Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Yet again, ITV betrays its viewers by trying to rig a general election in Scotland

The fact that ITV's announcement of a rigged leaders' debate was so predictable does not make it any less outrageous or mean it should provoke any less fury.  The debate will exclude all parties apart from the two that just happen to be most popular in England.

In the UK, parliament is directly elected but the government is not. There are no "candidates for Prime Minister" standing for election, even though that has been used as a risible excuse for excluding all but two leaders in the past.  (Michael Crick openly admitted in 2010 that the broadcasters started with the assumption that they had to come up with an excuse for excluding the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and thus worked backwards to dream up the 'Prime Ministerial Debate' wheeze.)

A parliamentary election consists of hundreds of individual constituency contests.  In Scotland, the vast majority of those will be SNP v Labour races.  How can those take place on a level playing field if the main TV debates only feature Labour and the Tories?  They can't.  They will clearly be rigged in favour of Labour.  Of the minority of Scottish contests that are not SNP v Labour, most are SNP v Tory.  How can those take place on a level playing field if the main TV debates only feature Labour and the Tories?  They can't.  They will clearly be rigged in favour of the Tories.

Nor can the distorting effect of Labour v Tory debates be in any way remedied by having four-way second-string Scottish debates that feature the SNP, Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems.  Because those will simply provide Labour and the Tories with yet more airtime, they will have no balancing effect whatsoever.  To properly compensate with fair coverage, there would need to be additional debates that specifically exclude Labour and the Tories.

Rigged debates cannot be justified by precedent either, because in 2015 ITV had no problem broadcasting a scrupulously fair debate involving the leaders of all seven of the largest parties, including the SNP and Plaid.  Why did they agree to that?  Oh, because David Cameron would only agree to take part in a single debate if his exchanges with Ed Miliband were 'diluted' by having other leaders present.  It's extraordinary, isn't it: democratic fairness is possible for Scotland in the UK, but only as an incidental side-effect of the whims of a unionist party leader in London.

Scots will always be second class citizens in 'Our Pwecious Union'.  Institutions like ITV serve England and literally look no further.  The dice are loaded against us, and quite simply we need out.

Survation poll offers glimmer of hope by suggesting the SNP are only four points behind

After the disappointment of the Redfield & Wilton numbers a few hours ago, a new full-scale Scottish poll from Survation has offered a bit more hope by putting the SNP just four points behind Labour - the smallest gap any polling firm has shown since John Swinney became leader.

Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election (Survation / True North):

Labour 36%
SNP 32%
Conservatives 17%
Liberal Democrats 9%

Seats projection: Labour 28, SNP 16, Conservatives 8, Liberal Democrats 5

So there are two important points about the slenderness of the gap.  Firstly, it gives the SNP hope that they might still be able to overhaul the deficit, although ideally they'd want to do that in the early stages of the campaign before postal votes are cast.  But secondly, even if they don't get back into the lead, the seats projection (which was calculated by John Curtice) shows there may be a reward for keeping things close.  Sixteen seats for the SNP is twice as many as we saw in the projection from the recent YouGov poll.  While slumping to sixteen seats would be seen as just as big a disaster on election night as slumping to seven or eight would, after a year or two things would look different, and the importance of retaining a substantial presence in the Commons would seem obvious.  It would still be a better position than the SNP had at any point prior to 2015, including the 1974-79 parliament when they had only 11 seats out of 71.

The fact that the Tories are actually gaining a couple of seats on the projection also suggests the SNP have an opportunity to squeeze out more than sixteen seats if they can get an anti-Tory tactical voting bandwagon going in the several Tory-SNP marginals.

There's also a touch of bad news from the poll, which is the first poll since the change of SNP leadership not to show John Swinney as more popular than his Labour counterparts.  Incomprehensibly, Keir Starmer has a net positive rating, albeit a modest one of +3, while Anas Sarwar is on -3 and Swinney is on -7.  But everything is relative - that's a small gap which is nowhere near as much of a problem as would exist if Humza Yousaf was still leader.

Unusually, the full range of Alba leaders are asked about, and the results are a mixed bag.  Neale Hanvey's net rating is respectable enough at -12.  Ash Regan's rating is poor at -24, but that's only fractionally worse than the Greens' Patrick Harvie (-22) and Lorna Slater (-22).  But Alex Salmond remains the least popular politician asked about, with his rating of -45 being seven points worse than Rishi Sunak.  As I've noted multiple times before, this is such a dilemma for Alba - in normal circumstances it would be obviously suboptimal to have a leader with a rating of -45, but it may well be that Alba only attract as much media attention as they do because of who their leader is, and that if they replaced him in the pursuit of better ratings, they'd end up being completely ignored, which is the worst outcome of all for a small party.

