chance doesn't seem like a great idea either.

*  *  *

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Daily Mail should be careful what it wishes for

One of the amusing subplots of the recent Brexit chaos has been the way the Daily Mail, which previously regarded any form of compromise with the EU as treason, had an overnight change of heart a few weeks ago and suddenly started portraying Theresa May as a latter-day Joan of Arc.  There's no mystery about why it happened.  The paper's new editor is a Remainer and presumably regards May's deal as the nearest thing to Remain that he has a cat in hell's chance of actually selling to his readers.  He hasn't exactly been subtle about it, though: quite apart from the suddenness of the U-turn, which must have left regular readers bewildered, he's started running excruciating front page features about how Philip May has done his bit to face down the beastly Brexiteer rebels by making his wife morale-boosting beans on toast for afternoon tea.

Presumably the intention is to appeal over the heads of parliamentarians by presenting May to the public as a plucky John Major-style underdog, building on the apparently spontaneous comments that have been made in surprising quarters along the lines of "you know what, whatever you may think of her politics, you have to admire her stoicism".  Hmmm.  Quite honestly, this is a Prime Minister who has sought to deny our country its democratic rights, and for my money there are no personal qualities that can really mitigate that.  I struggle to see much appeal in her personality anyway.  But it doesn't matter what I think.  The question is whether the public will be impressed by the propaganda effort, and they just might.  If so, it's possible that the Mail could, by helping to prolong May's tenure, be unwittingly putting the SNP into a position of greater influence.

It was suggested the other day that "senior DUP sources" were saying that the confidence-and-supply deal was effectively dead until and unless Theresa May is removed as Tory leader.  If that's true (and admittedly it's an "if"), the government no longer has a majority and Britain reverts to having a hung parliament in every sense of the term.  The SNP thus become by far the largest of several parties that hold the balance of power between them.  That doesn't make them as powerful as they would be if there was a centre-left majority available, but nevertheless their 35 votes do suddenly matter - as we saw from Kenny Farquharson's hapless attempts to 'shame' Nicola Sturgeon into propping up May's government.

She won't do that, of course.  It would be political insanity to bail out a Tory Prime Minister in return for absolutely nothing.  But here's the thing: Theresa May has made the choice to offer nothing.  Few mainstream media commentators seem to have considered this point, but May could solve her seemingly impossible problem at a stroke by simply offering the SNP a generous enough trade.  It wouldn't even necessarily have to be a Section 30 order if that's so politically unthinkable - alternatives would be to reverse the power-grab and devolve substantial new powers, or to extend the Northern Ireland arrangement to Scotland.  The SNP are rational actors - they'd probably let the May blueprint pass for England (which voted for Brexit, after all) as long as Scotland is properly protected.

It probably won't happen, if only because May is the most pig-headed PM in post-war history.  But make no mistake, if she gets to the point where there is no other way to save her own skin, the arithmetic makes it a theoretical possibility.  And that's a mark of the SNP's increased power now that the DUP have seemingly abandoned May.

*  *  *

It's clear that the political crisis is shifting public opinion - Labour have surged into a GB-wide lead in new polls from Opinium and ComRes.  It remains to be seen what is happening in Scotland, but it's at least mildly encouraging that the SNP's share of the GB vote has increased in the Opinium poll from 4% to 5%.  By contrast, the ComRes subsample for Scotland has the SNP in a very typical 36% to 26% lead over the Tories.

*  *  *

Friday, November 16, 2018

Rare GB-wide Panelbase poll has Labour and the Tories locked together at 40% apiece

This isn't strictly a Scot Goes Pop exclusive, because the figures were attached to the Scottish Independence Foundation press release that went out several hours ago.  But as far as I can see no media outlet, even on Twitter, has yet picked up on the fact that the new poll includes the first GB-wide voting intention figures from Panelbase since last year.

Westminster voting intentions (GB-wide, Panelbase):

Labour 40%
Conservatives 40%
Liberal Democrats 8%
SNP 4%
Greens 3%
Plaid Cymru 1%

Which is all very interesting, because of course most other polling firms have been showing a modest Conservative lead recently.  It may be that Panelbase's methodology, like Survation's, is closer to the Labour-friendly end of the spectrum.  (And, as we all remember, Survation's results were rubbished in the run-up to last year's election, but they ultimately turned out to be the most accurate.)

