Wednesday, December 7, 2022

"Our Precious Union" lies in TATTERS as historic Ipsos TELEPHONE poll shows support for independence has soared to 56% after the Supreme Court ruling - with the SNP on course for an absolute majority of the popular vote at a plebiscite election

Never underestimate the importance of the battle of the narratives after a landmark event like the Supreme Court ruling.  The dearth of independence polls in the immediate aftermath gave the unionist parties the opportunity to fill up the space with - frankly - lies about what they were finding on the doorsteps, with voters supposedly reacting like obedient slaves to the discovery that their country does not have the legal ability to decide its own future, and saying that their government should just accept that Scotland is in a prison and get on with serving the sentence.  Even the appearance of the Redfield & Wilton poll showing outright majority support for independence didn't thwart the unionist propaganda plan too much, because Labour in particular just studiously ignored the independence numbers and concentrated instead on the finding that the SNP's lead in Westminster voting intentions had dropped sharply - which they were to some extent able to get away with because, after all, it's a Westminster election that the SNP are now planning to use as a de facto independence referendum.

Today's new Ipsos UK poll, however, puts unionists in danger of losing the battle of the narratives - and it's up to all of us to make sure the numbers become as widely known as possible.  (The fact that STV were Ipsos UK's client should help considerably, although there's still the challenge of making sure the London-based media don't ignore the poll.)  

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Ipsos UK / STV, 28th November - 5th December 2022)

Yes 56% (+6)
No 44% (-6)

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 51% (+7) 
Labour 25% (+2) 
Conservatives 13% (-6) 
Liberal Democrats 6% (-4) 
Greens 3% (-) 

Seats projection: SNP 58 (+10), Labour 1 (-), Conservatives 0 (-6), Liberal Democrats 0 (-4)

This poll differs from the Redfield & Wilton poll in quite a number of respects.  Although both show a pro-independence majority, Ipsos UK shows the Yes vote increasing by a larger amount (six points rather than four), and also shows a Yes lead that isn't within the standard margin of error.  In other words, the Ipsos UK poll unequivocally shows a pro-independence majority, whereas Redfield & Wilton could technically be said to have shown a 'statistical tie', to use the American term.

But of course by far the biggest differences are to be found in the Westminster numbers, with the trends reported by the two polls not being even remotely reconcilable with each other.  Redfield & Wilton showed the SNP down four points and Labour up twelve, working out at a very substantial sixteen point drop in the SNP's lead over Labour.  Although Ipsos UK also show a boost for Labour, it's a statistically insignificant two points, while the SNP are up seven points and have thus considerably extended their lead.  This also moves the SNP above 50%, which is no longer just a psychological barrier - it's their self-defined target for victory in a plebiscite election.  Indeed, in combination with the Greens, the Westminster vote for pro-indy parties stands at 54% - just a touch below the Yes vote on the standard indyref question.  That's another big difference with Redfield & Wilton, who suggested that the combined vote for pro-indy parties was a full nine percentage points lower than the Yes vote.

It obviously matters tremendously which pollster is getting it right and which is getting it wrong, because if Redfield & Wilton are right, a Westminster election used as a plebiscite may not be winnable for the pro-indy camp due to the Labour surge, whereas if Ipsos UK are right, the SNP are shrugging off the Labour surge down south and tightening their grip on Scottish politics.  If we (or rather the SNP leadership) read this situation incorrectly due to faith in an incorrect poll, it could have catastrophic consequences if the wrong strategic call is made as a result - ie. sticking with the Westminster plebiscite plan rather than using an early Holyrood election in 2023 instead.

My suspicion is that a gulf is opening up between Ipsos telephone polling and online polling from the other firms.  There won't necessarily be such a big gulf on indyref voting intentions, but on Westminster numbers my guess is that the other online pollsters will be closer to Redfield & Wilton - I say that in part due to the straws in the wind we're seeing from subsamples.  So if the SNP put their faith in the Ipsos numbers, that may mean putting all their eggs in one basket, because it could mean assuming that the other pollsters are all wrong.  That would be a big call.  Remember that Ipsos have in recent years tended to be on the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum - a complete reversal from the 2014 campaign, where they were just about the most No-friendly firm.

In a nutshell, I would still strongly argue that the most promising strategy for a de facto referendum is to engineer an early Scottish Parliament election next year, possibly in the autumn at around the same time the referendum had originally been planned for.

