Friday, September 20, 2019

It's quiz time!

Somebody took me to task about an hour ago in the comments section, sternly telling me "James, you don't understand the electoral system".  He then proceeded to 'explain' the electoral system to me - but there was just one snag.  His description bore absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the Additional Member System, or indeed to any other voting system that is used in this country!  I think possibly he'd "reverse-engineered" some of the modelling he'd seen on Wings and assumed there must be a fiendishly complicated formula involved.

It does seem to me that there's still an awful lot of confusion out there about how AMS works, so to put that theory to the test, here's a little quiz.  There are only three questions, and the answers are at the bottom of the post.  (No peeking in advance.)  If you get all three right you are officially an AMS Grand Master.

Question 1....

"There is a cap on the total number of list seats any large party can win, regardless of how many list votes they take."  Is this statement TRUE or FALSE?

Question 2....

"Small parties with enough votes are awarded a proportion of seats that is much larger than their proportion of the vote."  Is this statement TRUE or FALSE?

Question 3....

If it was possible to successfully game the system by voting tactically for a small pro-indy party on the list, would that party be more likely to take a LARGER or SMALLER percentage of seats than its list vote would normally justify?

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ANSWERS:

Question 1.  The statement is FALSE.  If any party was to theoretically take 100% of the list vote, they would take every single list seat, and if they had swept the board in the constituencies as well, they would take 100% of the seats in the entire parliament.  As with any proportional representation system, it's much harder to win a large number of seats - you're not going to win a landslide majority of seats on 35% of the vote, which is something that can easily happen under first-past-the-post.  But there's no cap to directly prevent big landslides from occurring - you can win any number of seats providing you have enough list votes.

Question 2.  The statement is FALSE.  It's possible for a small party to get a slightly bigger proportion of seats than its proportion of votes, but the emphasis is on the word 'slightly', and there's certainly no in-built advantage for small parties.  Quite the contrary, in fact - it's the largest single party that is most likely to be significantly over-represented, due to winning an excess number of constituency seats.

Question 3.  The answer is SMALLER.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but it's actually quite logical when you think about it.  The whole game-the-system theory (which as you know I don't think is workable in practice) depends on the largest pro-indy party doing exceptionally well on constituency seats, but not being competitive at all on the list ballot.  If that happens, there probably wouldn't be enough list seats available to bring any of the other parties up to quite the level of overall representation that their share of the list vote would warrant - and that applies just as much to the smaller pro-indy party that is the recipient of tactical votes as it does to all the other parties.  So although the pro-indy parties in combination might end up being over-represented, the party that receives tactical votes might paradoxically end up being under-represented.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Queen forgot the first rule of rule-breaking: don't get caught

I don't usually think of myself as naive, but when the Queen made her notorious "people should think about it very carefully" comment during the indyref campaign, my first reaction was that it must have been an innocent, spur-of-the-moment reply to a member of the public that had been randomly picked up by the microphones.  I actually believed the establishment fiction that we live in a constitutional monarchy where the monarch would never dream of interfering in the political process. I thought that unionist sympathisers in the mainstream media were just mischief-making by trying to convince the public with a nudge and a wink that the Queen's remark had been intended to indicate support for Better Together.

When it later emerged that the Queen had indeed been following a script and had fully intended the microphones to catch what she said, a lot of things suddenly fell into place.  This was a clear breach of her proper constitutional role, and it required active collusion between the Westminster government, Buckingham Palace and journalists.  The crucial role of journalists, and broadcast journalists in particular, shouldn't be underestimated, because very few viewers would have read any significance into the Queen's remark unless reporters had helpfully interpreted it for them - in other words the whole exercise would have been pointless.  And yet those same reporters misled viewers by neglecting to mention that they had been briefed by sources that the comment was planned and had a specific meaning.  If it had been revealed that such briefings had taken place, the Palace would either have had to lie through their teeth and deny it, or the Queen would have been caught bang to rights doing something she knew was constitutionally inappropriate.  Everything hinged upon a ludicrous media pretence that the Queen had been randomly overheard and that journalists had independently discerned her private feelings from those few words.

As it is, she's been caught out five years later anyway, and ironically the weak link in the triangle of collusion turned out to be David Cameron rather than the media.  But there's no point in her blaming Cameron - the breach of constitutional propriety in this case was her own decision to interfere in the political process, not the failure of a politician to cover her tracks.

Incidentally, at least one broadcast journalist appears even now to be colluding with the great pretence.  I gather that the BBC's Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchell informed viewers today that the Queen had indicated support for Better Together on her own initiative rather than at David Cameron's request, and that it had nothing to do with "politics".  We've heard this kind of nonsense from him before - that her active attempts to "maintain the Union" are somehow a natural part of her role and are entirely non-political.  Back in the real world, during a binary-choice referendum campaign on Scottish independence, the monarch can either behave appropriately by staying out of politics, or she can actively seek to "maintain the Union".  But she can't do both.

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I was interviewed on Radio Sputnik yesterday about the fifth anniversary of the independence referendum.  I reminisced a bit about the day itself, and spoke about the Scotland in Union propaganda poll and the need for a Plan B if a Section 30 order is refused.  You can listen to the interview HERE (and also read a transcript in which I'm referred to by my cunning pseudonym John Kelly).

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Flying without Wings

So let's recap.  A couple of weeks ago, a keen supporter of the idea of attempting to game the Holyrood electoral system by setting up a so-called "Wings party" made an utterly preposterous claim on social media.  Gavin Barrie informed the world that the worst-case scenario if Mr Stuart Campbell stood candidates against the SNP on the list ballot at the next election is that the Wings party would gain sixteen seats and that the SNP would lose two.  I pointed out that this was obviously nonsensical because, by definition, the worst-case scenario would have to involve the Wings party taking zero seats, which is always a possibility for any small party (let alone a new and untested party) if it doesn't secure enough votes.  It's also a statement of plain, inescapable fact that a party that takes some votes away from other pro-independence parties on the list, but without taking any seats itself, could end up costing those parties list seats.  The following truth is therefore self-evident: the worst-case scenario is that the Wings party would lead to a net loss of pro-independence seats in the Scottish Parliament, and not, as Mr Barrie ludicrously claimed, a net gain of fourteen seats.

When he saw my rebuttal, Mr Barrie became astonishingly defensive.  He refused to justify or even explain his claim, but nevertheless insisted I was wrong and repeatedly demanded that I wait for days or weeks to see his detailed modelling of various election permutations before commenting further.  I refused, because it was literally impossible for any modelling that may or may not have been done to substantiate the claim he had made.  His suggestion that the proof was just there, tantalisingly out of sight, seemed to me to be a cynical attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of people who desperately want to believe in the pretty fiction that a Wings party would be a risk-free enterprise for the Yes movement.  He became increasingly frustrated at his inability to silence my rebuttals, and ultimately the frustration gave way to outright abuse.  That led to a minor slap on the wrists from the powers-that-be at Twitter: a suspension of seven days.

His time in 'Twitter jail' having now come to an end, he's at long last published parts of his modelling - or, rather, Stuart Campbell has for obvious reasons of self-interest published it for him.  I say "parts", because at one point in the article he makes a high-flown claim about his belief in the "democratisation of information", and yet (at the time of writing) the link that is supposed to lead to his detailed data actually leads to an error message.  Presumably that's an honest mistake and we can look forward to it being swiftly remedied.  Anyway, if you haven't read the article yet, here's a spoiler alert: no, the modelling doesn't substantiate his original claim about the worst-case scenario being a net gain of fourteen seats.  Who'd have thunk it, eh?  In fact it very helpfully proves that the opposite is true, and that a Wings intervention could easily lead to a net loss of seats for the pro-indy side.

A sizeable chunk of the article is devoted to playing around with permutations that assume that the result of the constituency ballot is identical to the 2016 result, but that the list result is different due to varying chunks of the SNP list vote switching "tactically" to the Wings party.  That in itself is a bit of a nonsense, because as I pointed out umpteen times in both 2011 and 2016, one of the most important reasons that tactical voting on the list isn't viable is because it's impossible to know the constituency result in advance.  It's all very well with the luxury of hindsight to play God and to shift list votes around safe in the knowledge that the constituency ballot won't chuck a wrecking-ball into your calculations, but real-world voters in 2016 weren't able to do that, and they won't be able to do it in any future election either.  That's why I've always said that attempts to game the system are "gambling voting" rather than "tactical voting" - you're making a guess (potentially quite a wild guess) about how a large number of individual constituency results will turn out, and then trying to work out what would need to happen on the list to produce your desired outcome, assuming that your guess is correct.  But if your guess is wrong, and if the constituency results turn out differently, the "tactical" action you take on the list could easily backfire and produce an effect that is the complete opposite of what you intended.  You could end up with a worse result than you would have had if you'd simply played a straight bat and not tried to game the system.

And, no, voters did not know in advance that the SNP would win 59 constituency seats in 2016.  Most people expected the figure to be considerably higher than that, and indeed the rallying cry of many advocates of gaming the system was that the SNP were guaranteed to win the 65 seats required for an overall majority on constituency seats alone, and that they therefore didn't need any list votes at allIn the end, the SNP didn't win a majority even with the help of four list seats.  If more SNP voters had heeded the siren calls of the "tactical voting" lobby, their party would have ended up six seats short of a majority.  There would have been just 59 SNP seats, and 70 opposition seats.  Imagine the reaction of the unionist media if that had been the result.

