Thursday, July 19, 2018

If an outright mandate for independence is sought at a parliamentary election, it should be done at Holyrood 2021, not Westminster 2022

You may have seen that Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp's column in The National today sets out what he believes is the most likely timetable for seeking a mandate on independence.  As you know, I entirely agree with him that the mandate must and will be sought in the near future, and it's great to see that point being made unapologetically by such an influential figure.  However, I do disagree with him about a number of the specifics.

First of all, he thinks Nicola Sturgeon may not renew her request for a Section 30 order until April or May of next year - by which time, of course, Scotland will already have been dragged out of the EU.  (That will be the case unless the exit date is extended by mutual consent, which is theoretically allowed under Article 50 but seems unlikely at the moment.)  I believe it would be a great mistake to let Brexit become an established fact on the ground before any action at all is taken.  The referendum itself may or may not have to wait until after Brexit, but the public should certainly know long before 29th March that an alternative choice is coming.  In any case, Nicola Sturgeon has been consistently saying for the last year that she will make her judgement this autumn, and if she were to backtrack on that, it would play into the London media's preferred (bogus) narrative that a referendum is to all intents and purposes off the table for the foreseeable future.  I do expect the announcement could be delayed until the tail-end of autumn, though, and I would just note in passing that Scotland's national day happens to be 30th November - the final day of meteorological autumn.  (Mind you, that choice of date might be just a little too obvious!)

Secondly, Gordon argues that when the Section 30 request is made, there is only a 50% chance that Theresa May will refuse it.  I would say the chances are more like 99% or higher.  The Tories have put all their eggs in the "now is not the time" basket, and nothing will change on that front until one of two things happen: either a) they suffer the shock of losing a significant number of seats in a Holyrood or Westminster election, or b) Nicola Sturgeon sidesteps the Section 30 problem altogether by calling a vote against Westminster's wishes.  That does not mean, however, that a Section 30 request should not be made - quite the reverse.  But when the moment comes, it should be made abundantly clear to Theresa May that "now is not the time" is not an acceptable answer - we will require either a "yes" or a "no", and if no such answer is received by a specific date, a "no" will be assumed and we will move on to other options.

Thirdly, Gordon believes that if a Section 30 order is refused, the alternative option should not be a consultative referendum.  He thinks there would be a danger of a unionist boycott which would remove legitimacy from the vote.  As I've said before, I don't understand that argument, because a consultative referendum would be an each-way bet - the unionist parties might not boycott it, in which case it becomes binding to all intents and purposes, but if they do, a Yes vote becomes inevitable and the anti-independence mandate of September 2014 will no longer be uncontested.  Either way, it's a major step forward.

Nevertheless, there is of course the possibility that a consultative referendum may not be possible if the Supreme Court strikes the legislation down, in which case we would need the Plan C of using a scheduled election as a de facto referendum.  Which brings me to the fourth of Gordon's points that I disagree with.  He thinks that the Westminster election of 2022 should be used as the mandate vote, and that the 2021 Holyrood election should merely be used to establish a mandate for using the Westminster vote to seek a mandate.  There are all sorts of problems with that idea, not least the fact that we don't even know whether the next general election will take place before or after the Holyrood vote - it could be any time up to 2022, including even this autumn.  But the biggest issue is that a Westminster election will be a British contest in which media coverage will be dominated by British issues, and in which the independence issue will be treated as a colourful sideshow.  It's plainly far more appropriate (and more strategically promising for that matter) to seek a mandate in a Scotland-only election.  Given the first-past-the-post voting system, a Westminster election also carries the significant risk of a contradictory mandate - one where pro-independence parties win the majority of seats but anti-independence parties win a majority of the vote, as happened last year.  The proportional representation system used at Holyrood doesn't eliminate that risk altogether, but it does reduce the risk significantly.  There's no way, for example, that either pro-independence or anti-independence parties could win a majority of seats at Holyrood on less than 40% of the vote.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

An independence referendum looks ever more inevitable tonight as Tory rebels FAIL to vote down a hard Brexit

As I understand it, the SNP's strategy on an independence referendum since last summer's "reset" has been to focus all their energies on full-bloodedly and sincerely attempting to secure a soft Brexit for the whole UK, knowing that if they failed, they could then look the public in the eye and say with total honesty: "Every conceivable avenue for remaining in the single market and the customs union as part of the UK has now been exhausted.  Independence is the only game in town from now on."

That means, paradoxically, that their honest endeavours could have been moving them a little further away from their primary political objective.  Both last night and tonight, SNP MPs have taken part in knife-edge votes on the Trade Bill.  If they had been on the winning side in those votes, a softer Brexit would have looked much more likely, and the case for an early independence referendum would have looked considerably less clear-cut.  But courtesy of the very small and eccentric band of hard-core Labour Brexiteers, the most important votes were all lost.  Theresa May's astonishing capitulation to the Rees-Mogg faction yesterday has been confirmed by the Commons, we are hurtling towards either a Hard Brexit or a no deal Brexit, and it looks increasingly hard to see how Nicola Sturgeon will be able to justify to herself (let alone to anyone else) a decision to let the current mandate for an independence referendum expire.

The London media may still be in a state of absolute denial about it, but with a decision about a referendum still promised by the autumn, the day of reckoning cannot be far off now.

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Heartbreak for the mainstream media as "Operation Hush-up" fails - Survation poll reveals widespread public awareness of the power-grab

It's actually been quite difficult to get to grips with the new Survation poll that has been gradually released by Cleggy and the Vow-Meisters over the last few days, because as far I can see only the datasets for the questions on independence have been published so far.  Survation's website isn't the most user-friendly, though, so it's difficult to be 100% sure.  The latest figures to be released today relate to the removal of powers from the Scottish Parliament, and on the face of it would seem to confirm that the issue has now cut through - in spite of the heroic efforts by the BBC and other parts of the mainstream media over the last few months to mention it as little as possible and to downplay its importance whenever they do mention it.  41% of respondents agree that Westminster grabbing back 24 of Holyrood's existing powers amounts to a "power-grab" (logical enough, you'd think), while 34% disagree.  Perhaps the closeness of that result may seem a little disappointing, but when you consider that the SNP have been fighting against a virtual news blackout on this subject, I'd suggest we should look upon the glass as being very much half-full in this case.

The only caveat I'd add is that in the absence of the datasets it's not clear exactly what question Survation asked.  As we all know, people are very hostile towards the Tories and suspicious of the UK government's intentions (with good reason), and so it could be that if they were asked "the Tories are doing X, but say it doesn't mean anything, do you believe them?", that could have generated the 41% result without there necessarily having been as much pre-knowledge of the power-grab as we'd like to believe.  But we'll find out more when the wording of the question is eventually published.

I've been a bit tied up over recent days writing articles for The National and iScot (and yeah, OK, watching the World Cup and Wimbledon may have had something to do with it as well), so I didn't get round to adding some analysis of Survation's voting intention numbers for Holyrood and Westminster.  Here are a few belated thoughts.  I speculated in my piece in The National that the SNP's best poll showing since before the June 2017 election might be due to the walkout from the Commons a few weeks ago.  Of course the other potential game-changer was the Chequers "deal" and the subsequent spate of ministerial resignations, which took place in the middle of Survation's fieldwork period.  We should certainly take that seriously as a possible explanation, because there's plenty of polling evidence that it's shifted public opinion at Britain-wide level - there's been a swing from Tory to Labour that essentially reverses the trend of the last few months.  The odd thing, though, is that the Scottish Tory vote is not substantially down in the Survation poll - they've remained static in the Westminster vote, and have only dropped one point on the Scottish Parliament constituency ballot, which can easily be explained away as margin of error 'noise'.  (They're down four points on the list ballot, but I'd be inclined to take that less seriously given the apparent tendency of some respondents to treat the list as a second preference vote.)  Weirdly, it's Labour that appears to be suffering the most - the opposite of what is happening at Britain-wide level.  How do we explain that?  Perhaps pro-European voters are looking for the best available option, and in England that's Labour, but in Scotland it's the SNP?

Both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats - parties that are on opposite extremes of the Brexit debate - are doing unusually well in the Survation poll, which would tend to confirm that Europe is on voters' minds to a greater extent than usual, and might suggest that other changes in the poll have a similar explanation.  In case you've been wondering why the seats projection for Holyrood gave the pro-independence parties a majority of seats on a minority of the vote, part of the explanation is that UKIP's 5% list vote is effectively 'wasting' a significant chunk of unionist votes, because it's just short of what would be required to actually win any seats.  If UKIP's list vote was to continue to rise, or if all the UKIP votes were to go to the Tories, the seats projection would look somewhat less favourable from a pro-independence point of view.

