Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie has made the most despicable comment of the pandemic - and lives may be lost as a result

Whatever the stereotypes about 'Cybernats', there can be very few independence supporters who truly think that border restrictions with England would be some sort of optimal outcome.  An infinitely preferable way to keep the public safe would have been for the whole UK to follow the careful path that Nicola Sturgeon has charted, and for the number of infections to be uniformly low across all four nations.  Trying to stop imported cases from a neighbouring country, where the virus is being allowed to circulate at a higher level, can only be a poor second-best.  It's bound to be somewhat less effective, and it curtails all of our freedoms in an undesirable way.

But our leaders have to deal with the situation as it actually is, and not as we would like it to be.  Countries all over the world have grappled for months with the problem of differential infection rates in different territories, and border controls have often proved to be an important tool in preventing the virus from spreading from a hotspot to a lower-intensity area.  It's got nothing to do with politics, or ideology, or nationalism, or racism, or chauvinism.  It's purely a question of public health.

In that context, a comment made two days ago by Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie about the mere possibility of restrictions at the Scotland/England border was close to being unforgivable.

"We are one nation. Scottish, English, Welsh, Northern Irish. We are in this together. Please stop this divisive, nasty talk of closing borders to 'others'."

He knew that was profoundly dishonest on multiple counts when he said it.  The use of the word 'others' in inverted commas falsely implied that border restrictions would be motivated by prejudice based on nationality or ethnicity.  In reality, the rules would apply to anyone crossing the border regardless of who they are - there would be no discrimination between Scottish people returning home and English people coming up for a visit.  The freedoms of English people already in Scotland would be totally unaffected.  Bowie is also well aware that the whole idea of asking travellers from England to quarantine is not something the SNP leadership would be instinctively keen on doing, precisely because they'd want to avoid hysterical suspicions in certain quarters about their motives.  The fact that they're even considering it suggests that government advisers must be sending a very clear message that it may be necessary to save lives.

Bowie therefore had a choice.  He could make it easier for the Scottish Government to save lives by assuming their good faith, or he could make it harder.  He chose the latter course.  Make no mistake - by saying what he did, it's not totally inconceivable that he may have prevented a vitally important public health measure from being implemented, and that people will die as a result.  SNP politicians are human, and once the suggestion that a health intervention is xenophobic becomes normalised as part of political discourse, it does become psychologically more difficult for them to act.  I truly hope they find the courage to completely set aside the disgraceful antics of their opponents and to take whatever steps are warranted by the scientific evidence.

Incidentally, it was pointed out on social media that the border has previously been closed since Scotland became part of the UK.  It happened in 1950, to be exact, when the police were trying to recover the Stone of Destiny so it could be returned to Westminster Abbey.  Odd how it's perfectly OK to compromise the sacred indivisibility of Our Precious Union in order to locate a symbol of subjugation, but it's apparently not OK to do it to keep thousands of people alive.  British Nationalism 1, People 0. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A solution in search of a problem

Just a quick note to let you know I have a new article on The National's website, responding to Ruth Wishart's piece that advocated tactical voting on the regional list.  You can read it HERE.

*  *  *

I'm hearing (as Laura Kuenssberg would say) that there is yet another Scottish poll from Panelbase currently in the field, featuring the standard independence question, voting intentions for Holyrood and Westminster, and a wide range of supplementary questions.  Some of the questions look distinctly Wings-like to me (GRA and a list party) and others don't, so I'm wondering if it's another composite survey for more than one client.

A plea to both sides of the "game the system" debate - stop using misleading terminology that will increase the risk of independence supporters spoiling their ballots by mistake

I was reading the Barrhead Boy blog yesterday, and just for a moment or two I thought I felt my ears burning.  But then I realised that "one blogger in particular" probably referred to Peter A Bell and not myself.

"The glass half empty brigade are having the time of their lives. One blogger in particular who for years has been demanding that the SNP and Movement needs to stop playing by Westminster rules and do things differently has gone full circle. No, no, we must keep voting SNP 1 2 he cries we need to keep doing the exact same things I said for years weren’t working."

I'm not sure off the top of my head whether Mr Bell does use language like "SNP 1 & 2", but I would once again urge people on both sides of this debate to stop doing so.  That would actually be in everyone's interests, because we live in a country that uses three different voting systems for different elections (until Brexit it was four), which means there's plenty of room for dangerous confusion.  Voters have become familiar with using numbers to vote in STV elections for local councils, and if we say it's possible to vote "SNP 1 & 2" for Holyrood, they might just take us literally and put those numbers on the ballot paper.  The last thing we need is a disproportionately high number of spoilt ballots from independence supporters.

In a way I can understand why the "game the system" lobby are willing to risk sowing that confusion, though, because "SNP 1 & 2" gives the false impression that the list vote is a sort of "second preference" vote - which they might hope will lead people to feel that the SNP are being "greedy" in "hoarding" those votes.  The reality is that the Additional Member System is not a preferential system, and the expectation in all countries that use it is that the vast majority of people will vote for the same party on both ballots.  The only reason for having two ballots in the first place is to give the voter some discretion to vote tactically or for a favoured individual on the constituency ballot.  For example, a Green supporter in Edinburgh Central at the last election might have concluded that their party had little chance in the constituency vote, and so could have voted for the SNP to attempt to keep Ruth Davidson out, safe in the knowledge that they would still be voting Green on the really important ballot - ie. the list ballot.  The composition of the whole parliament is roughly proportional to how people vote on the list ballot, not the constituency ballot - and for that reason people should always vote for their first-choice party on the list.

As an SNP slogan once put it, "with the constituency vote you're choosing an MSP, with the list vote you're choosing a government".  There's more than a grain of truth in that.

I've thought once or twice recently about responding to the commentary on Barrhead Boy about the possibility of gaming the system, because to be perfectly frank it's contained half-truths, wild conspiracy theories and a skipload of wishful thinking.  However, as I said yesterday, it seems to me that the belief that there's a way of "hacking" AMS is like crack cocaine for some people, and once they're addicted they effectively become immune to rational argument.  One thing I do want to address, though, is the repeated claim that a "voting system that makes it virtually impossible for a single party to govern on its own" is some kind of weird aberration that could only have come about due to a conspiracy by the British state against independence.   What Barrhead Boy appears to be talking about here is simply proportional representation, which is the norm across the entire continent of Europe - the UK is practically the only European country that doesn't use it for national elections.  The idea that reverting to first-past-the-post would represent some kind of national liberation from London tyranny is, let's be honest, completely nuts and doesn't stand up to more than a moment's scrutiny.

I know it's part of Yes mythology that the Holyrood voting system was chosen to stitch up the SNP, but as far as I can see that belief is based on a single-word response by Jack McConnell at a press conference many years ago.  Would we take McConnell's word as gospel on any other subject?  It may well be that concerns over an SNP majority government made it easier for the Lib Dems to persuade Labour to accept the case for proportional representation, but the bottom line is that it's quite simply a superior system to first-past-the-post and it empowers the voter more.  It actually doesn't prevent voters from choosing a single-party majority government, but it does mean that the party in question will need something close to a majority of the votes to get into that happy situation, which is exactly as it should be.  You basically get whatever you vote for - there's no extra bang for your buck by voting for a smaller party, and indeed in many cases there's less bang for your buck, because if you vote for a fringe party that doesn't hit 5% or 6% of the list vote in your region, you might as well have abstained.

In truth, AMS has worked out pretty well for the independence movement - it delivered an SNP majority government in 2011 on a minority vote, and it also delivered a pro-independence majority in 2016 on a minority vote.  In 2007 it gave us an SNP minority government when first-past-the-post would have given us a Labour majority government.  And in 1999 and 2003 it ensured that the SNP opposition to the Labour-Lib Dem coalition was far stronger than would have been the case under first-past-the-post.  In those days, the vast majority of pro-independence seats were list seats, and it was the unionists who used to complain about those MSPs being "unelected".  Barrhead Boy seems to think that unionists have an in-built advantage because their vote is split between multiple parties, but the complete opposite is true - it's the SNP's dominance of the pro-indy vote that has led to the combined forces of Yes being slightly over-represented in recent years.

