Saturday, November 16, 2019

Lib Dems enter the danger zone

There's no consistent trend in the GB-wide polls as far as the Tory v Labour battle is concerned - some have the Tories stretching away to a point where a large overall majority for Boris Johnson looks very hard to avoid, but others have the gap narrowing and leave open the possibility of a hung parliament.  But one trend that does seem relatively consistent is that the Lib Dems have dropped back since the start of the campaign.  Jo Swinson is entering a danger zone over the next couple of days - voters in England already seem to be concluding of their own accord that this is a traditional two-horse race, and if Tuesday night's rigged Johnson v Corbyn debate on ITV is given the go-ahead by the courts, that conclusion could be further reinforced.  Remain voters in England (except in seats that are clearly Lib Dem targets) may start to feel that Labour are the only game in town, and the Lib Dem vote could end up being severely squeezed.

On the face of it, that could be good news for the SNP in the five seats where the Lib Dems are their main opponents - but unfortunately the dynamics are a bit different in Scotland.  A lot of Jo Swinson's voters in East Dunbartonshire last time around were basically Tory supporters who weren't much bothered about her party label - they just voted for her because they were persuaded by nefarious means that she was the only candidate who could beat the SNP.  Maybe some of those people will be more discriminating this time due to Brexit - but I suspect the Lib Dems will retain a sizeable Tory tactical vote in those key constituencies.

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I've written another couple of constituency previews for today's edition of The National - this time it's Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Ross, Skye & Lochaber

Friday, November 15, 2019

SNP win election dress rehearsal in Fife

There were three Scottish local by-elections yesterday, and we've had the results of two so far.  The SNP won both - one was technically a hold, the other was technically a gain from the Conservatives, although both were wards in which the SNP topped the popular vote last time.  Unfortunately the percentage changes you may have seen in one or two places on social media (including on Britain Elects) are completely inaccurate - it's amazing how often that happens.  The incorrect figures exaggerated the swing to the SNP, but the real figures are decent enough anyway.

Dunfermline Central by-election result:

SNP 33.2% (+3.4) 
Conservatives 24.8% (+0.7)
Liberal Democrats 22.8% (+15.9) 
Labour 13.5% (-13.1) 
Greens 5.1% (+1.9) 
Libertarians 0.6% (n/a)

Rosyth by-election result:

SNP 42.8% (+6.3) 
Conservatives 24.4% (+2.1) 
Labour 15.2% (-3.1) 
Liberal Democrats 7.9% (+0.5) 
Independent 5.0% 
Greens 4.2% (+1.3) 
Libertarians 0.5% (n/a)

So a small swing from the Tories to the SNP, and a bigger swing (especially in Dunfermline) from Labour to the SNP.  Scarily, the Lib Dems came within two votes of beating the SNP in Dunfermline after lower preferences were redistributed - it's unusual for a party to come so close to overturning a large first preference deficit.  That may tell us something about how hard it's going to be for the SNP to win any of the five seats at the general election where the Lib Dems are their main opponent - ie. the Lib Dems may be able to successfully squeeze the Tory vote.

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I have two more constituency previews in The National - this time Orkney & Shetland and Glasgow North-East.  

Thursday, November 14, 2019

SNP enjoy 21-point lead over the Tories in latest YouGov subsample average

I'm beginning to wonder if a full-scale Scottish poll is ever going to be conducted in this campaign, but in the meantime, here's the next best thing - an average of the last five Scottish subsamples from GB-wide YouGov polls.  YouGov's subsamples differ from those of other firms because they appear to be correctly structured and weighted.  The combined fieldwork for these five took place entirely after the most recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, which was conducted in late October.

SNP 44.2%
Conservatives 23.0%
Labour 12.6%
Liberal Democrats 11.8%
Brexit Party 4.6%
Greens 3.4%

So the SNP appear to have come through the early skirmishes of the campaign unscathed, although the real danger points (ie. the rigged leaders' debates) are yet to come.  I would guess the above figures slightly underestimate the Tories, because four of the five subsamples preceded the methodological change to take account of the Brexit Party standing aside in Tory-held seats.

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I have another two constituency previews in The National today - this time it's Dundee East and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey.  You can read them HERE and HERE.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

SNP take on the broadcasters in court over the rigged leaders' debates

So I was encouraged to receive an email from the SNP a few minutes ago revealing that they've decided to take the plunge and challenge the broadcasters in court over the rigged leaders' debates.  I must admit there was a little while when I was worried that they might let this pass without even putting up a fight, but I should never have doubted them.  There's also a fundraiser to cover the cost of the action, which you can find HERE.  (It appears to be for SNP members only.)

Of course the dilemma with this sort of thing is always that if the court case is lost, you're left in exactly the same place that you started, apart from the fact that you've got less money than before.  But that's the nature of the beast - you can't win a raffle if you don't buy a ticket, and the potential benefits if the case is won (or perhaps I should say the potential avoidance of harm) is so great that it seems to me it's well worth the risk.  It's also important to lay down a marker and emphasise that people haven't just been going through the motions by objecting to these rigged debates - the proposed format really is outrageous.  There's been an attempt to gaslight us by portraying two-way leaders' debates as "traditional", but in fact they've never taken place in UK general elections before.  Not even once.  There were no leaders' debates at all prior to 2010.  There were three-way debates in 2010, and multi-party debates (including the SNP) in both 2015 and 2017.

What are the chances of success in court?  Heaven only knows, but it should be remembered that it's not unheard of for judges to rule against the broadcasters in cases of this type.  In 1995, Labour and the Liberal Democrats successfully persuaded a Scottish court to block the broadcast of a Panorama special featuring an extended interview with the then Tory Prime Minister John Major in the middle of a Scottish local election campaign.  The killer question posed by the judge was whether such a programme would ever have been scheduled during an English local election campaign, and the BBC were unable to answer.  They were allowed to go ahead with the broadcast in the rest of the UK, but not in parts of Northern Ireland and northern England where there was a danger of transmission carrying into Scotland.  Then a few years later, a court gave retrospective relief after ITV broadcast an "Ask the Prime Minister" special featuring Tony Blair in the middle of a Scottish parliamentary by-election campaign.  STV were ordered to broadcast a similar programme giving time to the other party leaders.

On the other hand, the SNP's challenge to the 2010 general election debates featuring only Brown, Cameron and Clegg did fail entirely.  But two things have changed since then - a) the SNP are now the third largest party in the UK Parliament, and b) there is a clear precedent for the SNP being included in UK debates on an equal basis.  If it was appropriate for the SNP to be included in 2015, when they were going into the election with just six seats, it's very hard to understand why it's appropriate to exclude them now, when they're going into an election with thirty-five seats.

*  *  *

I have constituency previews for Edinburgh West and Edinburgh South-West in The National today - you can read them HERE and HERE.  And you can also take a sneak peek at my monthly column in iScot magazine HERE.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

First Scottish subsample under YouGov's new methodology is still favourable for the SNP

YouGov have changed their polling methodology for the remainder of the campaign to ensure that respondents are only asked about parties they can actually voted for in their local constituencies.  In spite of the way the first poll using the new method is being reported, the Brexit Party's decision to stand aside in Tory-held seats does not appear to be making a huge difference to the gap between the Tories and Labour.  The Tory lead would have been 13 points under the old methodology and it's 14 points under the new.  However, the Liberal Democrats will be alarmed that their vote drops under the new methodology while both the Tory and Labour vote increases.  This is looking increasingly like a conventional two-horse race south of the border between two anti-Remain parties, and the rigged ITV and BBC leaders' debates (if they go ahead) will only reinforce that.

Just for a moment, I was slightly concerned about what the new methodology would show in Scotland, because the SNP's share of the GB-wide vote is slightly lower than usual at 3%.  However, it looks like that's just a statistical quirk, because the SNP's vote in the Scottish subsample is very much within their normal range -

SNP 42%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 14%, Liberal Democrats 14%, Brexit Party 2%, Greens 2%

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I've had a look at the SNP's prospects in two key Scottish Tory-held constituencies (East Renfrewshire and Banff & Buchan) for The National - you can read the article HERE.

Monday, November 11, 2019

What effect will Farage's big decision have on the election in Scotland?

Nigel Farage's decision today not to stand candidates in the seats won by the Tories in 2017 doesn't entirely remove the Brexit Party-shaped obstacle to Boris Johnson winning a majority, because of course the Tories would need to gain seats to win a majority, not just hold what they have.  This looks to me like a man who doesn't want to be seen after the election to have perversely thwarted Brexit, rather than a man who wants to remove all risk of actually doing that.

Unfortunately, though, this U-turn is going to be disproportionately harmful to the SNP, because by relative historic standards the Tories did particularly well in Scotland in 2017, meaning there are more seats here where the Tories will be getting a free pass from the Brexit Party than there otherwise would be.  There's no getting away from it - this is going to make it somewhat harder for the SNP to win back the twelve seats they lost to the Tories two years ago.  Not impossible by any means, but a bit harder.

