Saturday, April 9, 2011

SNP vote almost triples in Wick by-election gain

I've just caught up with the news of the SNP's sensational Highland Council by-election gain on Thursday, with the party's share of the vote almost tripling.  Rather irritatingly, the full first preference results don't seem to be availaible anywhere on the internet, and I see that Vote 2007 stalwart John Loony has sent a politely irate email to the council's chief executive demanding that this oversight be put right forthwith!  However, extrapolating from the partial figures contained in the SNP's press release, these seem to be the percentage changes for the main parties -

SNP up 30

Labour up 5 or 6

Liberal Democrats down 6

Conservatives unchanged

It's fairly obvious from these figures that the bulk of the SNP vote is made up of former backers of independent candidates, which - a little like the Paisley by-election a few weeks ago - makes it slightly harder to pin down what real movement is going on between the main parties.  Nevertheless, the result is another hugely positive straw in the wind, and hopefully indicates that the SNP are the party best-placed to reap the benefit of any Lib Dem collapse in the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross seat on May 5th.

Friday, April 8, 2011

'Yeah, they had that AV in Mongolia, that's how the giraffes went extinct'

I caught up with the Daily Politics AV debate on the BBC iplayer earlier, and I think I may have just discovered why the No campaign's star turn John Prescott was never made Foreign Secretary.  We were treated to an impressively confident recital of assorted 'facts' about the electoral systems of foreign countries, most of which Prezza seemed to have gleaned from a conversation with his mate Dave down the pub.  For your delectation...

1.  The German Greens dumped their Social Democrat coalition partners midway through a parliament, and put in the Christian Democrats instead.

(The German Greens have never done any such thing, and at federal level have only ever been in coalition with the Social Democrats.  Prescott is thinking of something the liberal FDP did in 1982.  This, is any case, has no relevance whatever to AV, given that Germany uses a proportional and non-preferential voting system that bears no resemblance to the preferential and non-proportional system we're currently being offered.)

2.  AV has led to the current coalition government in Australia.

(Australia doesn't have a coalition government at present, for the very good reason that the only independent third party with representation in the lower house of parliament holds just one seat.  What there is instead is a minority government, the first of its kind under Australia's AV system for several decades, and one that occurred simply as the result of an unusually close election.  In case Prescott hasn't noticed, something remarkably similar happened in Britain under his own beloved voting system just last year.)

3.  AV in Australia meant that the right-wing Liberal-National coalition was always in power until last year's election, and even then Labor was only able to assume office with the help of the Greens and "a couple of farmers".

(Prescott seems to have slept through the previous Labor administrations led by well-known Prime Ministers such as Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.  He also seems oblivious to the fact that the current Julia Gillard administration were the incumbents going into the last election, and had an outright majority.)

4.  How do we know that AV makes coalitions more likely?  Well, it's only used in three countries, and in Belgium they've been without a government for a year.

(A sentence that would make considerably more sense if only Belgium was actually one of those three countries that uses AV.  The proportional system it instead uses does of course make balanced parliaments and coalitions far more likely, but as that system bears absolutely no resemblance to AV, what in God's name is the relevance in pointing this out?)

But apart from these minor quibbles, I must say I learned a great deal.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alex Salmond's most stunning personal endorsement yet?

I'm sure most readers of this blog will vividly recall AM2, the unrelenting one-man scourge of the SNP on the Scotsman and Herald comment boards, who later took up blogging as 'Scottish Unionist', before retiring from the scene altogether about eighteen months ago.  I had a series of skirmishes with him myself in 2007 and 2008, first at the Herald but more frequently at the Scotsman, when I was posting under a pseudonym.  Imagine my astonishment, then, to spot that he briefly came out of retirement six hours ago to write a one-off post entitled 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' (and, no, it's not an ironic title).

Given past history, I suppose we shouldn't completely exclude the possibility that his account has been hacked, but if this is what it

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mebyon Kernow leader backs Yes to AV

I'm encouraged to read on his blog that Councillor Dick Cole, leader of the Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow, is strongly supporting a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum on electoral reform.  MK is an ally of the SNP and Plaid Cymru in the European Free Alliance, and like its Scottish and Welsh counterparts is firmly in the social democratic, civic nationalist mould.

"I say this because it is my strong view that the present First Past the Post system does not work as part of a 21st century democracy. I fully support a more proportional voting system (PR) and recognise that AV is not PR, but I do see this reform as a step in the right direction. At the present time across the UK, the vast majority of parliamentary constituencies are safe seats and the main political parties pour disproportionate resources into a small number of marginal seats...