By the way, if anyone from Survation happens to be reading this (not impossible on past form), could I just point out that you're still spelling Ash Regan's name wrong.  In fact, it's got even worse - you're now calling her "Ash Reagen".

I've previewed Stephen Flynn's constituency race in Aberdeen South for The National - you can read the piece HERE.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Redfield & Wilton mega-poll suggests SNP have 7-point deficit to overcome

Redfield & Wilton have produced a new GB-wide poll with a much larger than usual sample size, meaning the Scottish subsample is roughly the size you'd expect for a full-scale Scottish poll.  Whether the weightings have been applied in the same way as they would be for a full-scale poll, I don't know, but for what it's worth these are the numbers: Labour 35%, SNP 28%, Conservatives 22%, Reform UK 7%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 2%.

That would mean the SNP have made no progress since the last full-scale Scottish poll from the same firm, which also had a 7-point Labour lead, although I suppose the other way of looking at it is that things haven't got any worse.  If anything is making me sceptical, it's the Tory number - is it really plausible that the Tory percentage vote in Scotland is roughly the same as in the rest of Britain? If so, it would be the first time that's happened in many decades.

* * *

I've profiled the constituency of Aberdeen North for The National - you can read the piece HERE.

Monday, May 27, 2024

First Scottish poll of the campaign has the SNP trailing - but not by as much as the pre-campaign polls

We have the first full-scale Scottish poll of the general election campaign, and I'm not quite sure whether to be encouraged by it or not.  A few months ago we'd have regarded a five-point Labour lead over the SNP as a terrible starting-point, but it's not as bad as the recent YouGov and Redfield & Wilton polls, and thus offers the SNP a fighting chance of coming out of this election with an OK result.

Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election (More in Common, 22nd-25th May 2024):

Labour 35%
SNP 30%
Conservatives 17%
Liberal Democrats 10%
Reform UK 4%
Greens 3%

It's worth making the point that the poll suggests the SNP may be reverting to an old problem they thought they'd resolved thanks to Nicola Sturgeon, because they're almost level-pegging among men but ten points behind among women.  Their own internal polling will give them ideas about how best to counter any gender voting gap, but I'd have thought putting Kate Forbes to the fore of the campaign might help.

Some of the supplementary results from the poll are moderately encouraging for the SNP.  34% of respondents say that John Swinney is an improvement on Humza Yousaf, compared with only 5% who think he's a downgrade on the previous leader.  There's also no clear advantage for Labour on trust issues, at least not across the board.  Labour are a bit more trusted than the SNP on the NHS, jobs and housing, but the SNP are more trusted on the wars in Ukraine and Palestine, on climate change, on independence, and weirdly also on the transgender debate.

Almost 80% of respondents say "it's time for a change", and yet only 45% think Keir Starmer represents change, with 55% believing he represents "more of the same". Now that sense of realism could be very useful indeed - except for the fact that John Swinney is seen in much the same way.  Perhaps voters needs a reminder from the SNP that independence is a far, far more radical change than anything Starmer is proposing.

Voters are slightly more clear on where John Swinney stands than they are with Starmer, although the difference isn't statistically significant. But on basic approval ratings, this is yet another poll showing Swinney (-2) with a very clear advantage over both Starmer (-10) and Anas Sarwar (-11).

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Time to get real: if you're an independence supporter, you need to vote, and you need to vote for a pro-independence party

The independence movement is facing by far its most challenging election for a decade, and yet when I look at the comments section of this blog it's like stepping into Narnia, because it's full of apparently committed independence supporters debating whether they will somehow help the situation by staying at home on polling day, or by spoiling their ballot paper, or by voting tactically to oust their local SNP MP.  To state what ought to be the bleedin' obvious, no, you will not help by doing any of those things.  You will do tremendous harm.

Yes, I know all the arguments backwards: Pete Wishart is so comfortable in Westminster that he's referred to as "Slippers", John Nicolson is an identity politics extremist who is unacceptable to feminists, Stewart McDonald is (at best) a devolutionist who is infatuated with British militarism, etc, etc.  But all of that is totally irrelevant in the current context and I'll explain why.