UPDATE: The poll also contains Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers...

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 50% (-2)
Labour 24% (+7)
Conservatives 14% (-5)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)
Greens 3% (-)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 43% (-)
Labour 21% (+6)
Conservatives 14% (-6)
Greens 13% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)
Alba 1% (-)

Seats projection: SNP 67 (+3), Labour 26 (+4), Greens 16 (+8), Conservatives 15 (-16), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

SNP OVERALL MAJORITY OF 3 SEATS

Note: The reason the percentage changes look more flattering for Labour than on the Westminster numbers is simply that there's a different baseline.  Ipsos' most recent Westminster poll was earlier this year, whereas they don't appear to have polled for Holyrood voting intentions since 2021.

I know some people will triumphantly point at these numbers and say "look, the SNP are 1% higher on Westminster voting intentions than Holyrood constituency voting intentions!", but that doesn't remotely impress me, because a) 1% is not a significant difference, and b) the SNP's vote is much more likely to hold up during a 'home fixture' Holyrood campaign.  It's very difficult for the party to get a fair crack of the whip from the broadcasters during a Westminster campaign - as we saw in 2017, for example, when the SNP were powerless to do much about the Corbyn bandwagon effect.  I'd also just note that the combined vote for pro-independence parties on the Holyrood list is a remarkable 57%, and that pro-indy parties are on course to take 62% of the total seats in the Scottish Parliament, with the Greens overtaking the Tories to move into third place in terms of seats.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Who wants to take on the "Scottish" Daily Express?

As I've pointed out before, it's sensible for bloggers to limit the number of complaints they personally lodge with the press regulator.  However, the "Scottish" Daily Express website has just published another wildly misleading article about Scottish political polling - this time about the seats projection that some random dude on Twitter stupidly applied to a tiny, incorrectly-weighted Scottish subsample from a GB-wide Redfield & Wilton poll.

Now, we know from past experience that the press regulator (a non-independent body essentially run by the press themselves) sets an extremely high threshold to even consider complaints about misleading claims relating to polls.  If there's any convoluted excuse to be made about something being a matter of interpretation, that's deemed to give the publication a free pass to mislead to its heart's content.  So to have a realistic chance of getting a complaint to stick, you need to find a flat-out untruth.  

In spite of the attempts of the Express to cover themselves with caveats about polling methodology, it seems to me there is one particular sentence in the article that may be directly inaccurate.  It's essentially a sub-headline, and states:

"The Scottish section of the poll – although it is based on a weighted sample of 180 people – provides yet more evidence that the Nats are falling behind a resurgent Labour party"

The subsample actually shows the SNP on 34%, three points ahead of Labour, who are on 31%.  I'm struggling to see how that shows evidence that "the Nats are falling behind" Labour.  Presumably the Express would fall back on the incredibly thin excuse of an idiotic seats projection made by a third party, but then they would have to explain the phrase "yet more evidence".  Where is this other considerable evidence that Labour are actually ahead of the SNP?  There's in fact vast evidence from all recent full-scale Scottish polls that the SNP remain well ahead of Labour, both in terms of vote share and projected seats.

Additionally (although I'd put less stress on this point), the "weighted sample of 180 people" did not involve 180 "people" as such.  Only 143 actual people were interviewed for the Scottish subsample, with the results adjusted to count them as if there were 180.  By the time you get to the section of the sample that was used to produce the results reported in the article (ie. once Don't Knows and Won't Votes were stripped out), there were just 121 real people, upweighted to count as 137.

I'm reluctant to lodge a complaint myself, but I do very much feel a complaint is warranted.  So if you'd like to complain to the press regulator about the inaccuracies in the IPSO article, you can find the necessary form HERE.

If the expression "thin gruel" didn't exist, we'd have to invent it to describe Gordon Brown's constitutional reform plan

So does Labour's much-vaunted "powers giveaway" plan actually offer any new powers to the Scottish Parliament?  The answer is 'yes', but by God they're limited - and as always with Gordon Brown, there's a sting in the tail.  The brief section on Scotland contains just six proposals, and only TWO of them are primarily about strengthening the Scottish Parliament's powers.  Those two are:

* Allowing Scotland to join international bodies and enter into agreements with them on devolved matters only.  I find it hard to imagine this ever coming to pass, but if it did it would be a small step in the right direction.  It was the sort of thing that was requested (and rejected out of hand) during the Smith Commission process, because it would have brought Scotland more into line with the regions of Belgium, which have limited powers in the realm of foreign affairs.

