Saturday, March 19, 2011

How did a 1-1 draw become a '3-0 win for the Snarl'?

Thanks to Stuart Dickson for alerting me to another detail from yesterday's ICM poll - Alex Salmond's overwhelming lead as the party leader most qualified to be First Minister, with Labour's Iain "the Snarl" Gray in a dismal third place. Here are the full figures as they appear in the Sun -

Alex Salmond (SNP) 43%
Annabel Goldie (Conservative) 10%
Iain "the Snarl" Gray (Labour) 9%
Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott (Liberal Democrat) 3%
Patrick Harvie (Green) 1%

The transition from George Foulkes to John Park as the designated Labour rent-a-quote has been impressively seamless, but I must admit this comment from Park at the end of the Sun article has left me a trifle baffled -

"Iain has gone toe to toe with Alex Salmond in three elections - and it's three-nil to Iain."

Does anyone have the faintest idea what he's talking about? Gray became leader in September 2008, since when there have been just two Scotland-wide elections - one of which (the European election in June 2009) was won handsomely by the SNP. As for Labour's success in last year's Westminster election, it's pushing credibility a touch to describe that as "Iain going toe-to-toe with Alex Salmond", given that the "Scottish Labour leader" was utterly invisible for the entirety of the campaign.

And the "third" election? Not a scooby.

Do "death panels" help you live longer?

Tucked away in the flurry of reports about continued increases in European life expectancy is a nugget of information that I already knew, but is well worth highlighting -

"Meanwhile, the US was at the same level as the lowest of any Western European country (Portugal for males and Denmark for females), despite spending more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, with the rate for women increasing at a much slower pace than Western Europe.

In 2007, average life expectancy in the US was 78 years compared to 80 in the UK."

Shome mishtake, shurely? I thought the American right could only rationally be objecting to our system of "socialised medicine" and "death panels" (translation : universal health care) on the grounds that we were living less long.

But, as with gun deaths, it's doubtless vital that we show a bit of sophistication here, and look beyond the American "headline figure" for life expectancy. It's almost certainly being artificially dragged down by...well, less important people. You know, the sort who were just never cut out for "freedom". Darwinism in action.

Friday, March 18, 2011

YouGov poll : SNP up 5% on 2007 winning vote share

Hot on the heels of today's ICM poll that offered such huge encouragement for the SNP, Stuart Dickson has alerted me to a YouGov poll that shows a very similar picture. Labour's lead has been slashed from nine points to three on the constituency vote, and from fourteen points to seven on the list. Here are the full figures -

Constituency vote :

Labour 41% (-)
SNP 38% (+6)
Conservatives 10% (-5)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)
Others 5% (+1)

Regional list vote :

Labour 39% (-1)
SNP 32% (+6)
Conservatives 11% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
Others 13% (+2)

It's worth bearing in mind, though, that the percentage changes are from the highly questionable last YouGov poll, the methodology of which (in spite of the protestations from James MacKenzie, whose employers commissioned the poll) was queried by no less a figure than John Curtice.

This is now the third Holyrood poll in a row that shows the SNP up on their 2007 winning share of the vote - they're 5% higher on the constituency vote, and 1% higher on the list.

ICM poll gives massive boost to SNP hopes

At last - a Holyrood poll from a credible pollster with no methodology issues, and one that passes the 'smell test'. ICM have Labour ahead on both Holyrood ballots, but only by a very modest amount, and with the formal campaign still ahead of us the race must surely now be wide open. Here are the figures for the four main parties -

Constituency vote :

Labour 39%
SNP 35%
Conservatives 12%
Liberal Democrats 10%

Regional list vote :

Labour 37%
SNP 34%
Conservatives 13%
Liberal Democrats 9%

ICM (along with Populus) were the most accurate pollsters back in 2007. And just like the Progressive Scottish Opinion survey at the weekend, the SNP's support in this poll is actually up on both ballots (by two and three points respectively) from their winning share four years ago.

