Saturday, June 15, 2019

Richard Leonard begs for mercy as brutal YouGov subsample puts Scottish Labour on just 8% of the vote

This poll was released 24 hours ago, but it's worth flagging up, because it suggests that the Peterborough by-election has not resulted in the tide going back out on the Brexit Party.

Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov):

Brexit Party 26% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 22% (+2)
Labour 19% (-1)
Conservatives 17% (-1)
Greens 8% (-1)
SNP 4% (-1)
Plaid Cymru 1% (+1)
Change UK 1% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 38%, Liberal Democrats 19%, Conservatives 15%, Brexit Party 11%, Labour 8%, Greens 6%, Change UK 2%, Women's Equality Party 1%

But surely, you might think, the Peterborough by-election did at least disprove the idea that the Brexit Party could win a general election in practice?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  Peterborough was won by Labour's superior organisation and local knowledge, but it's a lot easier to make full use of those advantages in a by-election, when people can be brought in from across the country.  The Brexit Party will fight a general election on a somewhat more level playing field.  Nevertheless, I do expect Farage to start going backwards in the near future, simply because Boris Johnson looks almost certain to become Prime Minister, and that will bring Brexiteer votes back to the Tory fold.  I expect that process to happen in Scotland as well, so in spite of the perception that a Boris premiership will be Christmas, birthday and Hogmanay rolled into one for Nicola Sturgeon, it may well be that the Scottish Tories' chances of holding their seats in the north-east are about to improve somewhat.

The YouGov subsample suggests that the Lib Dems may also be a slightly increasing threat to the SNP.  But let's be honest: for as long as Scottish Labour are on just 8% - that's EIGHT PER CENT - there's nothing much to fear from an early general election.  Most marginal seats in Scotland are SNP-Labour marginals.

UPDATE: Literally one minute after I posted the above, an even newer YouGov poll emerged, with perhaps the first early sign of a Boris Bounce for the Tories, who are up four points and have drawn level with Labour.  The Brexit Party are still in the lead, but have dropped two points.  The Lib Dems have slipped back to fourth place.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 16 of the fundraiser, and so far £7076 has been raised. That's 83% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Support the campaign to get a Gaelic course added to Duolingo

Duolingo is the best-known and most effective free language-learning site on the internet.  I mentioned a few hours ago on Twitter how frustrating it is that it's possible to learn two fictional languages on the site (Klingon from Star Trek and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones) but it's not yet possible to learn Scottish Gaelic.  Just to rub salt into the wound, both Welsh and Irish are on the list of available languages, so once again Gaelic has ended up as the poor relation among the Celtic tongues.  Admittedly, there are plenty of other places where you can already learn some Gaelic online for free (this site is particularly good), but being added to Duolingo would really turbocharge the language's prospects.  It's like getting a prominent place in the shop window.  You would get people from Scotland, or people of Scottish descent in other countries, who would go on to Duolingo to learn French or Spanish, would see that one of the indigenous languages of their own country is also available, and would take the plunge out of curiosity.

Would they end up as fluent speakers?  Probably 99% wouldn't, but the position of Gaelic is precarious enough that the other 1% could make a hell of a lot of difference.  And the majority who would only learn a few words and phrases wouldn't be wasting their time by any means.  About fifteen years ago, I forced myself to learn some very basic Gaelic - I didn't get very far with it, but I've noticed that if I watch BBC Alba now, I can still pick out quite a number of the most common words and understand what they mean.  That's nowhere near enough to comprehend entire sentences without resorting to the subtitles, but it does mean that the language no longer sounds as alien to me as it did when I was growing up.  And one of the biggest battles that Gaelic faces is that too many people in its own country regard it as totally alien.

I suggested on Twitter that one of the most cost-effective ways in which the Scottish Government could promote Gaelic is by offering a grant to Duolingo to develop a Gaelic course.  A few people replied to point out that there is currently a spirited campaign on social media to get Gaelic included, and that I could maybe give it a small boost by mentioning it on this blog.  You can follow the campaign on Twitter HERE, and there's also a thread on the Duolingo forums where hundreds of people have expressed an interest in learning the language.  But from what I can gather, what is really needed to get some traction is for fluent Gaelic speakers to volunteer to actually build the course.  I'm sure there must be at least a few Scot Goes Pop readers who speak Gaelic fluently, so if you'd like to do something truly wonderful and game-changing for Scotland and its linguistic heritage, you can register your interest by filling in this form.  (Gaelic isn't one of the options in the drop-down menu, but if you scroll down to the bottom, you can select "Enter Other".  Might be best to say "Scottish Gaelic" in case they wrongly assume you're talking about Irish.)