Remarkably, having been proved wrong about the SNP being guaranteed to win a majority without needing any list votes, the tactical voting lobby is brazen enough to make the opposite claim this time: that it will be too difficult for the SNP, or even for the SNP and the Greens in combination, to win a pro-independence majority no matter how many list votes they take, and that the only possible remedy to this supposed problem is for SNP supporters to switch tactically to the Wings party on the list.  You'll notice this about the gaming-the-system brigade if you study them for long enough: the goalposts shift effortlessly and endlessly.  I wouldn't be remotely surprised if by this time next year they're back to claiming that a majority is assured and that the list vote can therefore be treated as a sort of luxury vote - which actually is a more intuitively plausible claim given the current state of opinion polling.  The scary Wings messaging of "the pro-indy majority will be lost without us" almost seems about nine months out of date - which indeed may not be a coincidence if the plan was hatched quite a while ago.  But the justifications and reasonings will doubtless "evolve" with time.

For the purpose of this discussion, let's follow Mr Barrie down the rabbit hole of assuming that the constituency result is somehow fixed and knowable in advance.  Even based on that impossible assumption, his own modelling shows that a Wings intervention could lead to either a net loss of pro-indy seats, or a net gain of pro-indy seats.  It all depends on how many SNP supporters switch to the Wings party on the list on a "tactical" basis, which is - once again - something that no voter can have foreknowledge of when they're standing in the polling booth.  What Mr Barrie appears to be hinting at (and this drives a coach and horses through his earlier "worst case scenario" claim) is that the risk/reward ratio favours taking a punt on the Wings party, because there would 'only' be a net loss of one pro-indy seat if between 5% and 12% of SNP voters switch to Wings, while there could be a net gain of as many as 11 or 13 pro-indy seats if one-third of SNP voters switch to Wings.  But the elephant in the room as he treats us to detail after detail from his modelling (almost an attempt to blind us with science) is that the scenarios in which a net loss of one seat will happen are many orders of magnitude more likely to actually occur than the scenarios which could bring about substantial net gains.  Nobody is saying, and nobody has ever said, that successfully gaming the system is impossible in theory - merely that it's so close to being impossible in practice as makes no difference.  With all due respect to Mr Campbell and anyone else involved in this project, the notion that one-third of the SNP's entire support (which in 2016 would have been more than 300,000 people) are going to suddenly defect to a sort of "pop-up party" is in the realms of absolute fantasy, and not worthy of serious discussion.  That elusive mind-control ray still hasn't been invented, I'm afraid.

But "aha!" says Mr Barrie - we can eliminate the risk of even losing one seat if the Wings party simply chooses to sit out the list ballot in two of the eight regions, namely Highlands & Islands and South of Scotland.  If that happens, the Wings impact will at worst be neutral, and at best (if it gets up to that aforementioned fantastical level of support) will be marvellously beneficial.  But at this point, I fear that we must leave Mr Barrie behind in his rabbit hole, because back in the real world we have absolutely no way of knowing if Highlands & Islands and South of Scotland are the only regions in which the SNP stand to lose list seats.  Anyone with a memory span of longer than three years will recall that on the only occasion to date when the SNP won an overall majority at Holyrood (which was also one of only two occasions to date in which a pro-independence majority has been secured) they took at least one list seat in seven of the eight regions.  If that scenario were to re-occur, a Wings intervention could cost the SNP list seats anywhere but the Lothians.  (And it's actually not at all hard to construct an alternative scenario in which the SNP could be harmed on the Lothians list as well.)

When I put the inconvenient example of 2011 to Stuart Campbell a few weeks ago, he came up with what I can only describe as a fatuous reply: "It's not 2011 anymore."  By which he meant that the days of the SNP getting 44% of the list vote are long gone.  And upon what did he base that remarkably sweeping claim?  I can only assume he based it on opinion polling.  Which leads me to the downright peculiar conclusion that it can't have been 2011 anymore even in 2011 itself - because according to this list of pre-election polls, not a single poll suggested that the SNP would reach 44% on the list in 2011.  Indeed, in the autumn of 2009, at roughly the same stage of the electoral cycle that we're at now, the polls put the SNP in the high 20s or low 30s on the list.  I'll be blunt about it: Stuart Campbell's claim to know eighteen months in advance that there is some sort of ceiling on the SNP's potential list vote is risible and without foundation, and nobody should waste any further time on it.

Having completed his discussion of permutations based on the assumption that the 2016 constituency result was fixed and knowable in advance, Mr Barrie goes on to repeat the same exercise based on seat projections from a recent YouGov poll.  Which of course is an even more futile task - opinion polls are just snapshots of ever-changing public opinion, and may not even be accurate snapshots.

The third section of the article takes us onto territory that concerns me greatly, ie. the possibility that things may not go according to plan for the SNP and that they might unexpectedly lose a substantial number of constituency seats, which would mean they'd be relying on their list vote holding up if they're to avoid a devastating loss of overall representation at Holyrood.  But never fear: Mr Barrie breezily informs us that if we just vote tactically on the list, Wings will take sixteen seats, which will more than make up for the loss of SNP constituency seats.  What he mysteriously fails to mention is that his accompanying graph clearly demonstrates that Wings will only be taking sixteen seats if - yes, you've guessed it! - one-third of the SNP's entire support defects to Wings on the list.  That is an utterly excruciating sleight of hand, and the fact that Mr Barrie's entire case hinges upon it leaves him with very little credibility.  He sums up by claiming that a Wings party "would in any currently-plausible circumstances pose no risk whatsoever to the Yes majority".  It would have been far more accurate to say that the only circumstances in which Wings poses no risk to Yes representation are currently-fantastical ones.

Mr Barrie's parting shot is rather passive-aggressive, and it's safe to assume it's directed at least partly at me -

"But I’m sure that certain other rather sensitive commentators will as we speak be frantically searching for permutations where it could do damage, in order to justify their increasingly-heated opposition.  The documents are below. I invite them to make their case."

First of all, the documents aren't "below" - they're still not there even two hours after I started writing this blogpost.  I look forward to perusing them if they're ever actually published.  Secondly, I would just gently note that one good way of measuring the "sensitivity" of a commentator is whether or not they react to polite disagreement by repeatedly calling someone a "dishonest c**t", and then treating the subsequent temporary suspension from a social media website as an ordeal akin to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Maybe Mr Barrie would be in a stronger position to lecture others on the subject of sensitivity if he took responsibility for the consequences of his own actions in future.  And thirdly, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint him on his prediction that I'll be "frantically searching for permutations".  I'm actually not particularly interested in specific permutations, and it was only at the request of a reader that I recently produced one illustrative example of how a Wings party could reduce the number of pro-indy seats.

It's not a point of difference between myself and Mr Barrie that there are hypothetical scenarios in which Wings could help and hypothetical scenarios in which Wings could harm.  (Mr Barrie has only grudgingly admitted to the existence of the latter, but what matters is that he's admitted it.)  Where we actually part company is that I do not believe that any of these permutations are of concrete use in attempting to game the voting system.  The level of foreknowledge required to vote tactically on the list in a successful and risk-free way - rather than as a wild punt that could explode in your face - does not exist and will never exist.  And frankly, even if that precise foreknowledge were to become available, the likelihood is that all it would tell you is that Wings does not have sufficient support on the list to win any seats, regardless of how you vote yourself.  The vast majority of new parties flop, and the vast majority of new parties also think they're going to be the exception to that rule.

Early in the article, Mr Barrie chides me (sorry, he chides "other pollster bloggers") for relying on modelling at national level rather than at the level of the eight electoral regions.  And that brings me neatly onto the subject of one of the very few small parties that sort-of-enjoyed instant success just after being created.  In 2003, the Scottish Senior Citizens' Unity Party stunned us all by winning a seat on the Central Scotland list, even though nationally they took only 1.5%  of the list vote.  How was that possible, given that 5% or 6% is generally considered to be the de facto threshold for representation?  Quite simply they didn't stand in every region, but in the region where they took a seat, they secured 6.5% of the vote.  So, yes, it's theoretically possible that the Wings party could nick a seat even if they're only on 2% or 3% or 4% of the national vote, and that could happen if they do significantly better in one region than in others.  I don't think that's remotely likely, though, and it should be noted that a big part of the reason why the SSCUP made their breakthrough is that Billy McNeill (and also a former Rangers star - I can't remember which one) agreed to be a nominal candidate, albeit far enough down the list not to have to worry about becoming an MSP.  That's the sort of luck you need if you're going to beat the odds as a new party.

And even if Wings does nick one seat somewhere or other (which, let's face it, would be an astonishing result), so what?  The system wouldn't have been successfully gamed.  There wouldn't be a substantially greater number of pro-indy seats.  It would just be a quirky little result that would become a footnote in the history books.  Mr Campbell has said himself that to truly make the effort worthwhile, he'd be looking for something in the region of 15% of the list vote - and if anyone thinks that'll be easily attainable, all I can do is wish them luck, because they're going to need it.