Barrhead Boy also uses a number of dubious examples to support his theory that it will somehow be possible for a fringe party to come out of nowhere and win loads of list seats.  The dodgiest example of all is -

"Have they forgotten that the SNP went from 6 to 56 MPs in one election?"

Yup, you're away ahead of me here.  That's an apples-and-oranges comparison because it happened under first-past-the-post.  The 2015 surge was a remarkable phenomenon, no question, but if the election had been conducted under proportional representation, the SNP's seat numbers would only have increased from around 12 to around 30.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Want to know how to maximise pro-indy representation at Holyrood? The dull (but correct) answer is "vote for a party large enough to have a chance of winning seats"

It was brought to my attention the other night that a few people have been falsely claiming that my position on "tactical voting on the list" has changed, and that for some unspecified reason I now regard the idea as workable.  That is categorically untrue.  My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard about the misrepresentation, because I've banged on so much about the subject that it's very hard to see how anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter could sincerely have got the wrong end of the stick about my stance.

My guess is that Stuart Campbell's self-interested propagandising may have something to do with this, because a few months ago he theatrically pretended to think I had driven a coach and horses through my opposition to "gaming the system" by reiterating a point I've actually been making for a long time - namely that Alex Salmond is pretty much the only person who could make the idea work, because he's the one politician who has an extremely large personal following that could be confidently expected to vote for any party he decided to front.  But that exception to the rule is not particularly important unless you actually think Mr Salmond is going to lead a list-only party in opposition to the SNP.  At the moment I'm not aware of any indication that he is minded to do so.  RevStu's implicit claim was that "James is saying that you only need a well-known person on board and it'll work fine", but that's absolutely not what I'm saying.  The more I've thought about this, I've come to the conclusion that I literally cannot think of a single other person apart from Alex Salmond who has a big enough following to make a success of a pop-up list party.  Jim Sillars could maybe have pulled it off if it was 1990, but it's not 1990 anymore.

I'm not sure how much time it's worth devoting over the next year to warning people about the risks of so-called "tactical voting on the list", because it's increasingly like a dialogue with a brick wall.  People become so infatuated with the tantalising prospect of a "voting system hack" that can supposedly get rid of Murdo Fraser and his ilk that they refuse to engage with the inconvenient reasons why it won't actually work in the real world.  Indeed, as we've seen, they'll sometimes convince themselves that you're telling them that it will work.  It's like a sort of deep trance.  What I would compare it to is a gambler who spends all his time fantasising about how he's going to spend his vast winnings on a 100-1 bet, and refuses to face the fact that there's a 99% chance (or higher) that he's actually going to lose money.

What makes it even more bewildering is that a lot of the people currently caught in the trance were utterly scathing about "gaming the system" in 2016 when it was the Greens and RISE pushing the idea.  It's as if they think it was only unworkable in 2016 because of the "wokeness" of its proponents.  And the reverse is true as well - people on the radical left who were adamant in 2016 that gaming the system was feasible have now changed their view, but only because of their horror at the possibility of "TERFs" picking up a few list votes.  Speaking as the rarity of someone who has remained totally consistent on this, and who has pointed out that the laws of mathematics and the nature of the voting system aren't affected by the wokeness of the candidates, it would be rather nice to at least gain some credit for my consistency rather than having people make up fairy-tales about my position.  But it seems that's too much to ask.

*  *  *

I see that Ruth Wishart has a piece in The National today about how to "maximise pro-indy seats".  It's not online yet, but I know from what she's said on Twitter that she's going to come out in favour of the "gaming the system" wheeze.  Let me yet again set out the real way in which it's possible to maximise pro-indy representation, even though it won't be what people want to hear -

Vote for pro-indy parties that are large enough to have a hope in hell of winning seats.  That means voting for the SNP on the constituency ballot, and either the SNP or the Greens on the list.  The important caveat on the latter point is that you should always vote for your first-choice party on the list - if you're an SNP supporter, switching "tactically" to the Greens on the list is pointless and possibly counterproductive, because there's no reason whatever to think that the Greens have a better chance of winning list seats than the SNP.  Some people did chase shadows in that way in 2016, and all they succeeded in doing was contributing to the loss of the SNP overall majority, with all the negative consequences of that in terms of squandered momentum for the independence movement.  To put it in perspective, in 2016 the SNP won four list seats and the Greens won six.  In 2011 the SNP won sixteen list seats and the Greens won only two.  The SNP are absolutely capable of winning list seats even when they poll strongly on the constituency ballot.

But who won't win list seats?  Fringe parties.  It takes at least 5% or 6% of the vote in an electoral region to win a seat, and fringe parties almost never reach that level of support.  The only exception was the Scottish Senior Citizens' Unity Party, which won a single seat in 2003 by putting up Celtic legend Billy McNeill as a candidate.  (That was a stunt, because McNeill was far enough down the list to ensure he wouldn't be elected, but it did the trick and the unknown John Swinburne became an MSP instead.)

In almost all circumstances, if you vote for a fringe party you might as well be abstaining, and you simply make it easier for unionist parties to win more seats.

*  *  *

I'm the guest on the latest edition of the podcast A Broken World, hosted by Grant Parker - you can listen to it HERE.  (Bear in mind it was recorded two-and-a-half weeks ago.)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

New podcast

Just a quick note to let you know that I'm the guest on the latest edition of the podcast A Broken World, hosted by Grant Parker.  It was recorded more than two weeks ago when I was still publishing the results of the Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll (in fact I think I had to surreptitiously hit "publish" in the middle of the recording), so that was one of the topics of conversation, but there were plenty of others - it's over an hour long, so we had well and truly set the world to rights by the end of it.  You can listen HERE.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Plan A is dead, long live Plan B

Sir Keir Starmer may have unwittingly done the SNP a huge favour yesterday by more or less putting the luckless "Plan A" out of its misery and forcing us to look at more viable options. If there had been any realistic prospect of a future Labour government looking more favourably upon a Section 30 order than the Tory government do, the 'delay' faction within the SNP would undoubtedly have been tempted to hold on until 2024 or 2029 or however long it might have taken, and in the meantime just string the rank-and-file membership along with the illusion of activity. Of course Starmer's stance doesn't mean that the 'delay' faction will automatically embrace "Plan B", but it does massively complicate any efforts they might make to hold the line. It'll be difficult for them to credibly claim that they're still in favour of independence if they're angrily denouncing any suggestion that we should actually try to bring our objective about in any circumstances that are remotely likely to exist within the next ten or fifteen years. Back in the 1990s, we used to scoff at the London media's ignorance in referring to the "devolutionist" and "pro-independence" wings of the SNP, but we're perhaps on the verge of genuinely seeing a small, de facto devolutionist wing take shape for the first time, particularly at Westminster - and that will fundamentally change the relationship of those parliamentarians with activists and members who are for the most part deadly serious about making independence happen.

Is there no hope at all that Plan A could still work? I can only see two paths by which it might be reactivated as a viable option, and both of them are long shots -

1) Labour might do so badly in next year's Holyrood election that they embark on yet another round of soul-searching. I discuss this possibility in a forthcoming column for iScot magazine - Labour are probably nursing the hope that they're going to make some sort of recovery in the election due to Keir Starmer's encouraging Britain-wide polling numbers, but at the moment Scottish polls still put them firmly on course to lose yet more seats and slump to a new all-time low, which would be a shock to their system. It doesn't necessarily follow that Starmer will provide a boost once the campaign is actually underway, because it's Richard Leonard that will be leading the campaign and facing up to Nicola Sturgeon in the TV debates - a comparison that could look almost embarrassing. Remember that this time Ian Murray won't be able to disingenuously blame any seat losses on Corbynism - his own fingerprints will be all over the results, and his constitutional extremism may take a hefty share of the blame. From the SNP's point of view, this outcome is certainly worth pursuing, and probably the best way of maximising the chances of a Labour slump is to foreground the question of independence and coax the electorate into making a polarised choice between SNP and Tory. However, the reason it's a long-shot is that bouts of Labour soul-searching always seem to follow the same pattern - once the initial shock of an election defeat wears off, they revert to type and decide that the fault lies with the voters and not with themselves.