* Constitutionally entrenching the Sewel Convention, so that the UK Parliament cannot legislate on devolved matters without the Scottish Parliament's consent.  (Additionally, the notorious word 'normally' would be removed from the Sewel Convention, to strip away the stock excuse of "of course we wouldn't normally legislate on devolved matters without consent, but these are the abnormal circumstances envisaged by the convention - let's face it, consent has been withheld, so that's abnormal for starters".)  Amusingly, this means Brown is admitting that one of the promises made by unionists at the time of the 2014 independence referendum has been broken, because the Sewel Convention was supposed to have already been put on a statutory basis by the Smith Commission and subsequent legislation.  In practice, all that happened was that a sentence starting with the words "it is recognised" was put into law, which as the Supreme Court noted was intended to have no legal effect and does have no legal effect.  It was the equivalent of a pretty illustration in the sidebar.

So will Brown's plan be yet another con-trick?  Quite honestly it sounds like it, because the "constitutional entrenchment" of the Sewel Convention seems to depend entirely on the credibility of two supposed "safeguards": a) any breach or repeal of Sewel would have to be passed by both chambers of the UK Parliament (you know, just like any other piece of legislation), and b) devolution itself could not be abolished without the consent of the replacement for the House of Lords.  The latter point is particularly fatuous, because although the new upper chamber will have Scottish representation, it will be - like any other UK institution - a body with an overwhelming English majority.

There's also the point that the breaches of the Sewel Convention that have already taken place have stripped vast powers from the Scottish Parliament that were part of the original devolution settlement (most notably via the Internal Market Act), so unless the status quo ante is restored prior to this "constitutional entrenchment" being enacted, it'll be a classic case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

In the very first podcast I was a guest on, almost a decade ago, I took issue with the suggestion that it was impossible for devolution to be meaningfully entrenched in a country without a written constitution.  I pointed out that the UK Parliament cannot reverse the independence of Australia, for example.  Andrew Tickell, who was one of the other guests, dismissed that point out of hand, and said that theoretically the UK Parliament could indeed abolish Australian independence, because the UK Parliament has unlimited powers.  But I thought about it afterwards and came to the conclusion that my point was essentially correct, because any laws the UK Parliament pass for Australia would have no legal effect in Australia itself.  Why not?  Because the Australian courts would not recognise them as valid due to them coming from a foreign parliament with no remaining authority to legislate for Australia, and the Australian government, army, police, etc, would obey the rulings of Australian rather than British courts.  

So that allows you to see how constitutional entrenchment in Scotland could be made to work in practice, but it would require much more drastic steps than the ones proposed by Brown.  What you would need is some kind of special Scottish constitutional court, or constitutional enforcement body, with members whose oath of office binds them to uphold only the 'law of entrenchment' itself and to disregard any attempt by the UK Parliament to repeal that law or the institution that they are part of.

Curiously, Brown's report calls for decentralisation from Holyrood to local government and for the creation of English-style metro-mayors (yawn).  If that was enacted by a UK Labour Government, it would in itself breach the Sewel Convention, because local government is a devolved competence.  The report acknowledges this and says it is simply something Labour are calling on the Scottish Government to do.  So what the hell is it doing in a set of proposals for a UK Labour Government to reform the UK constitution, then?

(For completeness, I should add that close examination of the "Shared Government" section reveals that there's also a proposal to devolve the administration of job centres to Scotland - that seems to have been chucked in as a sort of "road signs" sweetie.)

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Monday, December 5, 2022

No, there is no poll showing a big drop in the SNP's Westminster vote - ignore the tweet suggesting there is

I was almost taken in by this, because there's no disclaimer in the tweet that the numbers are from a subsample, nor is the name of the polling firm mentioned - but the addition of a seats projection makes it all look very credible and portentous.  Apart, that is, from the totally implausible Reform UK figure of 11%, which is what gave the game away.