I hope you're not flagging yet, because I've yet to come to one of the most important flaws in Mr Barrie's modelling - he takes no account at all, as far as I can see, of the potentially disastrous effect if some votes for the Wings party come from the Greens rather than the SNP.  He acknowledges in passing that attempts at gaming the system have often focused on the Greens, so what happens if people who took a punt on the Greens on a tactical basis in 2016 switch to the Wings party?  We actually got very lucky in 2016 - the Greens took a little under 7% of the vote, which was only just about high enough to secure a significant number of seats.  We were at risk of falling between two stools - enough people had abandoned the SNP on the list to ensure that the SNP didn't take as many seats as in 2011, but the Greens were also in danger of not polling high enough to partially make up for that.  The greater the number of small pro-indy parties there are competing for "tactical" votes on the list, the greater the danger of falling between two stools in precisely that manner, because the votes will be spread too thin.

The way things are heading, the 2021 campaign could be truly dismal.  The Greens will be telling us that gaming the system can work but not for Wings, and Wings will be telling us that gaming the system can work but not for the Greens.  There would be a sort of poetic irony if the two parties ended up knocking each other out, but that wouldn't do much good for the independence movement.

Mr Barrie implies that Wings can succeed where the Greens have failed over the years, because there are reasons why SNP voters are "increasingly uncomfortable" about lending their votes to the Greens.  This is presumably a reference to the Greens' stance on the trans issue.  But it's a statement of the obvious that there are also any number of reasons why the Wings party might repel a large fraction of SNP voters - Mr Campbell's abusive online behaviour, his controversial interpretation of the cause of the Hillsborough disaster, his idiosyncratic abhorrence of the Gaelic language, and indeed his own stance on the trans issue, which is just as contentious at one end of the spectrum as the Greens' stance is at the other.

I personally don't see any need for a new pro-independence party.  But for those of you who disagree, this is what I think you should demand from it -

1) A party that exists for reasons other than perceived tactical advantage.  If your Party Election Broadcast is an embarrassing three minute monologue about the d'Hondt formula, you're going wrong somewhere.

2) A party that is not organised on the Il Duce principle.  Any party with aspirations to hold the balance of power in our national parliament must be controlled by its members, rather than being the personal possession of its founder - regardless of the magnetic hold that individual may have on his followers.

Anniversary HAMMERBLOW for Boris Johnson as unionist propaganda poll spectacularly backfires: support for a second independence referendum has SOARED to 63%, and support for Scotland remaining in the UK has FALLEN

First things first: happy fifth anniversary of the day that Scotland's largest and fourth-largest cities voted decisively to end Westminster rule, and the day that almost half of voters throughout Scotland did the same.  Hapless anti-independence group Scotland in Union (who may or may not have finally broken their ties with Neil "Alligators" Lovatt) have decided to mark this momentous milestone by commissioning another of their comical propaganda polls, and in fairness to them have somehow succeeded once again in persuading a number of mainstream media outlets to regurgitate their press release about it almost word for word - although that says rather more about the publications concerned than about Scotland in Union's public relations skills.

The basic tactic in these propaganda polls is to ask a question that is not about independence and then to convince the media to earnestly report the results as if they were taken from a genuine independence poll - and to that extent the deception seems to work all too easily.  The Herald, for example, are reporting that the poll shows "41% of those surveyed supporting independence" - which is categorically an untrue statement.  Respondents were asked whether they wanted Scotland to "remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom", and the 41% figure actually refers to those who wanted to "leave the United Kingdom".  We have no idea whether those people wanted to leave the United Kingdom in order to become an independent country, or to become part of another existing state, or to become a crown dependency like Guernsey, or to become a freely associated state like the Cook Islands.  It is, in a nutshell, a dud question, and the results tell us absolutely nothing whatsoever about levels of support for independence.

And in fact there's an even greater problem than the fact that the question doesn't actually ask about independence.  There's also a very severe risk of accidental confusion, because the terms "Remain" and "Leave" have become so synonymous with the Brexit debate that many respondents may have taken only a cursory look at the question and assumed they were being asked whether they wanted to remain in the European Union.  (Although maybe I'm being too generous when I say "accidental confusion" - it might have been exactly what Scotland in Union were hoping would happen when they framed the question in that way.)  I also think there's a degree of uncertainty about whether voters actually understand what "the United Kingdom" is.  It's quite possible that some respondents may have assumed that "remaining in the United Kingdom" refers to the retention of the monarchy, and that they would have answered the question completely differently if they had been aware that it's possible to leave the United Kingdom and still have the Queen as Head of State.

All in all, then, the results of this poll are essentially worthless apart from the trend since the last comparable poll, and what that tells us about the declining enthusiasm in Scotland for Our Precious Union.  It's very much in line with recent polls from other firms in showing that support for the Union has dipped.

Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?

Remain: 59% (-2)
Leave: 41% (+2)

It's also in line with other recent polls in showing a sharp increase in support for the holding of a second independence referendum - although that's obviously not the impression you'll get from reading the lightly rewritten Scotland in Union propaganda press release in the newspapers.  A grand total of 63% of respondents now want a second indyref, up six points from 57% in the last comparable poll in April.  Only 28% of respondents are opposed to a referendum, down six points from April.  In terms of timing, 42% want the referendum to take place within the next five years, up a dramatic eleven points on the 31% recorded in the April poll.  And 27% want it within the next eighteen months - almost identical to the number who don't want a referendum at all.

Some unionist politicians are beside themselves with excitement at the starkness of the difference between the results of genuine independence polls and these Remain/Leave polls, and clearly think that all they need to do to win next time is to rig the referendum question.  But they're barking up the wrong tree.  Above all else, the Electoral Commission seek in their research to avoid unclear or confusing questions, and for the reasons given earlier in this blogpost, there are at least three very obvious ways in which a Remain/Leave question would be unclear or confusing.  And the irony is that even if the Electoral Commission could somehow be coaxed into endorsing such a question, it probably wouldn't even make the difference to the final result that unionists expect.  Past history shows that the effect of different question wordings diminish as a campaign progresses, because voters become better educated about what they are being asked.

Final thought: why on earth didn't the Yes side commission their own propaganda polling to mark the anniversary?  Maybe something like "Should Scotland be a country?" or "Should Scotland be a country in the European Union?"  I think we can guess what the outcome would have been...

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

How the unionists' secret weapon may blow up in their faces

As regular readers know, I think one of the very few potential clouds on the horizon for the SNP at the moment is the Swinson Factor.  We know from past history that London parties often fare better in Scotland when they're led by a Scottish MP, and indeed there's already evidence in a new YouGov poll that Jo Swinson may be more popular in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK - or perhaps a more accurate way of putting it is that she's less unpopular here than elsewhere.  Across Britain she's rated favourably by 26% of respondents and unfavourably by 38%, whereas in the Scottish subsample it's a tie of 29% apiece.  Scotland is the only part of Britain where she's not firmly in negative territory.

And yet so far there's no sign of the SNP taking a hit.  That might yet happen if there's some sort of Cleggasm-style bandwagon effect during the election campaign, but on the other hand it might not.  I have a sneaking suspicion that what might insulate the SNP from the Swinson Factor is what is sometimes called "the Ulsterisation of Scottish politics" - a term that, according to a recent article by Stephen Daisley, was coined by his one-time protégé Aidan Kerr.  That's a richly ironic origin, given that few people have done more to entrench the Ulsterisation than Kerr himself during his time as a Scottish Labour propagandist.  In the overall scheme of things, it's not that long ago that people who were sympathetic to Scottish independence saw no contradiction in voting Labour or Liberal Democrat, but those days are well and truly over thanks to the near-sectarian attitude of the likes of Kerr.

The way that Ulster politics works is that unionist voters almost always vote for unionist parties, regardless of whether there's a politician or policy they like on the nationalist side of the divide.  And, of course, vice versa - nationalists don't vote for unionist parties.  By taking such an extreme stance on an independence referendum (ie. that they will block it even if there's a clear mandate for it), the Lib Dems may have disqualified themselves in the minds of Yes voters as thoroughly as the DUP have disqualified themselves in the minds of Irish nationalist voters.  Which means that any extra votes that the Lib Dems take in Scotland thanks to the Swinson Factor may well come disproportionately from other unionist parties - and under a first-past-the-post voting system the main beneficiaries of that would, ironically, be the SNP.  Most seats are either SNP-Labour or SNP-Tory battles, and if the Lib Dems start taking votes away from Labour and the Tories in those seats, it's bound to make it somewhat easier for the SNP to win.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Liberal Democrat FAQ on how liberal democracy works

Q. Is the No vote in the 2014 independence referendum the final say on the matter?

A. Absolutely.  You're not allowed to change your mind.  Not ever.  That's it.  Even if you were too young to vote.  Your elders decided for you.  Accept it.

Q. Is the Leave vote in the 2016 EU referendum the final say on the matter?

A. God, no.

Q. Should the Leave vote in the 2016 EU referendum at least be implemented before being revisited?

A. No, it shouldn't even be implemented.

Q. Would it have been OK not to even implement the result of the 2014 independence referendum?

A. No, ignoring the result of the indyref would have been a democratic outrage.

Q. In that case, isn't ignoring the result of the 2016 EU referendum a democratic outrage as well?

A. No.  The British people have had plenty of time to change their minds since 2016 and they have every right to do so.

Q. Haven't the Scottish people had even more time to change their minds since 2014?  Don't they have every right to do so?

A. No.  The Scottish people spoke in 2014 and that's it forever.  See above.

Q. Doesn't this suggest that the British people have more democratic rights than the Scottish people?

A. Look, we need tactical votes from Tory supporters in Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire, so if you're trying to get any consistency out of us you're wasting your time.

