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.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Why I stay in Alba

On last night's thread, I was asked by an anonymous commenter why I stay in Alba when I have concerns about the scale of the party's intervention in a first-past-the-post general election.  Which brings to mind the Katy Perry lyric "you change your mind like a girl changes clothes".  We do not in this country have an American system of casual registration of party supporters, and therefore moving between parties is not something to be done lightly or without an exceptionally good reason.  

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a party that is a perfect fit for them.  While I disagree with the Alba leadership on some points of strategy (and indeed policy), I also still have profound disagreements with the SNP leadership.  They're in a better place under Swinney/Forbes than they were under Yousaf, but they still have no serious or credible strategy for independence.  So whichever party I was in, I would have to be getting involved and arguing for change, which of course is one of the most common and valid purposes of being in any party.  But the value of Alba is that for as long as the SNP's independence strategy remains woefully deficient, Alba could have a key role to play by winning list seats in 2026 and using that as leverage to move the SNP onto the right path.  Their ability to do that may be contingent on them avoiding doing harm in the meantime at this year's general election.

I was a bit frustrated to fall 0.5% short of being elected Alba's Membership Support Convener last December.  If I had been elected to that position, I would have had an automatic place on the NEC, where I could have argued for a more limited intervention in the general election, narrowly targeted on a few key constituencies (and thus broadly in line with what Denise Findlay said on the previous thread would have been her proposal if she had remained Organisation Convener).  I would have been heavily outvoted but at least the case would have been made and heard.  However, even having narrowly failed to get back on the NEC, I was elected a month later to the Disciplinary Committee, the Finance & Audit Committee, and the ad hoc Constitution Review Group, and I'm trying my level best to do some good on those bodies.  On the Disciplinary Committee I can try - as I promised to when I stood for election - to ensure that party members are protected from the Grouse Beater-type episodes that became far too commonplace in the SNP, with members being disciplined for 'wrongthink' rather than for genuine wrongdoing.  (Obviously I'm only one committee member out of eight, but all I can do is try my best.)  And on the Constitution Review Group, I can put forward the case for thoroughgoing democratisation of the party in the hope of putting the members firmly in charge.

So in a nutshell, my answer to the question "why do you stay in Alba?" is "because it remains the closest fit for me in an imperfect world, and because I can try to do some good within the party and push for change".  I hope that makes sense.  What I would say, though, is that I was told by a very senior person in the party just after I was voted off the NEC eighteen months ago that they would never have any problem with me expressing dissenting views in public as well as in private.  I hope that will always remain the case, because it hasn't necessarily been the experience of others recently.

Keir Starmer openly supported one of the crimes against humanity that the Israeli Prime Minister now faces an arrest warrant for

The reason the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has jurisidiction to apply for arrest warrants against leaders of both Hamas and Israel is that the State of Palestine is a sovereign state, albeit one whose territory is illegally occupied by a neighbouring state.  It has observer member status at the United Nations, it is recognised by almost three-quarters of the world's countries, and it is a state party to the ICC treaty.  Therefore, any criminal action carried out by its citizens, wherever that action occurs, falls under ICC jurisidiction (hence the Hamas warrants), and any criminal action carried out on its territory, regardless of whether the perpetrators are citizens of an ICC state or not, also falls under ICC jurisdiction (hence the Israel warrants).

There was a farcical exchange between a US government spokesman and a journalist yesterday, with the latter asking for clarification on which authority has criminal jurisdiction in Palestine if the US does not accept the ICC's jurisidiction.  The reply was that Israel has jurisidiction to investigate its own crimes, and bizarrely that the US has jurisidiction because it supplies the weapons to Israel.  That clearly made no sense, so when pressed, the spokesman rowed back and insisted that he wasn't suggesting the US had criminal jurisdiction.  He added that "long term" he wanted the Palestinians to become a state and "have the ability to make these determinations", which strongly implies that in the meantime they have no such ability and that the occupying power can act with impunity on their territory.  Biden referred to the ICC prosecutor's decision as "outrageous", but it's hard to think of anything much more outrageous than what the US wants to replace ICC jurisdiction with - ie. nothing but the Wild West.

The application for warrants is a moment of danger for Keir Starmer, because the very first crime cited in relation to Israel's leaders was the deliberate starvation of the population of Gaza.  Starmer was specifically asked in his infamous interview in October whether Israel had the right to cut off food, water and electricity to the Gazan civilian population, and he replied that "Israel does have that right", in other words he egged on Netanyahu in committing a crime against humanity.  