I know some people (OK, Ian Smart) will now glibly add the Brexit Party share of the vote to the Tory share and argue that gives a better indication of the state of play in Tory-held seats.  If we do that for the most recent full-scale Scottish YouGov poll, it would put the Tories on 28% of the vote and the SNP on 42% - and that still represents a 3% swing to the SNP, enough to see three Tory seats tumble.  But it doesn't work like that anyway, because not all Brexit Party supporters will vote Tory in the absence of a Brexit Party candidate. From YouGov's datasets, it looks like less than half of people planning to vote for the Brexit Party in Scotland actually voted for the Tories in 2017.

If you're looking for other silver linings, here are a few...

* If Farage is true to his word this time, he'll still put up candidates in 46 of the 59 Scottish constituencies, which should make it slightly easier for the SNP to hold a handful of constituencies where the Tories are in a close second place.

* We know that a minority of Brexit Party voters would otherwise be in the SNP column (one such voter left a comment on this blog a couple of weeks ago), so the absence of Brexit Party candidates in a substantial minority of seats could end up slightly boosting the SNP's share of the national popular vote.  That's obviously less important than any failure to gain seats, but the popular vote share will certainly be mentioned after the election and will affect perceptions of how strong the SNP's overall mandate is.

* This shouldn't affect the SNP's chances of gaining seats from Labour.  Even if the SNP fail to gain a single Tory seat, and even if they lose North-East Fife to the Lib Dems, holding their other 34 seats and gaining the six marginal Labour seats would still be enough to take them to the psychologically-important figure of 40.

* I would guess UKIP might see an opportunity here to take votes that otherwise would have gone to Farage.  We'll have to see if they now put up candidates in a few Tory-held seats.

* A de facto Johnson-Farage electoral pact may scare the living daylights out of some Remain voters and convince them that they shouldn't muck around with their vote at this election.  If so, that ought to benefit the SNP, who are the strongest Remain party in the vast majority of Scottish constituencies.

*  *  *

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A question for the BBC and Sky

It's a very simple question: what will happen if, as seems highly likely, one of the "candidates" (sic) in your "Prime Ministerial Debates" (sic) uses the platform you have given them to make an attack on Nicola Sturgeon's plan for a second independence referendum?  Because of the rigged nature of the debates, Ms Sturgeon will have no right of reply within the programme, and unlike ITV you don't appear to have any plans for an interview-based programme afterwards to give excluded parties a chance to respond.  So what will you do?  Will you immediately tell Boris Johnson to stop speaking or to change the subject?  Will you hurriedly clear your schedules afterwards to give Ms Sturgeon the appropriate number of minutes to reply?

This is a question well worth asking, because many years ago ITV were successfully challenged in the Scottish courts after they broadcast an "Ask The Prime Minister" programme featuring Tony Blair in the midst of a Scottish parliamentary by-election.  The judge ruled that parts of the programme had been legitimate because they related to Mr Blair's role as Prime Minister, but that other parts were clearly party political and that other parties had been denied a right of reply of equivalent length and prominence.  STV were therefore required to broadcast a programme before the by-election giving remedial time to other parties.  If memory serves me right, it was presented by Bernard Ponsonby and featured the likes of Charles Kennedy and John Swinney.  So if the SNP are left with no option but to go to the courts, it might be worth placing particular emphasis on the likelihood of Scottish issues being mentioned during the rigged debates.

Oh, and a small hint for the broadcasters: no, the SNP's participation in separate Scottish debates does not provide the necessary balance, because the Conservatives and Labour will also be included in those Scottish debates.  The only thing that can possibly balance out a programme excluding the SNP is an equally prominent programme excluding the Tories and Labour (and also the Liberal Democrats in the case of Sky).

*  *  *

Do you ever get the feeling you're being gaslighted?  The Guardian claimed yesterday that the BBC were planning to "host a traditional head-to-head debate between the prime minister and Labour leader on 6 December".  How can it be "traditional" when it has never happened before?  There has never been a two-way leaders' debate in the history of British general elections.  Never.  There were three-way debates in 2010, and multi-party debates in 2015 and 2017 (albeit Theresa May refused to participate in the latter).

*  *  *

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Red faces for the Lib Dems as Panelbase poll finds Nicola Sturgeon is more popular than Jo Swinson ACROSS BRITAIN

Just a quick one, because I was amused by a little detail from the latest Britain-wide Panelbase poll, which is bang up to date because it was conducted between Wednesday and yesterday.  Respondents were asked to give their views on the leaders of the five largest parties (Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and Brexit Party).  As you'd expect given the diet of bile about the SNP that the right-wing press routinely serve up for their southern readers, Nicola Sturgeon's ratings are nothing to write home about.  24% think she's doing well, and 39% think she's doing badly, giving her a net approval rating of -15.  But that's still enough to slightly outperform Jo Swinson, who 22% think is doing well, and 39% think is doing badly, giving a net approval rating of -17.

If Ms Swinson is less popular even than a filthy Jock separatist, maybe she isn't quite the Messiah her party have been taking her for.

It goes without saying that Ms Sturgeon is also more popular throughout Britain than Jeremy Corbyn (who has a net approval rating of -39) and Nigel Farage (who has a net approval rating of -28).

Friday, November 8, 2019

It's official: the BBC have done a shameful deal with Boris Johnson - they get the ratings, he gets his rigged election

Watching Question Time from Glasgow last night, I thought it was striking that there was no question about the attempts by ITV and Sky to rig the leaders' election debates by excluding the SNP (and also the Liberal Democrats in ITV's case).  It's inconceivable that a Scottish audience wouldn't have submitted questions about such an urgent threat to the democratic process in this country, so the producers presumably didn't want the topic to be debated.  And now we can understand why.  The BBC have done exactly the same deal with Boris Johnson that ITV did, and given in to his demands that all major parties should be excluded apart from his own and Labour.  You can easily see what it's in it for both sides - Boris gets his rigged election, the BBC gets bumper ratings.  So now we can look forward to three rigged debates from all three broadcasters.

If you'd like to complain to the BBC, and I have a feeling you might, here's where to go.

*  *  *

The first full-scale Scottish poll to be published since the start of the election campaign has arrived - but it's not what it appears, because the fieldwork is two weeks out of date.  But for what it's worth, here is what YouGov are saying the state of play was in late October...

SNP 42% (-1)
Conservatives 22% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 13% (+1)
Labour 12% (-3)
Brexit Party 6% (n/c)
Greens 4% (n/c)

ITV dig their own grave even deeper with a comically Anglocentric justification for their rigged leaders' debate

A few hours ago, a reader of this blog alerted me to the standard reply ITV have been sending out in response to the avalanche of complaints they've been receiving about their proposal for a rigged leaders' debate featuring only two of the parties in this multi-party democracy.  Pretty much everything in the reply seems calculated as a legalistic justification that they hope will prevent Ofcom and the courts ruling against them.  By far the weakest point they make is that the two parties represented in the debate are the only parties that have supplied Prime Ministers since the Second World War.  Frankly, I'm not sure the result of the 1951 general election should be considered terribly relevant in determining the line-up for a leaders' debate in 2019.

But this is the bit that really caught my eye -

"the two parties that were by far and away the two largest in the last Parliament...Parliament's official website gives the current state of parliamentary representation as; Conservatives 298, Labour 243, Liberal Democrats 20 (SNP 35)"

On what planet do you try to justify the exclusion of the third-largest party by reference to seat numbers, and then present those numbers in a format that implies that the fourth-largest party's 20 seats are somehow more important than the third-largest party's 35?  I mean, just how seriously can we take ITV's commitment to the cold hard logic of arithmetic if they think 20 is a bigger number than 35 when it suits them?  "Oh, those are only Jock seats, they don't really count!  Just put them in brackets as an afterthought."  If our country's future wasn't at stake, this would be hysterically funny - the broadcasters are so hopelessly caught in their Anglocentric trance that they honestly can't see how ridiculous they're making themselves look.

*  *  *

Actually, there's been precious little comedy value in this election campaign so far, so thank heavens for Ian Smart's latest intervention.  He's written a characteristically barking mad blogpost about Scottish Tory election chances that has somehow managed to receive no fewer than two glowing media endorsements - one from Katy Balls in the Spectator, and the other from Henry Hill in ConHome.  Ian is of course chiefly known for a couple of things - a) being temporarily suspended from Labour for using racist language on social media, and b) his long-running and bats**t crazy conspiracy theory about Kezia Dugdale being planted inside the Scottish Labour party by the SNP as a long-term sleeper agent.  Normally conspiracy theorists who use racist language find themselves cast out to the margins of society, but for some reason nothing that Ian says or does ever seems to tarnish the media's faith in him as a credible pundit and insightful thinker.

Basically what he's saying this time is that the conventional wisdom about the election in Scotland is wrong, and that the Tories will gain seats from the SNP, rather than the other way around.  Now, actually, I wouldn't dismiss that idea out of hand.  If the rigged TV leaders' debates go ahead as planned, the SNP will not be fighting the Tories on a level-playing field, and it's therefore not impossible that the current state of play could be turned on its head over the next few weeks.  The equation is really pretty simple - the SNP had a national lead over the Tories of eight percentage points on polling day in 2017, and so if the Tories can turn things around sufficiently to leave themselves less then eight points behind, they're likely to gain seats rather than lose them.