Q. Should a referendum be required to overturn the result of another referendum?

A.  Nope, no need for that.  An election victory would be enough.  (As long as it's the EU referendum result we're overturning, not the indyref result.)

Q.  But you could win an election on as little as 35% of the vote?

A.  So what?

Q.  Well, aren't you supposed to believe in proportional representation?  How can 35% of the vote possibly be sufficient to overturn a 52% Leave vote?

A.  We didn't choose the electoral system, but we have to accept the results it produces.

Q.  Don't you therefore have to accept the results the electoral system produces when it gives the SNP a majority of Scottish seats?

A.  No, in that particular case the result produced by the electoral system isn't what's important.  The SNP only got 37% of the vote - that's what counts.

Q. Doesn't it therefore follow that you'd have to accept the pro-independence parties' mandate to hold a second indyref when they win an impeccable mandate under the proportional representation voting system for Scottish Parliament elections?

A. No.  The Scottish people spoke in 2014 and aren't allowed any further say.  See above.

Q.  Aren't you complete hypocrites for saying that you can overturn an entire referendum result on 35% of the vote, but that 51% of the vote wouldn't be enough for the SNP and the Greens to simply hold another referendum?

A. We've already said you shouldn't expect consistency from us.  Weren't you listening?

Q. Why did the Liberal Democrats propose an in/out referendum on EU membership, years before David Cameron did, if you didn't think the result of such a referendum needed to be honoured?

A.  God, did we actually do that?  What are we like, eh?

Q. Did you enjoy serving in government with Iain Duncan Smith?  Any favourite IDS anecdotes?

A. No comment.

Friday, September 13, 2019

SNP break through 50% barrier in sparkling subsample from YouGov

The Scottish subsample in the latest GB-wide YouGov poll is worthy of note, because it's the first time that I can remember for a very long time that the SNP have been above 50% in a YouGov subsample.

SNP 52%, Conservatives 19%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Labour 8%, Brexit Party 7%, Greens 3%

Of course it's extremely unlikely that the SNP are really on 52%.  Assuming that YouGov still structure their Scottish subsamples correctly, the margin of error would be in the region of 8%, so the true vote share for the SNP could easily be something like 44% - a much more plausible figure.  But nevertheless the SNP wouldn't be getting results like this, even as a freakish one-off, unless their vote was holding up exceptionally well.  They'll take particular heart from the underwhelming showing for the Lib Dems and the disastrous showing for Labour.  There's no scenario in which the wheels can truly come off for the SNP (by which I mean that they would do worse than 2017 and fail to take a majority of Scottish seats) without there being a pro-Labour swing.  As things stand, it looks like Labour are going to have to make up huge ground over the course of the campaign just to get anywhere close to being back to where they were two years ago.  Nothing is impossible, but it seems pretty unlikely that the SNP will be losing any seats to Labour this time.  Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are polling lower in Scotland than in any other part of GB, in spite of having a shiny new Scottish leader.

*  *  *

You may have seen the comments by Tory rebel Oliver Letwin suggesting that there is now a majority in the Commons for holding a second EU referendum before the general election, which he thinks could be delayed until next year.  I'd suggest this should be taken with a pinch of salt, because we've heard confident claims many times in the past about the inevitability of a second referendum, but whenever it's been put to the test parliament has voted against the idea.  One major obstacle is surely that the Labour leadership want any referendum to take place after the election.

But let's suppose for the sake of argument that Letwin is right and that a Referendum Bill is passed in this current parliament.  What does Boris Johnson do then?  He can't strike legislation down by decree, but by the same token it would be unthinkable for him to allow the 31st October deadline to pass and a second referendum to take place on his watch.  That would be a humiliation that would surely finish him as leader of the Tory party.  Which leads me to an inescapable conclusion: he would preempt matters by submitting his resignation as Prime Minister.

And then what?  One of the stupid things about the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is that the resignation of a Prime Minister or government does not in itself set in train the 14-day deadline by which parliament will be dissolved unless an alternative government can win a confidence vote.  A dissolution can only occur if MPs vote to bring it about by one of two specific mechanisms.  If they choose not to do that, the current parliament continues and there has to be some sort of government.  By convention, the Queen is supposed to appoint a Prime Minister who can command a majority in the Commons, but even if no such person exists, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would effectively force her to appoint somebody anyway - she wouldn't be able to do the sensible thing and simply dissolve parliament with a view to finding a PM with a clear mandate.  If the Tory leadership have vacated the pitch, and if the Labour leadership continue to show no interest in Jo Swinson's ideas for a compromise PM, the Queen would presumably have to appoint the available person who is closer than any other to enjoying the confidence of the Commons, and that person would be Jeremy Corbyn.

So that might well be the last-ditch plan to overturn any Referendum Act that is passed.  Boris Johnson resigns, allows Jeremy Corbyn to become PM for a few days, and then seeks to bring him down by simple majority in a confidence vote - which would start the clock ticking for a general election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.  The Tories would then stand on a platform of scrapping plans for a second referendum.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

No, of course today's legal ruling isn't bad news for independence. Don't be silly.

I'm rather bemused to see a certain pro-independence website claim today that SNP politicians should never have taken legal action to challenge prorogation, because that supposedly harms the cause of independence.  This seems to be part of a thinly-disguised but none-too-subtle daily campaign to chip away at faith in the SNP: "The current pro-independence party isn't fit for purpose, so what on earth are we going to do about that, readers?  I'm blowed if I know.  What big teeth you've got, grandmother!"

I'm not a great believer in the scorched earth theory of politics, ie. the idea that if you actively contribute to making post-Brexit Britain a wasteland, independence will become inevitable.  There are two obvious flaws in that theory: 1) voters are likely to spot what you're doing, will probably think it's a touch irresponsible, and will be turned off from your political project as a result, and 2) whenever an indyref is held, the result is likely to be close, and none of us can guarantee that we won't actually end up living in that Brexit wasteland for an indefinite period.  I know the website in question takes the 'win or bust' approach to politics, but I don't subscribe to that either - responsible politicians always have to think about how we'd live to fight another day if Plan A doesn't work out.

In any case, the logic for believing that the ruling of the Court of Session makes independence less likely is thoroughly unsound.  The jury is out on whether this will give the impression that Scotland does after all "have influence in the UK", because that entirely depends on the view the UK Supreme Court takes on appeal.  I'd have thought it's pretty likely that the UK government's appeal will be upheld.  (Joanna Cherry takes the opposite view, but of course it's sensible for her to be as upbeat as possible to create a sense of momentum.)  I can't think of a better demonstration that Scotland is not an equal and influential partner in the Union than for the Supreme Court to strike down a ruling by an uppity Court of Session.

In the unlikely event that the Supreme Court upholds today's ruling and prorogation is nullified, I'm struggling to see how that would make Brexit - and thus the casus belli for Indyref 2 - any less likely to happen.  The whole point of prorogation was to prevent the opposition and Tory rebels passing a law designed to stop No Deal on 31st October, and that's already happened anyway.  I suppose it's possible that a sitting parliament might find it easier to force the publication of sensitive documents, or to give Jeremy Corbyn more flexibility in his options for seeking to bring the government down.  But that's all highly speculative.  My guess is that the overturning of prorogation would have huge symbolic significance, and huge long-term significance for UK constitutional law, but relatively limited practical significance in the here and now.

Lastly, the website claims it would be "astonishing" if a non-prorogued parliament actually chose to sit during the party conference season.  Astonishing or not, I'm extremely confident that's exactly what it would do in the light of the current crisis.  I don't think the conferences would necessarily be cancelled - MPs would just juggle them as best they could.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The next indyref question will not be Remain/Leave, because that would be based on a false premise

So our old friend "TSE", Deputy Editor of Stormfront Lite and the man who famously once made up a story about a family tragedy to avoid settling a private bet, thinks he's had another wizard idea.

"Perhaps this explains why Yes did so well in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. In any future Independence referendum the Unionists should ensure the question on the ballot paper is ‘Should Scotland remain a member of the United Kingdom?’ Yes or No."

It's no secret that some unionists are angling for something like that to happen, and Stephen Daisley has already gone into propagandist mode by taking it as read that their scheme will succeed - in his articles he casually refers to the No side in any future indyref as "the Remain side".  But to some extent they're whistling in the wind.  Whatever doubts there may be about the impartiality of the Electoral Commission (and for the first time I'm starting to share those doubts), the chances that a question based on a false premise will be endorsed are vanishingly small, and TSE's preferred question is undoubtedly based on a false premise. 

Scotland is not a "member" of the United Kingdom.  That is not a matter of interpretation, it's a matter of fact.  The UK is not an organisation with members in the way that the European Union is.  Notwithstanding devolution, the UK is a unitary state and the territory of Scotland is simply a part of it.  You cannot rescind membership that does not exist.

OK, you might say, surely TSE's question would work with a slight modification?  How about...

"Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom?  Yes or No."

Nope, that doesn't work either, because it doesn't tell you anything about what will happen if and when Scotland ceases to be part of the United Kingdom.  Does it become part of another existing state?  Does it become a Crown Dependency outside the UK like Guernsey?  Does it become a freely associated state like the Cook Islands?  Or does it become an independent country?  It's not clear from the question, and the one thing the Electoral Commission are bound to insist on is clarity.  Frustrating as it may be for the Daisleys of this world, a referendum question about independence will self-evidently have to actually mention the word 'independence' or 'independent'.