Labour's campaign manager John Park claims these figures are "superb" for his party. Well, he said much the same thing about a poll showing a fourteen-point Labour lead on the list not so long ago, so if a three-point lead warrants the same desription then clearly "superb" covers a rather broad meaning in the Park idiolect.

Ah dinnae speak Scots, Ah speak English!

Over recent days I've noticed several Facebook users campaigning for people to use the forthcoming census to record their national identity as "Scottish, not British". That's of course a no-brainer, but flicking through the form there are a few more problematic related questions. I'm sure most nationalists would instinctively prefer to also record their 'ethnic group' as being Scottish, but in the case of someone like me that would be downright dishonest! To the best of my knowledge, my ancestry is roughly 75% Irish and 25% French-Canadian, so the Irish tick-box it'll have to be. Strange though it feels, it's actually am extremely good thing to be able to claim a Scottish national identity but a completely different ethnicity - that's the very essence of SNP-style civic nationalism.

It's also fantastic to finally see questions on the Scots language in the census, although I fear the number of speakers may still be grossly understated due to confusion over exactly what is being asked. Many native speakers of what could be most accurately described as English-Scots transitional dialects may well have always regarded themselves as simply speaking 'bad English', and might not realise the questions apply to them. Fortunately, this website has been set up to unambiguously clarify the position, although how many people will actually find it is another matter. For my part, the questions about 'understanding' and 'reading' Scots pose no problems, and although I've basically spoken standard English since I was a teenager, the words I can recall using as a young child probably just about qualify me as a native Scots speaker. 'Writing' Scots seemed the trickiest question to answer in the affirmative - but then I recalled that I made several hundred edits to the Scots Wikipedia in its early days back in 2005/6. Admittedly it was an almighty struggle, but if that doesn't entitle me to claim that I can write Scots, I don't know what does!

But then there's the issue of Gaelic. Many years ago, I made a tentative start to learning the language, but never got past the very basic conversational stuff. As a result it would never have occurred to me that I should be doing anything other than ignoring the Gaelic questions in the census, but reading this comment from the Scottish government Gaelic ambassador Allan Campbell gave me slight pause for thought -

"It is extremely important that all those people with any knowledge of Gaelic indicate this in their response to Question 16 in the census questionnaire."

On a maximalist interpretation on those words, I should maybe consider ticking the 'understand Gaelic' box on the tenuous grounds that I have 'some knowledge' of the language, but somehow the idea still seems too absurd. Any thoughts?

SNP vote up 4% in Paisley South by-election

Labour have won the Paisley South local by-election - and in one of those anomalies thrown up by the STV voting system, it's technically a "gain" from the SNP, even though Labour were ahead on first preferences last time round. From my rough and ready calculations, these appear to be the percentage figures for the four main parties -

Labour 49% (+18)
SNP 32% (+4)
Conservatives 9% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-10)

It's of course a mug's game to try to extrapolate national lessons from an election in a single local council ward, but let's do it anyway. The changes in vote share show an uncannily similar picture to the most recent PSO poll for Holyrood, with the SNP actually up on its high watermark of 2007, but Labour's support increasing even more. This poses an intriguing question - how will the psychology of any post-election negotiations be affected if the SNP is the second largest party, but has nevertheless increased its number of seats and vote share? The odds are probably still against that scenario, but on these figures the possibility must at least be seriously entertained. It would certainly counter any simplistic notion that the SNP government had been "defeated", and would perhaps make it easier for smaller parties to contemplate the prospect of supporting or joining a non-Labour-led government.

At a minimum, it's high time the media woke up to the fact that this is indeed a proportional representation election, and that the First Minister will be chosen by a majority in the Scottish Parliament - the office won't be claimed as of right by one party 'finishing first' on May 5th (unless of course they happen to win an outright majority of seats, which seems unlikely).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The pain of responsibility

'Epsilon Given' has left a series of lengthy comments on my last post about gun control (or was it about intuition?). For the sake of convenience, I'm going to reply in a fresh post. He started by making a point that I wish some of his fellow travellers would take a moment to consider -

"Scotland and Arizona, besides having different populations, they also have different cultures, histories, population densities, flora and fauna, mental health institutions, etc. That is, it is not entirely clear that it's justified to compare the two populations (despite both being "common law" institutions)."