But that isn't really the point that Ian is making - he thinks the polls are wrong and that the SNP were never in a position to make gains in the first place.  His reasoning, if we can call it that, is based on a string of factual inaccuracies and magical thinking.  First of all he claims that the Brexit Party's voters should really be considered Tory voters, because the Brexit Party won't be standing in "most places".  Surely he can't have slept through Nigel Farage's announcement that candidates will he put up across the board?

Then he suggests that the only four seats that the Tories stand to lose once the Brexit Party's votes are reallocated will mostly be rescued due to unionist tactical voting.  In spite of the wide-scale tactical voting last time around, Ian still thinks unionist voters were "confused" in those seats about which party was best placed to beat the SNP, but that they won't be this time.  Which means, for example, that he's saying the resurgent Liberal Democrats will somehow lose even more votes in their former heartland seat of Gordon, in spite of the fact that they only took 11.6% of the vote in 2017 - a massive 21.1% drop on two years earlier.  As Sir Humphrey Appleby might have put it, that's a rather courageous prediction.

But Ian doesn't end there - he adds that, because the SNP are facing a Tory challenge in five of their own marginal seats where the majority is less than the Tory majority in Gordon, he can "see no reason" why the Tories won't gain most of those seats.  Well, OK, but can he see any particular reason why they will gain them?  If he can, he's not bothering to share it with us.  If tactical voting is his magic bullet once again, I have to tell him that if I was a budding unionist tactical voter in Lanark & Hamilton East, I wouldn't have a clue whether to plump for Labour or the Tories.  That constituency is an incredibly tight three-way marginal with just 0.7% separating the SNP in first place from Labour in third.  Yes, OK, technically the Tories are starting from second, but polls suggest the Tory vote will drop back, and it's Labour who have all the tradition in the seat.  Good luck sorting that one out.

Ian does have some good news for us - he fancies the SNP's chances of holding off the Lib Dems in Ross, Cromarty and Skye.  Just one snag - there is no such constituency, and there hasn't been since 1997.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A handy list of SNP election crowdfunders

One thing that has become painfully obvious over the last few days is that the London establishment, including ITV, Sky News and quite possibly the BBC as well, are hellbent on crushing the SNP at this election, and aren't much bothered about being seen to do so by illegitimate means.  And I'm afraid some SNP supporters are being a tad naive in telling themselves that high-profile TV debates excluding the party will have little impact on voting intentions or somehow might even work in the SNP's favour.  The evidence from 2010 tells a very different story - the three-way Brown-Cameron-Clegg debates effectively became the whole campaign, and the SNP could only look on helplessly as the Cleggasm changed the trajectory of the campaign in Scotland as much as in the rest of the UK.  It's also naive to believe that intensive local campaigning can somehow offset the negative effect of a debate exclusion.  If the broadcasters refuse to do the right thing, the SNP really ought to consider legal action, because it's no exaggeration to say that it might just be the only way of rescuing their election chances.

That said, local campaigning is obviously very important as well, and the SNP are not on a level playing-field as far as funding is concerned - the Tories in particular can bring in riches from south of the border in a way that the SNP can't.  So, as I've done in previous general elections, I've put together a list of links to local SNP election fundraisers.  It's probably not exhaustive - feel free to point me in the direction of any I've missed.

GLASGOW NORTH-EAST - Anne McLaughlin
RUTHERGLEN & HAMILTON WEST - Margaret Ferrier
WEST ABERDEENSHIRE & KINCARDINE - Fergus Mutch
GORDON - Richard Thomson
NORTH-EAST FIFE - Stephen Gethins
EAST LOTHIAN - Kenny MacAskill
KIRKCALDY & COWDENBEATH - Neale Hanvey
OCHIL & SOUTH PERTHSHIRE - John Nicolson
DUMFRIESSHIRE, CLYDESDALE & TWEEDDALE - Amanda Burgauer
MORAY - Laura Mitchell
AYR, CARRICK & CUMNOCK - Allan Dorans
BERWICKSHIRE, ROXBURGH & SELKIRK - Calum Kerr
DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY - Richard Arkless
COATBRIDGE, CHRYSTON & BELLSHILL - Steven Bonnar
ANGUS - Dave Doogan
ABERDEEN SOUTH - Stephen Flynn
STIRLING - Alyn Smith
MIDLOTHIAN - Owen Thompson
ARGYLL & BUTE - Brendan O'Hara
PERTH & NORTH PERTHSHIRE - Pete Wishart
EDINBURGH WEST - Sarah Masson
EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE - Amy Callaghan
LANARK & HAMILTON EAST - Angela Crawley
EDINBURGH SOUTH-WEST - Joanna Cherry
ROSS, SKYE & LOCHABER - Ian Blackford
GLASGOW EAST - David Linden
EAST RENFREWSHIRE - Kirsten Oswald
GLASGOW NORTH - Patrick Grady
PAISLEY & RENFREWSHIRE SOUTH - Mhairi Black
ABERDEEN NORTH - Kirsty Blackman
AIRDRIE & SHOTTS - Neil Gray
INVERNESS, NAIRN, BADENOCH & STRATHSPEY - Drew Hendry
DUNDEE WEST - Chris Law
PAISLEY & RENFREWSHIRE NORTH - Gavin Newlands
GLASGOW CENTRAL - Alison Thewliss
CENTRAL AYRSHIRE - Philippa Whitford
GLASGOW SOUTH-WEST - Chris Stephens
EDINBURGH EAST - Tommy Sheppard
CUMBERNAULD, KILSYTH & KIRKINTILLOCH EAST - Stuart MacDonald
NORTH AYRSHIRE & ARRAN - Patricia Gibson
GLASGOW SOUTH - Stewart McDonald
MOTHERWELL & WISHAW - Marion Fellows
KILMARNOCK & LOUDOUN - Alan Brown
LINLITHGOW & EAST FALKIRK - Martyn Day

There are a couple I haven't included on the list because they seem to be closed after reaching their target - Catriona MacDonald in Edinburgh South and Paul Robertson in Banff & Buchan.

There's also the option of donating to the SNP centrally HERE.

Of course, another vitally important thing that everyone can do apart from donating money is badger any potential SNP and/or independence supporter they know to register to vote at this link by the deadline of 26th November, if they're not already registered.  Young people and those who have recently moved house are particularly worth chasing up.  And remember also that citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in the UK, and citizens of all Commonwealth countries who are resident in the UK, are eligible to vote in general elections - but may not be aware of that fact.  New Zealanders may be newly-receptive to the arguments for Scottish independence given what happened to the All Blacks a couple of weeks ago!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Sky News makes brazen attempt to rig the general election by inviting the fourth-largest Commons party to a three-way leaders' debate, but not the third-largest

I pointed out the other day that just about the only thing that might be more outrageous than ITV's decision to hold a two-party election debate in a multi-party democracy would be for Jo Swinson to get her preferred outcome and for there to be a three-way debate in which the fourth-largest Commons party is included and the third-largest is excluded.  But Sky News have proved up to that task - they've brazenly invited the leader of a party with 20 MPs (Swinson) and not invited the leader of a party with 35 MPs (Sturgeon).  Like ITV's decision, this is an entirely arbitrary selection based on the broadcaster's own preferences and not on objective criteria.  It most certainly is not justified by precedent, because Nicola Sturgeon was invited to every leaders' debate in 2015, even though the SNP went into that election as only the fifth largest Commons party and the Lib Dems went in as the third-largest.  (And the SNP were not obviously doing better in the opinion polls in 2015 than they are now, so that's no excuse either.)

The broadcasters are quite literally making up the rules as they go on, which is the sort of thing you'd expect to happen in Putin's Russia - and the likes of Andrew Neil would be quick to scream about it if it did.  My own view is that there should be a moratorium on leaders' debates until an independent body can come up with objective criteria for inclusion and exclusion that are applied consistently, not changed at a whim because broadcasters are prioritising "box office potential" over the integrity of the democratic process.

I also cannot understand why the SNP are being so passive at the moment.  I know they were bruised by a failed legal challenge to the three-way debates in 2010, but they have a much stronger case now as the third largest party, and you can't win a raffle if you don't buy a ticket.

UPDATE: I see Sky's carefully-worded justification for excluding the third-largest party is that they have invited "the three main UK-wide parties".  Guys, when you're in a hole, it's generally best to stop digging.  "UK-wide" is not a synonym for "based in London".  Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats are UK-wide parties because they don't put up candidates in Northern Ireland.  If you want a debate between UK-wide parties only, it'll be a Boris Johnson monologue.  (Although maybe I shouldn't put ideas in their heads, because they'd probably be tempted.)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Election 2019: Early straws in the wind from YouGov are favourable for the SNP

There still haven't been any full-scale Scottish polls during the election campaign, and indeed there have only been two full-scale Scottish polls since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and since Ruth Davidson threw the towel in.  That seems incredible when you bear in mind how crucial Scotland could be to the outcome of the whole election.  Something will turn up sooner or later, but in the meantime the best we have to go on are YouGov's Scottish subsamples, which do have a very large margin of error due to the small sample size, but nevertheless are superior to other firms' subsamples as a result of being correctly structured and weighted.  There have been two YouGov subsamples published since the campaign got underway, and both have been favourable for the SNP.