What's particularly absurd about this stunt is that the subsample turns out to be from Redfield & Wilton, who have only just conducted a full-scale Scottish poll showing the SNP on 41% and Labour on 31%.  So it's not as if we have to rely on straws in the wind from subsamples to guess what a current Redfield & Wilton seats projection would look like.  If you pump the numbers from the full-scale poll into the Electoral Calculus projection model, this is what you end up with for seats:  

SNP 39 (-9), Labour 12 (+11), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1), Conservatives 3 (-3)

Incidentally, although 11% is implausible for Reform UK in a Scottish context, there has recently been a GB-wide poll from YouGov that had them as high as 9%.  I remain slightly baffled as to why they're polling as strongly as they are, because I wouldn't have thought their profile has been high enough since they changed their name from the Brexit Party. But then, I don't read the Daily Mail and I hardly ever watch GB News, so God knows what's going on under the radar.

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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Labour's GB-wide poll lead slips to lowest level since Sunak became Prime Minister

If you ever doubt that the tides of history can make a total nonsense of seemingly watertight logic and strategic thinking, just consider this.  Until very recently, we reckoned Boris Johnson to be the greatest asset for the independence cause, and thought it would be a catastrophe if we ever lost him, because anyone who replaced him as Tory leader was bound to be less loathed in Scotland.  And then, when it became clear that we were indeed going to lose Boris, we were sure that at the very least we didn't want Rishi Sunak to be his successor - because whatever Sunak's many flaws, he's a non-idiot who comes across as relatively competent.  Well, here we are only a few months later, Sunak is PM, and as expected his personal ratings in Scotland are much superior to Johnson's, but the Tories are somehow even less popular in Scotland than they were under Johnson and seem far more certain to lose all or most of their Scottish seats to the SNP.  

Irony no. 1: This seemingly impossible contradiction has happened because of Liz Truss, not Rishi Sunak, and yet in spite of the fact that Truss has completely vacated the stage, Sunak thus far seems powerless to reverse the damage.

Irony no. 2: What would have seemed the dream scenario of the Tories being more hated in Scotland than they were under Johnson is not actually doing the independence cause any good whatsoever, because the harm done by Truss to the Tory brand has been so extensive that Labour have opened up a massive lead down south, and Scottish Labour have been able to ride on the coat-tails of that and make inroads into the SNP's dominance of Scottish polls.

On an earlier thread, Keaton posed the question of whether this unexpected problem might - paradoxically - get even worse if Sunak eventually manages to make inroads into Labour's mammoth GB-wide lead, because then you could end up with a very closely-fought general election, which would allow Labour to scare Scottish voters with the lie that a vote for the SNP could let the Tories back in.  I'm not totally sure about that - you could argue the case either way.  I suspect that a 1997-style Labour landslide would mean that Scotland inevitably gets swept along with the GB-wide trend, but a finely-balanced election would have less predictable effects.  Remember that the SNP first won a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster in 2015, when it was far from clear whether a Labour-led or Tory-led government would be elected, although admittedly the thought of a Labour government seemed less of a novelty back then after only five years of Tory rule, which had in any case been moderated by coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It's fair to say, though, that we'll only be sure that Labour will enjoy no in-built advantages against the SNP if there is an outright Tory lead in Britain-wide polls going into the election, and at the moment that looks like a 1% chance at best.  Nevertheless, it's worth noting that an Opinium poll was published last night showing the lowest Labour lead in any poll from any firm since Sunak took office.

GB-wide voting intentions for the next UK general election (Opinium, 30th November-2nd December 2022):

Labour 43% (-2)
Conservatives 29% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-1)
Reform UK 6% (-)
Greens 6% (+2)

As per usual, the SNP have been edited out of the early summary of the results, but we'll almost certainly find they're somewhere between 3% and 5%.  

A few more polls like this one, and a Starmer government might start to look like less of a foregone conclusion.  What arguably makes the current situation different from the mid-1990s is that the Labour leader is not vastly more popular than the Tory PM, and the Tories have also changed leader and completely changed direction since the event that dug them into the hole.

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Friday, December 2, 2022

Frustration as SNP narrowly fail to hold off the Labour challenge in Broxburn by-election

The Broxburn by-election yesterday was always going to be a fascinating test, because the SNP had a roughly 12.5% lead over Labour in the ward at the local elections in May, and the national swing suggested by recent polling implied that there should be something close to a dead heat this time.  So a big Labour victory might have implied that the polls are underestimating the swing, while a solid SNP win could have given us hope that the Labour surge is not all it's cracked up to be.

Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh by-election result on first preferences (1st December 2022): 

Labour 39.8% (+10.2) 
SNP 35.2% (-6.7) 
Conservatives 7.8% (-10.0) 
Independent - Horne 6.1% (n/a) 
Liberal Democrats 3.7% (n/c) 
Independent - Laidlaw 2.8% (n/a) 
Greens 2.7% (-1.6) 
Alba 1.8% (+0.4)

In the perpetually wacky world of STV by-elections, this is technically a Labour hold, even though Labour have overtaken the SNP on a substantial swing.

So the result is broadly in line with national polls, meaning there's no particular reason for the SNP to doubt that Labour's recovery may be a very significant obstacle to the goal of obtaining 50%+ of the vote in a Westminster election used as a de facto independence referendum.  Although the SNP-to-Labour swing will likely show up in polls for every type of election, including Holyrood elections, the point is that in a Holyrood campaign the SNP would have the means to counter the problem by stressing in TV leaders' debates and the like that they are seeking an outright mandate for independence, thus coaxing Labour-curious Yes voters back into the fold.  They will have no such means in a Westminster election, where they are likely to be crowded out of the TV coverage, which will focus mainly on the Tory-Labour horserace.

It's obviously of some concern that on this occasion, the SNP-to-Labour swing is not artificially generated solely by movement from Tory to Labour, with the SNP vote remaining more or less static.  The SNP vote has actually gone down.  However, I'd want to know more about the independent candidates before leaping to any conclusions - it may be that those individuals for some reason had greater appeal to SNP-inclined voters than to Labour-inclined voters.

As far as my own party (Alba) is concerned, this is effectively an identical result to the Linn by-election two weeks ago.  We've made some very modest progress, but still remain firmly stuck in the sub-2% zone.  I must admit I was quite surprised by the reaction of some senior Alba people to the Linn result - although it was far from a catastrophe, it seemed obvious to me that it fell short of what was being sought, and I thought that might be acknowledged.  Instead the verdict seemed to be that it was a decent enough result.  That implies that we're effectively settling for remaining in the 1-2% zone for the foreseeable future.  The combined results from both by-elections certainly put the kybosh on the narrative doing the rounds a few months ago that Alba somehow already had the level of support that would win us list seats in a Holyrood election.  In truth, if there was a Holyrood election right now, the result would almost certainly be the same as eighteen months ago - we'd take approximately 2% of the list vote and zero seats.

To be clear, we absolutely can turn things around and win list seats in 2026 - it's perfectly possible for a party to grow its vote from 2% to the required 5-6% over the course of three-and-a-half years.  But that will entail being honest with ourselves that we need a broader coalition of support, rather than sticking our heads in the sand and telling ourselves that the coalition is already there but is somehow being cunningly concealed by the minutiae of preferential voting (no, there is no reason to think somebody giving a low preference to Alba in a local election is a potential Alba list voter).  To reiterate my prescription from after the Linn result: we need to stop pandering to ethnonationalists within the party who want to restrict the voting rights of English people living in Scotland, we need to tone down the near-homicidal rage directed against Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, we need to put a stop to the dark hints that we might try to sabotage a plebiscite election conducted under first-past-the-post by standing directly against the SNP, and we should instead concentrate on our positive pitch for much more urgency on independence.  

I know some might say that the above steps would in the first instance be noticed more by committed independence supporters than by the wider public.  But I don't think it can be underestimated how much we're limiting our own appeal to committed independence supporters by not appearing to be part of the pro-indy mainstream.  If we can claim a much firmer foothold among the independence movement, wider public support might follow before too long.

(Before anyone asks, the reason I think Alba could reasonably have been expected to do better in these two by-elections is that smaller parties can compete on a much more level playing-field when they're concentrating on a single locality and can bring in activists from across the country.  I know the response will be "but the SNP did the same thing", but the point is that the SNP as a larger party are not stretched so thin in national elections, so there's no equivalent disadvantage for them to overcome.  My guess is that Alba would have been privately hoping for 4-5%+ in both Linn and Broxburn.)