There's some truth in that, and I've repeatedly made the point to Kevin Baker and his Fan Club that their own comparisons between different jurisdictions of the US (supposedly 'proving' that gun control causes more crime) are largely nonsensical, because they're often comparisons between affluent, sparsely-populated rural areas where you would expect a low crime rate anyway, and densely-populated urban areas with high rates of poverty. It has to be said, though, that the comparison between Scotland and Arizona is somewhat more meaningful - the raw population sizes are similar, and the urban/rural split of the two jurisdictions aren't a million miles apart. I'm also struggling to see how 'flora and fauna' is much of a factor in influencing the rate of gun crime!

"I'd like to see the claim that knives, or even fists, are somehow "safer" than guns justified: determine the number of violent encounters per 100,000, and compare Scotland's to Arizona's. If knives really are less deadly that guns, then there should be comparable numbers of violent encounters, but less murders, in Scotland."

Your implication that it might be possible to demonstrate that knives are just as dangerous as guns is questionable enough. (No-one would dispute that they're very dangerous - and lethal in many cases - but they're clearly not in the same league as guns because it's easier to escape from an assailant armed with a knife.) But "even fists"? Come now, Epsilon. I'll return to this massive credibility problem later on.

"Let's *really* make sure that the "homicide" figure in Arizona is strictly "murder". American crime reporting has this nasty habit of including justifiable homicide with murder--in part, because justifiable homicide is often determined by a jury."

While we're about it, let's also make sure that all unjustified killings are included in the US statistics. The gunning down of the innocent Aberdonian businessman Andrew de Vries in Texas in 1994 doesn't seem to have been counted, for instance - had it happened in the UK, it almost certainly would have been.

"How do these statistics change over time? If violence increases after guns are banned in Scotland, then it's disingenuous to compare Arizona and Scotland, and then say "See, gun laws work!" It would be equally disingenuous to compare these numbers, if violence *decreases* after a "shall issue" gun permit law is passed in Arizona."

Epsilon, the correlation between gun control regimes and gun death rates is so overwhelming that these technical quibbles simply won't wash. Forget about Arizona and Scotland for the moment - look at Finland. The most liberal gun ownership laws in western Europe, and a country that sticks out like a sore thumb that's gone septic at the top of the leaderboard for gun deaths. In every sense other than its gun laws it's a normal northern European country, easily comparable to its neighbours - so you'd have a near-impossible job explaining that phenomenon away.

It's also worth pointing out that if you talked to average people from the UK and tried to make the claim - as the likes of Kevin Baker have done, seemingly with a straight face - that any increase in violent crime since 1996 has somehow occurred as a result of our strengthened gun laws, you'd be met with a chorus of laughter. The whole concept of householders routinely owning or using guns for 'defensive' purposes was already an alien one prior to 1996. A practice has to have meaningfully existed before its 'removal' can be claimed to have made a difference.

"Why should I trust *any* data? Whenever I try to look up this data on my own, I always run into obstacles obtaining it. The data *I* want never seems to be available--admittedly, I can't look too deeply, because of time constraints--but, in the end, why should I trust data other people select as "important"? A Stupid Example: I requested "guns per gun death"--in part, because I wanted to test the claim "more guns means more death"--but Arizona gun stats are almost non-existent, as is the category of illegal gun stats for Scotland. Even if these stats were available, though, I would have to understand that a statistic like "illegal guns" is, at best, and educated guess, and so my analysis (and conclusions) of such data would probably be meaningless anyway."

The equivalent question is - why should you determine for others what data they consider to be important? I've already pointed out that I personally don't understand the relevance of your interest in illegal gun stats for Scotland. One of the key articles of faith for the American gun lobby is that gun control regimes are totally useless at preventing criminals from getting their hands on illegal weapons. A very low absolute rate of gun homicide in Scotland - covering both legally-held and illegal weapons - is compelling evidence that such a proposition is deeply flawed.