2) The 2024 election could result in a hung parliament, thus forcing Starmer to do a deal with the SNP if he wants to become Prime Minister. No-one can deny this is theoretically possible, but the problem is that hung parliaments happen by random chance - there's no way of campaigning for them or making them more likely to occur. There have been twenty-one general elections since 1945, and only three of them have not produced a majority for a single party - a 14% strike rate. And of course one of the three hung parliaments was in 2017, when the SNP had more than 5% of the seats in the Commons, but still didn't hold the balance of power. So you don't just need a hung parliament, you need the right sort of hung parliament. I would guess the chances of it happening in 2024 are 10% at the absolute most, and we simply can't bet the house on that kind of outside hope.

Which moves us on, if we're sensible, to "Plan B". Fortunately, the people of Scotland seem to be firmly behind both of the two main options for seeking an independence mandate in the absence of a Section 30 order...

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, 28th-31st January 2020:

There are differing legal opinions on whether the Scottish Parliament currently has the power to hold a consultative referendum on independence without Westminster’s permission. If the UK government continues to refuse to give permission, do you think the Scottish Parliament should legislate to hold a referendum and then allow the courts to decide whether it can take place?

Yes 50%
No 39%

With Don't Knows excluded...

Yes 56%
No 44%

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, 1st-5th June 2020:

If Boris Johnson and the UK Government manage to block an independence referendum, do you think that pro-independence parties such as the SNP and the Greens should consider including an outright promise of independence in their manifestos for a future election, to give people an opportunity to vote for or against the idea?

Yes 49%
No 29%

With Don't Knows excluded...

Yes 63%
No 37%

And the choice between those two possibilities isn't necessarily binary. I think the most logical approach is to legislate for a consultative referendum first, and if the Supreme Court blocks it (a very big "if"), use that ruling to demonstrate to voters that the referendum route has been closed off, and that an election will have to be used instead.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Back to school?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Memo to Pete Wishart: "Plan A" has left Scotland in a "hellish limbo" already. Do you have a single credible proposal for getting us back out of it?

There's a principle in science that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".  I sometimes think that certain leading figures within the SNP regard any suggestion that "Plan A" might not work, and that there might be a more viable alternative means of obtaining an independence mandate, as such an extraordinary claim that it must be held to a higher standard of proof.  It's hard to think of any other explanation for the double-standards that abound in this debate.  "Plan A" simply isn't subjected to the same degree of scrutiny and scepticism as its rivals.  We are told that one of the hurdles that any plan must clear is that it has to be capable of actually delivering independence - and yet "Plan A" clearly fails that test catastrophically.

What is "Plan A"?  It's the idea that if you just ask for a Section 30 order persistently enough, it will be impossible for the Westminster government to say no.  Well, that's been proved wrong.  Twice.  Theresa May said no, and Boris Johnson said no.  There's every indication that even if we twiddle our thumbs for the next four years and wait for a Labour government that might never actually arrive, Sir Keir Starmer would then say no anyway.  It's unclear why "Plan A" fans are so convinced that a strategy that has so conspicuously failed to work for several years will suddenly start working if we wish hard enough, but if they do believe that, the onus is on them to supply some proof that they're not asking us to flog a dead horse for another few years.  The onus is most certainly not on those who make the eminently reasonable point that a failed strategy must be replaced - and that if you don't replace it, you don't believe in independence in any meaningful sense.

And that's the nub of the issue, isn't it?  "Plan A" diehards demand to be shown absolute certainty that "Plan B" will lead to independence, but the reality is that "Plan B" would be demonstrably superior to "Plan A" even if it only has a chance of delivering indy.  There is no such chance with "Plan A", which requires the Scottish Government to take no further action when the Westminster veto is deployed.  If anyone can explain to us how quite literally doing nothing can lead us to our objective, I'm sure we're all ears.

But you'll search in vain for any answers of that sort in Pete Wishart's latest blogpost (which like all his previous ones he'll inevitably describe as "the blog that everyone is talking about!").  His lack of self-awareness is truly astounding - he sneers at the idea that, having refused a referendum, the UK government will accept an election result as a mandate for independence.  And yet Pete's own implicit argument is that, having refused a referendum, the UK government will suddenly do a U-turn and grant a referendum because of opinion polls showing that Scots aren't happy.  In other words, Boris Johnson will be far more impressed by opinion polls than by election results.  Oh-kaaaaay, Pete.  Best of luck with that one.

Back in the real world, it's the obvious fact that election results are harder to ignore than opinion polls that gives "Plan B" a realistic chance of gaining some traction.  I'm not necessarily claiming that it would "work" in the sense of forcing London to negotiate an independence settlement straight away, although I do think that's possible if the mandate is strong enough.  But at the very least I think that a crisis of legitimacy would be created, and that the UK government might end up at the negotiating table to resolve it.  That could, for example, lead to an agreed referendum.

Pete asserts that "Plan B" could take us into a Catalan-style "hellish limbo".  But let's turn that on its head for a moment and imagine what would have happened if the Catalans had adopted the "Scottish model" of asking politely for a referendum and then taking no as a valid answer.  It's not hard to work out: nothing would have happened.  Madrid would have said no, Barcelona would have said "that's fine", and Catalonia would currently be living through precisely the kind of "hellish limbo" that Scotland is living through.  What exactly is your point here, Pete?

Oh, and I must just address a very silly straw man from Pete's blogpost -

"[Plan B] would therefore mean that the 2021 election ceases to be a General Election in the conventional sense and instead becomes a single issue plebiscite exclusively on the proposition that if the SNP secures a majority we move towards becoming an independent state. If it was to happen there would be no programme for Government, no defence of a record in power, just a straight forward one issue independence question."

Absolute rubbish.  To gain a credible mandate, independence would have to be Item 1 in the manifesto, but there would be lots of other items as well.  Independence would take months or years to negotiate, and no party putting itself forward for government for such a long period would ever present the electorate with a blank sheet of paper.  So, no, it wouldn't be a single-issue election - merely one in which the independence issue is predominant.

* * *

Yesterday, Iain Macwhirter gave Nicola Sturgeon what was quite possibly the worst piece of advice she's ever received. He told her to just "go with the flow" and abandon the 2 metre rule if that's what England decides to do. Has he learned no lessons at all from the catastrophe of March? How many more thousands of innocents must die because some people seem to perversely think that the purpose of devolution is to obediently rubberstamp decisions made in London?

I was trying to work out what Iain's tweet reminded me of, and I suddenly realised it was the philosophy of passivity put forward by a rather sinister rabbit in Watership Down -

"Take me with you, wind, high over the sky. I will go with you, I will be rabbit-of-the-wind...

Take me with you, stream, away in the starlight. I will go with you, I will be rabbit-of-the-stream..."

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Whichever way you cut it, there's more support for independence now than there was in 2016

The news that the pro-independence vote has reached an all-time high of 54% with Panelbase was characterised by a certain website as Yes going "back to where it was four years ago" - a rehashing of the bogus claim from a couple of weeks ago that Yes support has not really budged for years.  This is getting a bit silly now.  There were twelve independence polls conducted between the EU referendum result becoming known and the end of 2016.  Eleven of them had a Yes vote lower than last night's poll.  Nine of them had No in the lead.  By contrast, six of the eight polls in 2020 so far have had Yes on 50% or higher, with an average Yes vote of 50.9%.  (And it's a smidgeon higher if the YouGov / Hanbury poll, which used a non-standard question, is excluded.)

Furthermore, if you're going to compare one individual poll with another individual poll, both have to be conducted by the same firm.  If they're not, you're comparing apples with oranges, because each firm has its own 'house effects'.  The 54% recorded in June 2016 was in a Survation poll, not a Panelbase poll.  But as it happens there was a Panelbase poll conducted at around the same time, and it had Yes on 52%.  So, whichever way you cut it, there's more support for independence now than there was back then.

The new poll is also unusual in that it shows a Yes lead that is big enough not to be considered what the Americans call a 'statistical tie'.  In other words, even if the poll's margin of error is taken into account, Yes would still be ahead.  As far as I can see, this is only the third time that has happened in any poll from any firm since the indyref in 2014.  