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Thursday, December 1, 2022

WINGS-WATCH: Thousands mystified as blogger claims Yes vote has been flatlining on 52% for the last three years, only a week after he claimed it has been flatlining on 47% for the last six years

Even Agatha Christie would struggle to come up with a plausible-sounding resolution for this mystery.  It's only one week since Stuart Campbell informed his readers that support for independence has remained absolutely static on 47% since 2016, and even supplied a Lib Dem-style chart to 'prove' his point.  Today he's posted about the new Redfield & Wilton poll showing Yes on 52%, which you'd think he'd be compelled to say is indicative of a rather sudden and marvellous 5-point jump after all these years of supposed "flatlining".  But nope, the story is now that Yes has been absolutely static at 52% since February 2020, just under three years ago.  It's almost like the laws of physics work differently over at Wings - no matter how much the Yes vote may go up or down, it's somehow still flatlining.  Actually, it's a kind of retconning - whatever the Yes vote is today, that's what it's always been.  Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, Yes has always been on 52%.


Of course the explanation is simple enough - Mr Campbell is treating his readers as mugs who have the attention-span of goldfish.  But let's take a moment to put this new poll in a more appropriate perspective.  Somewhat ironically, in order to make his bogus point today, Mr Campbell had to give Scot Goes Pop an indirect plug, because the February 2020 poll he's using as his baseline was in fact a Panelbase poll commissioned by yours truly.  I remember it well, because on the Friday before publication I was told by Panelbase that the Yes vote would most likely be 49%.  This was a major disappointment for me, because my hope had been to demonstrate that the December 2019 general election (which made Brexit inevitable but also produced an SNP landslide) had pushed Yes into the lead.  So I spent the weekend trying to work out how to put a brave face on 49% - only to be told on the Monday that the preliminary figures had been wrong and it was actually 52%.  Suddenly it was front page material for The National after all.

But the fact that it was Panelbase I commissioned is the first clue as to where Mr Campbell is misleading people. Panelbase and Redfield & Wilton are different firms with different methodologies, and you can't directly compare a poll from one with a poll from the other.  I'd be all over any mainstream media outlet that attempted a stunt like that, so there's no reason why Mr Campbell should be held to a lesser standard. This in fact appears to be only the third Scottish independence poll Redfield & Wilton have ever conducted.  The previous two were both in the second half of 2021, and both showed Yes on 48% and No on 52%.  So by that measure, 52% for Yes represents substantial progress.

Across all firms, this is the twenty-second independence poll to be conducted since the start of 2022.  It's produced a higher Yes vote than all but two of the previous twenty-one - and those two exceptions were Ipsos-Mori polls which used a non-standard question.  So although it's not possible to make direct comparisons between polls conducted by different firms, this pattern could potentially suggest that Yes support is currently higher than it has been at any previous point during the year, with by far the most likely explanation being the Supreme Court's ruling that Scotland is a prisoner in an involuntary union.

Furthermore, 52% is significantly higher than the polling average for Yes in all but one calendar year in the past.  It's much higher, for example, than the average of 45.3% in 2017 or the average of 45.5% in 2018.  The only year in which the average was slightly higher than 52% (indeed the only year in which it's been higher than 50%) was the 53% recorded in 2020.

So whichever way you cut it, 52% is an unusually high Yes vote.  That doesn't mean, of course, that the vote will necessarily hold up at that high level, but it does mean that anyone who looks at 52% and shouts "flatlining!" is not being intellectually honest.


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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Westminster trembles as pro-independence campaign storms into poll lead - BUT DON'T WORRY, THIS IS PROBABLY ILLEGAL OR SOMETHING

We've been in the 'fog of war' stage since the Supreme Court ruling.  On the one hand there was the Find Out Now poll suggesting that public opinion had been riled up by the discovery that the UK is not a voluntary union and that Scotland is being held prisoner.  On the other hand, that poll used very unconventional wording, and both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been claiming that they've actually found on the doorsteps that the de facto referendum plan is not going down well.  (In the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn't they?)  So the impact of the ruling has been far from clear, and I wouldn't have been surprised if the first conventional poll had shown either a big drop in the Yes vote, or a big increase.  Here's the very good news: it's the latter.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Redfield & Wilton Strategies, 26th-27th November 2022)

Yes 52% (+4) 
No 48% (-4)

So it turns out that people don't like being told that they can't have what they vote for in an alleged democracy, or that they can't even vote at all.  Who'd have thunk it?