Which takes us back to the 2014 question - "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  Short, succinct, crystal-clear and understood by all.  The Electoral Commission suggested it for a very good reason, and they're going to need to dream up a very good excuse if they intend to muck about it with it.

YouGov poll shows support for holding an independence referendum has soared

So this is a sort of request post - a couple of people asked me to write about a detail in last week's full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov that perhaps didn't receive due attention.

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: 45% (+3)
Should not be a referendum: 44% (-4)

The choice of question may seem a tad odd given that the Scottish government are proposing to hold a referendum a lot earlier than five years from now, but the wording was used to maintain consistency with the question that's been asked for a couple of years.  That means we can make a direct comparison with previous results, and I've commented a number of times before on the odd results this question has tended to produced.  Even when Panelbase were suggesting the public were split right down the middle on whether there should be a referendum in as little as two years, the YouGov question was stubbornly producing a solid majority against a referendum within the next five years.  It wasn't immediately clear why that was happening, as the YouGov question isn't in any way leading, so the diverging results could only have been a 'house effect' caused by the composition of YouGov's panel, or by their sampling, or by their weightings.

But whatever the reason, the fact that there is now a slim pro-referendum majority (once Don't Knows are excluded) must be seen as highly significant.  According to the What Scotland Thinks archives, this is the sixth time the question has been asked since April 2017, and on four of the five previous occasions 51% or more of respondents were opposed to a referendum.  The narrowing of the anti-referendum lead to just six points in the last YouGov poll looked dramatic enough, but now that it's been wiped out completely, the question arises as to whether other polling firms that have previously shown an even division in public opinion would show a decisive pro-referendum majority if they released a poll now.  It doesn't necessarily work that way, but it's a logical possibility.

Of course the main independence question in the new YouGov poll showed a no change position - it was 49% Yes in the spring, and it's 49% Yes now.  I saw a few silly suggestions from unionist commentators (taking their cue from Willie Rennie) that this was a sign that Scottish voters are shying away from independence due to the current demonstration of the chaos caused by a constitutional upheaval.  The reality is that as the Brexit crisis deepened earlier this year, the Yes vote in YouGov polling jumped to an unusually high 49% - in recent years the normal range in YouGov polls has been between 43% and 45%.  And that 49% has been maintained in the new poll - the new converts to Yes don't seem to be developing cold feet.  The most that can be said is that Scots perhaps didn't find Brexit under Theresa May any more palatable a prospect than Brexit under Boris Johnson.  But the changes on the 'do you want a referendum?' question suggest that there may indeed have been post-Boris movements in public opinion beneath the surface that haven't fed through to the main independence question yet.  Sometimes supplementary questions do give you a better guide than voting intention questions (for example leadership ratings are sometimes better predictors of election results than standard party political polling).

Regardless of the majority in favour of a referendum, it's still not clear how a referendum will actually come about.  Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the obvious, so I don't think we should totally exclude the possibility that the SNP will secure the balance of power at the forthcoming general election, and will be able to win the concession of a Section 30 order as part of a deal to install a Labour-led government.  In the past, journalists have tended to assume that the SNP would have no real leverage in that scenario because they'd know they would pay too high a penalty for doing anything that might return the Tories to power.  But the electoral threat from Scottish Labour may now have receded to the point where the SNP won't feel they have much to lose from playing hardball with Labour in post-election negotiations.  And I'd suggest any future Section 30 order should permanently transfer the power to hold a referendum, rather than just for a time-limited period.

*  *  *

John Bercow's last stand against "not a usual" prorogation a couple of hours ago is surely destined to become the stuff of political folklore, but we're also seemingly heading towards something else that is highly unusual: a general election in November.  Since 1979, the practice has always been to hold elections somewhere between April and June, presumably to take advantage of longer days and better weather.  Snow isn't totally unheard of in November, and given this country's inability to cope with unusual weather, that could cause chaos.  For example, if an independence referendum had been held on St Andrew's Day 2010 as the SNP government had originally wished, it would have taken place on a day of heavy snow and severe traffic disruption.  The credibility of the result would probably have been called into question.

*  *  *

As expected, Stuart Campbell has topped off several days of abusive behaviour directed at this blog by blocking me on Twitter - which means I am now automatically on the notorious 'block-list' that he tries to persuade all his followers to use.  So please be aware of that if you're one of my followers on Twitter and if you wish to continue following me - using the block-list will lead to you blocking me without realising it (along with, I believe, another couple of thousand accounts, including some very surprising names that no indy supporter would want to block without good reason).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

It's unthinkable for any progressive party not to allow its members to elect the leader

There's just been a fascinating development in the Wings party saga.  Somebody asked Stuart Campbell whether it was true that he planned to have no involvement with the party (ie. he would be merely lending the Wings 'brand' to a group of candidates), and this was his reply -

"I'd have to be the leader, it's my party. As for being a candidate, not decided."

Remember the criticisms that were made of the Brexit Party when it was set up?  That Nigel Farage 'owned' the party in the same way that he might own a business?  That he had set himself up as leader-for-life and that there were literally no democratic means by which the members could ever replace him?  And indeed that there were no members at all, merely a fan club of 'supporters'?  And that the supporters had no say over policy, which was instead solely decided by one man?

It's surely unthinkable that any progressive, left-of-centre independence supporter would intentionally want to sign up to a party organised along those lines, but that appears to be exactly what Stuart is suggesting - he clearly sees the party as his own personal possession and will appoint himself leader for an indefinite period.  It's murderously hard to imagine the party having proper members with a democratic say over policy if they are to have no democratic say over who is leader.

Many potential Wings supporters are rightly concerned about the SNP's cautious managerialism and stifling of debate at conference.  But for my money they'll rue the day they swap all of that for the Il Duce principle.

The SNP may be largely insulated from the effects of a Tory/Brexit Party pact

Today brings the first dark whispers about the possibility of a Tory/Brexit Party electoral pact at the general election.  Would that change the equation?  Of course it would.  Until now nobody had seriously factored that possibility in, because until now it seemed utterly unthinkable.  But Dominic Cummings is a revolutionary at the heart of government, and he's attempting two simultaneous revolutions - most obviously he wants a Hard Brexit before the end of this year, but he also wants to remake the Conservative party as a populist, hard-right outfit, completely purged of its pro-European and "One Nation" (I use the term loosely) elements.  A party with Philip Hammond and Dominic Grieve in it was never going to climb into bed with Nigel Farage, but a party without them just might.  I think a huge amount is going to hinge on whether the calls to restore the Tory whip to the rebels become irresistible.  If Johnson rides it out, then the Tory internal revolution may be complete.  (The other news today that the Tories are planning to put up a candidate against John Bercow in Buckingham is another sign of the way the wind is blowing - that would also have been unthinkable before Cummings came on the scene.)

Now for the good news.  As you know, there was a YouGov poll the other day conducted exclusively in the constituencies currently held by the Scottish Conservatives, which suggested a complete Tory wipeout north of the border.  And, reassuringly, in the case of most of those projected SNP gains, a split in the pro-Brexit vote was not the decisive factor.  The Brexit Party recorded just 5% of the vote across all of the Tory seats, and if that vote was added to the Tory share, it would help the Tories rescue just two seats - Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale, and Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk.  There would also be a third seat, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, that would become a virtual dead heat.  But the SNP would still be firmly on course to gain the other ten Tory seats, which is scarcely bad going in the circumstances.

We know there's a potential pro-Brexit vote in Scotland of up to 38%, but that's not to say all of those voters are going to buy into an extreme, Faragist version of Brexit.  It looks like the Tories will require more than a pact with the Brexit Party to hold the bulk of their Scottish seats - they'll have to reach out to more moderate centre-right voters.  And, paradoxically, a pact with the Brexit Party and the whole Cummings Revolution that made a pact possible, is likely to drive those moderate voters away to the Lib Dems or in some cases even the SNP itself.

However, at UK level a united Leave vote up against a hopelessly divided Remain vote is obviously a recipe for a Hard Brexit government after the election.  I wonder if this might concentrate minds to such an extent that other previously unthinkable things start to be seriously considered - such as a Labour/Lib Dem pact, of either a formal or informal variety.

*  *  *

Scot Goes Pop link list:  Thank you for all the excellent nominations for the link list.  So far I've added Talking Up Scotland Two (by the legendary Professor John Robertson), Councillor Dick Cole (by the leader of Mebyon Kernow, no less) and Don Roberto and Me.  It looks like the latter isn't updated very frequently, but it's a highly intelligent blog, and who can resist learning more about the mysterious and fascinating Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, upon whose shoulders we all stand?  I'll probably be adding more blogs in coming days.  I tried to add Arc of Prosperity, but the feed couldn't be detected.

UPDATE : With a little help from Elisabeth, I've now located the Arc of Prosperity feed, so that's been added as well.  I'm still mulling over what might be the best Welsh blogs to add.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The SNP may be right to ca' canny on bringing about a general election, if only for a very short while

So are the SNP doing the right thing by not facilitating a general election on the earliest possible date?  I think some of the criticisms of the decision are a bit silly.  First of all, it's as close to being certain as it can possibly be that there's going to be an election anyway before the end of this calendar year, so the decision is really over the when rather than the whether.  And OK, just because Boris Johnson thinks a mid-October election is in his interests, and just because the opposition parties think a slightly later election would be in their own interests, it doesn't necessarily follow that both sides have calculated correctly.  Like the French Revolution, it's too early to tell, but unlike the French Revolution, we won't have to wait long to find out.  But it can't be denied that the opposition's logic seems plausible enough - if Johnson fails to take Britain out of the EU on Halloween as he has promised to, "do or die", then it'll be hard for the Brexit Party to resist putting up a full slate of candidates, and it seems likely that the Tories will be heavily hit as a result.  A split pro-Brexit vote would benefit the SNP in Tory-held seats in north-east Scotland as much as it would benefit Labour and the Lib Dems south of the border.