Christian Wright asked a question on the previous thread about the treatment of EU citizens in current polling, which was rather uncanny, because I was always planning to address that very point tonight.  At the weekend, when I saw the original datasets from Panelbase, I queried whether EU citizens and 16 and 17 year olds had been included in the sample - because it seemed to me if they had been, that in itself could be sufficient to explain why the Remain vote in Scotland had apparently risen slightly from 62% at the 2016 referendum to 64% now.  I didn't see Panelbase's response, but it was read out to me.  If I understood it correctly, they said that 16 and 17 year olds were excluded from the EU referendum question, but that they were relying upon a "how likely are you to vote?" question to screen EU citizens out.  That seemed to me to be a bit unsatisfactory, because it means that you'd need all EU citizens to be fully aware of their right to vote in Scottish elections, but not in Westminster elections or in any repeat EU referendum, to be sure that you're interviewing the right sample for each question.  It's highly likely, I would suggest, that some EU citizens are unclear about the likely legal position.  So they may, for example, be wrongly screening themselves out of indyref polling, but also wrongly including themselves in EU referendum polling.

Later, Panelbase agreed to recalculate the results in line with the concern I had raised.  To be perfectly honest, I was hearing about all of this second-hand, so I couldn't quite make sense of which particular concern they were addressing or exactly how they had addressed it.  Apparently the methodological tweak made no difference at all on the GB-wide numbers, and only a 1% difference on the Scottish numbers - but, again, I'm not quite clear about which question the 1% difference occurred on.

The important point here, of course, is that it seems intuitively likely that EU citizens have swung disproportionately from No to Yes on the independence question because of Brexit.  If independence polls aren't incorporating EU citizens correctly, it may be that there's a little something going on beneath the surface that the polls are currently unable to detect.

Here are the other numbers from the Panelbase poll...

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Scotland only):

Yes 45% (+1)
No 55% (-1)

Westminster voting intention (Scotland only):

SNP 37% (-1)
Conservatives 28% (+1)
Labour 25% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Greens 2% (n/c)
UKIP 2% (-1)

EU referendum vote (GB-wide):

Remain 53%
Leave 47%

EU referendum vote (Scotland only):

Remain 64% (+1)
Leave 36% (-1)

Holyrood constituency ballot:

SNP 39% (-2)
Conservatives 27% (+1)
Labour 24% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 3% (n/c)
UKIP 1% (-1)

Holyrood regional list ballot:

SNP 37% (+2)
Conservatives 26% (n/c)
Labour 22% (+2)
Greens 6% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)
UKIP 2% (n/c)

*  *  *

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Palpably pleasing Panelbase poll puts support for independence at eighteen month high

It's not very often that I'm given advance sight of a full-scale Scottish poll, so I was very grateful to the Scottish Independence Foundation for giving me a sneak peek a few days ago at the new Panelbase poll they've funded.  I was able to contribute some analysis for the press release they've just sent out.  Of most interest is the fact that support for independence is at its highest level in any Panelbase poll for eighteen months.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 45% (+1)
No 55% (-1)

In normal circumstances, 45% would be a disappointing Yes showing, but it's high by recent Panelbase standards.  Paradoxically, what used to be the most Yes-friendly polling firm during the indyref is now very much on the No-friendly end of the spectrum.  Yes support has been hovering at 43% or 44% in Panelbase polls since the spring of 2017.  Obviously a small increase to 45% is not statistically significant and may be caused by random sampling variation, but the fact that this result is even possible gives considerable reassurance after a recent Survation poll that put Yes on an unusually low 45%.  (Survation's normal Yes range is a bit higher than Panelbase's.)  So it may well be that Panelbase are just randomly showing a slightly higher Yes vote than usual, and that Survation just randomly showed a slightly lower Yes vote than usual, and that in reality nothing much has changed at all.