"In my half-hearted attempt to obtain these numbers, I learned that Scotland had a significant drop in violence this last year. Are we comparing a "bad" Arizona year to a "good" Scotland year? How can *that* be fair?!?"

Are we talking about 2009, or 2010? I think Lallands Peat Worrier noted himself that 2009 saw a particularly low number of gun deaths in Scotland, but the disparity between the two jurisdictions in other years was still massive.

"Although I really wish I had the time to gather this data, and crunch these numbers, why should we trust any of this as "meaningful"? Societies change all the time. When we look over all the countries of the world, we see no correlation between "strictness of gun control" and murder rates and even suicide rates."

Simply not true. See above, and here.

"And, when all things are considered, we are talking about very. small. numbers."

I'd have to respectfully suggest that the difference between two gun deaths in Scotland in 2009, and one hundred and ninety-eight gun deaths in Arizona in the same year, is not a "small" one. However, even if it were, as a mathematician you should understand better than most the huge difference between "small" and "not statistically significant".

"And to further complicate things, in America, we have *counter-intuitive* results: Every time a change in gun law is considered, there is a claim that passage of such laws will result in an increase of gun violence. Yet, with Florida's "shall-issue" permits, and lately, the Heller decision that affected Washington D.C., violence--both gun and non-gun--*dropped*. And these aren't just isolated incidents. It happens time and time again, to the point that the debate among criminologists in the United States *isn't* "Do guns cause crime?"; it's "What effect, if any, do guns have in lowering crime?"."

Come now, Epsilon. We've been down a very similar road before. These will be all of America's criminologists - except for all the ones you've dismissed out of hand because of spurious objections to their methodology.

"Something is counter-intuitive if we get a result that we don't expect to come about. The example I just gave was "increased gun ownership decreases gun crimes"--and there are statistics that seem to demonstrate that this indeed may be the case. Often, counter-intuitive conclusions are the results of incorrect assumptions. Here are some reasons why increased gun ownership might not result in increased gun violence:

Guns aren't as lethal as many people think, and alternatives--knives, fists, rocks, baseball bats, bottles, even rope--are more lethal than many people realize. Making guns difficult to obtain and carry may neutralize the first "threat", but these other threats are still there, and much more difficult to control besides!

There's a strong whiff of weasel words here - "not as lethal as many people think", "more lethal than many people realise". We've already seen that you want to plant a seed of doubt in people's minds about the self-evident truth that guns are more lethal than fists - so if you truly think both those 'weapons' are equally lethal, why shy away from making that bizarre claim directly? I think we can probably guess.

"Additionally, it's easier to counter these other threats with a gun, than it is to counter these other threats with like threats; hence, when you have a legitimate need for self defense, you're better off with a gun."

This is the familiar 'have your cake and eat it' argument, so beloved of the US gun lobby - we're expected to believe that the lethality of the weapon in the hands of an attacker makes little or no difference to the outcome ("fists" will be just as good if he has a murderous intent), but in the hands of a defender the lethality of the weapon suddenly becomes all-important, and only a gun will do.

""Shall Issue" permits include a background check for past mental and legal problems. The people who would apply to such things would be law-abiding, and generally healthy mentally. Such people who carry guns aren't likely to go on crime sprees!"

But they do, Epsilon, and they stubbornly keep on doing it. The post-Dunblane restrictions were put in place because a 'law-abiding' person got through a series of background checks, enabling him to legally acquire guns that he used to massacre schoolchildren. The recent inquiry into the Cumbrian massacre last year confirmed that the correct procedures were followed in licencing Derrick Bird to own his weapons legally.