An even more dramatic example of that effect - which unionists perhaps should have seen coming due to what we know about basic human psychology - is that there is now a plurality in favour of holding an independence referendum within the next year, which represents a massive turnaround since the last time the question was asked.  Tell people they're not allowed to have something, and they'll start wanting it.

In favour of an independence referendum within the next year: 46% (+12)
Opposed to an independence referendum within the next year: 43% (-7)

I can't ever remember any previous poll from any firm showing such clear support for a second indyref within such a tight timescale - usually the public's reaction is 'yes to the principle of a referendum, but not just yet'.  So this is a very significant shift, and it'll be interesting to see if it holds up.

So far, it may look like Nicola Sturgeon's strategy is working brilliantly - the Supreme Court ruling seems to have substantially increased support for both independence itself and for a quick independence referendum.  There is, however, a fly in the ointment.  The poll shows that pro-independence parties are actually going backwards in Ms Sturgeon's preferred arena for obtaining an independence mandate, namely the next Westminster election.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 41% (-4) 
Labour 31% (+12) 
Conservatives 16% (-9) 
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2) 
Greens 2% (+1) 
Reform UK 2% (+2)

Even with the SNP and Greens in combination, that's only 43% for pro-indy parties, at a time when there's actually 52% support for indy.  Let me take this opportunity yet again to appeal to the SNP leadership and their loyalists to think again, and to see the overwhelming sense of using an early Holyrood election as a de facto referendum instead.  There is absolutely no point in a strategy that successfully builds support for independence if that support simply won't translate to the election you've decided to use as a plebiscite.  What's clearly going wrong here is that the SNP are losing pro-independence votes to Labour at Westminster, because people can see that Labour are on the brink of power and (wrongly) think that voting Labour is the best way to finish off the Tories.  That problem isn't going to go away, unless Labour's mammoth GB-wide poll lead collapses over the next two years.  But it's a problem that wouldn't apply in a Holyrood election - even if polls show a swing from SNP to Labour at Holyrood as well, it would be much easier to reverse that swing over the course of a 'home fixture' campaign that is not totally dominated by Britain-wide issues, and by Britain-wide TV leaders' debates that might exclude Ms Sturgeon altogether.

And to reiterate the other considerable disadvantages of using a Westminster election: 16 and 17 year olds can't vote (most of them would likely be Yes), EU citizens can't vote (most of them would likely be Yes), and photo ID rules would disproportionately disenfranchise younger voters (who are more likely to be Yes).

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

More polling evidence that Europe could be Keir Starmer's Achilles Heel when facing the SNP in a general election functioning as a de facto independence referendum

My ears pricked up a couple of nights ago when I heard there was a new YouGov poll of GB-wide voting intentions out, because YouGov appear to structure and weight their Scottish subsamples correctly, and I thought it might be the first proper straw in the wind (leaving aside the Find Out Now poll) about how the fallout from the Supreme Court's ruling is affecting Scottish voting intentions.  Frustratingly, though, it turned out that the fieldwork was conducted on 22nd and 23rd of November, which almost certainly means the bulk of responses were taken before anyone knew about the legal bombshell that the UK is not a voluntary union.  However, the results are still of some interest -

Scottish subsample (YouGov, 22nd-23rd November 2022):  SNP 42%, Labour 32%, Conservatives 16%, Greens 4%, Reform UK 4%, Liberal Democrats 2%

Obviously a 10-point gap between SNP and Labour is a lot narrower than we'd feel comfortable with.  However, it can be regarded as not too bad in the context of an ongoing mammoth Britain-wide lead for Labour - a party that of course tended to do better in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain until very, very recently.  It leaves open the possibility that the SNP lead might grow again if Labour start to slip back down south.  And with a combined SNP / Green vote of 46%, a pro-indy majority in the popular vote at a plebiscite election remains within touching distance - although nobody should be under any illusions about what a tall order that will be in the 'away fixture' of a Westminster vote.  (To repeat the obvious yet again, the SNP really should be looking at an early Holyrood election instead.)

I gather Kezia Dugdale has a column in The Times arguing that Keir Starmer is a "major threat to a reanimated Yes campaign", which has "a Labour problem".  Well, a supplementary question from the YouGov poll points to the case for the defence, because it identifies one very obvious reason for suspecting Keir Starmer has both a "Yes problem" and a "Europe problem".  Respondents were asked if they would support a Swiss-style deal between the UK and the EU, restoring freedom of movement, removing trade barriers, and reinstating many EU rules and regulations.  A remarkable 54% of respondents across Britain were in favour, with only 24% opposed.  Predictably the gap is even bigger among the Scottish subsample, with 56% in favour and only 18% opposed.  