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 16 of the fundraiser, and so far £6846 has been raised. That's 81% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Welcome to Ruth Davidson's 674th position on the circumstances in which an independence referendum might be "allowed"

In a BBC Scotland interview yesterday, Glenn Campbell asked Ruth Davidson whether she was saying "no, never" to an independence referendum.  Scotland really does appear to be the only country in the 'democratic world' (sic) in which it even occurs to the state broadcaster to invite the defeated Leader of the Opposition to 'make an announcement' about what the elected leader of the government will be 'allowed' to do, or in which the said Leader of the Opposition presumes to make such an announcement.  Whether she does so with the blessing of her London overlords is less clear - if so, they are guilty of undermining devolution by blurring the distinction between the role of Tory opposition leader at devolved level and Tory Secretary of State for Scotland at UK level.  If not, our Ruth is a fantasist.  It could be a bit of both, of course.

What we have learned, though, and it's largely of academic interest only, is that Ruth has changed the 'rules' yet again, because the position she set out in response to Campbell's question flatly contradicted every previous pronouncement she's made on the subject, which themselves flatly contradicted each other.  For example, in the run-up to the 2011 election, she declared that the SNP wouldn't get a referendum "for free" and would have to "earn it", and went on to clearly state that the way they could earn it was by a combination of pro-independence parties winning an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament - exactly what happened in the end, albeit that probably came as something of a shock to her.  (She was absolutely explicit that the majority could be a joint SNP-Green majority, and didn't have to be the SNP alone, although it just so happened the SNP won a solo majority.)  In the period immediately after the EU referendum of 2016, when it wasn't yet clear whether Nicola Sturgeon intended to use her mandate for a second indyref, Ruth said it would be constitutionally wrong for the UK government to attempt to block a referendum if the elected SNP-Green majority in the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of one.  But after the Scottish Parliament duly passed such a vote, she did a 180 degree turn and insisted that Westminster should block a referendum under all circumstances.  Now she's rowed back on that extremist stance somewhat, but she hasn't reverted to her original position, because her new line is that there has to be another single-party SNP majority before the mandate can be respected - the opposite of her statement in 2011 that the required threshold was a combined SNP-Green outright majority.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, a number of us issued warnings about the misguided belief that it was possible to "vote tactically on the list".  We pointed out that if the SNP lost their overall majority because their own supporters switched to another pro-independence party on the list, the Tories and the media would seize on that, and claim there isn't really a mandate for an independence referendum.  But I don't think anyone who went down that road should be beating themselves up too much, because the reality is that election results don't matter a damn to Ruth.  If the SNP had won an overall majority, there would have been some other excuse.  The threshold would magically have become an outright SNP majority on the popular vote.  If there had been such a majority, then we'd have been told that Holyrood elections aren't actually important, and that if the SNP win a majority of the popular vote at Westminster, then maybe we can talk.

Democracy is a rules-based system.  Countries in which the powers-that-be change the 'rules' retrospectively after losing an election are generally held to be sham democracies.  We can only ponder why a mainstream media that claims to pride itself on "fearlessly holding power to account" never seems remotely interested in pinning Ruth down on her endless and frantic shifting of the goalposts on an independence referendum, and the implications of that farcical process for the state of UK "democracy".

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The two little surprises in this morning's Tory leadership ballot were the scale of Boris Johnson's lead, and the fact that Rory Stewart scraped into Round 2.  The most popular slice of wisdom about these contests is that the early frontrunner hardly ever wins (with the only recent exception being Michael Howard), but on this occasion I suspect we're all waiting for a twist in the tale that isn't going to arrive.  I don't see how Boris can be stopped, unless there's a new Gove-style revelation about his past (which admittedly is always a real possibility given the nature of the man).  But I do hope and pray that Tory MPs will at least preserve our sanity on Tuesday by sending Rory Stewart back to the Middleland tae think again.