In relation to Survation's inexplicable decision to suddenly stop including 16 and 17 year olds in their independence polling, someone asked on an earlier thread whether that meant they were also excluding EU nationals.  The answer is that I don't know, because that information simply isn't available in the datasets.  If Survation are now using the Westminster franchise rather than the Holyrood/local government/indyref franchise as the basis for their sampling, it would seem logical that they would be excluding EU nationals as well as 16 and 17 year olds, which might theoretically be leading to a marginal underestimation of the Yes vote.  But that's just speculation at this stage.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

More about that sensational Survation poll

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article in The National about yesterday's Survation poll, which put the SNP back up to levels of support that haven't been seen since before the general election.  You can read the article HERE.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Spectacular Survation poll suggests SNP are on course for landslide

Scottish voting intentions for next UK general election:

SNP 42% (+3)
Conservatives 24% (n/c)
Labour 23% (-4)
Liberal Democrats: 8% (+1)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot):

SNP 43% (+1)
Conservatives 24% (-1)
Labour 21% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+3)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (regional list ballot):

SNP 33% (+1)
Labour 21% (-2)
Conservatives 19% (-4)
Greens 11% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
UKIP 5% (+2)

I've got a few things on today, so I'll update this with analysis when I have a chance, but a couple of quick observations...

Most importantly, this is the most favourable poll for the SNP and the pro-independence parties since the general election.  If these numbers were replicated at the ballot box, there would still be a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, the SNP would regain all of the six Westminster seats they lost to Labour last year, and would even regain the bulk of the twelve seats they lost to the Tories.

Secondly, it appears from the partial datasets published yesterday that 16 and 17 year olds weren't interviewed for the poll.  If that isn't a misprint, it represents a major and inexplicable retrograde step for Survation, who previously have been good about interviewing the correct electorate.  It raises the question of whether the 47% figure for Yes published yesterday may have been a smidgeon too low.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Drama as Survation poll shows support for independence INCREASING - and almost half of Scots DEMAND that Nicola Sturgeon should call a referendum

The ever-delightful Cleggy and the Vow-Meisters have today published their latest full-scale Scottish poll from Survation.  It tells a familiar tale, with respondents roughly split down the middle on whether Nicola Sturgeon should call a second independence referendum.  A total of 42% think she should, and 49% think she shouldn't.  Bear in mind there's a margin of error of 3%, meaning those numbers are close enough to being a statistical tie as makes no difference. 

The 42% in favour of a referendum break down as follows: 23% want Ms Sturgeon to call a referendum this autumn, and 19% want her to call it later.  The wording of the question on this point is deeply unsatisfactory, and I strongly suspect that most respondents will have wrongly assumed that they were being asked whether a referendum should actually take place this autumn.  What Survation are really asking is whether a referendum should merely be announced this autumn, but they don't spell that out, and therefore the results on timing should be taken with a massive dose of salt.  It's actually quite impressive that one-quarter of the population seemingly want a referendum to take place in as little as two or three months' time!  And of course the 19% who chose the 'later than the autumn' option could mean that they think this winter or next spring would be the appropriate time - they aren't given the opportunity to specify what 'later' actually means.

Disappointingly, Survation have misrepresented their own numbers on this occasion in a much more serious way than the Daily Record have. It's quite rare for a polling company to do that, but the short Survation article on the poll is headlined "Scottish Voters Opposed to Second Independence Referendum".  As you can see for yourself, that's quite simply untrue - the 42% in support of a referendum, when combined with the small number of Don't Knows, outnumber the 49% who are opposed.  There is no absolute majority in either direction, and it's anyone's guess why Survation are so keen to give the false impression that there is.  Maybe a mole from Tory central office has infiltrated their PR department?

The only other result to be published from the poll so far is the straight question on independence, and it shows a modest increase in the Yes vote - albeit one that can potentially be easily explained by the margin of error.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Don't Knows excluded)

Yes 47% (+1)
No 53% (-1)

Presumably we'll see Holyrood and/or Westminster voting intention numbers tomorrow or over the coming days.

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

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Brexit delusion over who calls the shots

I don't know about anyone else, but I've been rubbing my eyes in disbelief over the last few hours.  If you've been listening to the mainstream media's verdict on what was agreed at Chequers, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the fabled Brexit deal that Theresa May has been tasked with striking needed only to be a deal with the rest of her own Cabinet, and not with the European Union.   By that rather lower standard, what's just happened might indeed be seen as a stunning personal triumph for the Prime Minister and a guarantee of a (somewhat) softer Brexit, exactly as Stormfront Lite is claiming tonight.  The agreement will only be subject to a few modifications if Brussels raises any objections, reveals the Guardian, which apparently believes that the EU has only a limited consultative role in the whole process.  It's the old imperial delusion - decisions are things that happen in London.  The same commentators who complacently tell us that an indyref is a non-starter because Theresa May will say "no" also apparently believe that it's a mere point of trivia that the EU have already ruled out many elements of May's Brexit proposal.  Back in the real world, without the EU's assent there is no deal at all, and that would mean the hardest of hard Brexits.

A rare injection of realism was provided by Sam Coates of the Times, who acknowledged that the EU may well still insist on a straight choice between a looser Canada-type deal, and the Norway model that would entail the retention of the single market.  But he argued that the Chequers proposal was around 80% of the way towards the Norway model, thus making it that much easier for the Prime Minister to jump towards Norway if forced to choose.  What he didn't expand on is the consequence of such a decision.  It's highly debatable whether the government really are now 80% of the way towards Norway, but even assuming for the sake of argument that they are, the reason they haven't travelled the remaining 20% of the distance is that doing so would completely breach the red lines on formally leaving the single market and ending freedom of movement.  Some say that a soft Brexit is inevitable because there is a natural parliamentary majority for it - but that majority is cross-party in nature, and neither the government nor the Prime Minister are sustained in office on a cross-party basis.  I find it inconceivable that a Tory government led by Theresa May could keep Britain in the European Economic Area or retain freedom of movement, even if they wanted to.

And if that proves to be correct, there are only really four alternatives -

1) The EU backs down and accepts British cherry-picking of the most desirable aspects of the single market and customs union.  This is almost unimaginable because it would create a precedent that Eurosceptics in other member states would try to follow, thus risking the unravelling of the EU.

2) A Canada-type deal is negotiated after all.  This is possible, but it would require turning the super-tanker around, because it's clearly not close to what Theresa May has in mind at the moment.  It would mean a very hard Brexit in any case.

3) There is no deal at all.

4) The Prime Minister's failure to strike a deal (or a deal that is consistent with her red lines) triggers a political crisis that results in a change of leadership and/or a general election.

I can recall at least two previous occasions when we've been told that the PM has made a decisive move towards a soft Brexit, only for us to realise weeks later that there had been no change of any real significance.  I fully expect the same to prove true on this occasion.

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

Thoughts on the Plaid Cymru leadership election

This speaks volumes about just how unequal this "union of equals" actually is, but I would have been totally oblivious to the fact that a Plaid leadership election is now underway if I had been reliant on the London-based mainstream media.  I just happened to stumble upon the information on Twitter.  Adam Price and Rhun ap Iorwerth, both highly charismatic and telegenic figures who have long been regarded as obvious leaders of the future, are both challenging Leanne Wood for the top job.  To put this development in perspective, imagine that John Swinney had not resigned as SNP leader in 2004 but had instead been challenged by both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.  Totally unthinkable given the closeness of those three people, but just imagine.  That's the sort of scenario Plaid are facing - there's not just the question of whether the current leader will survive, there's also the subplot of a battle between two different Kings Over The Water that only one (at most) can possibly win.  It really is the leadership contest to end them all.

I've followed Rhun ap Iorwerth on Twitter for quite some time and he's always come across as extremely progressive, so I was surprised to see the suggestion in a BBC Wales article that he might be more receptive to an arrangement with the Tories than Leanne Wood is.  I know unsubstantiated gossip from the BBC should be treated with healthy scepticism (if you believe Sarah Smith's running commentary on Nicola Sturgeon's supposed 'private views', you'll believe anything), but what doesn't seem to be in any dispute is that Mr ap Iorweth is taking a pro-nuclear stance by supporting the construction of the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power plant in his constituency, while Leanne Wood is taking the opposite stance as leader.  That's a classic case of local people backing nuclear power while those further away from the plant paradoxically tend to be the ones more worried about environmental and health effects - we used to see much the same pattern in the debate about Dounreay.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that the people further away don't have a more clear-sighted perspective, of course.