There's also a problem now for Luke Akehurst, Margaret Hodge and the rest of the Labour Friends of Israel mob.  We know how they operate - any person or organisation that is critical of Israel is instantly demonised as anti-semitic and Hamas-in-disguise.  But they're going to look increasingly ridiculous and beyond progressive norms if they apply that language to more and more international institutions like the ICC.  The media portrayed Margaret Hodge as the voice of the mainstream when she was abusive towards Jeremy Corbyn a few years ago, but it would be increasingly hard to do that plausibly now.

It's just ten days since Israel was allowed to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest as if everything was normal.  The way the audio was dulled to protect a genocide-committing state from being heard to be booed almost felt sinister.  Would the participation really have been sustainable if the ICC prosecutor's decision to file for a warrant against Israel's head of government had been taken before the contest?  Israel is now placed even more on the same footing as Russia, whose head of government is also the subject of an ICC warrant.  Surely now Israel must be removed from the 2025 contest, unless the Netanyahu administration leaves office and the attacks on Gaza end?

Monday, May 20, 2024

It has to be all hands to the pumps as YouGov poll shows the SNP have a 10-point deficit to overcome

Unfortunately, YouGov have confirmed the trend shown by the recent Redfield & Wilton poll, and indeed are showing a slightly bigger deficit for the SNP.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

Labour 39% (+5)
SNP 29% (-4)
Conservatives 12% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-)
Greens 7% (+3)
Reform UK 4% (-1)

It's pretty obvious that the chaos surrounding Yousaf's departure has led to a further pro-Labour swing, but the one crumb of comfort is that it's not the total meltdown suffered by the Tories during and after the Trussmageddon.  The big question now is whether it will prove to be any more reversible than the Tories' slump was.  Overcoming a 10-point deficit in a few months is a tall order, but it's not totally impossible, and for that reason I want to say something directly to my own party Alba.  As I understand it, you have now announced that you will be standing against the SNP in roughly one-third of constituencies in a first-past-the-post Westminster general election - something that no-one could or should have anticipated when you came into being as an explicitly "list-only party" three years ago.  It's highly unlikely that anyone will persuade you to stand any of those candidates down, but for pity's sake *please* don't add to them.  This is an emergency situation for the independence cause, and we in Alba should be helping to stop Labour, not busily making it easier for them to win seats.

Friday, May 17, 2024

A plea to Alba: look before you leap

I was contacted today by a Scot Goes Pop reader who is very concerned that Alba have just selected a candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, which was very narrowly won by the Liberal Democrats in 2019, but which apparently is notionally an SNP seat on the new boundaries.  He makes the point that "the chance of an independence candidate winning this large constituency is now diluted".  

Obviously as an Alba member I have to support Alba candidates once they've actually been selected, and I do, but as I said the other day, the priority has to be to urge the party to slow down and ideally stop the unveiling of more and more candidates in more and more constituencies.  There are already nine listed on the website, and I know of at least three more in the pipeline, who will presumably be announced tomorrow at the spring conference.  I hope it doesn't go much beyond that, and I'm mildly encouraged by this line in the weekly Alba email from Neale Hanvey: "what will be the first chance to see all of our ALBA Party General Election candidates in one place as they are announced".  That can possibly be interpreted as meaning that whoever is announced tomorrow will constitute the final tranche of candidates, and there won't be any more afterwards. That would be a welcome development. If a decision has been made to stand the minimum number of candidates to nab a party election broadcast, then OK, but don't cause needless harm to the independence cause and to Alba's good standing with Yes supporters by going way beyond that minimum.

I've heard two main arguments for why Alba will supposedly not cause harm by intervening in a first-past-the-post general election, but neither of them are remotely convincing.  Firstly, it's said that these are seats that the SNP are going to lose anyway.  Well, if elections really were that predictable, recent history would look radically different.  We knew Iain "the Snarl" Gray was going to be elected First Minister in 2011 until he wasn't.  We knew Remain were going to win the EU referendum until they didn't.  We knew Tyrannical Theresa was going to win a landslide majority in 2017 until she lost her majority altogether.  We may think it's unlikely that the SNP will recover sufficiently this year to become competitive in seats like Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, but we certainly don't know that they won't.  If they do, and if Alba's intervention tips the balance and helps the Lib Dems hold on, there will plainly be a lot of disquiet among independence supporters and probably a greater reluctance to vote Alba on the list in 2026.