Conservative Party leadership election (first ballot):

Boris Johnson 114
Jeremy Hunt 43
Michael Gove 37
Dominic Raab 27
Sajid Javid 23
Matt Hancock 20
Rory Stewart 19
Andrea Leadsom 11
Mark Harper 10
Esther McVey 9

Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper and Esther McVey eliminated after failing to reach the 17-vote minimum threshold.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 14 of the fundraiser, and so far £6731 has been raised. That's 79% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Historians will puzzle over how it came to this, but the stars seem to be aligning for Boris and a No Deal Brexit

There's a strong case to be made that Have I Got News For You is indirectly responsible for Brexit.  If they hadn't helped Boris Johnson build up his image as a loveable buffoon, he'd never have become Mayor of London and wouldn't have had the political capital with which to make a decisive intervention in the EU referendum.  Now that butterfly effect seems set to take Johnson all the way to Downing Street, where perhaps (particularly in the light of today's failed Commons vote) he'll be able to push through a No Deal Brexit.

The fact that he was 'created' by a comedy TV show is one thing that would make a Johnson win unusual, but it's not the only thing.  This would also be the first time in living memory that a governing party has installed a backbencher as Prime Minister.  I'm actually struggling to work out when such a thing last happened.  Theresa May was Home Secretary when she took over from David Cameron.  Gordon Brown was Chancellor when he took over from Tony Blair.  John Major was Chancellor when he took over from Margaret Thatcher.  James Callaghan was Foreign Secretary when he took over from Harold Wilson.  Sir Alec Douglas-Home was Foreign Secretary when he took over from Harold Macmillan, who in turn was Chancellor when he took over from Sir Anthony Eden, who in turn was Foreign Secretary when he took over from Sir Winston Churchill.  You might assume that Churchill himself must have been a backbencher when he became PM due to his famed spell in the wilderness, but in fact he'd been First Lord of the Admiralty in Chamberlain's short-lived War Cabinet.  So a Johnson premiership would be a very rare example of non-continuity for a government in mid-term.  He resigned from Theresa May's administration for a reason, and it can be assumed that he'd oversee a change of direction more akin to an outright change of government.

What would it mean for us?  I've heard some people say that Boris Johnson doesn't really believe in anything but his own ambition, so there's no way of knowing for sure whether he'll keep his promises to the ERG headbangers until he's actually in office.  But for my money it's his ambition that'll ensure he does stick to his word, because he'll know his place in history will be guaranteed if he delivers on a No Deal Brexit.  Even if it unleashes economic calamity, it's unlikely to be reversed for a very long time, and so the political status quo would become synonymous with Boris in much the same way that the post-war consensus was synonymous with Attlee.

Which leaves the question of whether parliament would be able to stop No Deal if Johnson is hellbent on bringing it about.  Today's vote makes that less likely, but doesn't close off the possibility entirely.  But one thing is for sure: a parliament that thwarts the main objective of the government is making an early general election inevitable.  Polling suggests that Johnson is the only one of the ten Tory leadership candidates who would recover a significant number of the votes lost to the Brexit Party in time for an election this autumn, so it could be that, paradoxically, he would help save Ruth Davidson's bacon in her north-east seats in Scotland.  The SNP might instead have to look towards gains from Labour to keep up the momentum towards a second independence referendum.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 13 of the fundraiser, and so far £6500 has been raised. That's 76% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

If you want a risk-free referendum, try living in a totalitarian state. This is Scotland, and we can't win independence without risking defeat.

I've been meaning for a few days to write a detailed response to Pete Wishart's new article, in which he claims that the experience of Quebec provides proof for his well-rehearsed belief that the maximum amount of independence referendums that Scotland can ever hold is two, and that we can't afford to lose the second indyref because we'd never get another one.  Here's the short version of the point I was going to make: the Quebec experience shows no such thing, because the Parti Québécois has in fact won two elections since the second referendum loss in 1995, and one of those victories was with an outright majority.  It therefore had the window of opportunity if it so wished to hold a third referendum, but it chose not to do so, and now the moment seems to have passed.  The PQ was recently replaced as the main Quebec nationalist force by a right-of-centre party which opposes independence but theoretically supports more powers for Quebec within the Canadian federation.  (The concept of an anti-independence nationalist party is an alien one in Scotland, but it has a long tradition in Quebec, and it arguably has some parallels in Wales - under Carwyn Jones, Welsh Labour was sometimes referred to as 'soft nationalist'.)