29th-30th October: SNP 44%, Conservatives 19%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Labour 9%, Brexit Party 8%, Greens 8%

31st October-1st November: SNP 50%, Conservatives 22%, Labour 15%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Greens 2%, Brexit Party 1%

It may well be that the SNP are appearing to do better than usual due to random sampling variation, but everything feels like reasonably plain sailing so far.  I truly believe the biggest threat by far to the SNP's position is the broadcasters' attempted stitch-up of the leaders' debates.  It wouldn't be so bad if it was just the one ITV debate, but every instinct in my body tells me that the BBC and Sky will both attempt exactly the same stunt.  Stephen Bush of the New Statesman seems to be taking seriously the possibility that the Liberal Democrats will succeed in challenging the debate formats, so I hope the SNP aren't caught napping on this - if the Lib Dems manage to muscle their way into the debates, the SNP have got to be ready to muscle in too.  The only thing that would be even more outrageous than the current proposed format would be three-way debates in which the third-largest Commons party is still excluded.

There's remarkable Britain-wide opposition to the broadcasters' plans in the YouGov poll - 53% of respondents think all of the major parties, including the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, should be involved in the leaders' debates.  Just 10% think it should be a straight Johnson v Corbyn affair, and only 9% think there should be three-cornered debates involving Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson.  In the Scottish subsample, support for the SNP being involved rises to 73% - and just 5% back ITV's two-way format.


The Greens' intervention in many Scottish marginal seats is not illegitimate - but it may do harm to the independence cause

Like many of you, I was at the pro-independence rally in George Square yesterday (you can find a few photos at the bottom of this post), and I thought one of the best speeches was by Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie - it was passionate and inspiring, and I don't think there was much in it that any SNP supporter could take issue with.  Harvie's contribution to the Yes campaign in 2014 shouldn't be underestimated either.  But I think it's fair comment to say that the planned Green intervention in the forthcoming general election - the sheer number of constituencies they're standing in and also some of the particular constituencies they've selected - will not be helpful to the independence cause, and could well be extremely harmful.

Way back in 2004, I voted for Ralph Nader rather than John Kerry in the hotly-contested US presidential election that was ultimately won by George W Bush.  I did it because I couldn't bring myself to vote for a supporter of the death penalty.  But some people told me in no uncertain terms that I had taken leave of my senses by voting for a man who had acted as a spoiler four years earlier and handed Bush the presidency on a plate.  That criticism led me to reflect at quite a bit of length about the wisdom of no-hoper parties participating in first-past-the-post elections, where the risk is that they'll take votes away from larger parties on the same side of the political spectrum who stand a much better chance of winning.  And the conclusion I came to was that Nader's critics didn't have a leg to stand on, because hardly any of them actually supported reform of the electoral system.  It would have been entirely reasonable for them to say "hold your nose and help us win this time, so that we can change the voting system and make sure you never again have to choose the lesser of two evils".  But instead the message was effectively "vote for us because you've got no other choice, and to help us ensure that you never have any other choice in future elections".  It was an argument for permanent self-exclusion from the electoral process of certain political views - something which no democrat should ever be asked to accept.  The sole way the likes of Nader could ever hope to break out of that vicious circle was to stand for election and cause a 'problem' big enough to ensure that a larger party would feel the need to solve it by reforming the system.

But that is not the situation the Scottish Greens find themselves in here.  Three of the four tiers of political representatives in Scotland are already elected by proportional representation, so one option open to the Greens would be to concentrate their efforts on local, Holyrood and European elections, and just sit out first-past-the-post Westminster elections where they might cause harm.  They could do that safe in the knowledge that the party they'd effectively be standing aside to help is supportive of a change in the Westminster voting system anyway.  But if they really feel that they have to stand in a significant minority of Westminster constituencies to draw attention to the climate emergency, you'd think the logical thing to do would be to carefully select constituencies where they'd be least likely to cause damage to the pro-independence movement - in other words, seats that the SNP are either nailed on to win or nailed on to lose.  (The latter basically means any of the four Liberal Democrat seats.)  Instead, they seem to have deliberately chosen a number of marginal seats where votes taken away from the SNP by the Greens could easily swing the balance and help to elect a unionist MP.

Denise Findlay pointed out on Twitter yesterday that if the Greens are standing in Perth and North Perthshire specifically because of problems they have with Pete Wishart's track record, that means they must be targeting Wishart and trying to get him out.  But if they succeed in doing that, they'll be replacing him with a Tory, because only the SNP and the Tories are seriously in contention in that constituency.  How is that going to help tackle climate change, let alone help the pro-independence cause or the anti-Brexit cause?  It really does seem like a totally self-defeating act.

However, I'm not going to say what they're doing is illegitimate, because unlike the "2nd vote Green" shenanigans in Holyrood elections, there's no deception involved.  Everyone knows the score with first-past-the-post elections and the potential downsides of voting for fringe parties.  It'll be painfully obvious from the numbers on the day after the election whether the Greens have cost us pro-independence seats - and if they have, there'll be no hiding-place for them.

Meanwhile, Stuart Campbell is lambasting the Greens for much the same reasons I've outlined above, but as ever he has his own agenda in mind.  He contrasts the harm the Greens could do at this election with the supposed good his own Wings party will be doing at the 2021 Holyrood election, and asks his readers which of the two parties is functioning as 'friend' and which is functioning as 'enemy'.  Of course the correct answer is that they're both functioning as 'enemy' (if it really must be reduced to such juvenile terms) because they're both doing precisely the same thing - taking an action that will at best have a neutral effect, and at worst a harmful effect.

Mr Campbell yet again misleads his readers by claiming that the worst-case scenario for a Wings party "in any reasonable fact-based model" is the net loss of one pro-indy seat in the Scottish Parliament.  In truth, that model was not based on "reason" but on fantastical and wildly-optimistic assumptions.  But even on such a flawed model, the only realistic scenarios would see Wings either cost the pro-indy side one seat, or have no effect at all.  Which means Mr Campbell is currently minded to do exactly what he's demonising the Greens for.

*  *  *

As you may have seen, a commenter on the previous thread found an email address to which complaints about ITV's decision to exclude the SNP from its leaders' debate can be addressed:  viewerservices@itv.com

*  *  *

I'm quoted in this new article by Alasdair Soussi on the Al Jazeera website about the relevance of the coming election to the independence campaign.  The other person quoted is Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University, and it reminded me of a slightly stormy exchange I had with him immediately after the exit poll was released on election night in 2017.  I had just pointed out that by winning a majority of Scottish seats, the SNP had completed the "triple lock" mandate for holding an independence referendum in exactly the terms specified in their manifesto.  Professor Mitchell's retort was something like "this is completely nuts, there isn't going to be an independence referendum for a very long time", and implied that talking too much about a referendum that wasn't going to happen had caused the SNP's supposedly poor result in the first place.  Which I thought was deeply odd on three counts: a) the SNP had just won a landslide victory roughly on a par with Mrs Thatcher's Britain-wide result in 1987, b) any problems the SNP had faced were not caused by talking about the referendum too much, but by talking about it too little and thus failing to motivate their own supporters to turn out, and c) why would anyone be surprised or annoyed that an independence supporter wasn't willing to be an accomplice to a self-fulfilling prophecy that would see the SNP betray a mandate that they had only just sought and won?

Professor Mitchell is still very much in the self-fulfilling prophecy business - arguing that the SNP's forefronting of independence in this campaign is unlikely to bring about an independence referendum, and may reduce the SNP's share of the vote.  From which I presume the logical conclusion we're meant to draw is that the way to achieve independence is never to campaign for it - or more probably that we should just replace independence with a more 'realistic' objective instead.  Those of us who believe in tailoring the strategy to the goal, rather than changing the goal to suit the strategy, are unlikely to be seduced by that counsel of despair.








Friday, November 1, 2019

ITV betrays its viewers AGAIN by doing deal with the Tories and Labour to stitch-up the election - and BBC clearly plans to follow suit

I predicted a few days ago that the broadcasters would be tempted, if they thought they could get away with it, to yet again drive a coach and horses through the democratic process by agreeing to Boris Johnson's demand for TV leaders' debates that exclude all of the major parties apart from his own and Labour.  In my naivety, though, I assumed that once they'd reflected on it, they'd reluctantly accept it would be a dreadful look for them to do that, given the Liberal Democrats have been so close to level-pegging with Labour in recent months.  (And if the Liberal Democrats were included, they wouldn't dare exclude the SNP, who have far more MPs.)  But it seems ITV actually have no shame - they've announced a debate that will exclude all but two parties, albeit with others charitably allowed to have their say as quasi-pundits commenting on the main event.  This sends an unmistakeable message to viewers that two arbitrarily chosen parties should be regarded as the only credible contenders and that all the others are also-rans.