What people are overlooking is the importance of momentum and story-telling.  Think back to the aftermath of the failure to pass the 40% threshold in the 1979 devolution referendum, and the SNP losing nine of their eleven seats a few weeks later at the general election.  That created a narrative that the Scottish people had slammed the door shut on devolution through lack of interest, and indeed a generation passed by before Home Rule became possible once again.  The media and London establishment are eagerly waiting to declare this election the decisive 1979-style turning-point at which voters put independence back in its box, where it can be safely ignored for the next twenty years.  Nobody will give a monkey's about the minutiae or nuances of the views of individual SNP MPs - if someone like Stewart McDonald loses his seat, it will be seen as confirming the narrative of a generational rejection of independence.  If he holds his seat, it will be seen as calling that narrative into question and keeping the flame of independence alive.  And that's our task for this election: simply to keep the flame alive so we can live to fight another day and hopefully press home for independence in 2026.  I very much doubt we'll have that opportunity if the SNP are routed in July.  The media will tell the public that they've moved on from the independence question, and the public will believe that about themselves.

If you can't bring yourself to vote SNP for whatever reason, there will be other pro-independence parties like Alba and the Greens to choose from in some seats.  But I make no bones about it: if the SNP are the only pro-independence party standing in your constituency, the logic points overwhelmingly towards voting SNP.  If you don't, you're either using your vote to do harm to the independence cause, or you're refraining from using your vote to do anything constructive.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

First YouGov subsample of the campaign shows an SNP lead

This is a very small piece of polling good news after a run of bad news, but take it with a hefty dose of salt.  Although YouGov are unlike other polling firms in that they seem to structure and weight their Scottish subsamples correctly, the size of the subsample is just 180, which means the margin of error will be very large.

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 23rd-24th May 2024):

Labour 44% (-2)
Conservatives 22% (+1)
Reform UK 14% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-)
Greens 6% (-1)
SNP 3% (-)
Plaid Cymru 1% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 37%, Labour 34%, Conservatives 13%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Greens 4%, Reform UK 2%

The likelihood, I'd have thought, is that Labour are still in the lead in Scotland, and the apparent SNP lead is just an illusion of the margin of error.  However, the hope must be that it's a straw in the wind suggesting that the calling of the election has focussed minds and that some people who voted SNP in 2015, 2017 and 2019 have "gone home" as a result.  Time will tell when we see some full-scale Scottish polls.

It would make such a psychological difference if the SNP could claw their way back to roughly level pegging and hold at least 20+ seats.  The jury is out on whether that is a realistic goal or not.

A response to some pleasantries

I'm well used to being trolled, but as IFS pointed out, some of the trolling that followed my article the other night seemed particularly extreme and almost had a coordinated feel to it.  

I've felt for a while that people seem to have a faulty translator chip installed that goes particularly haywire whenever Kate Forbes speaks.  She can say something totally innocuous about tidal power or pensioner poverty, but somehow people hear it as "I love conversion therapy" or "the Earth is 6000 years old".  The trolling I received gave me a little taste of a similar phenomenon, because all of it was based on the completely bogus premise that my article was some sort of attack on the SNP or was a form of 'anti-SNP spinning'. 

There's a basic failure of intelligence or at least of attention here.  Anyone who has followed this blog knows, or certainly ought to know, that I believe the future of the independence movement hinges on the SNP being successful in this election, and I've therefore been looking for any possible sign of hope.  The article reflects that and identifies John Swinney's positive approval ratings as the most optimistic indicator.  But it would have been dishonest and ridiculous of me to have totally ignored the elephant in the room, ie. that the calling of the election has coincided in a really unfortunate way with two polls showing the SNP in their worst position for a decade.

Similarly, because the article mentioned Alba, all the trolls seem to hear is "glorious Alba heading for historic triumph!", which bears no resemblance whatever to what I actually said.  One troll even left a comment on this blog that said "James, your article is ridiculous, Alba will win no seats at all", which might have been a fabulous point if it actually contradicted the text of the article in any way.  In reality, the article was decidedly downbeat about Alba's chances.  I said that by standing in so many seats they were following a "curious" strategy that risked stretching their resources too thin, and that could result in them recording a very low vote in each seat.

Another troll, using delightful language, claimed: "James so far up Salmond's a*** he can see the Rev. Stu".  Yeah, has anyone actually noticed me being particularly sycophantic towards the Alba leadership recently?  As opposed to, y'know, repeatedly pointing out how concerned I am that they're moving in the wrong direction?  That they were unwise to vote to bring down the SNP government, that their intervention in the general election is too extensive and risks doing harm, that they've become too authoritarian and too intolerant of party members' right to speak freely, etc, etc?

Incidentally, when I was asked to write the article, I was specifically asked to discuss how the SNP, the Greens and Alba were placed in the polls as the campaign got underway.  So if I hadn't mentioned Alba at all, I wouldn't have been sticking to the brief.  But the trolls seem to be triggered simply by any mention of the word "Alba" itself.  