Keir Starmer has in recent days made clear that he opposes freedom of movement and therefore a Swiss-style deal will be ruled out under any Labour government.  That means the SNP are much, much closer to the centre of gravity among Scottish public opinion on Europe than Labour are, which could be a secret weapon for them in marginal SNP-Labour seats at a general election used as a de facto independence referendum.  Remember that Starmer has the excuse in England that he's just upholding the 2016 referendum result - he has no such alibi in Scotland, where voters opted to remain in the EU by the huge margin of 62% to 38%.

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Monday, November 28, 2022

The SNP have to display absolute conviction that an election is a decision on independence, not on a Section 30 order, if they want Labour supporters and the BBC to react in the desired way

As I've noted a few times over recent days, the SNP leadership have clearly decided that using a Westminster election - as opposed to a snap Holyrood election - as a plebiscite vote is not even up for discussion, and have no intention of telling us the real reason why they're so determined to go down that road.  To the extent we're hearing any reasons at all, they're just 'truthy' sounding excuses that don't stand up to the remotest scrutiny.  So for the sheer hell of it, let's speculate as to what the real explanation might be.  Here are a few obvious possibilities that spring to mind...

1) They're worried that if a Holyrood plebiscite election goes catastrophically wrong, they might lose power altogether (something that can't happen in a Westminster election).  This is not a completely unfounded concern, because electorates in western countries are more volatile than a few decades ago, and if things start to go wrong in the middle of an election campaign there is the danger of the wheels coming off completely - as they did for Iain Gray in 2011, for example.  But it still doesn't make sense to give in to that worry, because the purpose of the SNP having power is to use that power to attempt to bring independence about.  It's not the function of the independence campaign or of the independence cause to keep the SNP in comfortable, risk-free power for its own sake.

2) They're worried about the symbolism of Nicola Sturgeon resigning as First Minister, as she would be required to do to trigger an early Holyrood election without a two-thirds majority vote.  If so, they're being absurdly risk-averse, because from a procedural point of view there really is nothing that can go wrong.  The SNP and Greens in combination have enough seats to prevent any alternative government from being viable.  Any unionist government that might technically take power on a minority parliamentary vote would find itself humiliated in a confidence vote within a matter of days.

3) They've decided to make a virtue out of necessity by using the clamour for a 'Plan B' to help the SNP win seats at a potentially tricky general election.  Although this would be a very cynical motivation, it's the most interesting one, because it would suggest they've war gamed it (perhaps with the help of private polling and focus groups), and come to the conclusion that the SNP would do better in a plebiscite Westminster election than in a regular Westminster election.  And ultimately anything that's in the self-interest of the SNP in a plebiscite vote is also in the interests of the independence cause.  Perhaps they think Yes-supporting Labour voters (the Cat Boyd Paradox) would be more likely to switch to the SNP if independence seemed to be genuinely on the ballot.  Maybe they reckon the BBC and other broadcasters would be more open to giving the SNP fair access to leaders' debates if the election is presented as a de facto referendum on independence.

But if that is their thinking, it further underscores what I said the other day about the absolute imperative of closing down any suggestion that the plebiscite election is just a ruse and all you're really looking for is a Section 30 order.  If you don't have absolute conviction that the election is an outright decision on independence, don't expect Labour voters or the BBC to believe it either - and if they don't believe it, they simply won't change their behaviour in the way you're banking on.  One of the most extraordinary spectacles I've ever witnessed on British television was the edition of Newsnight on the day Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the plan of using an election as a de facto referendum if the Supreme Court ruled against her.  Astoundingly, it never even occurred to Kirsty Wark to pose the question of whether the UK Government would respect a mandate for independence at a plebiscite election and would then agree to negotiate an independence settlement.  Instead, she just took it as read that the plebiscite plan was nothing more than yet another attempt to gain a Section 30, and only considered the question of whether that ploy would have the desired effect if the SNP won a majority.  Angus Robertson, who was one of her guests, did nothing to challenge that narrative.  

If this strategy is to have a hope in hell of working, the implicit surrendering has got to stop right now.

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