The same BBC Wales article characterises Adam Price as seeking equidistance between Labour and the Tories, with the implication that this also puts him somewhere in between Mr ap Iorwerth and the more Labour-friendly Ms Wood.  I do seem to recall, though, that back in 2007 Mr Price was a key cheerleader for the idea that Plaid should opt for coalition with Labour and not with the Tories and Lib Dems.

If the suggestion that Ms Wood is the most left-wing of the three candidates is true, and from what I know about her I can believe there might be a grain of truth in it, that would leave me with a big headache if I was a Plaid member with a vote.  Ms Wood is probably closest of all the candidates to my own political views, but my gut feeling is that the Welsh public might look upon either Mr Price or Mr ap Iorweth as credible potential First Ministers, in a way that they perhaps don't with Ms Wood. It's the age-old dilemma - do you vote for the candidate with the best policies, or for the best candidate?  Having seen what happened to Labour after head ruled heart in 1994, I suspect I would probably follow my heart and vote to re-elect Ms Wood - although there would be a loud, nagging voice inside my head wondering if I was doing the right thing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Pressure mounts on Theresa May to pass a Section 30 order after UK House of Commons UNANIMOUSLY votes to accept the sovereignty of the Scottish people

When it emerged last night that the SNP were about to hold an opposition day debate in the Commons on the Claim of Right, I speculated on the pickle the unionist parties might get into depending on how they decided to vote.  I expected the Tories to vote against the motion, in which case they would have to explain why they were opposed to the Scottish people's right to self-determination, and I thought Labour and the Liberal Democrats might abstain, in which case they would have to explain why they were refusing to support the founding principle of their own Scottish Constitutional Convention.  In the end, all three parties declined to walk into that trap.  They all backed the motion, which meant that it passed by acclamation - essentially a unanimous vote without a single MP registering an objection (not even the notorious 'Mr Upskirt').

But of course there are also consequences that flow from backing the Claim of Right.  If, when Nicola Sturgeon renews her request for a Section 30 order, the answer continues to be "no", it will be reasonable to ask what the Tories actually meant when they voted in favour of "the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs".  As a veteran of interminable back-and-forths about Devo Max with Tory supporters on Stormfront Lite, I'm well aware of the argument that the sovereignty of the Scottish people cannot be absolute when the objective is an enhanced form of self-government within the United Kingdom, because any change in the UK's internal constitutional arrangements affects the whole of the UK and can only be decided by mutual consent, not unilaterally.  But that excuse falls apart if you're still claiming that the sovereignty of the people is not absolute even when the decision is about whether to leave the UK altogether.  The choice on independence really is nobody's business but Scotland's, and the sovereignty of the Scottish people means nothing if it doesn't mean the right to say "Now Is Not The Time is an interesting opinion, but we disagree with it, and the decision is ours, not yours".  It means exactly the same right to decide whether to leave at a time and manner of our own choosing that the British people exercised in relation to the EU.

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

Border checks at Gretna Green? We're totally cool with that, say majority of Scots in new SHOCK poll

As you've probably already seen, the latest release from the new Panelbase/Wings poll asks how people in Scotland would feel about border checks if that were necessary for Scotland to enjoy the same special status in relation to the EU that has been mooted for Northern Ireland.

If Northern Ireland were to be granted special status which effectively meant it remained in the EU, but saw the imposition of customs and immigration checks between it and the rest of the UK, which of these is closest to your opinion?

The same status should be granted to Scotland: 53%
The same status should NOT be granted to Scotland: 26%

I think that's quite possibly the most remarkable finding in the poll so far, and it has all sorts of interesting implications.  The question is not sneakily worded in any way - it lays on the line that the border checks being talked about are the sort traditionally associated with a hard border between two sovereign states.  And yet, in spite of the fact that Better Together thought their fairy tales about barbed wire fences and Trump-style walls were a major Achilles heel for Yes back in 2014, an absolute majority of respondents - even when Don't Knows are taken into account - clearly do not believe that border checks are a dealbreaker.  And if they're not a dealbreaker for voters pondering an intra-UK border, it's hard to see why they would be a dealbreaker for voters thinking about a border between an independent Scotland and rUK.

In practice, of course, people are typically poor at answering hypothetical questions, and after being exposed to a second helping of Project Fear, they might well suddenly decide that border checks are quite scary after all.  In a way, the dream scenario would be if Scotland did actually gain the kind of special status referred to in this poll, because it would allow people to get used to a lot of the things associated with independence before making what would be a much smaller psychological jump.  That is one of the many reasons why the Tories will never allow it to happen.  But this poll leaves the Tory government with another problem: if the majority were not deterred by the mention of border checks, that means they must feel very, very strongly that it would be unacceptable for Scotland not to be given any special status awarded to Northern Ireland.  Can the government risk a massive public backlash in Scotland at a time like this?  If not, it significantly reduces their options in resolving the impasse over Brexit.

And a final thought: if people were not deterred by border checks, that must also mean they feel very, very strongly about the benefits of "effectively remaining in the EU".  That constitutes another timely warning that it could be a big strategic blunder for the SNP to water down its pro-Europeanism in pursuit of the minority of Yes voters from 2014 who want to leave the EU.

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

Bend It Like Blackford

The SNP's brilliant psychological tactic of forcing five lengthy parliamentary votes while England were playing a World Cup knockout match is surely destined to become the stuff of legend.  Labour abstained on the votes, as is the Labour Way, but nevertheless the Tories couldn't all go home or head off to the pubs because there needed to be enough of them around to outvote a few dozen SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs.  In the end, well over 100 of them saw it through, which probably means that a great many Tories who would very much like to have seen the England match missed a large part of it.

A lot of sanctimonious drivel has already been spoken and written about this episode, but what I found truly contemptible was the revelation that Tory minister Margot James had physically approached the SNP during the votes and demanded that they think of Westminster's staff.  It was as if she truly believed she was looking at a political party that had completely taken leave of its senses, and that needed to be snapped back into self-awareness about the consequences of its irresponsible actions.  Er, hello?  It's only a matter of weeks since Margot James' party destroyed Scotland's devolution settlement after just nineteen minutes of parliamentary 'debate', during which no Scottish MPs were permitted to speak.  The settled democratic will of the Scottish people, as overwhelmingly expressed in the 1997 devolution referendum, was casually overturned by the imperial authorities in the manner in which a fly might be swatted away and instantly forgotten about.  Until an independence referendum is called, the only way that Scotland's elected representatives can fight back against the squashing of our country's democracy is by clever use of the parliamentary rulebook to cause small amounts of disruption, thus making the London government realise that its actions do at least have some bothersome consequences - which in this case meant that a limited number of highly-paid staff missed part (and only part) of a game of football.  Oh how frightful.

Yes, Margot, there is one political party that has lost all sense of perspective about what is happening, and that needs to be forced to belatedly confront reality.  But that party is not the Scottish National Party.

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We're about to see a second day of clever parliamentary tactics from the SNP, because they've called an opposition day debate on the Claim of Right.  The motion that MPs will be asked to vote for or against notes straightforwardly that the Scottish people have the "sovereign determine the form of government best suited to their needs".  The simplicity of the motion presents all other parties with a dilemma.  Can Labour and the Liberal Democrats really abstain on a Yes/No vote about the founding principle of their own Scottish Constitutional Convention?  Will the Tories be able to come up with an explanation for saying that the Scottish people do not have the right to determine the form of government best suited to their own needs?  The way each unionist party votes, and justifies how it votes, will be taken down and used in evidence against them - particularly in the next independence referendum.

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Purely by virtue of a freakishly favourable draw for England, we're now suddenly staring down the barrel of a 1966 scenario.  And the fact that an England victory from 52 years ago is still being insufferably rammed down our throats on a daily basis is a useful clue as to why we might, on the whole, be better off not having to deal with a much more recent repeat performance.  But we may have to face the fact that if The Catastrophe is yet to be averted, it's now most likely to happen in the final.  England probably have a slightly better than even chance of beating Croatia - their toughest potential semi-final opponents.

I've always thought the best way of countering the mythology of 1966 is to promote the truly concrete past achievements of the Scotland team - as opposed to clinging to relatively meaningless single game triumphs such as the 1967 win against England, or the 1978 win against the Netherlands.  By 'truly concrete' I mean the fact that any retrospective world rankings going back to the start of international football would put Scotland in the number one position for long spells, and also the fact that Scotland won the defunct British Home Championship - the oldest and for a long time the most prestigious international tournament - on a remarkable 41 separate occasions.

On that theme, I was browsing through some of Wikipedia's articles about the British Home Championship a few hours ago, and just by chance I landed on the article about the 1979/80 edition of the tournament.  Now I've seen some brazen Anglocentric wording in my time, but just take a look at this effort...