Even leaving these repeated incidents aside, background checks simply aren't fine-tuned enough to discriminate between those people we might be relaxed about owning guns, and those who really shouldn't be allowed to do so for good reasons that fall short of potential mass-killing sprees. If the checks were sufficient, we wouldn't see legally-owned guns falling into criminal hands in the US at a mind-boggling rate, because their owners weren't responsible enough to store them securely. We wouldn't see children accessing their parents' guns for the same reason. And what about abusive relationships? Is the ubiquity of gun ownership in the US intervening positively or negatively in those relationships? In other words, is it more likely to be the abused or the abuser who will be threatening the other with the gun? What evidence I've seen points strongly to the latter conclusion - which, as it happens, is precisely what 'intuition' would lead us to expect.

"Those who take self defense seriously--whether or not they carry a gun--will learn techniques to recognize potential assaults. They'll be more aware of their surroundings, they'll watch out for characters "scoping out" parking lots..."

Yes, I've met people like that, and what a delight it was. Often, they're self-appointed policemen who feel they've got a God-given right to ask other law-abiding people to justify their actions. I'm not sure how arming such arrogance with a gun is supposed to enhance my freedom.

"Those who choose to carry a gun are more likely to be mentally prepared if something bad happens. While it's impossible to know in advance how you'll react if you are in a violent situation, if you've thought about what you'll do, you're more likely to do something that will help protect yourself and those around you."

Preparedness is good, but it helps tremendously if what you're readying yourself to
do isn't wholly counter-productive. Faced with many threats, an attempt to escape may well be the most effective course of action, and 'talking yourself' into feeling that you must react by facing down an assailant with a gun could easily put yourself and others at more risk.

"Those who choose to carry a gun are more likely to recognize the responsibility that lethal force represents, and thus less likely to heatedly argue, and more likely to peacefully pull themselves from an argument before it comes to fighting."

If it's got to the point in the US where the main reason people aren't starting arguments is because they fear they might be shot if they do (or that they might shoot someone else), then you've got a problem as a society. It also strikes me as a fairly obvious curtailment of freedom - an implicit threat that causes a kind of self-censorship when considering whether to express a point of view forcefully, or what might be described as a personal "Finlandisation" syndrome.

In any case, the idea that gun ownership generally makes people calmer and rarely has the opposite effect simply doesn't stack up. I refer you back to the point I made earlier about domestic violence - in the majority of cases, the gun is simply empowering the abuser to be more abusive and terrorising.

"Criminals don't want to get shot. If they have reason to believe their victims will be armed, they are less likely to engage in behavior that can end with them in the hospital, or dead."

That's a very weak point. In large swathes of the US, criminals presumably know that there's a significant risk that anyone they attack may possess a gun. If that had a significant deterrent effect, you'd expect the homicide rate in the US to be considerably lower than in the UK, not two-and-a-half times higher.

"And, yes, I have concluded that every responsible person should know how to use a gun, should carry one, and should be prepared to use it in self-defense--but I have concluded that every responsible person should also know what to do when someone gets injured or sick, or when there's an earthquake, or there is flooding, or a tidal wave, or a forest fire, or a hurricane, or even plague and famine and general societal collapse. Being prepared for danger is a moral responsibility that all of us should accept."

As far as the danger posed by guns is concerned, we all do have a moral responsibility - to take the actions that the evidence suggests will be most effective in collectively protecting ourselves. For some individuals that means the painful necessity of giving up both the right to own an item they're particularly fond of, and the comforting but illusory sense of absolute personal control over their own safety. But whoever said acting responsibly was a pain-free thing?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Memo to Finkelstein - we've never "weighted" votes by levels of enthusiasm

One of the recurring patterns in the AV referendum to date is that of a sanctimonious commentator informing us that the quality of arguments "on both sides" has been extremely poor, and that he really couldn't care less about the whole thing. He then - with no sense of irony whatsoever - trots out one of those extremely poor arguments himself, and declares himself a committed supporter of the No side on that basis. Really is uncanny how that keeps happening.

Exhibit Y : Danny Finkelstein (now, who'd ever have guessed Hague's old aide wouldn't be an electoral reformer?) -

"I’ve been thinking why the arguments in the referendum campaign have been so poor...Which all brings me to the reason why I intend to vote “no”...The system gives my fourth preference the same weight as someone else’s first preference. And it shouldn’t."