Then there's the argument that it's not the SNP's business to block the democratic will of the people of England and Wales to leave the European Union.  I think that has some merit, but it's also a bird that has well and truly flown.  The time to choose that approach was in 2016 or 2017, and for better or worse the SNP are now fully committed to the twin-track strategy of trying to stop Brexit for the whole of the UK while simultaneously pushing for an independence referendum.  It's pretty much impossible to turn back, and in any case the leadership are entitled to point out that the selected strategy appears to have borne fruit in opinion polls.  It should also be remembered that a 'facilitate Brexit but only for England and Wales' stance would only have been much use if there had been a Westminster government open to making concessions in return for SNP cooperation, and that was never the case.

I suppose the pessimistic side of me does worry about passing up a chance to seize the moment when the stars seem so perfectly aligned for an SNP landslide victory right now, but the reality is that a month-long campaign would have been plenty of time for everything to fall apart if that's what is destined to happen.  We know from a number of recent elections that public opinion can remain stable until the official campaign begins, but from that point onwards all bets are off.

Perhaps the biggest gamble that the SNP and other opposition parties are taking is in assuming that a later election will take place with Britain still being a member of the European Union.  If Johnson, even as a lame duck PM, comes up with some sleight of hand to engineer a No Deal exit against parliament's wishes, or indeed if EU leaders like Macron hand him that outcome on a plate, the result of a post-No Deal general election will be impossible to predict.  The only way of avoiding that leap in the dark is to replace the Johnson government with an emergency administration - but the obstacle to that is Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems, not the SNP.

Last but not least, the SNP don't actually have the numbers to bring about a mid-October election without Labour assistance, so from both a practical and presentational point of view, there was very little point in them being seen to try and fail to give Johnson the date he wants.

*  *  *

I was profoundly shocked to hear BBC News mislead their viewers last night by claiming that new Lib Dem recruit Luciana Berger had previously been sitting with the Independent Group for Change.  In fact, although Ms Berger was a member of the Independent Group, which subsequently changed its name to Change UK, she left before it changed its name again to the Independent Group for Change.  She was thereafter a member of The Independents, not of the Independent Group for Change.

Change UK: making Judean liberation splinter groups look united since February 2019.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Carlaw is crestfallen as YouGov polling suggests the Scottish Tories are heading for a COMPLETE WIPEOUT

It's very early days with this, because I'm not sure if this is just a subset of wider GB polling, and therefore I don't know if the sample size is credible.  But there appears to be a YouGov poll confined to the seats currently held by the Scottish Tories, producing the following results...

Voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov, respondents in Scottish Conservative-held constituencies only):

SNP 42%
Conservatives 30%
Liberal Democrats 12%
Labour 7%
Brexit Party 5%

On a uniform swing, that would mean the Tories being wiped out completely in Scotland, although the seats currently held by John Lamont and David Mundell would be virtual dead heats.

Does this contradict this week's full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov suggesting the Tories would, on a uniform swing, cling on to three seats?  Not necessarily.  The Tories outperformed their 2017 national result in the seats they gained, so it's entirely conceivable the pendulum could swing back the other way and they could underperform their national result in those seats this time.  The Lib Dem vote also looks relatively modest considering we're talking mostly about rural seats, so perhaps some Lib Dem supporters are willing to vote tactically for the SNP to get the Tories out.

If I was a betting man, though, I'd still say the SNP have a mountain to climb in the two Borders seats.  Everywhere else the prospects are reasonably rosy.

The road to independence does not run down a Trumpian rabbit-hole

Well, budding politician Stuart Campbell has now declared all-out war on this blog on social media - he's just launched a barrage of his trademark invective and abuse, including calling me a "c**t" on two separate occasions.  It's blindingly obvious this is simply because he can't tolerate any dissent, however politely expressed, against his foolish plans to launch his own pro-independence party in competition with the SNP.  For full disclosure, though, I should tell you he's claiming that's not the reason - he's insisting that the real explanation for choosing this remarkably convenient moment to suddenly decide that I'm a "c**t" is because I got one of his friends "banned" from Twitter, which he says is the most "despicable" thing he's seen recently.  (The friend in question, who I reported because he also called me a "c**t" three times, is in fact only suspended from Twitter for seven days - a mild slap on the wrists that Stuart is trying with a straight face to pretend is akin to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.)

It's no secret that Stuart regularly lets himself down on social media - we've all seen it.  But I think it's only really when you're directly on the receiving end of the abuse that you realise just how impossible it's going to be for this man to successfully launch a political career.  An ordinary citizen, even a very high-profile blogger, can get away with things that the leader of a political party (and an aspirant Deputy First Minister, perhaps?) simply cannot.  All that a half-competent journalist will have to do to discredit the Wings party in the eyes of voters is to read through Stuart's colourful tweet history...and it'll just go on and on and on.  The only way that such a party could ever achieve a respectable vote would be on a sort of "Trumpian" basis, ie. by attracting voters who are indiscriminately angry at the world and want to find an abusive politician to vocalise that indiscriminate anger.  I don't think any sensible person in the Yes movement should be following Stuart down that rabbit-hole.

Another more prosaic point that I don't think has received sufficient attention yet is that most political parties impose 'exclusivity' rules on their members.  You might recall that in the aftermath of the indyref, many people tried to join both the SNP and Greens simultaneously, and had to be gently reminded that's against the rules.  It's usually against the rules to even give active support to another party.  I've already seen actual office bearers of the SNP at branch level expressing enthusiasm for the Wings party, and I'm not sure the penny has quite dropped for them yet that they could be making their own positions untenable in the long run.  Does it matter if Wings supporters end up outside the SNP?  I think it does, because the legitimate views held by Wings supporters (such as the desire for more urgency on independence, and gender critical views) need to be heard and fought for inside the SNP.  If you want to end up with a careerist, devolutionist SNP government for the next twenty years, then the division caused by a Wings party could be the right way of going about it.

I know Wings supporters will respond to this post by saying "oooh, this is so booooring, James, give it a rest" (and I know they'll say that because I've heard little else for the last 24 hours).  Stuart himself, while he was still engaging with me semi-politely, innocently protested that he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, because he wouldn't go ahead with the party if polling shows it won't get enough votes to win a significant number of seats.  But the drumbeat of war emanating from both Wings the site and Wings the Twitter account is unmistakable, and I'll be honest with you - my very strong suspicion is that Stuart will at some point publish highly misleading Archie Stirling-style polling which will whip his supporters into an even greater frenzy and make the momentum towards a new party unstoppable.  And then when the true picture of support for the party is revealed, it'll be far too late to halt the damage.

Incidentally, please note that if Stuart blocks me on Twitter (he may already have done that by now for all I know) I'll automatically go on his notorious "block-list" which he urges all his followers to use - something I can honestly say I never supported even when I was on good terms with him.  So be aware that if you use the block list, you could well be blocking me without even realising it, along with the countless other good pro-indy people who Stuart has had random fallings-out with over the years.  (The last time I checked, the likes of Kirsten Innes and Maurice Smith were on the list, which seems absolutely insane.)

*  *  *

And yes, before anyone says it, I know there are far more important things happening in politics this week of all weeks, and I'll be posting about some of those later tonight.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Nominations please for the Scot Goes Pop link list

As you'll have seen in the previous post, I had to make a deletion (with considerable regret) from this blog's link list yesterday, and I noticed while I was doing it that the list was getting way out of date - some of the sites on it, like A Burdz Eye View, for example, haven't been updated for years.  So it's time for a refresh, and I thought I'd ask for your suggestions.  I'd be keen to have a few more of the following...

High quality Scottish pro-independence blogs, ideally ones that are regularly updated

Maybe two or three high-quality pro-Plaid and/or pro-independence blogs from Wales

Maybe a pro-Mebyon Kernow or pro-autonomy blog from Cornwall

If you'd like me to link to your own site, I'm happy to consider that as long you add a reciprocal link, and as long as your site is good quality and doesn't contain any inappropriate content.

By the way, I know everyone's first suggestion will be Wee Ginger Dug, and I'd love to add that but I seem to run into a technical problem every time I do.  I've just tried it again and a gigantic photo appeared taking up half the screen.  The reason is that the blog list settings add a little snippet from the most recent post in each blog.

It goes without saying that I'd be only too happy to restore a reciprocal link to Wings at any time Stuart chooses, but it does take two to tango and at the moment he appears highly unlikely to have a change of heart.


You'll be pleased to see that I haven't been allowing the worst political crisis since the Second World War to get in the way of recreational pursuits.  That was taken a few hours ago - can anyone guess the mystery location?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A note on this blog's relationship with Wings Over Scotland

I noticed earlier this afternoon that Stuart Campbell has removed Scot Goes Pop from the links list on Wings.  It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is an act of symbolic retaliation for the scepticism I've shown towards the idea of a Wings political party.  For obvious reasons, I've now removed Wings from the link list on the desktop version of this site, after what I think must be around seven years or so.  I'm sure that won't make a huge amount of difference to Stuart, but as a matter of principle I obviously don't want traffic to flow in one direction if a conscious decision has been taken to stop it flowing in the other direction.