Furthermore, this is only the second poll since the indyref that has shown Yes on 50% or higher even before Don't Knows are excluded.  (The other one was the Ipsos-Mori poll from 2015 that I mentioned last night.)  I'm not sure how important that is, because there's no good reason why undecideds should be left in.  But it does give us a useful response to unionist commentators who like to portray Don't Knows as "presumed No voters".

The earth shakes as support for independence soars to 54% - the highest EVER in a Panelbase poll

So you've probably seen the headline in the Sunday National about a poll that appears to show this...

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (Panelbase)

Yes 54% (+2)
No 46% (-2)

I don't have any further information yet, but having done my usual Kremlinology on Twitter, it does look like a credible poll rather than a subsample - which makes sense, because we know there was a Panelbase independence poll in the field over recent days.  I don't know whether it was commissioned by Wings, or whether the Sunday National themselves commissioned a question as part of the same composite survey.  Either way, if it's confirmed as a full-scale poll this is the highest ever Yes vote in a Panelbase poll - the previous highest was 52%, which has been recorded on a few different occasions, most recently in the poll for Scot Goes Pop earlier in the month.

I'm also struggling to remember a higher Yes figure than 54% in any poll from any other firm.  The highest figure in the indyref campaign was 54% in an ICM poll published on the Saturday before polling day (although the firm pretty much disowned it straight away as being a likely rogue poll).  The highest since the indyref was 54% with Survation.  So if it's ever been 55% or higher, it must have been many, many years ago.

When the Scot Goes Pop poll showed a 2% increase to 52%, I did worry that it might be a temporary effect caused by anger over Dominic Cummings' jaunt to Barnard Castle, and that it would quickly recede.  But it now appears to have been more like a springboard than a high watermark.  The supplementary questions from that poll showed the handling of the pandemic had caused a remarkable shift in underlying attitudes towards constitutional change, and that probably explains the further boost.  Let's hope the transformation stands the test of time.

*  *  *

UPDATE: I've been going through the records just to make sure what I said above is accurate.  There was an Ipsos-Mori poll conducted in August 2015 for STV which showed Yes on 53%, No on 44%, and Don't Knows on 3%.  I've looked and looked and none of the reporting seems to mention what the figures were with Don't Knows excluded, so perhaps Ipsos-Mori never made that calculation.  But it must have been either Yes 54%, No 46%, or Yes 55%, No 45%.  As far as historical polling is concerned, it looks like Yes might have slightly exceeded 54% with Don't Knows excluded in research conducted in 2006.  People forget that it wasn't unusual for polls to show a pro-independence majority in the early years of devolution, long before the surge during the indyref campaign.  But of course in those days any choice on independence seemed an extremely long way off, so it's debatable whether people who said they were in favour had thought about the issue in any great depth.  That caveat doesn't apply now.

*  *  *

UPDATE II: It's just been confirmed that the new poll is indeed a full-scale Panelbase poll, and the client is Business for Scotland.  I think it's worth making the point that there have now been seven polls in this calendar year that have asked the standard independence question, ie. 'Should Scotland be an independent country?'.  Three were commissioned by alternative media sites (Scot Goes Pop and Wings Over Scotland), two were commissioned by pro-independence organisations (Business for Scotland and Progress Scotland), one appeared to be self-funded by the pollster itself (YouGov) and only one was commissioned by a mainstream media outlet (the Sunday Times).  Unionist journalists love nothing better than a good sneer about the pro-indy alternative media, but it's getting to the point where in one specific respect we're actually doing a job that the mainstream media used to do and is now failing to do.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Plan B, and dual mandates

A reader kindly let me know a few days ago that there was another Scottish poll from Panelbase in the field.  It asked the standard independence question, but in the middle of a sequence of questions that were primarily about social attitudes (some of them were bordering on philosophical in nature).  I couldn't see any unifying theme at all, or even hazard a guess as to who the client might be.  The mystery has now been partly solved, because Wings Over Scotland has released the results of a "mini-poll", which presumably means it was a composite survey conducted for more than one client.  So there are three possibilities about the independence question, the results of which are not publicly known as of yet: a) it was part of the Wings mini-poll, b) it was asked by Panelbase for technical reasons so the Wings results could be properly weighted, or c) it was part of the poll commissioned by the other client.  I'd imagine c) is the least likely of those options.

The results that we do know about show that respondents, by more than a 2-1 margin, do not think the UK government will "grant a second independence referendum" if pro-independence parties win a majority of votes or seats in next year's Holyrood election.  As I've pointed out before, there are some questions on which public opinion is all-important and others on which it barely matters at all, and I'd suggest this is one of the latter.  If by any chance the UK government were minded to grant a Section 30 order, it wouldn't make much difference whether the public saw it coming or not - although admittedly voter scepticism might make it tougher for the SNP to fight the election on the premise that victory will make Westminster cave in.

As it happens, I agree with the public verdict on this occasion - I think there's precious little chance of the current Tory government conceding a Section 30, although remember that isn't the same thing as "granting a referendum".  The Scottish Parliament still has the option of legislating for a consultative indyref and waiting to see if the UK government challenge it (and more to the point waiting to see the Supreme Court's verdict after the UK government do inevitably challenge it).

I can't see any particular reason why Stuart Campbell would have commissioned this poll unless he was trying to strengthen the case for a 'Plan B' on independence.  That makes it even more incomprehensible that he made such an angry attempt last week to undermine the impact of this blog's Panelbase poll showing a large majority in favour of 'Plan B'.  He really does cut off his nose to spite his face sometimes.

*  *  *

On the subject of cutting off noses to spite faces, that's what the SNP are doing by considering a rule-change to forbid "dual mandates".  The move seems to be motivated by a tribal desire to thwart Joanna Cherry's path to a Holyrood seat, and thus make it harder for her to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader.  But the reality is that Ms Cherry already seems to have made up her mind to seek to become an MSP, and she's unlikely to be deterred by the prospect of being forced to resign her Westminster seat.

So who actually loses from this?  It may well be the SNP as a whole, who will needlessly end up facing a Westminster by-election in potentially tricky Edinburgh terrain.  Alex Salmond held a dual mandate for his first three years as First Minister, and the sun didn't fall out of the sky, so it's not as if there's actually a problem to solve here.

Friday, June 19, 2020

I'm in the dughoose

Just a quick note to let you know that I'm the guest on the latest edition of the Wee Ginger Dugcast, hosted as always by Paul Kavanagh.  Topics discussed include the recent Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, the disgraceful British nationalist thuggery in Glasgow, the risks of attempting to 'game' the Holyrood voting system, the alternatives for securing an independence mandate if a Section 30 order is refused, and the cautious easing of the lockdown in Scotland.  You can listen to the podcast HERE.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ruth Davidson's catastrophically misjudged attack on Devi Sridhar may unwittingly reveal a lot about the toxic culture of the Scottish Tory party

Ruth Davidson made a catastrophic error of judgement yesterday - not just morally, but also from a public relations point of view.  She questioned the independence and integrity of Professor Devi Sridhar, someone who has earned a deserved reputation with the public during the pandemic for fearlessly speaking truth to power when many other experts have been silent or overly cautious.  Sridhar is not ideological - she'll praise any politician who she thinks is doing the right thing from a public health point of view, and castigate any politician who she thinks is doing the wrong thing.

What led to Davidson's gaffe was a misunderstanding - probably an honest one - on the part of the ITV journalist Peter MacMahon, who thought a tweet from Sridhar calling for schools to reopen properly in mid-August constituted an implied criticism of the Scottish Government's policy.  In fact, Sridhar was calling for the virus to be suppressed so thoroughly that it would actually be safe to relax social distancing in August, which puts her on precisely the same page as Nicola Sturgeon.  (Not a coincidence, because she almost certainly played a part in persuading Ms Sturgeon to adopt that policy in the first place.)  She categorically wasn't saying that we should throw caution to the wind and abandon restrictions while the virus is still present in the community at dangerously high levels, which is essentially the position of the Scottish Government's most vocal critics.