"The tournament also finally marked the end of a decade of extremely poor international football results for all the Home Nations. Apart from disappointing Scottish performances in the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups, no British side had been represented at a major football tournament since England were knocked out by Germany at the 1970 FIFA World Cup. In 1980, England finally qualified for the 1980 UEFA European Championship and although their performance was unspectacular it did lay the groundwork for the appearance of three of the Home Nations at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. The Home Championships thus allowed spectators and coaches an impression of the reorganised British sides and their capabilities in competitive football."

It's almost exquisite, isn't it?  England's qualification for the 1980 Euros was the first time a British team had qualified for a major tournament since England in 1970, unless you count Scotland qualifying in both 1974 and 1978 but obviously you won't count 1974 and 1978 because Scotland are not England.  That complete gibberish actually made sense in someone's head.

I was initially a bit daunted by the major surgery that would be required to make the article less risible, but after a bit of thought I edited it to read as follows...

"The tournament also marked the end of a decade-long era in which Scotland had been the only British side that managed to qualify for major international football tournaments, in the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups. In 1980, England finally ended that Scottish dominance by qualifying for the 1980 UEFA European Championship and although their performance was unspectacular it did lay the groundwork for them to join both Scotland and the revitalised Northern Ireland at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. The Home Championships thus allowed spectators and coaches an impression of the reorganised British sides and their capabilities in competitive football."

I may have gone a bit to the other extreme by talking about a "decade-long era" of "Scottish dominance", but sometimes you need to go to the other extreme just to balance out the nonsense.

*  *  *

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Panelbase poll suggests the prize of staying within the EU will boost Yes support

The new full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, which is being released bit by bit over on Wings Over Scotland, has failed to provide any comfort for the small minority of SNP parliamentarians who take the view that the party needs to water down or reverse its pro-Europeanism to win back Yes voters from 2014 who want to leave the EU.  The poll shows that, when the independence question is asked on the assumption that an indy Scotland would definitely stay in the EU, Yes support is in fact several points higher than in recent Panelbase polls that asked the standard independence question.

The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU in March 2019.  If a referendum on Scottish independence was held around this time, and if a Yes vote meant that Scotland would stay in the EU, which way do you think you would vote?

I would vote for an independent Scotland in the EU: 49.4%
I would vote for Scotland to stay in the UK and leave the EU: 50.6%

That's about as close to a 50/50 split as you can get, and compares to figures of Yes 44%, No 56% in the last Panelbase poll that asked the standard independence question.  (I gather from my informant that Stuart Campbell didn't get Panelbase to ask the standard question, so there's no direct comparison available within this poll itself.)  So it looks as if simply convincing people that independence more or less guarantees EU membership would be enough to add around 5 or 6 points to Yes support at a stroke.

Of course, this doesn't prove that Yes haven't lost a minority of supporters because of Brexit (in fact they almost certainly have), but what matters going forward is whether a particular pitch would increase or decrease support from where it currently stands.  It looks from this poll as if putting a doubt in people's minds as to whether the SNP want Scotland to remain a full part of the EU could potentially be a major strategic blunder.

As you probably saw a couple of days ago, the poll also found that a slim majority (50.6%) want a second independence referendum to take place within the next eight years, and a much more comfortable majority of 66.5% want it to take place at some point in the future.  Of course these results are always very susceptible to the way the question and possible answers are framed by the polling company, but nevertheless there is no real doubt that when the Tories say "the people of Scotland don't want another independence referendum", they are quite simply not telling the truth.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Anguish for mystery man Leonard as Scottish Labour slump to THIRD in new Panelbase poll

Tonight has seen the publication of a new full-scale Scottish poll, conducted by Panelbase and commissioned by Wings Over Scotland.  Funnily enough, I had advance warning this was coming, because one of the poll's respondents sent me some of the questions the other day, and I couldn't think of anyone else but Wings who would commission a political poll that included supplementary questions about the Old Firm and Wee Ginger Dug!

So far we only have the headline voting intention numbers for Westminster and the Holyrood constituency ballot...

Scottish voting intentions for the next Westminster general election:

SNP 38% (n/c)
Conservatives 27% (n/c)
Labour 25% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Greens 2% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot):

SNP 41% (+1)
Conservatives 27% (-1)
Labour 22% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)

The eagle-eyed among you will already have spotted that the percentage changes listed above are different from the ones listed in the Wings article.  That's because I'm using the standard approach of comparing with the last poll conducted by the same firm, whereas Wings states that he's comparing the Holyrood numbers to a much earlier poll from last December, and comparing the Westminster numbers to the result of the general election a year ago.

When the last Panelbase poll came out a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was a little startled that it showed Labour's Westminster vote holding up, and indeed that it showed Labour moving from third into joint second - which flatly contradicted what looked like a highly significant Labour slump in the most recent YouGov poll.  The YouGov direction of travel seemed intuitively much more plausible, because it was in line with the Labour-to-Tory swing witnessed in Britain-wide polls in recent months.  Tonight's poll may go some way towards solving the mystery, because it shows Labour slipping back in both Westminster and Holyrood ballots.  It could be that the last Panelbase poll overstated Labour a tad due to normal sampling variation, and that what we're seeing tonight is closer to the true picture.  That said, Labour are only just behind the Tories in Westminster voting intentions, whereas YouGov suggested a slightly bigger gap of four points.

Although tonight's poll and the previous one from Panelbase were only conducted two weeks apart, something very significant happened in the intervening period - ie. the SNP walkout in response to the power-grab.  Superficially, then, it looks like that eye-catching moment was not an immediate game-changer, although I would argue that the real value of it was in hardening and motivating the SNP's core vote.  That's something that doesn't necessarily show up in headline poll numbers, but could make a huge difference in any snap general election.  The SNP's biggest problem last year was not so much voters drifting off to Labour or the Tories, but rather SNP voters just not turning out at all.

Having said that, the SNP's Holyrood vote has crept up by one point, which although not statistically significant leaves open the possibility that the power-grab issue has caused some small movement in the SNP's favour.

Rather than fretting about the lack of any major SNP bounce over the course of June, I think we'd be better off reflecting on just how admirably the SNP's vote has held up over the year - and, incredibly, it is now a whole year - since the general election.  Given the hysterical post-election narrative in the media, you might well have expected some kind of anti-Nat bandwagon effect that could have led to Labour quickly reclaiming their traditional place as the dominant party of Scottish politics, at least as far as Westminster voting intentions are concerned.  But they haven't even come close to doing that.  There have now been twelve full-scale Scottish polls since last June, and nine of them have given the SNP a higher vote than the 37% achieved at the general election.  (No poll has put the SNP lower than 36%.)  If tonight's numbers are to be believed, the SNP's lead over the Tories has increased from 8 points to 11 since the election, and their lead over Labour has increased from 10 points to 13.  Given the large number of ultra-marginal constituencies in Scotland, that would be more than enough to produce a significant number of SNP seat gains from the two main unionist parties.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The momentum is now unstoppable as the previously unionist Mail on Sunday demands...THE BREAK-UP OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

You've probably already seen this, but it has to be one of the all-time classic newspaper front pages.  Today's Scottish edition of the Mail on Sunday declares that Scotland is an "OPEN DOOR FOR TERROR" on the grounds that the paper's "investigators" (I rarely say LOL, but LOL) were able to take a ferry trip from Belfast to Cairnryan without encountering any "border controls" or having to show their passports.

There is of course a remarkably simple explanation for this shocking lack of border security.  The "investigators" didn't actually cross over an international border.  As most people have discovered by the time they leave primary school (let alone by the time they have editorial control over a national newspaper), Northern Ireland and Scotland are both part of the United Kingdom.  A ferry crossing from Belfast to Cairnryan is therefore a routine domestic voyage.  Having to show your passport on such a trip would be quite literally as daft as having to show your passport on a ferry between Mull and Oban, or between the Isle of Wight and Southampton.

I'm just about old enough to have done that trip (or rather the very similar Larne to Stranraer crossing) on three separate occasions during the Northern Ireland Troubles - in 1990, 1992 and 1994.  Even back then, there were no passport checks, and in fact there wasn't much in the way of ordinary security - a far cry from the heavily militarised international border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The amusing part of all this is that there is only really one way to introduce the kind of hard border between Scotland and Northern Ireland that the Mail on Sunday are demanding.  And that is for Scotland and Northern Ireland to cease to be part of the same state.  Scotland will have to become independent, or Northern Ireland will have to leave the UK.  Either way this is a long distance from the Mail on Sunday's previously rock solid British nationalism, and is a development to be greatly welcomed.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Is there a strategic advantage to what happened yesterday?