There's clearly a degree of coordination with the BBC in attempting to 'normalise' this outrageous decision.  An article on the BBC website that reads like a free ITV advert announces the "first head-to-head debate" of the campaign - words that are cynically intended to condition readers into believing that two-way debates are somehow natural in a multi-party democracy, and that it's also natural to expect more than one during the campaign.  No prizes for guessing what the BBC will be doing themselves.  Criticism of ITV's decision is absent from the article - distinctly odd in what is supposedly a 'news' report.

No, guys, this ain't normal, and no amount of spin and deception is ever going to make it look normal.  It's particularly unacceptable in Scotland, one of the constituent nations of the democracy ITV and the BBC nominally serve, and in which neither the Tories nor Labour are the largest party.  Doubtless, though, both broadcasters will continue to innocently express bafflement at the ongoing loss of trust in them from Scottish viewers.

Election 2019: If Brexit Party supporters in Scotland can't vote for their first-choice party, who will they vote for instead?

Not for the first time in his career, Nigel Farage has rapidly gone from one extreme to another.  Until a day or two ago, it looked like he was hellbent on doing as much damage as possible to Boris Johnson's election chances by putting up candidates in all or most constituencies, whereas now the rumour is suddenly that he might try to protect the bigger prize of Brexit by only launching a challenge in a very small number of Labour-held seats.  It's only a rumour, but if by any chance it's true, it ought to be bad news for us because it presumably means Farage won't be helpfully splitting the Tory/pro-Brexit vote in any of the Tory-SNP battleground seats in Scotland.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Lord Hayward's counter-intuitive suggestion that the Tories could actually be harmed if the Brexit Party sit out almost all of the seats.  His theory is that Boris Johnson has already won back most of the ex-Tories who defected to the Brexit Party earlier this year, and that the bulk of the Brexit Party's remaining support is therefore made up of ex-Labour voters who would never consider voting Tory.  In other words, if there isn't a Brext Party candidate to vote for on 12th December, those voters will either abstain or revert to Labour - and if they do the latter, the Tories' lead over Labour is bound to decrease.

A quick look at recent polling datasets reveals that Hayward's theory is based on a false premise - the proportion of Brexit Party support that is ex-Labour may have risen since Johnson became Prime Minister, but it's still only a minority.  The Tories still stand to gain more than Labour from any absence of Brexit Party candidates.

But all of this made me think about the composition of Brexit Party support in Scotland.  Will those voters transfer more or less as a bloc to the Scottish Tories if Farage doesn't put up candidates?  There are two barriers to answering that question - a) there have only been two full-scale Scottish polls since Johnson entered Downing Street, and b) the sample of Brexit Party voters in each poll is far too small to give us reliable information.  But there is one very striking statistic from the most recent Panelbase poll - almost as many Brexit Party supporters voted SNP in the 2016 Holyrood election as voted Tory.  By the time of the 2017 Westminster general election, they were breaking much more for the Tories, probably because the EU referendum had happened in the interim and they didn't want to vote for a party committed to overturning the Leave vote.  Even in 2017, though, a significant minority of Brexit Party supporters (just under one-quarter, in fact) voted SNP.  And only a little over half of them voted Tory.

So it could be a mistake to assume that Brexit Party voters in Scotland are monolithically pro-Tory, or anti-SNP, or even anti-independence.  Many of them could be genuinely up for grabs if their first choice party isn't available. Although a Farage-free election certainly wouldn't be good news for us, it might not be unalloyed bad news either.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Three opponents for the SNP, three different outcomes?

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at The National about the SNP's prospects in the forthcoming general election, and how I think they might fare against Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories respectively.  The answer is a bit different in each case.  You can read the article HERE.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Election 2019: the danger points

At last we know how and when the story of this parliament ends, and it's interesting to cast our minds back a hundred plot twists and recall what the conventional wisdom was immediately after the 2017 general election.  We were told that this parliament would never allow a Hard Brexit on its watch, that it wouldn't run to its full term, and that Theresa May wouldn't still be Conservative party leader at the end of it.  All of those things proved to be true, but there were plenty of times when it looked like they might not.  And the assumption of many people that "not allowing a Hard Brexit" would amount to the same thing as ensuring a soft Brexit proved to be wide of the mark.  If the coming election turns out in the way opinion polls currently suggest, a number of Remainer MPs in the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Change UK may bitterly regret spurning the chance to work with Labour and defeat the Hard Brexiteers when the parliamentary arithmetic was still in their favour.

That said, I don't think we can say that we're doomed to a Tory overall majority just yet.  I'm not in any way predicting that it won't happen, but we won't really know until the progress of the official campaign starts to concentrate minds among pro-EU voters.  In theory the votes are there to defeat Johnson, but at the moment they're just not coalescing in the most effective way.  Actually that's an understatement - they're coalescing in just about the least effective way imaginable.  Normally I would scoff at the grandiose claims made by tactical voting websites, but given how passionate some voters are about stopping Brexit, it could be a very different story this time.  Remember also that there looks likely to be a limited electoral pact between Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, which in itself should be enough to limit the number of seats that Johnson wins.  (And isn't it intriguing that Adam Price's enthusiastic embrace of the word "independence" hasn't deterred the Lib Dems from working with Plaid?  The pact won't be replicated in Scotland, but the double standard of treating the SNP like the devil incarnate may undermine the Lib Dems' message somewhat.)

One thing we have learned today, if there was ever any real doubt, is that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act isn't worth the paper it's written on.  If any future majority government wants to hold an early snap election, all it'll have to do is pass a one-page Bill setting a date, and the two-thirds majority supposedly required by the FTPA simply won't apply.  Theoretically a minority government might have greater difficulties, but it's hard to imagine too many circumstances in which the opposition would keep such a government in office in the way that Labour MPs have attempted in recent weeks.  Spare a thought tonight for the editor of Stormfront Lite, who has staked his reputation over the last nine years on endlessly repeating that the FTPA makes early elections nigh-on impossible.  Even after he was proved wrong about that in 2017, he just carried on saying it as if nothing had changed.  He was jubilant last month when an early election was blocked, and insisted that this proved his theory was correct, but that turned out to be merely a temporary reprieve.  Now all we need is for one of the "oldies" to prove him wrong by winning the Democratic presidential nomination next year, and the people of East Dunbartonshire may completely lose faith in his credentials as an impartial Liberal Democrat election expert.

Spare a thought also for Change UK and the likes of John Woodcock, for whom today's events were a nightmare come true.  At the start of this year the theory was that the Change UK breakaway would tip the balance against an early election, because there was such an incentive for those MPs not to face the verdict of the electorate any time soon, but in the end they proved to be nothing more than a noisy irrelevance when the decision was made.  Chris Leslie, who probably once fancied himself as a future Prime Minister or Chancellor, may have thrown his career away.

We're entitled to feel optimistic about the SNP's prospects for the coming contest, but that should be tempered with caution, especially after the bruising experience of 2017.  Nicola Sturgeon has clearly learned from her mistake of downplaying independence in that campaign, but even if the SNP get their pitch just right, there are any number of things that can go wrong due to factors outwith their control.  Westminster elections will always be an "away fixture" for them.  Labour might get back in the game in Scotland simply by being mentioned far more often than the SNP.  Jo Swinson will be the darling of the liberal media, and any Lib Dem bandwagon effect could damage the SNP, just as the Cleggasm did in 2010.  And look out for potential stitch-ups in the TV leaders' debates - we know that Johnson desperately wants them to be head-to-heads with Corbyn, and the broadcasters will be all too happy to oblige if they think they can get away with it.  The good news is that it'll be hard to justify excluding Ms Swinson given the Lib Dems' position in the polls, and if she's included it'll be very hard to exclude Ms Sturgeon.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The pros and cons of backing a December election

It's sometimes a struggle to keep up with Somerset's leading political blogger - a day or two ago he was bitterly suggesting that the SNP were about to "vote with the Tories" for the wrong reason, ie. that they were passing up the chance to cut a deal with Boris Johnson that could bring about a second indyref, but were instead following a path that "cleverly" wouldn't have that effect.  But he seems to have brightened up a bit today and has concluded that the SNP voting for a December election might trigger an indyref - but only by 'complete accident', naturally.  The image we're expected to have is of a Mr Bean-type political party, bumbling its way through life.

What I find curious, though, it that one of the conditions for this 'completely accidental' scenario falling into place is that the "Tories have to win" any election in December.  And yet that of course means the SNP would lose the leverage Mr Campbell wants us to believe they have in the current hung parliament and that could supposedly secure a Section 30 order immediately if only they would listen to him.  So is having leverage in a hung parliament suddenly now a bad thing?  I'm confused.