I want to make clear that - at least as far as I'm concerned - this doesn't need to be, and shouldn't be, a new Berlin Wall in the Yes blogosphere.  There's always been a large amount of overlap between the readerships of the two sites, and I see no reason why that shouldn't continue to be the case.  Long-term readers will know that I've always been extremely supportive of Stuart, even when the self-appointed Yes establishment has been ranged against him.  I have a particularly vivid memory of vociferously defending him in a tense face-to-face meeting with Mike Small and Angela Haggerty in early 2017.  From Angela's reaction, I got the distinct impression that was the first time anyone had ever been brave enough to express some of those views to her in person, rather than on social media.  So it will hopefully be plain to any fair-minded reader that there is no personal agenda of any type behind the criticisms I've made of the Wings party proposal.  I've said that it's a foolish idea which risks costing us pro-indy seats at Holyrood for the simple reason that I genuinely believe that to be true.  I've been absolutely consistent on this issue over the years, and it's Stuart that has done the 180 degree turn.  I defy anyone to read his blogpost in 2016 stating that attempts to game the Holyrood voting system were a "mug's game", and then conclude that the views he expressed in it are remotely reconcilable with what he is saying now.  The impossibility of gaming the system hasn't changed over the last three years - all that's changed is that he now sees his own beliefs on the trans issue, rather than radical left people in RISE and the Greens, as being the beneficiary of any 'tactical voting'.

I think there ought to be room for honest disagreement between people who are basically allies.  Stuart appears to take a different view, and that's disappointing, but he'll have to make his own choices.  In the meantime, Scot Goes Pop will be going nowhere, and you can always rely on me to independently call things the way I see them, without fear or favour.

First post-Boris Scottish poll puts the SNP on course for dramatic gains from both the Tories and Labour

The wait is now over for the first full-scale poll of Scottish voting intentions since Boris Johnson entered Downing Street.  It's YouGov that have broken the duck, and the figures they've produced neatly prove the point I made a few days ago that you can get a reasonably good idea of the state of play simply by averaging several YouGov subsamples. The following is strikingly similar to the average I published...

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov):

SNP 43% (n/c)
Conservatives 20% (n/c)
Labour 15% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+3)
Brexit Party 6% (+2)
Greens 4% (+1)

The seats projection suggests the SNP would take 51 seats (up 16), the Liberal Democrats 4 seats (no change), the Conservatives 3 seats (down 10) and Labour 1 seat (down 6).

On the face of it, there may appear to have been no change in public opinion since Theresa May was in office.  However, the percentage changes listed above are from the last comparable poll in late April, when the Brexit Party surge hadn't quite reached its height yet.  The reason things looked so desperate for the Scottish Tories just before May's departure is that Farage had eaten directly into their support in a way that the SNP hadn't been able to.  It looks like the Boris effect has clawed back some of that ground, which is why the Tories are 'only' looking at ten losses, rather than eleven, twelve or the whole lot.  Perhaps they might still be able to limit their losses further, but for that to happen they're going to need to squeeze Brexit Party support some more (or hope that Farage doesn't put up candidates in selected seats) and they'll also need to hope that the SNP lose ground to Labour and/or the Liberal Democrats, possibly due to some sort of Swinson bandwagon effect over the course of the campaign.  But as things stand, the SNP are polling an impressive six points higher than the result they achieved in June 2017.

It has to be said that Scottish Labour appear to be staring down the barrel of a catastrophe, one that they might never recover from.  Yes, they made a mini-comeback after being reduced to one seat in 2015, but on that occasion they had a much healthier 24% of the popular vote to use as a base to rebuild from.  If they slump to anything like 15% of the vote, surely some of their remaining voters are going to start to wonder if the game is up this time.  But they turned things around over the course of the short campaign in 2017, so we certainly shouldn't exclude the possibility that they'll do the same again.  Their fate is probably in the hands of the London leadership - it's hard to imagine Richard Leonard spearheading much of a fightback.

There are also Holyrood voting intention numbers in the poll.  Oddly, the summaries that have appeared on social media provide the constituency percentages and an overall seat projection, but not the regional list percentages.  So until the datasets appear, we'll probably just have to surmise the list numbers from the seat projection.

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot):

SNP 45% (-1)
Conservatives 23% (+1)
Labour 13% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+5)
Brexit Party 3% (-1)
Greens 2% (-1)

Seat projection:

SNP 64
Conservatives 25
Liberal Democrats 15
Labour 12
Greens 10
Brexit Party 3

Pro-independence seats: 74
Anti-independence seats: 55

PRO-INDEPENDENCE MAJORITY OF 19 SEATS

This is a very timely illustration of the point I've been making about the proposed Wings party, ie. that it's intended as a solution to a problem that doesn't actually exist.  We have a pro-independence majority at the moment, and current polling suggests that we're on course to hold on to it - indeed that we could increase it substantially.  The one and only thing missing from the YouGov seat projection is an outright majority for the SNP - they fall short by just one seat, and of course the only way of squeezing out that extra required seat would be to vote SNP.  Voting for a smaller party wouldn't help.

I've been puzzled as to why Stuart Campbell is so convinced that the pro-indy majority is likely to be lost in 2021.  Having spoken to him, it seems to be partly due to a misunderstanding of how the voting system translates votes into seats - he believes that if pro-independence parties have less than 50% of the vote between them, they can't win a majority of seats unless there's some kind of gaming of the system.  That isn't true, and indeed you can see in this poll that there's a very comfortable pro-indy majority in spite of the fact that the SNP and Greens only have a combined 47% of the constituency vote.  Although AMS is a proportional voting system, it's far from being perfectly proportional, and if the SNP remain dominant in the constituencies, it's entirely possible that a handsome Yes majority can be won on less than 50% of the vote, without any gaming at all.

Stuart also appears to be concerned that the Alex Salmond trial may turn voting intentions upside down before the Holyrood election takes place.  All I can say is that there's lots of "what ifs" between now and May 2021, and the Salmond trial is only one of them.  The closest thing to a precedent is the Jeremy Thorpe trial in 1979, which did have a negative impact on Liberal support, but not as big an impact as had been feared.  And that was in spite of the fact that Thorpe was still actively involved in frontline Liberal politics in a way that Salmond is not currently involved in frontline SNP politics.  Incredible though it may seem, Thorpe's trial was postponed specifically so he could stand as an official Liberal candidate in the 1979 general election, a factor which must have pulled down the party's national support.  Mr Salmond, by contrast, is not currently even an SNP member, which may help to minimise any fallout.  But time will tell, and none of us have a crystal ball - not about the Alex Salmond trial, and not about the economic impact of Brexit, which is more likely to work in the SNP's favour.

You might remember that when the Ashcroft poll a few weeks ago showed a slim majority in favour of independence, I pointed out that there was no earlier Ashcroft poll to compare it to, and that we therefore didn't know whether there had been a very recent boost for Yes caused by the advent of Boris Johnson and the rising chances of No Deal, or whether regular polling by Ashcroft would have shown much the same picture during the closing months of Theresa May's tenure.  The new YouGov poll gives the impression that the latter is more likely to be true, because public opinion on independence appears to be unchanged since April.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (n/c)
No 51% (n/c)

In some ways that's a good thing, because it suggests the boost for Yes reported by Ashcroft isn't a transitory bounce caused by a new PM, but instead has been with us for months and has been sustained.  49% for Yes remains well above the 'normal range' of 43-45% that YouGov reported throughout 2017 and 2018.  As I always point out, Panelbase and YouGov are both on the No-friendly end of the spectrum, so if YouGov are showing 49%, it's perfectly possible that another pollster (like Ipsos-Mori or Survation) might show 51% or 52%.

At the end of the day, YouGov and Ashcroft are essentially reporting the same thing: that the public are split down the middle on independence, and that the race is a statistical tie, ie. it's impossible to know who is really ahead due to the margin of error.

They think it's all over for the government...and it almost is

As soon as I'd finished writing my blogpost last night, I thought I'd made a bit of a hostage to fortune by saying "the one thing we're sure of is that Boris Johnson will lose his majority today".  On reflection, I thought that surely the threat to withdraw the whip from Tory rebels on an industrial scale wouldn't really be carried out, because it would be such an unprecedented act of self-harm.  But amazingly it's happened, and among many others, the following people are no longer Tory MPs...

Ken Clarke: Longest serving member of the House of Commons, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, minister in the governments of Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron, candidate in multiple Conservative leadership elections

Philip Hammond: Chancellor of the Exchequer as recently as July

Rory Stewart: International Development Secretary as recently as July, one of Boris Johnson's fellow candidates in this summer's leadership election, pride of "The Middleland"

David Gauke: Justice Secretary as recently as July

Ed Vaizey: Culture Secretary for six years

Justine Greening: Education Secretary for two years

Dominic Grieve: Attorney-General for four years

Comparisons are being made with the nine 'whipless wonders' who John Major stripped the whip from after a Maastricht rebellion, but really there is no comparison at all: those were a collection of oddbods who (with the exception of Teddy Taylor) had never got anywhere near high office.  I can't believe the purpose of this draconian action was to produce a deterrent effect either before or after the event, because it must have been obvious that was never going to work.  So I suspect the rebellion tonight was used as a pretext for squaring a circle that I was never sure could be squared - ie. how could Boris Johnson fight an election on a No Deal platform with the likes of Dominic Grieve standing under Tory colours.  But if purifying the Tory candidate base was the real aim, that must mean that Johnson and Cummings have been committed to an autumn election for some time, because they've just moved past the point of no return.  No matter what happens in the votes tomorrow, the parliamentary arithmetic can quite simply no longer sustain a Tory government this side of an election.