Secondly, it's argued that Alba will not be taking votes away from the SNP but will simply be picking up former SNP voters who would otherwise be going to Labour or abstaining.  That's just wishful thinking in my view.  Anyone who cares enough about independence to consider voting for a small party like Alba would be unlikely to vote Labour in the first place.  They might abstain, but if Alba are successful in picking up abstainers with a radical independence message, they'll almost certainly also pick up people who would otherwise be holding their nose and voting SNP.  And if those votes are taken away from the SNP column, unionist victories are undoubtedly made more likely.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

A major polling silver lining for the SNP: their leader has a positive net rating, something that would have been unimaginable during the Yousaf leadership

As you'll probably have seen, the Redfield & Wilton poll over the weekend was poor for the SNP, but there were two notable silver linings.  Firstly, support for independence continues to hold up astonishingly well in the context of SNP decline.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48% (-3)
No 52% (+3)

The apparent 3-point swing to No is almost certainly just margin of error noise, because the Yes lead in the previous poll was unusual for Redfield & Wilton, so we're probably just seeing a reversion to the mean. 48/52 or thereabouts has been fairly typical.

Perhaps even more important is that John Swinney has a positive net approval rating of +7.  That's pretty extraordinary if you think about it, because we've seen a number of polls over the last year in which every single politician asked about had a net negative rating.  Because perceptions of the leader are so important to election outcomes, that offers a glimmer of hope to the SNP.  Humza Yousaf consistently had dismal net ratings with Redfield & Wilton, so if anything, the assumption had to be that the SNP might perform worse under him than standard voting intentions suggested.  It's now at least possible to construct a scenario in which the moderately high regard that the public hold Swinney in could help the SNP perform better than the polls currently suggest.  The popularity of Kate Forbes should also help now that she's been made deputy in a blaze of publicity.

One important caveat is that the wording of the question about John Swinney was different from the one that has been used for Yousaf over the last year, so it may be that once people are asked about Swinney's actual performance as First Minister, he'll slip into negative territory.  However I doubt his ratings will be as bad as Yousaf's, and as I've said before, I'm pretty confident that when Redfield & Wilton start asking the head-to-head question about whether Swinney or Anas Sarwar would make the better First Minister, Swinney will hold a good lead.  It's also encouraging that 35% of respondents support Swinney becoming SNP leader and First Minister, with only 18% opposed.

I was asked on the previous thread whether Reform UK's 4% showing in the poll is implausible and therefore casts doubt on the rest of the results.  The simple answer is no.  There's been a consistency to the way Reform UK have crept upwards in recent Scottish polling, but they remain below their UK-wide numbers, which is what you'd expect based on how their predecessor parties performed.  Remember that Scotland proved itself perfectly capable of electing a UKIP MEP on one occasion, so there is a natural constituency for Reform here.  They could actually do the independence movement a favour by splitting the Tory vote and helping the SNP to win one or two key seats.

*  *  *

After the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, right-wing nutters were lauding the UK public for supposedly backing Israel, while left-wingers were bewildered and expressed disgust that the British people had indirectly backed a regime that is committing genocide.  The reality is that both groups are wrong, because the ordinary UK public probably had very little to do with the UK giving maximum points to Israel.  There was a determined internet advertising campaign, seemingly originating from the Israeli state itself, to persuade sympathisers across Europe to vote for the song up to twenty times each, which is the maximum allowed under the rules and would cost as little as £2.  The likelihood is that the vast majority of votes that Israel received in the UK came from a relatively small number of Israeli and American ex-pats, plus those politically sympathetic to Israel.  Just 2000 people could have generated as many as 40,000 votes, and remember with the non-political votes split between 25 different songs, it wouldn't necessarily have taken all that many votes to push Israel into the lead.

How would you prevent that kind of manipulation, which is tantamount to vote-rigging?  The obvious way would be to restrict each person (or each phone number) to only one vote.  But that would ruin the fun for a lot of people, myself included, who like voting for more than one song.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

In a first-past-the-post election, the way to further the cause of independence is to unite behind a single candidate in each constituency

There wasn't really an answer to those questions.  If I had worries about some Alba members in the early days (and I did), it was simply because of their views, either because they had unrealistically radical notions of how independence could be achieved, or because in a very small number of cases they were climate change deniers or whatever.  I also had a specific dispute with those who essentially wanted to exclude most English people resident in Scotland from the franchise for any future indyref.  But I don't think I ever suspected people of joining Alba for opportunistic or careerist reasons, which would have been absurd given that career prospects are obviously far healthier in a large party than in a small one.  (The only example anyone was able to come up with today of a genuine opportunist was Kamran Butt.)  Nor do I think the flurry of recent departures can be explained by people becoming frustrated that their dastardly opportunistic ambitions have been thwarted.  If you actually bother to listen to what the people who have left are saying, in a lot of cases they speak of a toxic culture of bullying, and can often supply convincing details of their claims.