The reality is that anyone paying attention over the last couple of weeks will have been thoroughly disabused of the notion that Boris Johnson is a man open to cutting painful deals with the SNP.  As Ken Clarke has pointed out multiple times, the arithmetic is probably there to pass the withdrawal agreement right now without the SNP, and it probably would even have been there to pass the agreement in time for 31st October.  But Johnson didn't actually want that - he pulled the bill rather than submitting a more realistic programme motion.  OK, there was a danger the withdrawal agreement might have suffered 'death by amendment', but he didn't even give himself the chance to find out.  He's not remotely interested in compromising with opponents to deliver Brexit - he wants to do it breaking them.  If the SNP had turned up at his door offering to back the withdrawal agreement in return for a Section 30, he'd have burst out laughing, and then shut the door - firmly.

So this current parliament is not one in which the SNP have the leverage to get a Westminster-approved indyref.  To have any chance of gaining that leverage, there will have to be a new parliament, and that means an election at some point.  To that extent what the SNP are doing today makes perfect sense.  The objection people are raising is that opinion polls currently point to a majority Tory government, meaning that the SNP still wouldn't have leverage in the new parliament.  In fact the situation would have worsened, because there wouldn't need to be another election for another five years, during which time a Section 30 would be essentially impossible.  Shouldn't the SNP hold off, therefore, until the polling situtaion deteriorates for the Tories?

The snag is that the SNP don't just need the Tories to be defeated - they specifically need a hung parliament in which Labour are the largest single party.  A Labour or even Liberal Democrat majority government wouldn't be much more likely to grant a Section 30 than a Tory majority government.  The range of election results that would do the trick is incredibly narrow, and the SNP would look a bit daft if they held off, waiting for the pendulum to swing, and it ended up swinging too far in the opposite direction.  There's a long history in the UK of political leaders getting cold feet about holding an election, and then finding that the polling position actually deteriorates afterwards rather than improves - James Callaghan in 1978 and Gordon Brown in 2007 spring to mind.

Waiting certainly wouldn't be a risk-free endeavour for the SNP.  Opinion polls have suggested for some time that they're on course to essentially take Scottish Labour out of the game completely.  If an election is delayed long enough for Labour to recover (which ironically would be the whole point of the delay!), the chance of a strategic breakthrough for the independence movement might have been squandered.  The SNP also appear to be on course for gains from the Tories, even if we're less clear about the scale of those gains - so why would we want to give the Scottish Tories a few more months in which they could potentially bounce back?

I know there are some people who will worry about the effect of being seen to "vote with the Tories" to engineer an election.  There was a chap in the comments section of this blog the other day who even threatened to throw away his SNP membership card if the party ever walked through the lobbies with the Tories.  When I pointed out that they had already done so several times this year (as had Labour and the Lib Dems) he hurriedly shifted the goalposts and said it would only count if the SNP and Tories went into one lobby and Labour went into the other.  Which is nuts, if you think about it - that would be a 'reverse Bain' principle that would give Labour a de facto veto on any step the SNP take.

In spite of Andrew Adonis' optimistic trial run yesterday, I can't see any cry of betrayal sticking.  This isn't 1979 - a Tory government is in office at present and a general election is an opportunity to remove it.  It'll hardly be the SNP's fault if Labour and the Lib Dems prove to be too rubbish to take that opportunity.  And it remains to be seen whether they will prove to be too rubbish - the electorate has been incredibly volatile in recent years and surprise election results have almost become the norm.

UPDATE: The last two paragraphs are moot now that Corbyn has backed a general election (literally within the time it took to write this blogpost!).  It's safe to assume he wouldn't have done that unless he'd known the vote was going to pass anyway - he couldn't go into an election campaign being seen to be scared of losing.  So that shows the value of the SNP not following the reverse Bain principle - sometimes a bold stance can force Labour to back down.

*  *  *

I simply cannot understand why Mr Campbell is once again pushing the self-destructive narrative that the SNP and/or pro-indy parties in general need a majority of the vote for a mandate, and not just a majority of seats.  For months he's been loudly calling on them to use their current mandate to call a pre-2021 indyref (and I agree with him on that) and yet that mandate was won without an outright majority of the popular vote.  Look up the 2016 election result if you don't believe me.  So why would we suddenly and needlessly start setting ourselves a much tougher threshold for future elections?  It makes no sense at all.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Will the SNP and Lib Dems bypass Labour opposition to bring about a December election after all?

Those of you with long memories will recall that, just after he became Prime Minister in the summer of 2007, Gordon Brown seriously toyed with the idea of holding a snap general election that the opinion polls suggested he couldn't lose.  Although legend has it that he took fright after David Cameron's well-received speech at the Tory party conference, it's likely that what actually played a bigger role in dissuading him was the publication of a poll showing that the Tories were faring significantly better in marginal seats that anyone had realised.

I wondered tonight if a similar turning-point had occurred with the publication of an Opinium poll showing a mammoth sixteen-point Tory lead, up three points on the equivalent poll last week.  Labour MPs were already highly resistant to the idea of allowing a December election due to their deficit in the polls, but if that deficit is growing even wider, it may be psychologically impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to lead his troops through the Aye lobby on Monday.

But just when you thought it was safe to forget all about an election until next year, tonight brings news of a joint SNP-Lib Dem initiative to circumvent the two-thirds majority requirement in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and bring about a December election regardless of whether Labour vote for one or not.  I said in my previous post that the only way of breaking the deadlock might be for the three parties that appear to have something to gain from an immediate election - namely the SNP, the Tories and the Lib Dems - to reach an understanding between themselves, and it looks very much like that's what's been going on behind the scenes.  Obviously there'll be no mention of Tory involvement to maintain plausible deniability on all sides, but the bottom line is that everyone knows this plan can only work with Tory acquiescence, and if Boris Johnson is serious about wanting a December vote, that acquiescence will surely be forthcoming.

Apparently Plan A is for the Liberal Democrats to attempt to amend the Fixed Term Parliaments Act to make provision for a general election on 9th December.  That would only require a simple majority, so it should pass with Tory support.  If for some reason it doesn't, Plan B would be for the SNP to table a motion of no confidence in the government under the existing terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which would also only require a simple majority.  Presumably the Tories would abstain, and the vote would pass if Labour don't actively vote against it.  (It would surely be unthinkable for Labour to vote that they had confidence in a Tory government, even as a means of avoiding an election?)  That would trigger a 14-day deadline for a government to emerge that can win a confidence vote, and if that doesn't happen, parliament would automatically be dissolved and an election would be triggered.

Ian Blackford is a great guy and has really grown into his job as SNP group leader, but I must confess to a wry smile when I realised that his solution to the terrible problems he identified with the "barking mad" proposed election date of 12th December is to hold the election three days earlier.  Yes, it's true, folks, canvassers will no longer have to ponder with dread the prospect of pounding the dark streets of Inverness in the middle of winter, because they'll now have a whole five more minutes of daylight to play with on polling day than they would have had if Boris Johnson had got his way.  The sun rises in Inverness at 8.45am on 9th December, compared to 8.49am on the 12th.  The sun sets at 3.32pm on the 9th, compared to 3.31pm on the 12th.  A game-changer by any standards.

So will this bold plan succeed?  It's far from certain, but if it fails I suspect it'll be because either or both of the SNP and the Lib Dems get cold feet.  I can't see the Tories standing in the way.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Labour MPs' endless can-kicking on an election could lead to the very thing they don't want - a No Deal exit next year

With Jeremy Corbyn holding off to hear how long an extension the EU would offer before deciding whether to vote in favour of the election motion on Monday, the most quintessentially Brexit thing to happen was clearly for the EU to announce that they won't actually decide on the length of the extension until Monday or Tuesday.  That presumably guarantees the election motion will fail if it goes ahead on Monday, which in turn means that if Boris Johnson doesn't put the vote back until later in the week, we can reasonably infer that he's playing games.

That said, it's beginning to sound like the vote will probably fail whenever it's held.  So Labour won't allow an election to take place, Johnson won't allow parliament the chance to pass his own withdrawal deal unless there's an election, and the DUP probably won't allow a vote of no confidence to replace Johnson with an interim Prime Minister who could break the deadlock.  (I presume the DUP's vote with the government on the Queen's Speech can be taken as a pretty strong signal of what they would do on a motion of no confidence.)  On the face of it, that means we'll just stumble on like zombies for an indefinite period with the government unable to govern and Brexit being continually kicked down the road - although never very far down the road.

I'm guessing the optimists on the Labour side think the effect of what they're doing is to gradually make Johnson look utterly ridiculous in the eyes of the electorate, and thereby start to wear down his opinion poll lead.  The theory will be that it won't much matter if Johnson has been thwarted by forces outwith his control - all the electorate will see is that he made a series of grand promises that he utterly failed to deliver.  "Do or die, Brexit on 31st October with or without a deal, I'd rather be dead in a ditch than ask for an extension beyond that date."  That could be much more of a problem for him if Labour spin the crisis out until the spring or beyond.

But I'm not so sure that's how it would play out in practice.  For the crisis to go on indefinitely, Labour would need the EU27 to play ball and continue unanimously granting extension after extension.  So far President Macron has always backed down on his threats to veto a proper extension, and he'll probably do so again this time, but I suspect there'll come a point next year where he'll feel he's earned enough capital to be able to say "we've bent over backwards but enough is enough".  If and when that happens, it will lead either to No Deal or to parliament effectively being blackmailed into passing Johnson's deal as the only possible alternative.  That might be an indirect boost for the Scottish independence cause, but it's not what Remain-supporting MPs are supposed to be working towards.