I'd suggest the misunderstanding came about because of a difference in communication style between politicians and journalists on the one hand, and academics on the other.  When stating what she thinks should be done, Sridhar has always been careful to honestly point out the other side of the story and the potential downsides.  When lockdown was announced in March, something she was firmly in favour of, practically the first thing she did was to stress the harms of lockdown and the undesirability of continuing with it for too long - ironically echoing some of the language of the "let the virus rip" brigade she opposes.  Any spin doctor would have been tearing their hair out at her 'naivety', because there was an obvious danger of undermining her own main objective.  Politicians in her shoes would instead have had a laser-like focus on making the case for lockdown, and would have played down or ignored any counter-arguments.  But it's Sridhar's honesty in painting a complete picture that has won her so much trust.  That's what she was doing on schools - she was saying the virus needs to be suppressed and that children need to be back in school as soon as possible.  Both of those statements are true, not just one of them, and there is no contradiction between the two.  Sticking with stronger restrictions now is what will hopefully make a relaxation in August feasible and responsible.

Having posted a second tweet to clear up any misapprehensions, it was fascinating that her clarification was automatically assumed to be dishonest by Ruth Davidson - even though anyone who follows Sridhar knows it is absolutely consistent with what she has been saying for months.  It seems that Davidson could not conceive of the possibility that anyone, even a leading academic, might have nuanced thought-processes they would actually want to share with others.  Instead, the former Scottish Tory leader thought the only plausible explanation was that Sridhar had been leaned on by Ms Sturgeon and had cravenly 'walked back' her original statement.  The even bigger misjudgement was to assume other people would find that a plausible explanation too.  Almost nobody did.

If Davidson's hopelessly faulty instincts on this matter are the product of her personal experience of human nature over the last few years, I would suggest that she's unwittingly revealed rather a lot about the toxic culture of the Tory party.  It's fear and bullying that make the world go round, but only if you happen to live in a world where nobody has any integrity, or principles they're willing to abide by.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

This is the problem with not being an independent country

At the outset of the pandemic, New Zealand was on one end of the spectrum in controversially arguing that the virus could be completely eliminated.  On the other end was the UK, which insisted (in defiance of evidence that already existed from China and South Korea) that it was literally impossible to contain the epidemic, and that it was therefore pointless - and somehow harmful - to even try.  I lost count of the number of times Chris Whitty put on a patronising little smile as he spoke about those naive souls who thought that the goal of the government should be to actually prevent people from being infected, rather than to ensure that the majority of the population was infected in the most 'orderly' way.  "Look at the map," he would say.  "Look at all the countries around us where the virus is.  The idea that this thing is going away does not strike me as terribly plausible."

That's the sort of statement that superficially appears to be highly intelligent and grounded in realism, but is actually totally daft.  It rests on the implication that the virus can somehow move from one country to another in a way that cannot be stopped, which in the case of the UK means that it would have to be able to fly across the English Channel on its own propulsion.  It cannot do that, which means Whitty was wrong: if a country can control its own borders, and can eliminate the virus within those borders, there's no need to fret so much about what's happening elsewhere.  We know that the UK can, if it wishes, control its borders, so that leaves only one question: is it feasible to eliminate the virus on this island?

Initially, Devi Sridhar (Professor at Edinburgh University and one of the voices of sanity throughout this crisis) seemed sceptical that outright eradication could be achieved, and instead tended to argue for the virus to be suppressed as much as possible while we wait for a vaccine or effective treatments to arrive.  But she's come round more to the idea of eradication now that New Zealand has proved its critics wrong.

The Scottish Government, to its credit, has been increasingly bullish about using the word 'eradicate' -

But the snag, of course, is that the Scottish Government does not have all of the tools required to eliminate the virus, because it is not the government of an independent sovereign state. A devolved government can, as we've seen in recent weeks, have success in pushing the virus back and suppressing it, but total elimination requires control over borders and the ability to quarantine people who arrive from countries (such as, for example, England) where the epidemic is far from being extinguished. That doesn't mean elimination is impossible, but it does mean it can only happen if the UK Government are persuaded of the need to attempt it, which at the moment looks a distant prospect. (I suspect the penny will drop eventually, but on past form every painful lesson seems to take far too long.)

The cost of not being independent will on this occasion be counted in the loss of human lives.

* * *

On the other extreme from Devi Sridhar's thread is one from former Scottish Tory spin doctor Andy Maciver, who seems to have learned no lessons at all over the last few months. He's arguing that, in spite of the success of New Zealand and other countries, it's for some reason not possible to stamp out the epidemic in this particular country, and that we should therefore accept that the virus might be around into the long-term. Essentially what he wants is for the Scottish Government to throw caution to the wind on the reopening of schools. He sticks his head firmly in the sand on two points in particular -

"There is a reason why we never hear about children dying or even becoming ill from Covid - it’s because it is not happening."

"I know, I know, it’s not about the children, it’s about who they contact. Firstly, it is worth noting that there is no hard evidence that children infect adults at all."

The idea that we don't hear about children even becoming ill is ludicrous. I personally know of a young child who was symptomatic for several days after being infected. But even leaving aside anecdotal evidence of that sort, there's well-documented evidence of children suffering from a rare inflammatory condition as a result of coronavirus. As for there being "no evidence" of children infecting adults, you'd think we might by now have grasped the point that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and that the precautionary principle dictates that you don't take risks with people's health when there just isn't enough information to know one way or the other.

* * *

I've said a few times that I don't see the need for a new pro-indy party, but that if one is formed it's really important that it has a purpose in life other than 'gaming the system'. If your Party Election Broadcast is an embarrassing three-minute monologue about the d'Hondt formula, you can safely assume you've gone badly wrong somewhere. Alas, judging from the website of the freshly-formed Independence for Scotland party, that mistake has not been avoided. One of the first articles on the site is a tortuous explanation of why the SNP failed to win a list seat in the north-east in 2016, and of how the ISP can supposedly remedy that on behalf of the independence movement if they win "just" 7% of the vote.

The north-east is actually a really poor choice of example, because the SNP succeeded in taking a list seat there in 2011 in spite of winning every constituency seat in the region. A repeat of that type of scenario is not guaranteed, but it's certainly infinitely more likely than a fringe party taking 7% of the vote on its first attempt. What really gives the game away, though, is the fact that the article openly prays in aid Gavin Barrie's pseudoscientific 'analysis' from last year, which many authoritative voices have pointed out was deeply flawed.

It's stated that a voting system designed to prevent a single-party majority means that the forces of unionism have an in-built advantage due to being comprised of three major parties rather than just one. That is, frankly, absolute rubbish. It's the complete opposite of the truth. The SNP's dominance of the Yesser vote has worked firmly in favour of the pro-indy camp - in 2016, a pro-indy majority of seats was won without an absolute majority of the popular vote on either ballot.

I'm troubled also by the suggestion that the ISP exists to challenge a "single party system". That characterisation is simply not accurate - the SNP run a minority government at Holyrood and can't get anything through the Scottish Parliament without the support of at least one other party. But the claim echoes the chorus of spurious unionist complaints from 2015-17 about a "one-party state" - and that period did not end well for the Yes movement. Avoiding self-inflicted wounds is always a good idea.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Who or what is "tone deaf"? Perhaps it's mainstream journalism - which has misread the public mood on independence so completely in recent weeks

There's a deeply puzzling piece in the  Herald today by Tom Gordon.  He refers to the finding from the Panelbase poll commissioned by this blog that a large majority of the public (if Don't Knows are excluded) are supportive of the 'Plan B' option for seeking an independence mandate - ie. if an indyref is blocked by Westminster, the SNP and Greens would simply go ahead and put an outright commitment to independence in their manifestos for a scheduled election.  Tom notes that the SNP's two leading proponents of the idea have seized on the poll results and are pushing for the proposal to be considered at conference - a reaction he considers to be "tone deaf". In fact it's worse than that, what he actually says is...

"There's tone deaf, and there's this."

The implication being that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny are out of tune with the public mood, and that what voters really want is for the SNP to kick independence into the long grass for a considerable number of years.  Tom thinks the party should use that time to "develop a new prospectus", whatever that means, rather than doing what they were actually elected to do - ie. giving people an urgent choice on Scotland's constitutional future due to the material change of circumstances brought about by Brexit.  