But instead, history is being rewritten with an artificial narrative that "we're better off without these people, who were only in it for themselves".  And in spite of the innocent protestations today, I've heard variations on that line directed at Eva Comrie in particular, which really is crazy given that she gave up a plum spot at the top of the SNP list to join Alba.  I was on the Alba NEC with her for a year, and so I know how passionately committed she was to Alba's success, and how supportive she was of Alex Salmond personally.  If she had criticisms, they were always constructive ones intended to maximise the chances of Alba securing electoral victories.  As far as I could see, if she had driving ambitions, they were for Alba, and for Scotland, and for the independence cause, not for herself.  

I accept that no one person is bigger than any political party, but I do think Eva Comrie was valuable enough that the leadership should at least have seen if it was possible to open up a dialogue with her and address enough of her concerns to persuade her to reconsider her decision to leave.  And if there were one or two key people whose pride was standing in the way of that dialogue, well, they're not bigger than the party either.

But if we buy into this notion that Alba has shaken off the "undesirables" and has now been "distilled" (what a euphemism) into a smaller "dedicated team", what is the dedication towards?  What's the goal of this small vanguard party on which iron discipline is being imposed?  If it's to win list seats in 2026 and use that as leverage to help bring about independence, that would make absolutely perfect sense.  But the vote to bring down the SNP government a couple of weeks ago was not consistent with that interpretation, because it's likely to have alienated independence supporters who might otherwise have been tempted to give their list vote to Alba.  The same problem applies to the recent flurry of announcements of Alba candidates for the Westminster general election, which will be conducted under first-past-the-post, and thus any votes Alba take away from the SNP will simply help unionist parties win seats.

I make no bones about it - this is something I disagree with Eva Comrie about as much as I disagree with the Alba leadership.  With Labour on the verge of a major comeback, the independence movement needs to be united behind one candidate in each constituency in any first-past-the-post election.  It's extremely unfortunate that the SNP turned down the proposal for a cross-party Scotland United slate of candidates, but that boneheadedness is not an alibi for smaller pro-indy parties or independent candidates to behave destructively by splitting the vote in an emergency situation for our movement.  In my view, what should have happened, and what should still happen, is Alba and other small parties taking a leaf out of Tommy Sheridan's book.  In 2015, Solidarity didn't put up candidates in the general election, but made clear they would put up list candidates in the 2016 Holyrood election and in the meantime urged their supporters to vote for the SNP in the first-past-the-post election for the greater good of independence.  That was a unilateral decision - no deal with the SNP was required for Solidarity to do the right thing.

Over the weekend, Redfield & Wilton published a full-scale Scottish poll that showed the biggest Labour lead for Westminster so far - 

Labour 38% (+5)
SNP 31% (-1)
Conservatives 14% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-)
Greens 4% (+2)
Reform UK 4% (-1)
Alba 1% (-1)

What would that 1% for Alba actually achieve?  It's not going to win independence, but it may well gift one or two seats to Labour or even the Tories.  If that happens, many independence supporters may take note and withhold their list votes from Alba in 2026.  It would make much more sense to tell Alba supporters to bide their time until 2026, and to unite behind SNP candidates this year as the best chance of stopping Labour.  The Alba 1% suddenly can make a big difference if they're asked to use their votes to make a dent in Labour's seven-point lead over the SNP - to state the obvious, it would solve one-seventh of the problem, which is far from nothing.  

The logic of the situation might be different if the SNP were cruising to a landslide victory and independence supporters had the luxury of doing something different with their vote without causing any damage, but that's not where we are.  It's the total opposite of where we are.

So my advice to the Alba leadership is to slow down the rush to unveil Westminster candidates, and to give serious consideration to actively endorsing SNP candidates in the vast majority of constituencies.  That is without doubt the best strategy for keeping the independence cause alive.  There's not much use in having a tightly disciplined party if the imposed discipline is directed towards a counterproductive strategy or the wrong goal.  I'm not interested in Alba using the general election to settle old scores with John Swinney or with Nicola Sturgeon.  I'm only interested in achieving independence, and vote-splitting in a first-past-the-post election makes that less likely to happen, not more so.

I know that a lot of people won't like this blogpost, but if there was ever a moment where some home truths are urgently required, I'd suggest this is it.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Scot Goes Popcast: Eurovision 2024

For those of you planning to watch the Eurovision tonight, I've recorded a short podcast with some scene-setting thoughts, which you can listen to below.