Lastly, yet another troll furiously claimed that "equating Liz Truss and Humza Yousef (sic) as comparable unpopular leaders is absolutely barking".  That's reminiscent of just about every politician in the US complaining about the ICC "equating Israel with Hamas", because in fact I did not equate Yousaf with Truss.  I simply used Truss as an example of how the popularity of a party can be negatively impacted by a leader who has already gone.  But the fact that the trolls are so triggered by that point suggests they're in denial about just how far Yousaf fell in the public's estimation.  In the YouGov poll, his net approval rating stands at minus 40.  That's worse than Douglas Ross, is comparable with the extremely poor ratings for Alex Salmond that are always cited, and is not a million miles away from Truss-like numbers.  There is not a shred of doubt that the public have decisively concluded that Yousaf's leadership was a failure.  It's not in any way an anti-SNP statement to point that out, because Yousaf is the SNP's former leader not their current one, and I think they're in a much better place under Swinney/Forbes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

More general election analysis

Just a quick note to let you know I have a new analysis piece on The National's website, about how the SNP, the Greens and Alba stand in the opinion polls as the general election campaign gets underway.  You can read it HERE.

Thoughts on the implications of the election timing

I doubt if Rishi Sunak was primarily thinking about Scotland or the SNP when he selected a surprisingly early election date, but on the face of it the timing couldn't be much worse.  The SNP have only just received their worst poll results since before the indyref ten years ago.  An election three months ago wouldn't have been as bad because the SNP would have gone into it level pegging with Labour, and an election in four or five months' time might not have been as bad because the chaotic end of Yousaf's leadership might have faded from voters' memories and the status quo ante in the polls might have been restored.

So on the face of it, this is the perfect storm.  The only consolation I can think of is that John Swinney seems to be enjoying some sort of honeymoon with voters, with both of the last two polls suggesting he is more popular than the other party leaders.  That may be the SNP's best hope of clawing their way back into contention.  But if the worst happens, I suppose the indy movement will just have to draw a line under it, allow Labour to own everything that goes wrong at Westminster, and use that to plot a resurgence for Yes parties in 2026.

The recognition of Palestine by three more European countries is a big moment, and is likely to create a domino effect

In the western mainstream media, one of the most common observations about the Russian aggression against Ukraine is that it backfired horribly on Putin, who was trying to stop NATO expanding to include Ukraine, but instead inadvertently caused Sweden and Finland to join NATO, which wouldn't otherwise have happened.  The reality is that Putin probably wasn't as bothered about that side-effect as was assumed, because being technically outside NATO had no effect on the fact that Sweden and Finland were already within the Euro-Atlantic orbit and both had been EU members since 1995.  Whereas Ukraine's basic orientation was and is still in dispute.

But because the "backfire" narrative was so popular, you'd think it would occur to the same media to point out that Israel's atrocities in Gaza have backfired by leading Ireland, Norway and Spain to announce today that they are recognising the State of Palestine.  Instead, the former Sky News political editor Adam Boulton moronically tweeted "terrorism works", providing one of those instant moments of clarity when you suddenly realise exactly who a person is and why they were wholly unsuited to hold the position they did.  It implies that he believes that the Palestinian people are a terrorist people or that Israel's campaign of destruction has been a proportionate response to a terrorist act.

If you insist on viewing today's decision through the prism of what "works" and what doesn't, it would be more appropriate to conclude that it shows "genocide has a penalty" or that "stoicism in the face of genocide carries a reward".  But the recognition of sovereignty and self-determination should really have nothing to do with "rewarding" Palestine or "punishing" Israel, it's simply about accepting an inalienable right of the Palestinian people which exists on an equal basis to the equivalent right of the Israeli people on their own territory.  The State of Palestine was declared in 1988, so today's three countries could have recognised it at any point since then.  Better late than never.

It's interesting that Israel is attacking the Irish decision as an assault on Israeli "sovereignty".  As I understand it, countries that recognise the State of Palestine do so on the basis that the territory covered is the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem left an open question just as recognition of Israel generally leaves West Jerusalem as an open question.  So unless Israel is claiming the West Bank and Gaza as its own sovereign possessions, what's the problem?  That's probably a question that answers itself.

Today feels like a big moment.  It increases the number of EU member states which recognise Palestine from nine to eleven, but it looks as if eight of the previous nine had made the decision prior to joining the EU, and most had done so when they were communist states.  So the number of countries that have chosen to recognise Palestine from within the EU has just trebled, and that's likely to create a domino effect.  Whenever an EU country happens to be governed by a left-wing or progressive administration, there's now a fair chance it will recognise Palestine.