So this is an uncomfortable thought for Pete, who is previously on the record as wanting to delay an independence referendum until we "know" we will win it.  The real lesson of Quebec is that if you timidly hold off from calling a referendum until the moment seems perfect, you eventually find that you're no longer anywhere near government and can't hold a referendum whether you want to or not.  And if you can't call a referendum, you can't become an independent country.

As I've pointed out umpteen times before, the pre-knowledge of victory that Pete is seeking is unattainable anyway.  Public opinion in referendum campaigns is notoriously volatile, much more so that in regular elections.  Even if it was somehow realistic to think we'll get Yes support to 60% before the referendum campaign even begins (and I don't think it is), we'd feel a bit bloody silly for holding off until that point if there's a 20% drop in support within a week or two of the campaign starting.  You can find endless examples from referendums around the world of that sort of thing happening - and indeed the two Quebec referendum campaigns are themselves excellent examples of volatility.  In 1980, the Yes side were in a winning position but suffered a catastrophic loss of support as the campaign progressed, but in 1995 the swing was in the opposite direction, with Yes turning around a seemingly insurmountable deficit to draw more or less level by polling day.

Even if a 60% starting point wouldn't guarantee victory, surely it would give us a somewhat better chance than a 45% starting point?  Well, maybe, but the operative word is "somewhat".  I strongly suspect that the relative stability of independence polls in recent years is deceptive, and that once a campaign is underway we'd see a big swing in public opinion once again.  The real test always comes when the public actually focus on the choice in front of them.

Incidentally, volatility has been increasing even in regular elections.  There have been any number of occasions over recent years when we "knew" the result of an election in advance...until it turned out that we didn't.

2007 Holyrood election: SNP started the campaign with a solid lead, but ended up in a virtual dead heat with Labour.

2011 Holyrood election: Labour appeared to be coasting to an effortless victory, until the SNP completely turned it around in the closing weeks and won by a landslide.

2015 Westminster election: A hung parliament was supposedly guaranteed, and indeed masses of column inches were devoted to pondering whether majority government had become a thing of the past in Britain.  David Cameron ended up with an overall majority that virtually no-one saw coming.

2016 Holyrood election: An SNP majority government was supposedly so assured that SNP voters didn't even need to bother backing the party on the list vote.  In the end, the SNP fell two seats short of a majority.

2017 Westminster election: The reverse of 2015.  A landslide Conservative majority was a nailed-on certainty, but we ended up with a hung parliament instead.

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On the subject of learning the wrong lessons from Canada, Stephen Bush of the New Statesman has offered the following reason for thinking that Dominic Raab wouldn't be able to follow Stephen Harper's notorious example by proroguing parliament for tactical reasons -

"One of several crucial differences between the Canadian example and the United Kingdom is that while Elizabeth II is the head of state in both, in Canada, her constitutional role is largely parcelled off to the governor-general, who is appointed by the prime minister. It’s one thing for the governor-general, who is usually a former political figure, to be drawn into politics, but quite another for the same to happen to the sovereign."

I'll freely hold my hands up and say that I don't know whether it would be legally possible for a British Prime Minister to achieve a No Deal Brexit by means of a tactical prorogation.  But I do know that Stephen's reading of the Canadian precedent is incorrect. The Governor-General at the time of the 2008 constitutional crisis was Michaëlle Jean, a Liberal appointee.  There was a great deal of speculation about whether she would allow herself to be dragged into political controversy by blocking the request of the Conservative Prime Minister for prorogation, in line with her presumed Liberal loyalties.  When she took the opposite course of action, it was firmly interpreted as her playing a straight bat by putting constitutional precedent before partisan politics, in much the same way that the Queen would be expected to in this country.  She had clearly received advice that it would be constitutionally inappropriate to decline a prorogation request from the Prime Minister.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 9 of the fundraiser, and so far £5722 has been raised. That's 67% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Labour's narrow win in Peterborough doesn't significantly reduce the chances of No Deal - the Tories know they lost the seat because of the Brexit Party