I'm particularly puzzled by the SNP leadership's role in all this, because we've been told for weeks that they're eager for an election as soon as possible.  That makes perfect sense, partly to avoid any clash with legal proceedings against Alex Salmond, and partly because they have a handsome lead over the Tories and Labour in the polls and it's always good to strike while the iron is hot.  And yet if they wanted to maximise the chances of their preferred timing, the mood music last night should have been "we can't go on like this, in the national interest we need to break the deadlock before Christmas".  Instead Ian Blackford launched into a monologue about dark December nights in Inverness and how it was "barking mad" to hold an election in winter.  Well, waiting until winter is over means waiting until at least March, and more likely April or May.  That's surely far too long.

It's perhaps asking too much of Labour to back an election in which their working assumption is that they'll lose seats.  Chuka Umunna on behalf of the Liberal Democrats hinted last night that he might drop his opposition to an election if he could receive some guarantees from Johnson that the Brexit process would be suspended until polling day.  So maybe the way out of this impasse is for the three parties that think they have something to gain from an immediate election (the Tories, the SNP and the Lib Dems) to try to reach some sort of understanding between them.  Admittedly, that would require Johnson to stop behaving like a toddler, so it's a long shot.  But a short piece of legislation circumventing the two-thirds majority stipulated by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act could be a way forward.  Another possibility is that the SNP or the Lib Dems could be given parliamentary time to table a motion of no confidence, and that the Tories could abstain to ensure it passes.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Is this the most outrageously hypocritical thing Boris Johnson has ever said?

Boris Johnson was asked in his interview with Laura Kuenssberg what he would do if parliament rejected his request for a general election on 12th December, and this was his reply -

"We would campaign day after day for the people of this country to be released from subjection to a Parliament that has outlived its usefulness."

In other words, he would campaign for the people of this country to be "released from subjection" to the result of the 2017 general election, which under the law of the land was intended to be binding until May 2022.  He's also saying that the democratic verdict of voters in that election is no longer "useful".  Can you imagine the blind fury that the SNP or other Yes campaigners would encounter if they said "we demand that the people of Scotland be released from subjection to the result of the 2014 independence referendum, which has outlived its usefulness"?  Maybe we should try that line and see how far we get.  Come to think of it, how would Johnson himself react if People's Vote campaigners asked to be released from subjection to the result of the "useless" 2016 EU referendum?

My prediction only an hour ago that the election motion would pass on Monday already seems to be well on the way to being proved wrong, largely because Johnson's "offer" to reintroduce the withdrawal agreement bill in return for an election is being (understandably) interpreted in some quarters as more of a threat.  There's arguably now a clear incentive for the Liberal Democrats to resist a December election, because it would be a strategic disaster for them if Britain has officially left the EU before polling day - their "stop Brexit" message would have been overtaken by events.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Unlike the Lovatts of this world I've never believed that betting markets are a predictive God, but for what it's worth punters currently seem to think there's a slightly less than 50% chance of Johnson getting his way and an election being called by the end of the year.

Would a general election in December help or harm the cause of independence?

So Boris Johnson wants a general election on Thursday, 12th December, and my guess is that this time he'll get his way.  Labour are split down the middle on whether to give the green light, but with the parliamentary arithmetic the way it is, an election can't be delayed forever, and I'm struggling to see how a delay of a few weeks or a few months will in itself get them out of the electoral hole they're in.  (Indeed they must bitterly regret refusing to back an election in October, which could have prevented Johnson negotiating his Hard Brexit deal.)  Stephen Bush suggested that it would be politically difficult for the SNP to vote for an election if Labour don't, but this isn't 1979 - a vote for an election is a vote for an opportunity to remove a Tory government from office, so it's hard to see how any cry of betrayal would stick.  In any case, there's another way of looking at this - if the SNP are minded to bring about an election, it would be politically difficult for Labour to be seen to resist an election that is going to happen anyway.  (Although a two-thirds majority is required under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, that can be circumvented with a short piece of legislation, in which event SNP support would be sufficient.)

Someone asked me a few minutes ago how a general election would actually bring us closer to independence, and I suppose the answer is that it could simultaneously bring us closer and further away.  2015 was an example of what I mean - the SNP's 56 seats vastly exceeded expectations, and yet they were denied the balance of power in the House of Commons that had looked possible (and maybe even probable) throughout the campaign.  If the SNP gain seats in December and win a third successive outright majority of Scottish constituencies, they'll have a tremendous moral mandate, but they could be faced with a powerful majority Tory government committed to defying the will of the Scottish people for five whole years.  That'll be a shock to the system that I don't think we're quite mentally prepared for, even though we've been staring down the barrel of substantial Tory leads in GB opinion polls for several months.  However, the silver lining is that a shock of that sort might put irresistible pressure on the SNP leadership to change their thinking on a Plan B.  The SNP rank-and-file have shown themselves to be patient recently, but I'm not sure they're patient enough to accept "we'll have another crack in 2024" as an acceptable strategy, especially given that we'd still be placing ourselves at the mercy of English voters in 2024.

That said, the electorate is more volatile than ever before, and we can expect pro-Remain tactical voting in England and Wales on an industrial scale.  Any Tory that thinks the election is a foregone conclusion is deluding themselves.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Is there any chance at all that Labour could lose Edinburgh South?

I've lost count of the number of times over the last year that I've said "if this poll proves to be right, Labour would lose almost all of their Scottish seats to the SNP", with the "almost" referring to the seemingly inevitable fact that Ian Murray will easily hold Edinburgh South for Labour no matter what happens elsewhere.  Last night brought news that the Unite union has voted to "trigger" Murray (ie. to attempt to deselect him as the Labour candidate as punishment for his disloyalty to the party leadership) and that Murray has retorted with all sorts of dark warnings about how replacing him with a "Marxist" could cost their Labour their only safe Scottish seat.  He even suggests that he could help that process along by standing as an independent.

This is almost certainly a bit of a red herring, because reselection attempts very rarely succeed - it's probably intended more as a means of applying indirect pressure on Corbyn-sceptic MPs and encouraging them to toe the line.  It's still pretty likely that Murray will be the Labour candidate at the general election unless he voluntarily walks away.  So the more interesting question is whether there is any chance at all that Labour could lose with Murray as their standard-bearer?

On the face of it, that's a classic QTWTAIN (Question To Which The Answer Is No), because two years ago Murray had a lead of more than 32% over his SNP opponent, which means on a uniform national swing that the SNP would require a highly improbable Scotland-wide lead over Labour of 42% before they could expect to gain Edinburgh South.  But it's worth remembering that in 2015 (the election before last), the SNP came reasonably close to winning the seat with a national lead over Labour of 'only' 26%, and some opinion polls suggest they could be back in that ballpark now.  So if the local contest ends up resembling that of 2015 more than that of 2017, it's not totally impossible that Murray could prove to be vulnerable.

The snag is, though, that what happened in 2017 seemed to decisively change the game and it's hard to imagine that process being reversed.  The decline in the SNP vote in Edinburgh South was actually slightly below the national average, but Labour still built up a formidable advantage by adding 16% to their own vote - completely against the Scotland-wide trend which saw them more or less flatlining.  By contrast, the Tory vote only increased by a trivial 2% locally at a time when it was essentially doubling across Scotland.  It's blindingly obvious that many people who would otherwise have voted Tory lent Murray their vote on a tactical basis to stop the SNP.  And there's little reason to think most of those people would go back to the Tories now, given that Edinburgh is such a solidly Remain city and the Tories are the only major party that is in favour of a Hard Brexit.

But the flipside of the equation is that many people who voted tactically for Murray in 2017 may now be much more preoccupied with stopping Brexit than with stopping a second independence referendum, and will thus no longer have such a laser-like focus on choosing the candidate most likely to beat the SNP.  Is there any reason to suppose that they might be tempted by the Liberal Democrats, rather than the Tories?  Well, yes there is, because you don't have to go too far back in history to find a time when Edinburgh South was a highly competitive Labour-Lib Dem battleground seat.  In fact the Lib Dems came slightly closer to beating Labour in both 2005 and 2010 than the SNP did in 2015.  And the Lib Dems actually held the equivalent Scottish Parliament constituency between 2003 and 2011.

Much depends on whether Remain supporters think that a Labour vote would be an endorsement of Ian Murray's personal anti-Brexit stance, or the Labour leadership's much more convoluted position.  If the latter, we could see a substantial swing to the Lib Dems in Edinburgh South, and that could open up the possibility of either the SNP coming through the middle and taking the seat, or of the Lib Dems winning from nowhere themselves.

I'm not saying that's particularly likely - I would expect Labour to hold on.  But it may be a much more competitive contest than a lot of people are assuming.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Unseasonal Elections And Their Effects

Someone suggested on the last thread that I should use the possibility of a December or January election as an excuse to write a blogpost about "Unseasonal Elections And Their Effects".  I think he was probably trolling me, but I'm going to do it anyway.  Never let it be said that I'm not accommodating.

