A few hours ago, a reader of this blog alerted me to the standard reply ITV have been sending out in response to the avalanche of complaints they've been receiving about their proposal for a rigged leaders' debate featuring only two of the parties in this multi-party democracy. Pretty much everything in the reply seems calculated as a legalistic justification that they hope will prevent Ofcom and the courts ruling against them. By far the weakest point they make is that the two parties represented in the debate are the only parties that have supplied Prime Ministers since the Second World War. Frankly, I'm not sure the result of the 1951 general election should be considered terribly relevant in determining the line-up for a leaders' debate in 2019.
But this is the bit that really caught my eye -
"the two parties that were by far and away the two largest in the last Parliament...Parliament's official website gives the current state of parliamentary representation as; Conservatives 298, Labour 243, Liberal Democrats 20 (SNP 35)"
On what planet do you try to justify the exclusion of the third-largest party by reference to seat numbers, and then present those numbers in a format that implies that the fourth-largest party's 20 seats are somehow more important than the third-largest party's 35? I mean, just how seriously can we take ITV's commitment to the cold hard logic of arithmetic if they think 20 is a bigger number than 35 when it suits them? "Oh, those are only Jock seats, they don't really count! Just put them in brackets as an afterthought." If our country's future wasn't at stake, this would be hysterically funny - the broadcasters are so hopelessly caught in their Anglocentric trance that they honestly can't see how ridiculous they're making themselves look.
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Actually, there's been precious little comedy value in this election campaign so far, so thank heavens for Ian Smart's latest intervention. He's written a characteristically barking mad blogpost about Scottish Tory election chances that has somehow managed to receive no fewer than two glowing media endorsements - one from Katy Balls in the Spectator, and the other from Henry Hill in ConHome. Ian is of course chiefly known for a couple of things - a) being temporarily suspended from Labour for using racist language on social media, and b) his long-running and bats**t crazy conspiracy theory about Kezia Dugdale being planted inside the Scottish Labour party by the SNP as a long-term sleeper agent. Normally conspiracy theorists who use racist language find themselves cast out to the margins of society, but for some reason nothing that Ian says or does ever seems to tarnish the media's faith in him as a credible pundit and insightful thinker.
Basically what he's saying this time is that the conventional wisdom about the election in Scotland is wrong, and that the Tories will gain seats from the SNP, rather than the other way around. Now, actually, I wouldn't dismiss that idea out of hand. If the rigged TV leaders' debates go ahead as planned, the SNP will not be fighting the Tories on a level-playing field, and it's therefore not impossible that the current state of play could be turned on its head over the next few weeks. The equation is really pretty simple - the SNP had a national lead over the Tories of eight percentage points on polling day in 2017, and so if the Tories can turn things around sufficiently to leave themselves less then eight points behind, they're likely to gain seats rather than lose them.
But that isn't really the point that Ian is making - he thinks the polls are wrong and that the SNP were never in a position to make gains in the first place. His reasoning, if we can call it that, is based on a string of factual inaccuracies and magical thinking. First of all he claims that the Brexit Party's voters should really be considered Tory voters, because the Brexit Party won't be standing in "most places". Surely he can't have slept through Nigel Farage's announcement that candidates will he put up across the board?
Then he suggests that the only four seats that the Tories stand to lose once the Brexit Party's votes are reallocated will mostly be rescued due to unionist tactical voting. In spite of the wide-scale tactical voting last time around, Ian still thinks unionist voters were "confused" in those seats about which party was best placed to beat the SNP, but that they won't be this time. Which means, for example, that he's saying the resurgent Liberal Democrats will somehow lose even more votes in their former heartland seat of Gordon, in spite of the fact that they only took 11.6% of the vote in 2017 - a massive 21.1% drop on two years earlier. As Sir Humphrey Appleby might have put it, that's a rather courageous prediction.
But Ian doesn't end there - he adds that, because the SNP are facing a Tory challenge in five of their own marginal seats where the majority is less than the Tory majority in Gordon, he can "see no reason" why the Tories won't gain most of those seats. Well, OK, but can he see any particular reason why they will gain them? If he can, he's not bothering to share it with us. If tactical voting is his magic bullet once again, I have to tell him that if I was a budding unionist tactical voter in Lanark & Hamilton East, I wouldn't have a clue whether to plump for Labour or the Tories. That constituency is an incredibly tight three-way marginal with just 0.7% separating the SNP in first place from Labour in third. Yes, OK, technically the Tories are starting from second, but polls suggest the Tory vote will drop back, and it's Labour who have all the tradition in the seat. Good luck sorting that one out.
Ian does have some good news for us - he fancies the SNP's chances of holding off the Lib Dems in Ross, Cromarty and Skye. Just one snag - there is no such constituency, and there hasn't been since 1997.