Just as well it doesn't, then. Under AV, just like the current system, everyone has an equal vote in any given count, and that vote is always for their most preferred candidate left in contention at that stage. Of course you might wish that your vote could still count towards the candidate you like even more but who has already been eliminated - but for obvious reasons it can't. Similarly, under our present system, you might wish you could vote for any one of several thousand superior hypothetical candidates who are not on the ballot paper - but you can't. And yet your unenthusiastic vote for the 'least worst available' will have exactly the same weight as someone else's full-blooded vote for a candidate they consider to be superb. If Finkelstein genuinely wants to call time on this long-standing 'problem', he might want to campaign for a US-style option to write in the candidate of your choice, rather than peddling the hoary and contrived fantasy that it's somehow an issue unique to AV.

The wrong kind of player power?

The world women's curling championship gets underway in Denmark later this week, and Scotland will be represented by the core of the team that triumphed at the world juniors in Perth at the weekend. The big difference is that the skip will not be Eve Muirhead, but instead the third player from the junior team, Anna Sloan - the reason being that Sloan led the team to the Scottish title a few weeks ago without Muirhead's involvement. Nevertheless, Muirhead has very sensibly been drafted in as team alternate, which in years gone by would almost certainly have meant that she would have ended up playing at either skip or third if the early results had gone the wrong way. But this time it appears not. According to Bob Cowan's blog, unless there is an illness or injury in the team, Muirhead will not be playing at all -

"It will certainly be a different role for Eve - matching stones for the team in late night practice sessions is just one of her jobs with coach Isobel Hannen. Still, as the experiences of the junior men's team show, it is so important to have a well-qualified alternate on the bench in case of illness. She will not be used as a 'tactical substitute'. This is the official line."

If true, that strikes me as mildly insane. I can certainly see the argument that a tactical substitute can sometimes make matters worse if the person in question is not used to playing with the others. But that is clearly not the case here - Muirhead could slot in naturally at any time, and when you have the world and European silver medal-winning skip from last year at your disposal, it seems a silly hostage to fortune to needlessly limit that option.

From a distance, it's hard not to wonder if this is the legacy of the bizarre events of three years ago, when the Scottish skip Gail Munro was dropped midway through the world championships because of poor form, and her third Lyndsay Wilson withdrew from the team in protest, leading to a hurried recall for Munro to make up the numbers. Munro then refused to play in a show of solidarity with Wilson, and the net result was that Scotland took to the ice with only three players in games that were vital for Olympic qualifying. In a sense what happened was nobody's fault - it was more a question of differing perceptions. Wilson presumably felt that the team were there as of right as Scottish champions and thus shouldn't be mucked about with, whereas the coaches recognised that the team were first and foremost representing a country, and the country's interests were paramount. These are both understandable perceptions, but the bottom line is that the coaches were correct. If this particular example of player power has ultimately won the argument, it seems like a terribly retrograde step for the game in Scotland.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The real question the nuclear lobby will have to answer

The safety issues surrounding nuclear power will always be rather complex, because the illnesses that may be caused by less-than-instantly-lethal doses of radiation take years to show up, by which time it's possible to also attribute them to other factors. Even with a disaster on the unimaginable scale of Chernobyl, experts can't seem to agree whether the number of deaths caused directly by the incident was more in the region of 100 or 100,000. With lower-grade accidents of the type we've had in this country, there has also been a wide range of uncertainty about the long-term consequences.

The nuclear lobby seem to imagine this ambiguity plays into their hands - they can point to the lowest figure of deaths for each incident, and fall back on the trusty phrase "there is no evidence to suggest..." to wave away concerns about higher estimates. I'm not so sure that will wash. For one thing, the uncertainty about the consequences of mid-level releases of radiation directly feeds into the precautions that are - perfectly rationally - taken in the event of an accident, as currently seen in Japan with the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in a state of intense fear, and with children and babies having to be tested for radiation exposure. The first question the nuclear lobby will have to answer in the coming days is not about the intangible issue of long-term health risk following an accident, but rather the very down-to-earth query of "do we really want a building ten miles from our homes that will put us through all that?". Wind farms may spoil the view, but they rarely have a practical and psychological impact quite this profound.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why is less democracy always the solution?