All of this begs an extremely obvious question - one that Tom mysteriously doesn't even attempt to address.  If voters don't want Plan B to be explored, why have they just told a leading polling company that they do?  Do they not know their own minds?  Did they somehow misunderstand the question?  As a reminder, here's the exact wording -

If Boris Johnson and the UK Government manage to block an independence referendum, do you think that pro-independence parties such as the SNP and the Greens should consider including an outright promise of independence in their manifestos for a future election, to give people an opportunity to vote for or against the idea?

That seems pretty difficult to misconstrue.  Remember that a large part of the reason the poll showed such a strong majority in favour is the overwhelmingly positive reaction from both SNP voters and people who would currently vote for independence.  Less than 1% of Yes supporters think it's a bad idea, while 86% give the thumbs up.  You don't have to be much of a mystic to work out what's going on here - a sizeable chunk of the electorate (a majority in this particular poll if Don't Knows are stripped out) want independence, and they're actually serious about it.  They're unhappy that Westminster is using undemocratic means to thwart a referendum, and want a way to be found of overcoming that obstacle.  That shouldn't be any great surprise, given that it was only six months ago that Scotland gave the SNP a landslide majority of seats on a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum this year.  The pandemic has pushed the timing back - no-one in their right mind still wants action to be taken imminently.  But people do want a sense of urgency once the crisis is over, rather than years and years of unproductive thumb-twiddling.

At the start of the pandemic, unionist journalists (Deerin, Massie, et al) were almost unanimous in their assessment that fate had dealt the independence movement a crushing blow, and that the British 'family' was coming back together in a time of adversity.  An avalanche of polls since then - from YouGov, Ipsos-Mori, Survation and Panelbase - has told a radically different story.  Having misread the public's instincts and mood so completely, you'd think these individuals might have the humility to ponder whether it's actually mainstream journalism in this country that has yet again proved itself to be "tone deaf".  But, as per usual, it's doubling down that we're seeing.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

In numbers: the year-on-year increase in support for independence

Let's return briefly to the false claim that was made the other day that public opinion on independence hasn't budged for years.  It's probably best to demonstrate in precise terms why that isn't true, before any myth is allowed to take root.  I've calculated yearly averages for all independence polls in 2018, 2019, and 2020 to date.  As you can see, there has been a clear increase in the Yes vote year on year.

Should Scotland be an independent country?


Yes 45.5%
No 54.5%


Yes 48.5%
No 51.5%


Yes 50.4%
No 49.6%

The only polls I've excluded are the notorious Scotland in Union propaganda polls that were sometimes portrayed in the media as "independence polls", but in fact were nothing of the sort, because independence wasn't even mentioned in the question.  On the other hand, I've included the YouGov / Hanbury poll from earlier this year, which used a non-standard question but with neutral wording.  (If that poll is excluded, the Yes vote for 2020 is even higher.)

So if there has been a gradual increase for Yes, why is it possible to dredge up headlines from past years about Yes being in the lead?  Basically there were a couple of previous purple patches where Yes appeared to be ahead - one was just after the 2014 indyref, when the positivity of the campaign was still fresh in people's minds and when David Cameron appeared set to betray The Vow.  The second was just after the EU referendum, but it didn't last long at all.  There was then a prolonged slump in 2017 and 2018 when both YouGov and Panelbase were consistently showing Yes hovering somewhere between 43% and 45%.  Self-evidently, the situation has improved markedly since those days.

Outside of the two previous purple patches, there has also been the odd individual poll from Ipsos-Mori showing a Yes lead out of the blue.  It's probably no coincidence that Ipsos-Mori are the only firm that don't weight by past vote - although whether that makes them more accurate or less accurate is open for debate.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll: From a Remain country to a Rejoin country - by emphatic 60-40 margin, voters say "Scotland should rejoin the European Union"

When we say there's a mandate to hold a second independence referendum, we're generally (not always, but generally) referring to the SNP's victory in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, which took place before the EU referendum, and in which the manifesto pledge was conditional on there being a material change of circumstances, such as Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will.  Unionist parties, and in particular the Tories, have raised a number of hair-splitting objections to the notion that Scotland's democratic will is being disregarded in a way that would make the indyref mandate valid.  For example, they point out that the 62% of the Scottish public who voted Remain were voting for the United Kingdom to continue as a member state of the EU, and were not strictly speaking expressing a view on whether they would want Scotland to stay in if the rest of the UK came out.  This of course carries the wildly implausible implication that Scotland was only ever pro-EU due to the superb quality of representation we received in Brussels from London ministers, but nevertheless that's what they say.  It's also suggested that now that Brexit is a fact on the ground, rejoining the EU is a very different proposition from remaining within it, and that there's no way of knowing whether Scottish voters would really want to rejoin.  So even if Brexit was a breach of Scottish democratic wishes in 2016, that's no longer the case because Scotland supposedly might want to "move on" and make the best of it.

Opinion polls haven't often been much use in clearing away these technical (or perhaps I should say imaginative) objections, because polls showing an enormous pro-EU majority in Scotland were mostly conducted before Brexit Day at the end of January, and generally framed the choice as "Remain" v "Leave", rather than "Rejoin" v "Don't Rejoin".  A lot of them also asked about the UK's status within Europe rather than Scotland's.  And those that did mention Scotland usually tied the issue to independence, which is a cop-out in another sense because there are ways in which Scotland could be part of the EU from within Brexit Britain.  The Tory government (and indeed Labour and the Liberal Democrats) are not remotely interested in exploring that option, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible in theory.  There are three component parts of the state of Denmark (Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark proper) and only one of them is part of the EU.

To get to the heart of the democratic issue that makes the case for Indyref2, the final question in this blog's crowdfunded Panelbase poll is a simple six-word query...

Should Scotland rejoin the European Union?

Yes 60% 
No 40%

(Panelbase poll for Scot Goes Pop, 1st-5th June 2020.   Headline figures exclude Don't Knows.  If Don't Knows are included, the result is Yes 52%, No 35%, DK 14%.)

That won't be a surprise to anyone, but nevertheless it does lay to rest some of the sophistry.  Even though "rejoin" may imply a degree of upheaval to a potentially weary electorate that "remain" doesn't, a 60-40 advantage is well outside the poll's margin of error, which makes it definitive: Scotland does want to be part of the EU in a post-Brexit world, and the casus belli for a second indyref is completely intact.

60-40 is of course just slightly below the 62-38 recorded on referendum day in 2016, and along with concerns about further upheaval, my guess is that the difference can be partly explained by a small percentage of hardline anti-indy voters worrying that by giving a pro-EU response they'd be indirectly giving the green light to independence.  Among people who actually voted against independence six years ago, there's a plurality against Scotland rejoining the EU, although it's fairly narrow (47% to 41%).

The pandemic has temporarily got Labour and the Liberal Democrats off the hook of explaining to Scottish voters how it is possible to be "pro-UK, pro-EU" now that Brexit has happened.  We know what they will say - it'll be that remaining part of Britain is by far the most important thing, and if that's incompatible with EU membership, well that's a shame, but so be it.  That could leave them facing a problem with their own voters, who emphatically want Scotland to rejoin the EU -

2019 Labour voters:

Yes 58%
No 30%

2019 Liberal Democrat voters:

Yes 62%
No 23%

A few people have asked me if I have any information on the 8% of pro-independence voters from the 2014 indyref who now want to stay in the UK.  There's no way from the Panelbase datasets of pinpointing exactly who they are or what motivates them, but one clue is that 87 respondents in the poll (roughly 8% or 9% of the total sample) are Yes voters from 2014 who do not want Scotland to rejoin the EU.  By contrast, only 53 respondents (around 5% of the sample) are currently minded to vote for independence while still wanting Scotland to stay outside the EU.  The difference between those two figures may well imply the existence of a segment of voters who are in principle sympathetic to independence, but who would vote against it because they regard Brexit as a bigger priority.

But remember that there's a pro-independence majority in this poll, and that's come about because a significant number of Remain voters have become converts to independence.  There's a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we dilute our pitch on the EU in pursuit of the smaller number of Brexiteers we've lost in the other direction.