Slightly embarrassingly, even though I've already seen the Westminster and Holyrood numbers, I can't actually post them just at the moment, because I'm on my mobile phone and I can't seem to open the Excel file properly!  However, from memory, the SNP are on 37% for Westminster, which is a statistically insignificant 1% down on the last Panelbase poll.  Although 37% is exactly what they received at last year's general election, their lead over both the Tories and Labour is slightly higher than it was in June 2017.  On a uniform swing, the 9-point lead over the Tories would be enough to win back Stirling, and the 12-point lead over Labour would be enough to win back four Labour seats.  North-East Fife would remain on a knife-edge between the SNP and Lib Dems, meaning that the SNP would end up with either 39 or 40 seats, up from the current 35.

On Holyrood voting intentions, the SNP are two points down on the constituency ballot since the last Panelbase poll, but two points up on the all-important list ballot.  I ran the numbers through a couple of seat projection models, and they both put the SNP on 57 seats (significantly better than the 52 seats projected by the Record from their recent Survation poll) and the Greens on 4 seats.  So the pro-independence parties would have 61 seats in combination - just 4 short of maintaining their overall majority.

*  *  *

New BOMBSHELL Scottish poll suggests Ruth Davidson could face ANGUISH in snap election

As you may remember, one of the points of confusion about Channel 4's recent Survation poll was a set of Scottish voting intention figures for Westminster, which eventually proved to be merely a subsample (albeit an unusually large one) that hadn't been correctly weighted.  However, Survation have now reweighted the results in line with Scottish target figures, and it turns out that the position for the SNP is as favourable as it originally appeared.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Survation, 20th October - 2nd November):

SNP 40% (+4)
Conservatives 27% (n/c)
Labour 23% (-3) 
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)

The percentage changes listed above are measured from a Survation poll for the Daily Record that was conducted just slightly earlier (with a small amount of overlap between the fieldwork for the two polls).  I have a feeling Survation would probably argue that the Record and Channel 4 polls are not directly comparable because they were conducted slightly differently, but at the end of the day they're both online polls weighted to Scottish target figures.

The Record poll caused some concern by showing an unusually low SNP vote by Survation's normal standards.  Many of us wondered at the time if it was just a freakish result caused by random sampling variation, and the swift recovery in the new poll would tend to support that theory.  So the 4% gain for the SNP should really be seen as a reversion to the mean rather than as real progress - the last-but-one online Survation poll had the SNP on 41%, and the one before that had them on 42%.  Nevertheless, if replicated at a general election, the new figures would see the SNP making substantial seat gains, especially at Labour's expense.

*  *  *

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

We're about to see the difference between a real political party (the DUP) and a branch office (the Scottish Tories)

So there's a deal in principle between the UK government and the EU, but whether it will ever get through the various stages of ratification remains to be seen.  It seems likely that the text must incorporate another convoluted fudge on the Irish backstop, with Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the UK in a way that drives a coach and horses through Theresa May's supposed red line, but with some sort of political commitment that the backstop can never come into play and therefore doesn't matter.  I suspect that won't be good enough for the DUP, and that in turn will put the Scottish Tories in a very awkward place.

After last year's general election, one of the political correspondents on TV (I think it may have been Faisal Islam, but correct me if I'm wrong) notoriously claimed that the Scottish Tories were now "technically the fourth largest party in the Commons".  That was nonsensical on all sorts of levels - even if you could somehow justify regarding branch offices as separate parties, Welsh Labour would still comfortably outnumber the Scottish Tories.  But to be charitable, maybe he misspoke and intended to say "effectively" rather than "technically"- ie. he believed that Ruth Davidson combined a certainty of purpose with a hold over her Westminster group, and that they would therefore act in practice like a distinct party.  If so, we're now about to be treated to yet another demonstration that he couldn't have been more wrong.  Mundell and Davidson will swiftly backtrack on their supposed threats to resign on the basis that a worthless political assurance can be treated as gospel, whereas Arlene Foster will see the situation as it actually is and will stand her ground.  And that's the difference between being a real party leader and a puppet.