I'm very surprised by the outcome of the Peterborough by-election.  John Curtice suggested during the BBC coverage that it wasn't such a shock, because the difference between the result tonight and what happened in the constituency at the Euro election two weeks ago was bang in line with the differential in the polls between Brexit Party support for Euro elections and for Westminster.  But one of the fundamental truths about parliamentary by-elections is that voting patterns often bear little resemblance to how a general election would play out, because people know that they're not electing a government and have a free opportunity to indulge in a protest vote.  With the momentum the Brexit Party had built up, the timing of this election was tailor-made for them to break through, and I can only assume that the fact they've fallen short means that their local campaign was a bit shambolic.

Another of Curtice's claims that startled me is that Labour are just as keen as the Tories to avoid an early general election.  That seems unlikely to me - in spite of the sudden drift towards multi-party politics, it's still probably the case that in a first-past-the-post election, what is bad for the Tories must be good for Labour.  Jeremy Corbyn would much rather win an election this year with 30% of the vote than wait three years and lose an election with 40% of the vote.  So I presume Labour would still try to trigger a general election if the chance arose to do that - and of course this result makes the parliamentary arithmetic slightly more promising for them.  When it first became clear that this by-election was likely to take place, the Tories were ahead in the national polls, and it seemed obvious that they would gain a seat which they had only narrowly lost in 2017 to a Labour candidate who had since been forced out in disgrace.  That bonus seat would have slightly shored up the government's position, but as it is they remain highly vulnerable to defeat on a motion of no confidence if a small number of Remain-supporting Tory MPs make a last-ditch attempt to stop No Deal.

Tonight's result is slightly reminiscent of the landmark Darlington by-election in 1983, in the sense of the leading opposition party unexpectedly fighting a successful rearguard defence against an insurgent party.  The difference is that the upstart party that fell short in 1983 was a centre-left outfit that was a mortal threat to Labour at a general election, whereas this time the defeated party is more of a threat to the Tories.  There have been some suggestions that Farage's loss relieves the pressure on the Tories to push for No Deal, because they no longer have to be quite so concerned about the Brexit Party threat at the general election...but anything more than a cursory glance at the result tells the opposite tale.  The Tory narrative will now move on from "if we don't go for No Deal, we'll lose most of our seats to the Brexit Party" to "if we don't go for No Deal, we'll lose half of our votes to the Brexit Party, and Labour will win the election by default".  That said, Farage has missed a golden opportunity to build further momentum that could have pushed the Brexit Party into a clearer lead in national polls - and that would have made No Deal even more likely.

Jeremy Corbyn's critics obviously miscalculated yet again by talking up a leadership crisis in expectation that Labour would lose tonight. Instead, the chances that Corbyn will lead Labour into the general election (which were already very high) have strengthened further. Whether that's good news or bad news for the SNP and the Yes movement is almost impossible to tell - it just depends on which Jeremy Corbyn turns up at the election. The Corbyn factor undoubtedly worked in our favour at the Holyrood election in 2016, but against us at the Westminster election a year later.

Peterborough by-election result:

Labour 30.9% (-17.2)
Brexit Party 28.9% (n/a)
Conservatives 21.4% (-25.5)
Liberal Democrats 12.3% (+8.9)
Greens 3.1% (+1.3)
UKIP 1.2% (n/a)
Chirstian Peoples Alliance 0.5% (n/a)
English Democrats 0.5% (n/a)
SDP 0.4% (n/a)
Monster Raving Loony Party 0.3% (n/a)
Independent 0.3% (n/a)
Common Good 0.2% (n/a)
Renew 0.1% (n/a)
UK EU 0.1% (n/a)
Independent 0.0% (n/a)

Swing from Conservatives to Brexit Party: 27.2%
Swing from Labour to Brexit Party: 23.1%

For some reason the BBC reported the Labour-to-Brexit swing as being around 8%, but that figure was miles out.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 8 of the fundraiser, and so far £5488 has been raised. That's 65% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser 2019

Click here to go straight to the fundraiser page.