Obviously we all wanted the government to lose in the Commons yesterday, but now that they haven't, I'm trying to work out whether in the long run that will prove to be good or bad news for the SNP and the wider cause of independence.  As they say about the French Revolution, it's probably too early to tell.  The case for arguing that it might be good news is that it makes Theresa May's survival as PM more likely (I know, I know, but bear with me), which in turn makes a general election late this year or early next year less likely, thus making any decision to press ahead with an independence referendum next year much less complicated.  But the counter-argument is that now the power-grab story has finally broken through into the public consciousness, the SNP would have had a fearsome weapon with which to fight an early general election - one that simply wasn't available to them last time around.  If they had made gains rather than losses in an election, that would have set them up perfectly for the calling of a referendum shortly thereafter.

So you pays your money and you takes your choice.  I note, incidentally, that there is a great deal of smugness and complacency in many part of the London media about how the Tory government will sail through the vote on Heathrow expansion next week due to the support of the SNP.  My own view, for what it's worth, is that whatever the merits or demerits of a third runway, the SNP should be pursuing a policy of total non-cooperation with the government until and unless the power-grab is reversed.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sturgeon marches on: new Panelbase poll confirms SNP are on course for gains in any early general election

Today brings word of a new full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase.  In one sense it repeats the recent findings of YouGov (albeit in less dramatic fashion) because it shows the SNP on the up, and on course for gains from both the Conservatives and Labour in any early general election.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Panelbase, 8th-13th June 2018):

SNP 38% (+2)  
Conservatives 27% (-1)
Labour 27% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

The SNP's lead over the Tories has increased from 8 points to 11 since last year's general election, and their lead over Labour has increased from 10 to 11.  This is obviously a relatively modest change (and less than suggested by YouGov), but given the number of ultra-marginal seats out there, it's enough to potentially make a very significant difference.

The meaningful dissimilarity with the YouGov poll (and this can't easily be explained by margin of error) is that Labour's share of the vote has not dropped back at all, and the Tories haven't made any advance.  Quite the reverse, in fact.  YouGov had Labour slumping from second to third, but Panelbase have Labour moving from third into joint second, courtesy of a slight fall in Tory support.  We'll just have to wait for more information to see which firm is closer to being right - although admittedly that moment may never arrive, because both the Panelbase and YouGov polls were (more or less) conducted prior to the SNP walkout from the House of Commons on Wednesday.  Assuming that was the watershed moment in Scottish politics a lot of people think it might have been, future polls may pick up more recent changes in public opinion that will disguise anything that might have been going on prior to the last few days.

The same problem makes it hard to draw many conclusions from Panelbase's finding on support for independence.  It shows no change at all - but of course any surge in Yes support would have been much more likely to occur after fieldwork concluded in the middle of the week, not before.  (Remember that most respondents to online polls tend to give their answers early in the fieldwork period, so for the most part this poll was probably conducted several days before the SNP walkout.)  The jury is still out, then - we'll have to wait for more up-to-date polls to find out just how big an impact the events of Wednesday had.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 44% (n/c)
No 56% (n/c)

Incidentally, don't be too alarmed to see Yes on a smidgeon below 45%.  Panelbase have of late slotted in at the No-friendly end of the polling spectrum - somewhat ironic, given that for such a long period prior to the first indyref, it was only Panelbase that gave Yes any reason for optimism.

Ever eager to find the most negative possible spin for the SNP, the Sunday Times have placed most emphasis on the Holyrood findings, which are bound to look less encouraging than the Westminster numbers because the SNP are starting from the much higher baseline of 2016.  Curiously, the headline reads "SNP set to miss 2021 seats target for new independence referendum", which ignores the rather obvious point that the SNP have not set any seats target for an independence referendum in 2021, because they've already successfully won a mandate at the election in 2016 for a pre-2021 independence referendum.  Indeed, any suggestion that the pro-independence majority may be lost in 2021 will simply strengthen the already overwhelming argument that the existing mandate for a referendum must be used.

As it happens, though, the poll actually suggests that the pro-independence parties would only very narrowly fall short of the 65 seats required for an absolute majority.  The Sunday Times' projection has the SNP on 56 and the Greens on 7.  So only a couple more seats would be needed, and a small increase in SNP or Green support would do the trick - with the election still three long years away in any case.

Voting intentions for Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 40% (n/c)
Conservatives 28% (n/c)
Labour 24% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

Voting intentions for Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 36% 
Conservatives 26% 
Labour 23%
Greens 7%
Liberal Democrats 6%

Strangely, this is the first time since the 2016 election that Panelbase have asked for regional list voting intentions, so it's not possible to give percentage changes on the list ballot.  However, the list results are fairly encouraging for the SNP - other polling firms have suggested their list vote has slipped rather lower than 36%.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

This may seem impossible, but the UK government is even less committed to the Sewel Convention today than it was yesterday

David Mundell's statement to the House of Commons today was extraordinary.  It wasn't simply that he failed to strike a conciliatory tone or offer any path towards compromise.  It wasn't simply that he repeated his unconvincing justifications for the UK government's unprecedented breach of the Sewel Convention.  He actually went a step further than any UK minister had ever gone before by unilaterally changing the terms of the Sewel Convention, thus leaving the Scottish Parliament utterly defenceless against any future attempt by the UK government to further reduce its powers or abolish it altogether.

As I understand it, until today the UK government at least accepted that the Sewel Convention precluded it, in "normal" circumstances, from legislating on devolved matters without consent.  Its excuse for breaching the convention on this occasion was that this is a one-off exception in circumstances that are not "normal".  But today Mundell insisted that the convention allows (indeed "requires"!) the UK government to legislate without consent whenever the Scottish Parliament has been asked to consent but no agreement is reached.  Essentially Sewel Mark II as set out today is a rapist's charter: consent need not be obtained but merely sought.  "My client took every reasonable step to obtain the woman's consent, your honour, but regrettably she was being stubborn."  There is no longer any requirement for circumstances to be "abnormal" for a refusal of consent to be ignored - future breaches could in fact become fairly routine.  (The way Mundell would frame it is that circumstances are automatically deemed to be "abnormal" whenever the Scottish Parliament withholds consent, thus setting up an almost comical circular argument that deprives the words "normal" and "consent" of any meaning.)

I would suggest this has enormous implications for the next independence referendum.  Personally, I've never believed it's likely that any UK government in anything like the foreseeable future would seek to abolish the Scottish Parliament outright.  But it doesn't matter what I think is likely, it only matters what the public think is plausible, and after the events of the last 72 hours, a lot of soft No voters will now have entirely rational doubts about just how secure Holyrood's foundations really are.  If the next Yes campaign presents the choice as being between independence and no Scottish Parliament at all, that may resonate in a way that would have been unthinkable in 2014.

With almost every move they make, the Tories are idiotically weakening their own hand in any referendum campaign.  They're putting all their eggs in the basket of preventing that referendum taking place before the current mandate expires in 2021.  That's one game we mustn't help them with.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

12.06.18: The day the calling of a pre-2021 independence referendum became inevitable

Huge respect to Ian Blackford for taking a stand at Prime Minister's Questions and sending the message that the unprecedented breach of the Sewel Convention that occurred yesterday, with the mass-scale stripping of existing powers from the Scottish Parliament, was a sufficiently serious matter to warrant the disruption of the flagship occasion in the House of Commons.  It was blindingly obvious that John Bercow was advised by his clerks that Mr Blackford had the right to immediately move a technical vote on the House sitting privately, which would have interrupted PMQs by around fifteen minutes.  Indeed, Bercow initially seemed to concede that point by appealing to Mr Blackford to wait until PMQs were over, but then, as he so often does, he made the rules up as he went on to save face and decreed that the vote would have to wait even if Mr Blackford didn't back down.  He then ended up expelling Mr Blackford from the chamber, prompting the entire SNP parliamentary party to walk out in solidarity - leaving a huge gap in the benches that would have brought home to viewers just how many seats the SNP actually won last year.  Shamefully, Bercow then let his anger (and his true colours) show by making a number of fatuous British nationalist propaganda points, such as that it was a great shame that SNP MPs who had questions down on the order paper would not now be able to ask them - as if a couple of twenty-second questions followed by the usual sneering replies from Theresa May would have somehow made up for the shameful scenes of yesterday, when powers were removed from the Scottish Parliament without a single Scottish MP being allowed to speak.  (No bending of the rules from Bercow to stop the disgraceful fillibustering yesterday, you might note.)