A couple of other points.  We're now closer than ever before to the clarity on Brexit that Nicola Sturgeon was looking for before making an announcement on a second independence referendum.  It won't be clarity on the long-term shape of a post-Brexit economic relationship, but it could be clarity on where the UK will find itself on 30th March next year, which I presume is all she can realistically hope for.  Could we be just weeks away from the First Minister pressing for a Section 30 order once again?

And secondly, what happens if the DUP pull the plug and there's a snap general election?  Can the Scottish Tories fit both "No2Indyref2" and "No2EURef2" on their campaigns posters in the north-east?  If not, which message do they prioritise?  Decisions, decisions...

*  *  *

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

That Survation poll: a brief autopsy

In the end there was very little point in fleshing out last night's blogpost about the Survation mega-poll, because a lot of what had been reported about it on social media (and even in one or two newspaper articles) turned out to be fictional.  There was no direct independence question in the poll at all - the reported numbers of Yes 51.4%, No 48.6% were a silly confection, justified with logic of the "two plus two equals twenty-two" variety.  The irony is that we've seen in recent weeks that if you ask poll respondents how they would vote in an independence referendum if they assume that a hard Brexit is going ahead, you get a Yes vote in the low 50s anyway.  So I'm not entirely sure what the point of inventing fantasy results was.

The Westminster voting intention numbers that were mentioned on Twitter also turn out not to be what they first appeared - according to Survation, they are from a Scottish subsample that was not separately weighted.  So the apparent significant uptick in SNP support since the last full-scale Scottish poll from Survation cannot be regarded as meaningful.  The next proper poll may well show a boost of that sort, but we'll just have to wait and see.

The one and only piece of Scottish data in the poll that did turn out to be authentic is that 38% of respondents say that Brexit would make them more likely to support independence, and only 25% say that it would make them less likely to support independence.  And that, I would suggest, is plenty enough to be getting on with for now.

As far as the UK-wide figures from the poll are concerned, I have to say the People's Vote brigade are getting a bit carried away.  They've been pointing to maps showing there has been a swing to Remain almost everywhere, and saying it's "astonishing" and "extraordinary".  Hmmm.  Up to a point, Lord Copper.  If Survation are right, there has been a 6% swing from Leave to Remain since the 2016 referendum, which is not insignificant, but the Leave vote has scarcely fallen through the floor.  A mere 4% swing back in the opposite direction would see Leave draw level - and that sort of shift can happen in the blink of an eye in the heat of a referendum campaign.  And it's scarcely unprecedented in British politics for a national swing to be replicated to varying degrees in most localities (even assuming that localised figures from the poll based on very small subsamples can be regarded as remotely reliable).

*  *  *

Monday, November 5, 2018

Unionist chuntering heard all the way from Chichester after chipper Channel 4 poll gives massive boost to independence

I've been out enjoying Bonfire Night, so I wasn't watching Channel 4's big Brexit show, and I'm trying to make sense of the Scottish figures from their Survation mega-poll, based on the limited information available on Twitter.  Supposedly there are independence figures showing...

Yes 51.4%
No 48.6%

...but I have a sneaking suspicion that'll turn out to be a non-standard question asking respondents to take Brexit into account.  If so, that wouldn't be out of line with similar polls we've seen in recent months, although I certainly wouldn't diminish the significance of it in any way.

I've managed to track down the exact wording of another question in the poll...

From what you have seen and heard so far do you think that Brexit makes it more or less likely that you would vote to support an independent Scotland?

More likely: 38%
Less likely: 25%
Neither more nor less likely: 31%

Which bolsters the impression that Brexit has the potential to secure the small net swing that would be required to produce a Yes majority.

*  *  *

UPDATE: It has been suggested to me by several people that the 51.4% and 48.6% figures are not from a specific poll question at all, but are just extrapolations of what would happen if you adjusted the 2014 referendum result on the assumption that No voters who say Brexit makes them "more likely" to support independence have in fact switched to Yes, and vice versa.  If so, what we're being treated to this evening is the most ludicrous misreporting of a poll that you could ever wish to see.  I can only admire the impudence of whoever came up with the idea.

There are Westminster voting intention figures being quoted from the poll as well, but I think I'll wait to see whether those turn out to be genuine.  On the face of it they show a boost for the SNP.

*  *  *