It's that time of the year again when I ask for your help as I continue to write about Scottish politics. If the fundraiser succeeds, the likelihood is that I'll continue to write on this blog, although I always try to keep open a bit of flexibility just in case I end up writing on another website, or perhaps even following the lead of other bloggers by self-publishing a book. (But if my circumstances change completely and I'm unable to continue writing about politics at all, at that stage I would pass the remaining funds on to other pro-indy causes.)

So what is Scot Goes Pop? It's one of the most-read and also one of the oldest pro-independence websites in Scotland. It began way back in 2008, but gained in popularity in 2013 when I launched the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls for voting intentions in the independence referendum. I had become quite cynical about the way anti-independence newspapers repeatedly seized on individual No-friendly polls as 'proof' that the campaign was supposedly over before it had even started. The intention was clearly to sap the morale of Yes campaigners. The Poll of Polls was a useful corrective, helping to put unfavourable polls in their proper context by comparing them to the average numbers across all polling firms, and emphasising the high degree of uncertainty about the true state of public opinion.

In the run-up to the 2015 general election, Scot Goes Pop picked up on the extraordinary SNP surge several weeks earlier than the mainstream media, mostly because I wasn't dogmatic enough to ignore the consistent and unambiguous message being sent by the Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls. And then as the 2016 Holyrood election approached, I warned that the SNP were in danger of losing their overall majority at a time when other voices were insisting that a majority was a foregone conclusion, and that the SNP didn't need any list votes at all.

With yet another Westminster general election potentially in the offing now, and as preparations continue for a possible second independence referendum, I hope to continue with the blog's unique coverage of the polling situation from a pro-indy perspective. To get a better idea of what Scot Goes Pop is all about, please watch this short promo film that I made with Phantom Power last year.

The latest figures from the Traffic Estimate site suggest that Scot Goes Pop has received 62,200 unique visitors over the last 30 days (as of 31st May 2019), making it the fourth most popular alternative media site in Scotland. Not bad for a one-person operation!

There's often a misconception that the purpose of a fundraiser such as this is to cover "running costs". In fact, there are no running costs for Scot Goes Pop, because it uses a free blogging platform. There are, however, a few miscellaneous (and usually small) expenses that crop up as an indirect result of the blog. To give a couple of examples: last year I was asked to speak at the Hands Off Our Parliament rally at Holyrood, which obviously meant paying a train fare to Edinburgh, and in 2016 I was asked to invest in a decent microphone to improve the sound quality of an Independence Live debate I participated in with Tommy Sheridan. The fundraiser can help cover expenses of that type, but the main purpose is simply to help me keep body and soul together while I'm writing.

I should stress for the benefit of any passing trolls that the fundraisers are not my sole source of income, and I'm relieved to say that I even do some work that has nothing to do with either politics or writing. But long-term readers will know that I post frequently and at length during particularly busy periods, such as general election and referendum campaigns. During those brief spells, the level of commitment required almost approaches that of a full-time job. At other times it can be like a very time-consuming part-time job. I'm also sometimes asked to write articles for other publications - for example, until a year or two back I was a pro-independence columnist for both the International Business Times and the Talk Radio website. Those articles were often requested at extremely short notice and I ended up writing them in a variety of weird and wonderful settings and circumstances. It simply wouldn't be possible to do that if I was also trying to hold down a 9-5 job. The fundraisers give me the flexibility to drop everything and write as and when required (most obviously when an opinion poll is published).

As you may know, there have been other spin-offs from the blog's success. I currently have a monthly column in iScot magazine, and I've also written for publications such as The National, the Sunday National, Fair Observer, National Collective, and even the Eurovision Times! Many of the IBTimes articles were syndicated on Yahoo, sometimes reaching huge audiences. I've been interviewed on BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 5 Live, CTV News (Canada), the Bauer radio network, Radio Sputnik, and numerous alternative media podcasts, films and live-streams.

As always, please don't feel under any pressure to make a donation. Scot Goes Pop isn't a newspaper or a magazine - it's a blog, and there's absolutely no charge for reading it. The option to donate is there if you want to, but it's only an option. And, of course, if you have a spare minute or two you can always pass on the word to others - every tweet or Facebook share helps enormously!