* * *

You can read my piece in The National about last night's poll results HERE.

VIDEO: Preview of tonight's final results from the Scot Goes Pop poll

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll: By overwhelming 3-1 margin, Scottish voters say they would be "more safe" if the UK Government's decision-making powers about the lockdown were transferred to the Scottish Government

It's fair to suggest that the Scottish Government has been on something of a 'journey' (as Davina McCall always used to say about Big Brother contestants) over the course of the pandemic.  To begin with, Edinburgh was so much in lockstep with London that Nicola Sturgeon was practically functioning as the Secretary of State for Scotland, with her role being as little more than a (very eloquent) spokesperson for the 'herd immunity' policy that had essentially been decided in Westminster.  Devolution must have looked like a pretty fiction to the public at that point.  But as the horrific consequences of herd immunity became clear, the Scottish Government swung in completely the opposite direction, and demonstrated to the public just how extensive its legal powers are, and how effective they can be in keeping citizens safe.  I'd argue that Scotland has 'felt' more like a self-governing country over the last few weeks than it has done at any time since (at least) the Jacobite rising of 1745-6.

But of course there are limits to the Scottish Government's powers, and the public have also been given a vivid life-and-death demonstration of what those limits are and what practical effect they have.  In the past, voters may only have had the dimmest of ideas of what it would mean for them if the Scottish Parliament had "more powers", but they're now in an excellent position to judge what the impact would be if, for example, Holyrood had control over borders.  I decided to use our crowdfunded Panelbase poll to find out exactly what they think.

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll (1st-5th June 2020):

Some decisions about the lockdown in Scotland, such as whether to keep schools and shops closed, are the responsibility of the Scottish Government.  Other decisions, such as whether to introduce airport checks and border controls, are the responsibility of the UK Government.  Do you think people in Scotland would be more safe or less safe if the UK Government's decision-making powers relating to the lockdown were transferred to the Scottish Government?

More safe: 58%
Less safe: 21%

That result would have been truly staggering until a couple of days ago, but of course it's bang in line with the roughly 3-1 majorities who are now "less convinced" that Scotland is safer if it remains part of the UK, and "more confident" that Scotland will be well-governed if it becomes an independent country.

The pandemic really does seem to have had a transformative effect on underlying attitudes towards constitutional matters.  To see the full extent of that, take a look at some of the surprising groups who feel that the Scottish public would be "more safe" if all decision-making powers relating to the lockdown were transferred to the Scottish Government -

2014 No voters:

More safe: 46%
Less safe: 28%

2019 Labour voters:

More safe: 59%
Less safe: 24%

2019 Liberal Democrat voters:

More safe: 41%
Less safe: 24%

2016 Leave voters:

More safe: 49%
Less safe: 29%

And now we come to what, in my opinion, is the most extraordinary detail from this entire poll.  Conservative voters can normally be relied upon to be absolutely scathing towards any suggestion that Scottish self-rule might be preferable to being run from London, but on this occasion they're evenly divided -

2019 Conservative voters:

More safe: 35%
Less safe: 38%

Perhaps there's nothing quite like a threat to the safety of one's family and friends to help shake off deep-rooted political prejudices.

When you look at these figures, it can be no surprise at all that there is now a pro-independence majority - indeed, perhaps the only puzzling point is that the Yes vote has only risen by 2%.  But it's not hard to see how it could rise further unless the UK parties are able to swiftly restore faith in London rule.

*  *  *

There's one more result to come from the poll, and if you'd like to be the first to know about it, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.  You can also read my piece in The National about last night's 'Plan B' poll results HERE.

*  *  *

You may have seen that Stuart Campbell embarked on yet another angry rant today, this time about the Scot Goes Pop poll.  I had actually already responded to his central accusation before he even posted the article, because he turned up on the comments section here late last night and made the same point (with a fair bit of abusive swearing and playground name-calling chucked in for good measure).  You can read my reply HERE. The only thing I'd add to it is that I really don't know whether to laugh or cry at the glorious irony of his claim that I have written "abusive diatribes" about him. Anyone can see for themselves that the posts he's referring to are scrupulously non-abusive. I'm more than content for the contrast between those posts and Stuart's own legendarily abusive posting style (especially on social media) to speak for itself. He similarly claimed that an iScot article I wrote a few months ago about the Wings Party was "abusive" - but rather undermined that claim by posting a screenshot of the entire article, which helpfully demonstrated there wasn't a single abusive comment in it. He really does make himself look a bit silly with this sort of nonsense.

VIDEO: Preview of Tuesday night's results from the Scot Goes Pop poll

A few points to "consider"

The Reverend Stuart Campbell is unhappy, and that makes us all sad.  His blogpost today has left a lot of people wondering in all seriousness whether he's even an independence supporter anymore, because its sole purpose seems to be to undermine the impact of the new Panelbase poll (commissioned by Scot Goes Pop) showing that Yes is back into the lead.  Why would the most-read Yes blogger make such systematic efforts to sap the morale of his own side?  It's really odd.

His basic point is that there have been "Yes surge" headlines in previous years based on polls showing Yes at 52% or higher, and therefore the "Yes surge" headline relating to this poll's 52% finding must be bogus or misleading.  But here's the thing, Stuart: the Yes vote dipped again after those previous good results.  Now it's gone back up, that's a surge.  Or an increase, or whatever word you'd prefer to use.  It really is just basic arithmetic.

His most disingenuous point is that 52% is 7% lower than the 59% for Yes recorded in a Scotpulse poll immediately after the EU referendum in 2016.  He claims he's being "generous" in "discounting" that result as an "outlier", and notes that Scotpulse are not affiliated to the British Polling Council.  But the problems with that poll went way beyond the lack of BPC membership - after all, Lord Ashcroft is not a BPC member and we still take his polls seriously.  The basic issue is that Scotpulse do not appear to weight their results properly.  The 59% result wasn't reliable, and I said that at the time.  To the best of my knowledge, the best ever Yes showing in a credible poll is 54% with both Survation and ICM.  But 52% is the joint highest ever result for Yes in a Panelbase poll.

Stuart also popped round to the comments section of this blog last night, and if I didn't know he was a fellow fan of milk I'd have concluded he was a little "tired and emotional".  He left a trademark abusive comment complaining about my use of the word "consider" in the Plan B poll question, and suggesting that made me a "hypocrite" because I had previously criticised his use of the same word in one of his own poll questions. When I deleted his comment for being abusive, he then said I was a "coward" and was trying to cover up my "hypocrisy".  Er, no, Stuart, I really did delete your comments because you were behaving like a toddler.

I'm more than happy to have a grown-up discussion with anyone about the reasons for my use of the word "consider", but it's simply a fact that I didn't use it in the same way Stuart did.  He asked whether respondents would "consider" voting for a list-only pro-independence party, and then suggested the percentage of respondents who said they would consider it represented the potential support for a Wings party (even though the Wings party wasn't even mentioned in the question).  That was grossly misleading.  If you ask respondents whether they'd consider voting for a party, they'll think to themselves "I'm a reasonable person, of course I'd consider it".  If you ask them whether they will vote for a party, you'll get a different result.

The question I posed was whether respondents think political parties should consider the "Plan B" option - and that was an appropriate use of the word, because not even proponents of the idea think it should definitely be done.  It depends on circumstances - for example on whether the courts end up closing off any legal route to a consultative referendum (and of course many legal experts don't think that will happen).

Monday, June 8, 2020

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll finds that, by a decisive margin, Scottish voters want the SNP and Greens to use an election to seek an outright mandate for independence, if Boris Johnson continues to refuse a Section 30 order

When I asked for your suggestions for questions to add to our crowdfunded Panelbase poll, a number of you wanted me to find out whether the public were in favour of the so-called "Plan B" of using the 2021 Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence, if the Tory government continues to refuse to grant a Section 30 order. I was initially reluctant to ask a question along those lines, because it seemed to me that the pandemic makes the 2021 timing look a lot more ambitious than was previously the case. But it then struck me that it would be possible to ask a question about the general principle of using an election as a de facto referendum, without specifying any date. So it could be the 2021 election, or it could be another scheduled election, or it could even be an early Holyrood election held midway through the 2021-26 parliamentary term. (Nicola Sturgeon doesn't literally have the power to "call" an early election, but under the rules it probably wouldn't be too difficult to bring one about.)