The reason why it was necessary for Mr Blackford and the SNP parliamentary party to send this symbolic message is that the London establishment and media just don't seem to have received the memo yet.  We hear a lot about the get-out clause in the Sewel Convention that the consent of the Scottish Parliament will only "normally" be required.  That implies, of course, that to act without consent is an extraordinary constitutional exception on a par with the impeachment of an American President or something of that sort.  Do you get any sense at all that the London establishment and media have acknowledged the gravity of what is happening?  Has Huw Edwards been presenting the Ten O'Clock News from Edinburgh for the last week as the crisis deepens?  Has the sainted Sarah Smith been fronting Panorama specials?  Was it a figment of our imagination that only a token 15 minutes was devoted to the power grab in the House of Commons yesterday, rather than ten hours?  It has become abundantly clear that the Sewel Convention - supposedly put on a statutory basis after 2014 in line with The Vow - is a presentational con-trick.  The pretence of treating it with reverence was only going to be maintained for as long as there was no cost to Westminster - but as soon as that was no longer the case, it was always going to be contemptuously ignored as if everyone knew it was a bit of a joke.  Not one person in the London media seems to think this turn of events is remotely strange or surprising.  Indeed, they seem more surprised today that Ian Blackford was actually taking the Sewel Convention and The Vow seriously.

There is, of course, no going back from the walk-out today.  The SNP membership would not accept that a matter that was serious enough to prompt a walk-out from the Commons is not serious enough to also necessitate a pre-2021 referendum on independence, in line with the mandate secured two years ago by the Scottish Government.  What's more, I simply don't believe - regardless of Sarah Smith's relentless propagandising to the contrary - that the SNP leadership will ask the membership to accept that.  It is inevitable that a pre-2021 referendum will now be called.

Events since the first indyref - betrayal of The Vow, followed by the Brexit vote, followed by Brexit mutating into a Hard Brexit, followed by the destruction of the devolution settlement - have occurred at a gradual enough pace that it's sometimes possible not to see the wood for the trees.  Let's take a step back.  The people of Scotland narrowly voted against independence in September 2014 on the basis of specific promises that Scotland would remain in the EU, and that the Scottish Parliament would become more powerful.  Instead, Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against its will, and powers that the Scottish Parliament has held since its inauguration in 1999 are being taken away.  Either one of those two material changes in circumstances would make the case for a second referendum unanswerable.  The two in combination make it a slam-dunk. 

This isn't a strategic calculation about whether we dare risk asking the question again in case the answer is No.  It's about giving a betrayed public the right that they deserve to revisit a decision they took on the basis of a false prospectus.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Sensational YouGov poll suggests SNP would make sweeping gains in a snap general election, with support for an independence referendum also increasing

For the first time in months we have a full-scale Scottish poll.  This one has certainly proved worth the wait, because on Westminster voting intentions it shows the SNP opening up an enormous seventeen point lead over Labour, who have firmly moved back down into third place. 

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (YouGov):

SNP 40% (+4)
Conservatives 27% (+4)
Labour 23% (-5)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Greens 2% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-2)

If those figures were replicated in any early general election, Labour would be likely to face a 2015-style wipeout, with the modest gains they made from the SNP last year being reversed.  And although the Tories have picked up support since the last YouGov poll, that has been entirely offset by a substantial increase in the SNP's own support, meaning that the SNP remain on course for seat gains from the Tories as well.  In short, it's a poll of unalloyed wonderfulness for the SNP, and The Times (who commissioned it) deserve some kind of medal for being brazen enough to put the words "Poll Blow for Sturgeon" in their headline!  (I'm not even joking - they've actually done that.)

In fairness, there may be an element of a 'reversion to the mean' about the SNP's four-point boost, because the last poll from YouGov saw the party on an unusually low 36%.  Nevertheless, of the five full-scale Scottish polls published by all firms this year, this is the first to show the SNP hitting the 40% mark.  Labour's dismal third place showing looks particularly significant, because there had been a run of polls from last autumn through to early spring putting Labour in second place.  In recent months, there has been a marked swing from Labour to Tory in Britain-wide polls, and it looks like that is being replicated in Scotland.

Intriguingly, though, the swing doesn't look quite as pronounced in Holyrood voting intentions.

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot):

SNP 41% (+3)
Conservatives 27% (+1)
Labour 22% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
Greens 2% (-1)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (regional list ballot):

SNP 32% (n/c)
Conservatives 26% (+1)
Labour 21% (-1)
Greens 9% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)
SSP 3% (+1)
UKIP 1% (-2)

So why are Labour taking a bigger hit at Westminster than at Holyrood?  The clue may lie in the fact that they had remained in third place in Holyrood voting intentions even while they were in second place at Westminster.  It could be that some people had toyed with cross-voting (Labour for Westminster, SNP or Tory for Holyrood) because of the appeal of Corbynism, but are now bringing their Westminster vote back into line with their Holyrood constituency vote.

For reasons that are not at all clear, YouGov consistently show lower support for an early independence referendum than other polling firms.  Panelbase, for example, often find the public split right down the middle on whether there should be an independence referendum in as little as two years.  The new YouGov poll still doesn't show a position quite as favourable as that, but there has been a sharp move in the right direction.

In principle, do you think there should or should not be a referendum on Scottish independence at some point in the next five years?

Should be a referendum: 40% (+4)
Should not be a referendum: 52% (-2)

Supplementary questions also show an increase in support for a referendum being held just before Brexit, or after Brexit.

The standard independence question was also asked, finding an increase in support for Yes.  However, the figures are within YouGov's normal range, so the change may just be margin of error 'noise'.  As Calum notes in the comment section below, the fact that YouGov now appear to be including 16 and 17 year olds in their sample may have played a part, although that's unlikely to have made more than a 1% difference after rounding.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

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

In case you're wondering, the thin justification for the ludicrous headline in The Times is a trivial two-point drop in Nicola Sturgeon's net satisfaction rating.  Ruth Davidson has suffered a slightly bigger drop of four points, but what makes the reporting really silly is that there is another leader who has suffered a catastrophic reversal in fortunes.  Jeremy Corbyn's net rating has plummeted from -3 to -30.  But for whatever reason, The Times thought that the steady-as-she-goes result for Ms Sturgeon was more worthy of a hysterical headline.

Oh, and Richard Leonard's net rating has slipped from -15 to -20.  But a majority of respondents still don't have any view on him (ie. they don't know who he is).

Thursday, May 31, 2018

This barefaced hypocrisy from Ruth Davidson cannot be allowed to stand. Not this time.

I've always thought that equal marriage and abortion law in Northern Ireland are the ultimate tests of how committed you really are to devolution.  You may think you believe that any Westminster interference in devolved matters is abhorrent, but if you find yourself saying "well, obviously abortion in Northern Ireland is different", then no, actually, you don't.  In Northern Ireland, abortion law and the ban on same-sex marriage are devolved matters, just like any other devolved matter.  That doesn't mean you can't have a view on whether there should be a change in the law, but it does mean that the focus for any agitation should be the Northern Ireland Assembly, not Westminster.  Changing the minds of the DUP may seem a hopeless task, but they have a mandate just as the SNP do in Scotland, and the Tories do in England.  If you believe in devolution, winning the argument in the Assembly is the only game in town, and appealing to Westminster for an overrule isn't an option.

(The current suspension of the Assembly doesn't change that calculation for the time being, because as of yet direct rule hasn't been reimposed and Northern Ireland is being run by its own civil service in the theoretical expectation that the Assembly will soon be sitting again.)

That being the case, it would - in normal circumstances - be impossible to fault Ruth Davidson's logic in these comments to the FT...

"If I was a politician in NI I would absolutely 100 % vote to change the law. But as someone who operates in a devolved administration I know how angry I would be if the House of Commons legislated on a domestic Scottish issue over the head of Holyrood"

The snag, of course, is that Westminster is currently in the process, for the first time in the nineteen-year history of devolution, of legislating on multiple devolved Scottish issues in defiance of a specific decision by the Scottish Parliament to withhold consent (or "going over the head of Holyrood" to put it more snappily).  It is doing so with Ruth Davidson's full-blooded support.  I can only say it is staggering that the FT didn't instantly notice this barefaced hypocrisy and challenge her on it.  The fact that they didn't betrays the mindset of the entire London establishment.  It's somehow instinctively understood that the constitutional conventions that make devolution work are optional (and really rather tiresome) when the SNP insist they must be upheld, but magically become set in stone if the subject in dispute is important to the DUP.

Ruth Davidson can't be forced to abandon her opposition to the current devolution settlement and to the Sewel Convention.  But what she can and must be forced to do is choose.  If she believes that Westminster has the right to disregard the Sewel Convention and overrule the Scottish Parliament on the huge range of devolved matters affected by the EU Withdrawal Bill, she must by definition also believe it has the right to overrule the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly on abortion law and marriage equality.  So which is it to be, Ruth?  And is there any chance of our hopeless media getting its act together and actually asking her that question?