Click here if you'd like to donate.

Would it be better for the SNP if a general election takes place before Brexit Day?

Barely a blink of an eye has passed since we were quietly rejoicing at the creation of the Independent Group (now Change UK) because we thought it would split the unionist vote and make it easier for the SNP to win a first-past-the-post election.  As absurd as that seems in retrospect, there were actually sound reasons for believing that was true at the time.  Although Change UK's potential electoral appeal was wildly overstated in the media, opinion polls were nevertheless showing that they were attracting a non-trivial share of the vote, and in Scotland it appeared to be coming more from the unionist parties than from the SNP.  Initially Labour took the biggest hit - remember how the Tories burst into a significant lead across the UK, and it briefly appeared that Change UK were about to follow in the SDP's footsteps by indirectly delivering a Tory landslide?  Yes, that does seem a very long time ago now, which just goes to show that we've lived through several years' worth of twists and turns over the last few weeks.  Brexit is severely compressing the political cycle.

The voters that transiently flirted with Change UK seem to be mostly coalescing behind the Liberal Democrats now.  That's less optimal for the SNP, because the Lib Dems are much more of a seat-winning threat at a general election than Change UK would have been.  But everything is relative - better to see the Lib Dems prosper at a modest level than to have Labour emerge as the Britain-wide party of Remain and enjoy a bandwagon effect that could sweep away the SNP's seats in the central belt.  And in any case, there's not much point mourning one missed opportunity to split the unionist vote when another has come along right on cue.  As long as the general election takes place before Britain leaves the EU, Nigel Farage's new party looks set to deal a killer blow to Scottish Tory hopes.

It's less clear whether the Brexit Party threat to the Tories would fade away if the election takes place after Brexit, but that's certainly a possibility.  Paradoxically, though, any Lib Dem threat to the SNP might also be neutralised by Brexit being delivered, because it's very hard to see how the Lib Dems would adapt to the new environment.  Vince Cable has already said that it wouldn't be credible for Britain to apply to rejoin the EU in the foreseeable future, which would effectively leave the party fighting for a softer Brexit - an objective unlikely to capture the public imagination in quite the same way as "B******* to Brexit".  The SNP, by contrast, would still be able to speak to the Remain true believers by promising that an independent Scotland will be a full member of the EU.

At the moment, it looks like the Brexit Party pose a much bigger danger to the Scottish Tories than the Lib Dems do to the SNP, so on balance it would probably be better for the SNP if an election takes place before Halloween.

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The break-up of Change UK yesterday was eerily reminiscent of the last days of the SDP in 1987-88.  From my vague recollection of something I once read in a book, the fracturing of the SDP was completely unnecessary, because although there was a clear majority in favour of a merger with the Liberals, there was also a clause in the party constitution that would have allowed David Owen to prevent the merger taking place by means of a blocking minority.  But he waived his right to do that, because he actually wanted a split.  He wanted to be free of the pro-Liberal faction that he was sick to death of dealing with, even though following that course clearly posed an existential threat to his political cause.  Change UK seem to have reached the same point - they just couldn't be bothered thrashing out a compromise that nobody would have been happy with but ultimately would have been in the best interests of all concerned.

It seems to be the case that some of the Change UK MPs wanted to throw in their lot with the Lib Dems, some wanted to carry on with their own party, and some wanted to leave behind party politics altogether.  The obvious compromise between those three positions would have been to persevere with Change UK as an independent force, but negotiate an electoral pact with the Lib Dems.  And I'm not sure it's true that the Lib Dems would no longer have been interested after the European election result, because Change UK would still have brought eleven MPs to the table, including some bigger personalities than the Lib Dems have in their own ranks.

One thing we know for sure now is that Nigel Farage would beat Chuka Umunna in a game of chess.  Farage thought several moves ahead and timed the Brexit Party's entry onto the electoral stage to perfection.  Change UK's timing couldn't have been worse.  They'd probably point out that they didn't see the European elections coming - well, OK, but Farage did, and in any case it was the local elections a few weeks earlier that generated the Lib Dem momentum and snuffed out Change UK's chances of a breakthrough.  The split from Labour should either have taken place early enough to allow for participation in the local elections, or it should have been delayed for several months until the elections were safely out of the way.  By that point, they could have used their own novelty value to combat the Lib Dem surge.