Incidentally, it's not strictly true to say that the government have just lost their majority, because they've actually been a minority government since June 2017.  I've been as guilty of a loose use of language as anyone else.  A confidence and supply deal is not the same thing as a coalition - the DUP remained outside the government and were not committed to following the government whip on all votes.  But what was previously a minority government that commanded the confidence of the House is now clearly a very different beast.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Today is a crossroads in history

Welcome to the 3rd of September 2019, which as it happens is the 80th anniversary of Britain and France declaring war on Nazi Germany, but also seems certain to be remembered in its own right as one of the most important days in modern British political history, perhaps on a par with 28th March 1979 (when the Callaghan government was toppled in a no confidence vote), or 22nd November 1990 (when Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign).  What isn't yet clear is exactly how today will be important, but then if we knew what was going to happen in advance, it wouldn't be such a historical crossroads. 

It's possible, but unlikely, that the government's threats and browbeating may pay off, and that the Tory rebellion will be minimised to such an extent that a No Deal Brexit becomes virtually inevitable by the end of the day.  There would still be the opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn to table a motion of no confidence later in the week, but there's no reason to think that would succeed where the legislative path failed.

On the other hand, if the rebels succeed today, a pre-Brexit general election on 14th October will be on the cards, although not before another putting to the test of Mike Smithson's theory that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act makes early elections practically impossible.  If he's proved wrong about that twice in the space of two years, I'll try very hard not to laugh. 

Given that we don't know who would win a snap election, it's very difficult to assess the significance of one being called.  I'm unconvinced by the polls showing a handsome Tory lead - 30% of the vote is not usually a winning position, and it's only enough for a lead at the moment because of the strange way in which the opposition vote is split.  The electorate is more volatile than ever, and there'll be plenty of time during the campaign for the Remain vote to coalesce in a much more effective way.  In normal circumstances tactical voting websites have only a minimal effect, but I suspect this time a large fraction of the population will have one question on their minds: how do I cast my vote in this constituency to prevent No Deal?  Everything will be up for grabs once minds start to focus.

Only one thing seems reasonably sure: this is the day the Tory/DUP majority in the Commons will finally be wiped out.  If the government are true to their word, a large number of Tory MPs will lose the whip today, irrespective of whether the rebellion is large enough to actually win the vote.  Boris Johnson's democratic authority for holding the office he does, even over the few weeks needed to hold a general election, will instantly go from being tenuous to non-existent.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The SNP must make this an independence election

Just a quick blogpost, because the point I want to make can be expressed very simply.  If a snap general election is called this week, as now seems 70-80% probable, I hope the SNP will put independence at the front and centre of their campaign.  I don't mean that they should necessarily seek an outright mandate for independence this time, because of course the McEleny/MacNeil Plan B (which I strongly support) is about what we would do after a Section 30 request is formally rejected, and it looks like there won't be enough time for us to get to that point before a possible election in October.  But what we mustn't do is repeat the mistake of 2017, when we talked about an independence referendum before the campaign started, but then shut up about it during the campaign itself.  That was the worst of all worlds, because the "threat" of Indyref2 gave the unionist parties a target to aim at, while the failure to actively promote Indyref2 meant that independence supporters weren't motivated to go to the polls.  You might remember the post-election research (I think from Ipsos-Mori?) showing that much of the SNP's lost support did not go to the unionist parties - it was caused by abstention.

A full-blooded pro-independence campaign will ensure that committed Yessers do not sit this one out, and it will also mean that there'll be no alibi for the unionist parties if the SNP get a good result - they won't be able to say it wasn't really about independence.  Of course there's a danger it could go the other way if the SNP don't get a good result, but sometimes you have to take a calculated risk when circumstances look particularly favourable, and they certainly do right now.

*  *  *

My jaw dropped to the floor a couple of hours ago when I saw Gavin Barrie on Twitter claim that he had done modelling that showed the worst-case scenario if the Wings party goes ahead is that the SNP would lose two list seats and the Wings party would gain sixteen seats.  He also said that the best-case scenario is that the Wings party would take thirty-two seats, and that there is "no downside".

I'll save you the trouble of getting your calculator out.  There is no modelling that can prove that sixteen seats is the worst-case scenario, because that self-evidently isn't true.  The actual worst-case scenario (and also the most likely one) is that the Wings party will take no seats at all, which means that any votes it takes on the list will make it harder for the SNP (and indeed the Greens) to take list seats, and therefore easier for unionist parties to take list seats.  That's not necessarily to say that the Wings party would gift the unionist parties bonus seats, but there's a very real risk of that.  I gave a hypothetical example in the comments section the other week to illustrate how it could happen, and I'll repeat it here for anyone who missed it.

Scenario A (without Wings party):

Constituency vote -

SNP 37%
Conservatives 27%
Labour 24%
Liberal Democrats 9%

Regional list vote -

SNP 32%
Conservatives 25%
Labour 22%
Greens 8%
Liberal Democrats 5%
Brexit Party 4%

Seats -

SNP 54
Conservatives 33
Labour 28
Greens 9
Liberal Democrats 5

Pro-indy seats: 63
Anti-indy seats: 66

Scenario B (with Wings taking 3% of the list vote away from the SNP):

Constituency vote -

SNP 37%
Conservatives 27%
Labour 24%
Liberal Democrats 9%

Regional list vote -

SNP 29%
Conservatives 25%
Labour 22%
Greens 8%
Liberal Democrats 5%
Brexit Party 4%
Wings 3%

Seats -

SNP 52
Conservatives 34
Labour 29
Greens 9
Liberal Democrats 5

Pro-indy seats: 61
Anti-indy seats: 68

As you can see, with the Wings party intervention there are two more unionist seats than there otherwise would be, and the Tories and Labour are the beneficiaries.  That's just one example of the many that are possible, and it's what Nicola Sturgeon was getting at this morning when she said that people who tried to game the Holyrood voting system could end up achieving the exact opposite of what they wanted.  They'd think they were voting "tactically" to increase the number of pro-indy MSPs, but they could actually be reducing the number of pro-indy MSPs, and in the real worst-case scenario could even cost us the pro-indy majority.

Friday, August 30, 2019

BOMBSHELL POLLING ANALYSIS: Average of YouGov's Scottish subsamples since Boris Johnson became PM puts SNP on course for SEVENTEEN GAINS, and the Scottish Tories on course for ELEVEN LOSSES

The frustration continues: for some reason, we still haven't had a full-scale poll of Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (or indeed for Holyrood) since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.  The change at the top has altered the trajectory of GB-wide polling, so it seems likely that the same will prove true in Scotland, but to what extent?

It's high time that we had a look at the next best thing to a full-scale poll.  YouGov announced a few years ago that they were starting to correctly structure and weight their Scottish subsamples for GB-wide polls, and it looks pretty likely from the relative stability of their figures that they've continued to do that ever since.  That doesn't mean that an individual Scottish subsample from YouGov can be treated as the equivalent of a full-scale poll - the margin of error on a correctly structured subsample of 150 or 200 is still much higher than the margin of error on a full sample of 1000 or 2000.  But averaging the figures over time can give you more meaningful results, and we're now in a position to do that, because there have been eight published YouGov subsamples with fieldwork that took place entirely after Mr Johnson entered Number 10.

YouGov Scottish subsample average since 24th July:

SNP 44.4%
Conservatives 19.3%
Liberal Democrats 12.8%
Labour 11.4%
Brexit Party 7.0%
Greens 4.0%

Westminster seat projection:

SNP 52 (+17)
Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c)
Conservatives 2 (-11)
Labour 1 (-6)

We shouldn't forget that, although the Tories have opened up a GB-wide lead, they haven't recovered to anything like the kind of levels of support that they had even a few months ago - they're still languishing in the low 30s, which normally wouldn't be enough to top the popular vote in a general election.  They're leading by default because their main opponents are polling at an unusually low level too.  In Scotland, it looks like they're not being so fortunate - yes, they've recovered a bit due to the Boris effect, but that's not doing them much good because their main opponent actually appears to be polling higher than in 2017.

The SNP are so far standing firm in the face of both the 'Boris bounce' and the 'Swinson surge' (the latter being a largely mythical thing anyway - the Lib Dem recovery preceded the change of leader).  I thought the result of the East Kilbride by-election last night was really interesting - Labour's vote slumped by eleven points, and it looked possible that a lot of those votes might have gone direct to the Lib Dems, who enjoyed a ten point boost.  The SNP seemed unaffected by the Lib Dem surge, and saw their own vote increase by four points.

OK, that's only one by-election and there may well have been local factors.  But if the Lib Dems start taking significant numbers of unionist/Remain votes away from Labour in seats that the Lib Dems can't possibly win in a million years, and if there is no substantial movement of votes from the SNP to the Lib Dems, the stars might just be aligning for a dramatic SNP landslide in terms of seats.

And who knows what effect Ruth Davidson's resignation will have on the above figures - if there are any moderate Scottish Tory voters left, they might start drifting off to the Lib Dems or somewhere else.