*  *  *

You won't be surprised to hear that I agree with Paul Kavanagh's verdict in The National that Nicola Sturgeon should make clear that "now is not the time" is simply not an acceptable answer, and that the Scottish Government will proceed with seeking a mandate for independence even if a Section 30 order is refused.  However, I do take issue with him on a couple of things.  Firstly, the point of seeking a Section 30 order is not to make a referendum "legally binding".  The 2014 referendum was actually not legally binding - a Yes vote would not have automatically triggered independence.  A better way of putting it is that the Section 30 order made the 2014 vote "politically binding" - it would have been unthinkable for Westminster not to legislate for independence in the event of a Yes vote.

Because of that, Paul believes the likely absence of a Section 30 order means an outright mandate for independence should be sought at the next Holyrood election, and not by means of a consultative referendum.  He thinks that any referendum held without a Section 30 order will be boycotted by the unionist side and would therefore be pointless, because it would be impossible to achieve a high enough turnout to make any Yes victory credible.  I'm not so sure about that.  If, for example, any Referendum Bill survives a legal challenge in the Supreme Court, it will very publicly become recognised as the law of the land, making a boycott that bit harder to justify.  I also feel that a Yes victory in a boycotted vote would be a lot more use to us than is widely understood at the moment.  It would mean that the anti-independence mandate of September 2014 is no longer definitive or unchallenged.  By all means, if the Supreme Court strikes down a Referendum Bill we should then use the next Holyrood election to seek an outright independence mandate, but I struggle to see the harm in pursuing a consultative referendum first.

Apart from anything else, it would give the UK government the dilemma of whether to mount a legal challenge.  It wouldn't have dared to do that in 2012 or 2013.  But it may well do in 2019, because it has come to believe there is never a price to be paid for playing to the British nationalist gallery and trampling on Scotland's democratic rights.  There's going to come a point where there will be a heavy price, and this could well be that moment.

*  *  *

A pub quiz question for you - which part of Denmark is geographically much closer to Scotland than it is to any other part of Denmark?  Here's a video from the brilliant Phantom Power while you're thinking about that one...

Monday, May 21, 2018

Earl of Dumbarton ROCKED by new SHOCK poll that suggests monarchy could be DOOMED

There's a new poll out today that has a bit of something for everyone - republican-minded Yessers are delighted that it shows only a minority of the Scottish public are in favour of retaining the monarchy, whereas the unionist side are claiming it shows opposition to independence.  You won't be surprised to hear, though, that not everything is quite as it seems.

First things first: this is not an independence poll.  If you want to know whether people think Scotland should be an independent country, you ask "Should Scotland be an independent country?", or use very similar wording.  If you turn the question on its head and ask whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, you tend to get a slightly different result.  That may seem inexplicable, but there are lots of people in the middle who aren't really that bothered one way or the other, and who have a different instinctive reaction depending on how the question is framed.  What makes this poll even less meaningful is that it isn't even about Scotland specifically - it asks about whether the union of four nations should continue in roughly its current form.  If you're a voter with no particularly strong view about Scottish independence, it's highly unlikely that you would give a negative answer to that question.  You would feel like you were tearing someone else's house down because of your uncertainty about where the best interests of your own country lie - ie. just one country out of the four.  You'd have to be a very committed Yesser to reply in that way - and as it happens a healthy enough 30% did so.  A further 18% declined to give a view.

Apologies to any disappointed unionists, then, but this poll does not show an increase in opposition to independence.  It's just a practical demonstration of the obvious point that if you ask a different question you get a different answer.  I have no idea what the poll would have shown if it had asked the standard independence question, but it's safe to assume that the Yes vote would have been significantly higher than 30%.  And as has already been pointed out on Wings Over Scotland, another question in the same poll found that 34% of the Scottish public have become less supportive of the union in recent years, and only 20% have become more supportive.  That's the only genuine indication offered by the poll of the direction of travel.

You might be wondering about the credibility of the poll's methodology.  It was conducted by Deltapoll, which is an entirely new outfit and as far as I can see is not yet a member of the British Polling Council.  However, it was set up by two extremely well-known people from the polling industry (Martin Boon and Joe Twyman), so it's unlikely to be a Mickey Mouse operation.  Apparently the sample size in Scotland was around 500, which is large enough to be taken seriously - albeit only just.  The margin of error is therefore a little higher than it would be for a poll of 1000 or 2000 people.

The poll has Westminster voting intention numbers, which annoyingly are only presented with the Don't Knows left in, but a rough recalculation gives the following -

SNP 36%
Labour 29%
Conservatives 24%
Liberal Democrats 7%
Greens 3%

Just to reiterate - those figures are only approximate, because they're my own calculation with Don't Knows removed.  Not quite as good for the SNP as some recent full-scale Scottish polls from other firms, but bearing in mind the unusually small sample size, there's certainly no cause for alarm.  Even on these numbers, the SNP would be regaining seats from the Tories.

On the monarchy results, the fact that only 41% of the Scottish public support the monarchy doesn't tell anything like the whole story, because only 28% are actively opposed.  Nevertheless, it would have been unthinkable a few decades ago for the hostile and the uncommitted to have a majority between them, so perhaps the establishment should be a tad concerned.  In view of the other results, no-one can really say that the poll was distorted by having too many Nats in the sample!

Last but not least, the poll found that 54% of respondents regard themselves as primarily or wholly Scottish.  Only 14% regard themselves as primarily or wholly British.  31% feel that they are equally Scottish and British.  That's pretty much in line with what the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has been showing of late.  It remains the case that the independence campaign could win a majority if they persuade people to remove the word "but" from the sentence "I feel Scottish, but..."

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Twitter poll suggests a virtual three-way tie in the SNP depute leadership contest

Just out of curiosity, I decided to run a poll on Twitter yesterday to see how people were planning to vote in the SNP depute leadership election (or how they had already voted).  I genuinely had no idea what to expect, and the final results are pretty remarkable.  With 661 votes cast, there is virtual deadlock between the three candidates, who all have a percentage share in the 30s and are all within 6% of each other.

Now, I'll be honest and say I don't know how much should be read into this.  Obviously a social media poll is a long, long, long way from being scientifically rigorous, because participation is completely self-selecting.  On the plus side, though, Twitter does restrict people to one vote per account, which means the result should at least be properly representative of the views of those who actually took part (ie. it hasn't been significantly distorted by individuals casting multiple votes).

It may be that people who follow me on Twitter are disproportionately likely to be pro-McEleny (and maybe even pro-Hepburn), in which case the poll might be underestimating Keith Brown's true support - although bear in mind that the poll was retweeted by 70 people, which hopefully should have given it a wider reach among supporters of all candidates.  It's also conceivable that social media polls in general are likely to exclude small 'c' conservative members of the SNP, who again might be more inclined to vote for Keith Brown.  However, I still think the poll is a useful exercise, because if the actual result bears no resemblance to the poll result, at least we'll know in future that the balance of opinion on social media is not a reliable guide to the views of the wider membership.

For what it's worth, though, if the actual result is similar to the poll, it seems likely that Julie Hepburn would be declared the winner after second preferences are distributed.  I would imagine that many Chris McEleny voters have done the same thing as me and given their second preference to Hepburn.  If Keith Brown does top the first preference vote, he's going to need a much more substantial lead to be confident of holding on for the win - and that may be true regardless of whether Hepburn or McEleny is his opponent in the second count.

At the very least we can say that there is considerable uncertainty over who is going to become depute leader, and that on the basis of the very limited information that currently exists, it would be foolish to dismiss the chances of any of the three candidates.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The case for Chris McEleny

As you probably know, voting is now open in the SNP depute leadership election, and if you're part of the 2%+ of the entire population of Scotland that are members of the SNP, you have until 8th June to cast your vote.  I'm proud to have just cast my own first preference vote for Chris McEleny.  Whatever happens from here, it's reasonable to state that Mr McEleny's presence in the contest has had a positive impact - his forthright statement that an independence referendum should be held within the next eighteen months has prodded the other two candidates to go further on the referendum issue than perhaps they otherwise would have done.  Julie Hepburn has now said absolutely explicitly that the mandate for a pre-2021 referendum should be used, and while Keith Brown is still the most cautious of the three candidates, he has acknowledged at least the possibility of a referendum taking place in as little as twelve months.  So it's no longer the case that a vote for Keith Brown is specifically a vote against an early referendum - but it still troubles me greatly that Mr Brown hasn't (as far as I'm aware) completely excluded the possibility of letting the pre-2021 mandate expire.  I think it's fair to say that a vote for Chris McEleny is still by some distance the most emphatic way to vote in favour of an early referendum.  There are no ifs, buts, maybes or get-out clauses in his pitch, and the message that the membership will be sending if he wins this contest will be absolutely unmistakeable.