Interesting to learn from Subrosa that Their Man In Edinburgh, the esteemed Michael Moore, is touting the idea that the one-off planned five-year term for the next Scottish parliament should be made a permanent arrangement. Subrosa poses this question -

"The cynic in me ponders the benefits to unionist Westminster; there must be some or the idea would never have been mooted, although there is evidence from Germany that when Bundestag and state elections (which are conducted by Länder rules) are the same year, the state elections were completely overshadowed. Yet what are the benefits to Westminster?"

I actually don't think there's any great mystery about what's going on here - it must have finally occurred to some bright spark in the Lib Dems that the 'solution' of putting the 2015 Holyrood election back a year doesn't even begin to address the problem thrown up by five-year fixed term parliaments at Westminster. If the Holyrood parliament starting in 2016 runs its natural course, there will again be a scheduled election that would clash with a Westminster contest in 2020 - presumably necessitating a further 'one-off' extension, and the whole process will continue on into perpetuity, leaving everyone (not least London Lib Dems) looking extremely stupid. Of course, this snag could have been deferred for quite a while if only the 2015 election had been brought forward by a year, rather than put back. Three-year parliaments work perfectly well in Australia without the sun falling out of the sky - but it seems giving the public more democracy rather than less is an option that would never even occur to our masters.

But my own question is this - what happens if (as is perfectly possible) the Westminster coalition collapses in a heap well before 2015, rendering all these shenanigans totally redundant? Can we have our own election back then, please?

Subrosa also makes this observation -

"All these constitutional changes we're hearing about at present favour the libdems. No matter how badly they do in future voting, if the AV result is a yes, then they will be the king-makers."

That's not really true. As a majoritarian system, AV will for the most part continue to produce majority Tory or Labour governments, which for the avoidance of doubt is a bad thing not a good thing. Because of the specific circumstances of UK politics, though, with a medium-sized third party that is ideologically somewhere between the two larger ones (and thus well-placed to attract second preferences) it will give the Lib Dems more seats than the current system would, and therefore make future balanced parliaments very slightly more likely. The Lib Dem-sceptics among us shouldn't be squeamish about that, because without balanced parliaments there's simply no hope of achieving more meaningful electoral reform at a later date. The idea that a majority Labour government would ever voluntarily introduce PR is in the realms of fantasy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Progressive Scottish Opinion : SNP support up on 2007 winning share

The latest poll for the upcoming Scottish Parliament election shows a picture somewhere in between the two extremes of Ipsos-Mori on the one hand, and YouGov and TNS-BMRB on the other. Labour have a lead, but of a more middling variety, while the SNP vote is actually well up on 2007. There is also no sign whatever of the modest advance for the Greens suggested by the last couple of polls. Here are the full figures -

Constituency vote :

Labour 43%
SNP 37%
Conservatives 11%
Liberal Democrats 5%
SSP 2%
Greens 1%

Regional list vote :

Labour 44%
SNP 37%
Conservatives 11%
Liberal Democrats 4%
Greens 2%
SSP 1%

Once again, I'd suggest it's worth looking at the combined vote for the SNP and the Tories. For the avoidance of doubt (I'm looking at you, Mr. Labour wind-up merchant "Braveheart"), that is not because a coalition between the two parties is remotely likely or desirable, but because both parties will probably be vigorously opposed to any Labour-led administration for their own separate reasons. In this instance, the combined figure stands at a whopping 48% on both ballots - exactly the same as for Labour + Lib Dem.

However, the huge health warning here is that Progressive Scottish Opinion's track record is...well, rubbish. Their weekly polls in the 2007 race were as mad as a bucket of frogs, and the fact that they're quoting constituency vote figures in this poll for the Greens who (as far as I'm aware) are only standing on the list doesn't exactly inspire huge confidence.