I of course derive no satisfaction whatever from the fact that the loathsome Chris Leslie and Mike Gapes don't seem to realise that the decision they've just made to soldier on in a rump fringe party means that their parliamentary careers are drawing inexorably to a close.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 6 of the fundraiser, and so far £3575 has been raised. That's 42% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

We've got to get out of this place: UK on course to elect Farage as Prime Minister, says Opinium poll

Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (Opinium):

Brexit Party 26% (+1)
Labour 22% (-4)
Conservatives 17% (-5)
Liberal Democrats 16% (+4)
Greens 11% (+7)
SNP 4% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)
Change UK 1% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-1)

It's no great surprise that it's the Brexit Party rather than the Liberal Democrats that have the lead in this poll, because the Lib Dem lead in the YouGov poll the other night was wafer-thin and was reported by a pollster that had recently been producing much more favourable numbers for the Lib Dems than other polling firms.  But what is a surprise is that the Lib Dems are languishing in fourth place, and appear to have got less of a boost from the Euro election result than the Greens.  And what may go unnoticed due to the impact of an outright Farage lead is that the Brexit Party themselves are only 1% up - a counterintuitive finding given that the Tories are 5% down.

When things are in such a state of flux, opinion poll results themselves can help to generate momentum and thus affect future polling, and from that point of view it's worth remembering that the Opinium fieldwork preceded the publication of the YouGov poll.  So perhaps there's a secondary Lib Dem boost that Opinium haven't been able to pick up yet.

In case you're consoling yourself with the thought that Brexit Party support is too evenly-spread for first-past-the-post and that Farage wouldn't be able to become Prime Minister on 26% of the vote, the seat projection from Electoral Calculus based on this poll tells a grimmer tale.  The Brexit Party would be just 20 seats short of an overall majority, and with the Tories holding on to 26 seats, there would be no realistic majority for any government other than a Farage-led government.  That said, I'm not sure what assumptions Electoral Calculus are making about the geographical distribution of support for the Brexit Party, which is, after all, a party that only received its first ever votes just over a week ago.

Nigel Farage has taken out an each-way bet with his Brexit Party adventure - he can either win directly by becoming Prime Minister, or he can win indirectly by spooking the Tories into embracing No Deal.  It's becoming increasingly hard to see how he can possibly lose.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 2 of the fundraiser, and so far £2684 has been raised.  That's 32% of the way towards the target figure of £8500.  A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far.  You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Historic YouGov poll puts the Tories and Labour in third and fourth place in Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster

I think we can safely say we've never seen an opinion poll quite like this before.  I did wonder in my previous blogpost whether the first poll after the European elections would put the Brexit Party in an outright lead - that hasn't quite happened, but it's just as dramatic a story as that.

Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov):

Liberal Democrats 24% (+6)
Brexit Party 22% (+4)
Conservatives 19% (-5)
Labour 19% (-5)
Greens 8% (+2)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 6% (+1)
Change UK 1% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 44%, Conservatives 19%, Labour 12%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Brexit Party 7%, Greens 6%, Change UK 1%, UKIP 1%

What remains to be seen is whether the Lib Dem and Brexit Party surges are the real deal, or whether they're Cleggasm-type effects that will ebb away once memories of the Euro election fade.  But if by any chance things carry on like this, the SNP could be in a with a golden opportunity of cleaning up at the next general election, because for the first time ever they won't have to deal with the perception that people need to vote for a Labour government as the only alternative to the Tories.  Instead, they'll quite reasonably be able to point out that a vote for the SNP is the only credible way in Scotland of helping to stop Farage.

The one possible fly in the ointment, as I suggested the other day, is that it looks likely that the next Lib Dem leader will be a Scot.  But even if the Scottish Lib Dems do get some sort of Swinson boost, and even if they feed off the UK bandwagon effect, they can only realistically hope to win in a relatively small minority of constituencies.  There are huge swathes of Scotland where the SNP are the only conceivable beneficiaries of a Tory and Labour collapse.