Most general elections in recent decades have taken place in either May or June.  There were a couple of elections outside "peak months" in April 1992 and October 1974, but the last truly "unseasonal" election was in February 1974, and just like the one that's about to come, it took place in the midst of a national crisis.  Edward Heath's Tory government had a perfectly sustainable majority that could have seen him through all the way until mid-1975, but buoyed by favourable opinion polls, he instead took the fateful decision to seek a fresh mandate that would supposedly send a message that it was the elected government that governs, and not the unions.  Polling day was 28th February - officially the last day of winter, although as we all know, early March often feels like an extension of winter in much the same way that early September often feels like an extension of summer.  As polls closed the expectation was still that Heath's gamble would just about pay off, even though Labour had managed to stall his momentum somewhat during the campaign.  But early results showed a surprisingly decent swing to Labour, and although the Tories did narrowly win the popular vote, that translated into a very slight lead for Labour in terms of seats.  After a short delay of a few days, Labour leader Harold Wilson was invited by the Queen to form what was effectively a caretaker government until a new election could be held later in the year.  Crucial to the outcome was the fact that every Ulster Unionist that was elected was opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement, and therefore no longer took the Conservative whip.  If the UUP had still been inside the Tory fold, Heath would almost certainly have clung onto power, albeit at the head of a minority government.  It was also, of course, a big breakthrough election for the SNP - they jumped from two seats to a new all-time high of seven.  And there was a Liberal surge that didn't really produce any meaningful rewards as far as seats were concerned.

Does this tell us that Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems can expect to do well in "unseasonal" elections?  Probably not.  I think the main thing it tells us is that winter elections are likely to only come about as the result of a major crisis, and that the outcome of the election will be determined largely by voters' reaction to that crisis, not by the temperature outside.  Although oddly enough, the only other post-war winter election wasn't (as far as I'm aware, anyway) triggered by an immediate crisis - Labour PM Clement Attlee went to the polls in February 1950, a few months earlier than he needed to, and paid the penalty.  His huge majority from 1945 was all but wiped out, and although he clung on to power for another year and a half, guerilla tactics in the Commons led his exhausted (literally physically exhausted) government to feel they had no choice but to call a snap election in late 1951, which they narrowly lost to Winston Churchill's resurgent Tories.

If you watch election results programmes from the distant past, you'll find the theory always used to be that a "high poll" (ie. a big turnout) favoured Labour, which might lead us to conclude that bad weather in winter that deters people from voting could be good news for the Tories.  But arguably the 1992 result gives the lie to that - there was a bumper turnout of 78% (which hasn't been repeated in any general election since), but Labour did much worse than anticipated.

For my money, the biggest issue with a winter election is the slight danger of freak weather conditions such as the Beast From The East that would make it impossible for many people to vote, and to the best of my knowledge there are no legal provisions to postpone a vote at the last minute because of the weather.  If, in a parallel universe, the Liberal Democrats had gone into coalition with the SNP in 2007 and had agreed to Alex Salmond's preferred date of St Andrew's Day 2010 for an independence referendum, there would have been major disruption because of heavy snow.  There probably would have been controversy for years afterwards about whether the outcome of the vote was really legitimate.

Final thought: if the EU extend Article 50 until 31st January and we need an election before that date to break the deadlock, surely it'll have to be just before Christmas?  I know it's getting very tight if that's going to happen, but the alternative would be either a mid-January election that would require campaigning to take place over the festive period, or a late January election that would be right up against the cliff-edge.

The Scotsman newspaper should be deeply ashamed of lying to its readers - yes, lying - in today's headline about an independence poll

So, right on cue, the Survation poll with the confusing question that I mentioned in my previous post has been trotted out by the Scotsman newspaper, and they've done exactly the same thing that the Sun newspaper did in its reporting of the previous poll in the series - they've told their readers a downright lie about the trend shown by the results.  The headline reads "Poll: Scottish independence supporters switching to back the Union".  In fact the poll shows the complete opposite of that - it shows that voters have swung towards independence since the previous poll.

The percentage of respondents who say that they "completely support Scotland becoming independent" has increased from 24% in the previous poll (conducted in March) to 26% now.  By contrast, the percentage of respondents who say that they "completely support Scotland staying part of the UK" has fallen in the same period from 40% to 37%.

If you also take into account respondents who are not on one of the two extremes, the pro-Yes trend is even stronger.  The percentage of respondents who are on the pro-independence side of the 0-10 scale has increased significantly from 35% in March to 40% now, while the percentage of respondents on the anti-independence side of the scale has declined sharply from 58% to 51%.

It's rare that we can simply say that a newspaper has lied, as opposed to just misleading its readers or telling half-truths, but this is one of those rare occasions.  The headline contains no quotation marks, and it doesn't say "according to Scotland in Union" or something like that (although I think we can make a fairly safe guess that's how this story came to appear).  It simply tells a direct lie.

As for the question of why this poll format produces such different numbers from standard Yes/No polls, there's something of a mystery.  We know from David Halliday's screenshot that at least some respondents were confusingly asked to regard the number zero as being the pro-independence end of the scale, and the number ten as being the anti-independence end of the scale - which may well explain why a wildly implausible 16% of Yes voters from 2014 are now supposedly expressing "complete support" for Scotland remaining in the UK.  (The equivalent figure from the March poll was almost identical.)  And yet the Survation datasets suggest that the opposite was done, and that the number ten was in fact the pro-independence end of the scale.  Are the datasets inaccurate?  Was there a dummy poll conducted in a different way for research purposes?  Either way, it does seem very surprising that Angus Robertson's Progress Scotland have persisted in commissioning polls using this format after the results produced in the spring proved to be so totally out of line with the results of conventional independence polling.

UPDATE: I see The Herald have done much the same thing as the Scotsman - their headline is "New poll suggests shift in support away from Scottish independence".  I don't think any of us are going to faint with amazement if it turns out that both papers have just lightly rewritten a Scotland in Union press release without bothering to check whether its factual claims are accurate.

Monday, October 21, 2019

"On a scale of confusion from 0 to 10..."

Regular readers might remember that back in the spring of this year, when Progress Scotland published its first poll, I pointed out that the Sun newspaper had misreported it (probably at the prompting of Scotland in Union) as showing that support for independence had "dropped below 40%".  It was perfectly true that support appeared to be lower than 40%, but the inaccurate word was "dropped".  In fact, the question format was completely different from standard independence polls, meaning it was impossible to make a comparison with those polls and conclude that the Yes vote had either risen or fallen.  There was no way of knowing whether earlier polls using the same format would have shown greater or lesser support for independence, although it did seem pretty likely that there was something about the question that was producing less favourable numbers than a Yes/No question would.

Basically respondents were asked to express their degree of support for independence on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 indicating total support and 10 indicating total opposition.  I speculated at the time as to why that might have produced an artificially low result for independence, but now we have a stronger clue.  The pro-independence Twitter legend David Halliday contacted me three weeks ago to say that he'd just taken part in a Survation poll using exactly that question format - and that he'd accidentally indicated total opposition to independence.

"Just had a really interesting - if embarrassing - experience taking a Survation poll. It started out about me - where I lived (which region in Scotland - clearly Scotland only), age, children, income - then on to how I voted in 2017, 2016 and 2014. Then - this is the interesting and embarrassing bit - it asked a question about independence on a scale of 0 or 1 to 10. I went straight to 10 ("Totally in favour of") and clicked next and only then realised that 10 was "Totally in favour of staying within the UK" (or similar) while 0 or 1 was "Totally in favour of independence". I tried to go back but couldn't so stopped the poll, in the hope my vote won't be counted. A real life example of how the wording of the question in a different way (and one that confusingly harked back to the 1 to 10 questions Yes canvassers asked in 2014 where the 10 was dead in favour of independence) can skew the result. I'm wondering if it was deliberate."

It's obviously unlikely that any poll commissioned by Angus Robertson would have tried to achieve that effect deliberately, but it does illustrate why any numbers produced by this question format should be taken with a pinch of salt.  If someone as intelligent and politically-engaged as David was capable of misreading the question and saying the opposite of what he intended to say, it doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to suppose that plenty of other respondents may have done exactly the same thing.  Even if you hadn't encountered the 1 to 10 questions asked by Yes canvassers in 2014, it's entirely natural to assume that the highest number would indicate the maximum support for the proposition you are being asked about.

Here is a screenshot that David took of the question when he managed to revisit the poll later - would you have been confused?  Particularly if you weren't looking too carefully?


Based on other questions that were asked, David is very confident that the poll he was taking was the latest one for Progress Scotland, and yet oddly the datasets for that poll suggest that the question was asked the other way around, with 10 indicating total support for independence and 0 indicating total opposition.  So what's going on?  Are the datasets wrong?  Were two different halves of the sample asked the question in different ways?  No idea.  For what it's worth, though, this poll is slightly better for Yes than the one in the spring, with exactly 40% of respondents putting themselves on the independence-friendly end of the spectrum, and another 6% choosing the neutral option of 5.