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, 1st-5th June 2020:

If Boris Johnson and the UK Government manage to block an independence referendum, do you think that pro-independence parties such as the SNP and the Greens should consider including an outright promise of independence in their manifestos for a future election, to give people an opportunity to vote for or against the idea?

Yes 49%
No 29%

With Don't Knows excluded, it's roughly...

Yes 63%
No 37%

That's a much more emphatic result than I expected. The five key groups that are all in favour of the proposal are SNP voters (Yes 80%, No 4%), Green voters (Yes 61%, No 29%), independence supporters (Yes 86%, No 1%), Remain voters (Yes 57%, No 21%) and most intriguingly of all Labour voters (Yes 45%, No 35%).

You might remember that our earlier poll in January also found clear public support for the idea of the Scottish Parliament going ahead and legislating for a consultative referendum in the absence of a Section 30 order, and allowing the courts to decide whether it can take place. So we now have polling evidence that voters support both of the two main options for circumventing a Westminster veto - which suggests to me that the wider population basically agrees with the Yes movement that Scotland must have the ability to make a choice on independence and that a "no" from Boris Johnson cannot and must not be the end of the matter. It also suggests that any fears the SNP leadership may harbour about a public backlash if they seek an independence mandate by an 'alternative' means are probably not well-founded. As long as the public understand that this is about facilitating a democratic choice, it looks like voters will be on board.

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UPDATE: I've just caught up with Keith Brown's response to this poll, which I think people will find frustrating, because it doesn't actually engage with the 'Plan B' idea, but nevertheless tries to shut it down in an indirect way that involves a number of red herrings -

"The process by which we choose Scotland’s future must be capable of actually achieving independence. It must allow majority support to be expressed clearly and unambiguously. It must be legal. And it must have the recognition of the international community."

The subtext is that using an election to seek an outright mandate for independence is 'not legal', but that's quite plainly untrue.  In fact it's exactly what the SNP did in every general election until the 1990s.  What would be illegal, at least as far as UK domestic law is concerned, is a unilateral declaration of independence - but that's categorically not what we're talking about here.  We're talking about a method of securing a mandate.  It's up to the UK government to decide whether to respect that mandate - if they do, there would be no question that the independence process would have international recognition.  If they don't, they would come under considerable pressure, both domestically and internationally, to negotiate with the Scottish Government to find a resolution.

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There are a couple more questions to come from the poll. To be the first to know when they're released, you can follow me on Twitter HERE. You can also read my piece in The National about last night's Holyrood voting intention results HERE.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll: SNP on course to win almost every single Scottish seat at Westminster, while the Tories and Lib Dems would be WIPED OUT - Scottish Parliament looks set for a big SNP overall majority with Labour and the Tories facing substantial seat losses

Before I saw the results of the new Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, the trend I found easiest to predict was a sharp decline for the Tories.  They've been going backwards at a rate of knots in recent Britain-wide polls, especially since the Cummings scandal, and I couldn't see any particular reason why it would be a different story in Scotland.  What I didn't foresee, though, is that this change of fortune would put the SNP in the zone of potentially winning virtually every single Westminster seat in Scotland - slightly more than they won even at their high watermark of 2015.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, 1st-5th June 2020):

SNP 51% (+1)
Conservatives 21% (-5)
Labour 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+1)
Greens 2% (n/c)

Seats projection: SNP 58 (+10), Labour 1 (n/c)

(Note: Percentage changes are measured from the last Panelbase poll, which was commissioned by Wings Over Scotland and conducted in early May.  Changes on the seats projection are measured from the actual result of the 2019 general election.)

The seats projection doesn't include the words "Conservatives 0 (-6), Liberal Democrats 0 (-4)", because why should we treat them differently to any other fringe parties?  Don't even mention parties that win zero seats and then people will forget they exist.  But, no, in all seriousness, the Electoral Calculus projection model really does suggest that both the Tories and the Lib Dems would be totally wiped out on these figures.  In reality, the likelihood is that the Lib Dems would hold Orkney & Shetland as they did in 2015, but it's not entirely inconceivable that the Tories could be removed from the Scottish map on 21% of the vote - and that says more about the absurdity of the voting system than about anything else.  But, hey, the Tories are the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for first-past-the-post, so they're in no position to complain.

Although the Tory vote share is substantially down since the last poll and also since the general election, it may surprise you to learn that they've actually been lower than 21% on a few occasions within the last eighteen months.  The lowest figure I can find is 18% in two Panelbase polls in May and June of 2019.  But that was during the brief heyday of the Brexit Party, when Farage was successfully wooing the type of hardline Tory voter that other parties don't have a hope of reaching.  There's no equivalent alibi for the Tory slump this time - their lost votes have instead gone to mainstream parties of the centre-left and the centre.  3% of Conservative voters from the general election are now in the SNP column, 8% have gone to Labour, and 2% to the Liberal Democrats.

Although Labour are not projected to gain any seats, there may be an indication here that the Starmer bounce south of the border is being partly replicated in Scotland.  19% is Labour's highest vote share in any poll (by any firm) since the general election.  However, all that means is they're back to where they started under Corbyn on polling day in December - which falls short of their current performance in England, where they're now comfortably outscoring their general election vote share.  They're plainly being hampered in Scotland by the wide appeal of the SNP.  It's telling that Labour have retained a significantly lower percentage of their voters from December (76%) than the Tories have (86%).  Roughly one-sixth of people who voted Labour are now minded to vote SNP, although those switchers have been offset by other voters moving towards Labour (partly from unionist parties).

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 53% (n/c) 
Conservatives 21% (-2)
Labour 16% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+1)
Greens 3% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 48% (n/c) 
Conservatives 19% (-3)
Labour 16% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+2)
Greens 7% (n/c)

Seats projection: SNP 72 (+9), Conservatives 25 (-6), Labour 19 (-5), Liberal Democrats 8 (+3), Greens 5 (-1)

The Holyrood pattern is very similar to the Westminster trends, with the Tories polling lower than they have for months.  In fact their 19% on the regional list vote equals their lowest ebb during the Brexit Party surge last year.

There's been no further progress for the SNP, but that's not surprising given that they must already have been pretty close to their absolute ceiling of support anyway.  They're on course for an overall single-party majority of fifteen seats - which would be an almost unbelievable feat under a proportional representation system.  I don't think enough has been said about just how phenomenal it is that they've been consistently polling in the mid-to-high 40s on the list ballot this year.  Throughout the whole of 2019 they never scored higher than 39% on the list in any poll from any firm.  Some of the improvement can probably be explained by the change of weighting scheme after the general election - but not all of it.

The pro-independence parties in combination would have 77 seats if this poll was replicated on polling day, and the anti-independence parties in combination would have only 52.  That's roughly a 60/40 split in favour of independence.  There's also a clear pro-independence majority in the popular vote on both ballots (56% in the constituencies, 55% on the list). Whatever type of mandate the pro-indy parties end up seeking next year - whether it's for a referendum or for independence - they clearly have the opportunity of gaining an immaculate one.

For the first time, the Conservatives will have to start seriously contemplating the possibility of dropping back significantly from the 31-seat haul they won under Ruth Davidson in their breakthrough year of 2016.  Obviously proportional representation would cushion their fall and there would be no wipeout of the sort that is a possibility at Westminster, but slipping to 25 seats would still be a humbling experience for them.

It must be dispiriting for Labour that the minor progress they've made under Starmer leaves them significantly below their performance under Corbyn and Kezia Dugdale in 2016, and thus on course to lose more seats and slump to yet another new all-time low of Holyrood representation.  It doesn't help matters for them that a full one-quarter of people who voted Labour in the general election would vote SNP on the constituency ballot - although that partly just reflects the fact that some people will always vote differently in Holyrood and Westminster elections, with Holyrood more of a "home fixture" for the SNP.

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There are several more questions to come from the poll.  To be the first to know when they're released, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.  You can also read my Sunday National piece about last night's results HERE.