Apart from his distinctive stance on referendum timing, Mr McEleny has prioritised the value of local government and community politics.  But one other thing that has appealed to me is the directness of his language about the failure of the mainstream media to cover Scottish politics impartially.  There's a well-meaning but misguided tendency among some senior SNP people to say that we must never blame the media for the 2014 referendum result, because the real failure lay with ourselves for not getting the message across effectively.  In other words, victory in the future will depend only on an improvement within ourselves, not on an improvement in external players such as the media.  That always sounds like a mantra lifted straight from a self-help book, and it has the enormous shortcoming of not actually being true - or at least of not being the whole truth.  Of course the media are horrendously biased against independence, and of course that was one factor in the narrow defeat in 2014, and of course we should be demanding better - especially from the broadcast media, which is theoretically obliged by law to be impartial in its coverage.

I'll make no bones about it - if Chris McEleny doesn't win, I hope Julie Hepburn does, and I've given her my second preference vote without any hesitation.  This has the feel of a contest that could be a lot closer than was initially anticipated.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Is Sarah Smith auditioning (again) to become Scottish Tory press officer?

As you probably know by now, the Scottish Parliament voted at 5pm today to deny legislative consent for Westminster's EU Withdrawal Bill, and did so by a thumping 93 to 30 margin.  It would be an unprecedented breach of the Sewel Convention for the UK government to proceed without consent, but that is apparently what they are minded to do.  So we're now into uncharted waters twice over - not only are we heading towards the first clear breach of the Sewel Convention, but we're also awaiting a date in the Supreme Court as the UK government makes its first ever attempt to have legislation of the elected Scottish Parliament struck down by judges.

It's probably fair to say that you wouldn't quite have a full appreciation of the significance of these events if you've been relying on the "analysis" of the BBC's Scotland Editor Sarah Smith, which has been embedded into the main online BBC article on the subject.  According to her, this won't actually be the first overruling of the Scottish Parliament by Westminster - it supposedly happened last year when Theresa May said no to an independence referendum, and nobody cared then, and nobody will care now.

Just a few snags with that -

1) It's a fictionalised version of what happened last year.  Nobody has a clue whether Theresa May would have got away with saying "no" to an independence referendum, because she didn't say "no" to a request that was actually pressed.  She was given respite by Nicola Sturgeon's voluntary decision to put the request on hold for a year or so.  The day of reckoning is yet to come, but perhaps isn't too far off.

2) It's an utterly bogus and irrelevant comparison anyway.  It is not within the devolved competence of Holyrood to require Westminster to pass a Section 30 order, so the "now is not the time" schtick (as outrageous and undemocratic as it was) did not represent a breach of the Sewel Convention or of the devolution settlement.  The current plans to transfer powers from Edinburgh back to London without consent most certainly do.

3) How dare a BBC editor tell her viewers what they care about and what they don't care about?  That's pure propaganda, and is exactly the sort of thing a Tory spin doctor would say - "the people of Scotland don't care about this, they want Nicola Sturgeon to get on with the day job, etc, etc".  By contrast, and not unreasonably, the SNP line is that of course the people of Scotland care about protecting the devolution settlement they voted for so emphatically in the referendum of 1997.  What business is it of a BBC editor to adjudicate for herself, on the basis of no supporting evidence that I'm aware of, that the Tory spin is factual and the SNP perspective is not?  (Especially given that any alleged public apathy has been cultivated by the BBC burying its own coverage of the power-grab wherever humanly possible.)

It's particularly ironic to recall that Sarah Smith is the daughter of the late John Smith - the man who popularised the view that devolution is the "settled will" of the Scottish people.  I wonder what he would have made of his daughter's notion that people don't actually care about their own settled will.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Have the Sunday Herald built bridges after last week's misjudgements? (Spoiler: No, they've doubled down by going Full Leask with a disgraceful front page attack on Alex Salmond.)

You might remember a while back that CommonSpace took a brief financial hit after running an attack piece about Wings Over Scotland that had a particularly ill-judged and highly provocative headline.  Robin McAlpine very deftly rescued the situation a few days later with an article that didn't really acknowledge that CommonSpace was responsible for its own mistake, but that nevertheless struck a sufficiently conciliatory tone that by all accounts a lot of cancelled subscriptions were swiftly renewed.  The Sunday Herald has found itself in a very similar pickle in recent days after a number of missteps in last week's edition that disappointed many loyal readers, and infuriated others.

Most obviously, there was the front page photo from the pro-independence march in Glasgow that gave the completely distorted impression that those on the march waving saltires and the Union Jack-wielding counter-protestors were roughly equal in numbers.  (The reality was that there were tens of thousands of the former and only a couple of dozen of the latter.)  An obvious defence is that it was simply a very striking and thus publication-worthy image, but that doesn't really wash, because it was used to complement coverage in text that was similarly distorted, ie. that gave the impression that the only real significance of the march was that it had caused 'division' and brought about an 'ugly' stand-off.

Eyebrows were also raised at an apparent new editorial line that Nicola Sturgeon should 'prioritise' a UK-wide re-run of the EU referendum (one that might well see Scotland outvoted yet again) over a second independence referendum.  From a journalistic point of view there's nothing wrong with that new stance, but when you've built up a loyal readership on the specific basis that you are a pro-independence paper, you shouldn't really be surprised that those readers feel there has been a breach of trust if you start actively undermining the campaign for independence.  If a paper's collective views on self-determination and the constitution have 'evolved', that's fine, but probably the best thing to do is be up-front and honest about it, and allow readers to decide whether the time has come to look for a new 'home'.  Claiming earnestly to still be pro-independence while simultaneously pushing a blatantly indy-sceptic news agenda is only going to lead to confusion and resentment.

You might have thought that the Sunday Herald would have reflected on the damage done last week, and would be in full-on bridge-building mode this week.  That they would have followed the wise example of Robin McAlpine by making moves to reassure disgruntled readers that nothing had changed and that we're all still on the same side.  But not a bit of it.  Instead, they've doubled down with a front page that sends an unmistakeable message that a great deal has changed.  It contains what I can only describe as a despicable attack on Alex Salmond that in none-too-subtle fashion pursues the barking mad "the Russians are everywhere!" agenda of Mr David Leask from the paper's anti-independence daily sister publication.  Leask of course always strenuously denies that his weird obsession with smearing Salmond represents in any sense a grudge against the SNP or against the pro-independence movement, but to hold that line he's had to draw a wildly implausible distinction between a so-called "real" or "mainstream" SNP that has supposedly disowned Salmond (have you noticed anyone actually doing that?) and the "Trumpist" or "Putin stooge" interlopers led by Salmond himself.  As I've noted before, it's a bit of a stretch to ask people to accept that a politician who was leader of the SNP until only three-and-a-half years ago, who indeed has been leader of the SNP for roughly one-quarter of the party's entire existence, and who led the Yes campaign in the 2014 independence referendum, is somehow not "real" SNP.  In fact, the question might reasonably be asked: if Alex Salmond of all people is not "real" SNP, then who the hell is? We haven't heard a credible answer to that question from Leask or the Herald so far.  Perhaps the Sunday Herald can come up with one now that they appear to be foolishly going down the same path.

I know that defenders of the front page story will point out that the Sunday Herald can't be expected to let its pro-independence views get in the way of reporting the news.  But the snag is that the comments of Mr Litvinenko's widow about Alex Salmond are not a news story that has just spontaneously appeared out of thin air.  She presumably didn't ring up the Sunday Herald offices and say "I've just got to get this off my chest, guys".  They sought her out and solicited a view from her about a subject that she might well not have given much thought to otherwise.  It's a piece of "news" that has been artificially generated by the Sunday Herald completely from scratch.  They knew exactly what they were doing, and all I can say is this: if for whatever reason you're out to "get" Alex Salmond, you might as well own what you're doing, because people can see straight through you anyway.

We're told that the editor of the Sunday Herald has responded to the criticisms of last week's paper in a special article.  I can't find it online yet, but judging by David Leask's excitement it looks set to be quite a belligerent response of a "the problem is the readers, not the journalism" variety.  It's precisely that kind of attitude that is killing the traditional media.  Sooner or later journalists are going to have to comes to terms with the fact that the days of a passive audience that never answers back, and that doesn't have anywhere else to go, are long over.