Politics is also becoming increasingly pluralistic with more and more political parties entering the fray, but the electoral system has not caught up. In modern parliamentary contests, as I know from experience, great pressure is brought to bear on people to vote tactically to stop certain political parties from winning. I feel that this distorts political debate and often derails serious consideration of the issues that really matter to communities throughout the UK. AV will eliminate tactical voting, allowing voters to always support their first-choice candidate." 

In a Scottish context, this of course means an end to Labour's false - but all too often persuasive - argument that only a vote for them in Westminster general elections can keep the Tories out.  In future, voters will be able to simply say "no problem, I'll give you my second/fourth/seventh preference, ahead of the Tories".

By my reckoning, all three leaders of the nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall are now supporting a Yes vote, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

An independent-minded pier

Interesting to read Stuart Dickson's post about the ongoing consultative referenda on Catalan independence, in which 96.7% of the electorate have thus far voted Yes (although presumably on figures like that there must have been a heavy boycott by natural No voters).

"Anyhoo, during our first couple of days, the only signs of rampant natism were passing by a couple of nationalist offices (CiU and JERC), and seeing a couple of JERC's bright red "Sí' a la independencia" posters. Being more familiar with the Basque tendency to splash nationalist paraphernalia all over the shop, I thought that this was rather a poor show."

Actually, I was in those parts myself last September, and I was astonished to see the word "Independencia" scrawled very artistically across a huge portion of one side of the pier at Blanes. I somehow can't imagine the Scottish national movement getting away with a similar enhancement of Wemyss Bay. Unfortunately, I didn't take a close-up picture, but if you're eagle-eyed you can spot it in the distance in this one (not quite sure what the archery and medieval costumes were in aid of) -

I was struck the whole week by how Catalan graffiti is in a different class to our own, both in terms of artistic merit and the seriousness of the message. There was quite a lot of it in Barcelona on the subjects of discrimination and racism. I kept meaning to take some photos, but never got round to it, so in the end I had to settle for this much more familiar looking effort. Still, you can't deny the neatness of the handwriting...

I was also amazed at how many Catalan flags were in evidence everywhere I went, although that may have been in honour of the national day -

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The ever-resistable allure of a Farage à trois

The UK Independence Party confuse me, and I strongly suspect they confuse themselves.  According to the BBC report of their campaign launch, they want to scrap direct elections to Holyrood and instead have a Scottish Parliament comprised of double-jobbing Westminster MPs - all in the name of greater "democracy".  This would imply a very traditionalist Tory view of British democracy, and yet UKIP are supposedly strongly in favour of proportional representation.  Indeed, they are backing a Yes vote in the AV referendum, in line with the vast majority of PR supporters in the mainstream parties.  Why on earth, then, do they want to scrap PR for the Scottish Parliament and replace it with an in-built, overwhelming, near-permanent Labour majority?

It's plainly a double-edged sword that Nigel Farage spearheaded the launch - on the one hand he is the party's only remotely recognisable figure, but on the other hand it simply emphasises that they are basically an English party going through the motions of fighting a Scottish campaign.  One very silly blunder is Farage's repeated and patronising use of the word "our" in relation to Scottish institutions, which brings to mind Mrs Thatcher's infamous gaffes of the "we in Scotland" variety.  It's testament to the extent to which the Tory party of those days simply didn't 'get' Scotland that by all accounts she was explicitly advised to adopt such a condescending tone.  Apparently at one point it was even suggested she should put on a Scottish accent when venturing north - a comedy spectacle of truly epic proportions that in the end we were cruelly denied from witnessing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Panelbase poll : SNP have five-point regional list lead

For the first time since the Ipsos-Mori survey a couple of months ago, a poll has been published with figures that would be just about sufficient to give the SNP most seats in the next Scottish Parliament. The party is level with Labour on the constituency vote, but has a five-point lead on the all-important regional list vote. Here are the full figures for the main parties -

Constituency vote :

SNP 37%
Labour 37%
Conservatives 13%
Liberal Democrats 8%

Regional list vote :

SNP 37%
Labour 32%
Conservatives 11%
Liberal Democrats 7%
Greens 5%

This is now the sixth Holyrood poll in a row to show the SNP up on its winning 2007 share - by four points in the constituencies, and six points on the list. It suggests a completely different pattern to the recent YouGov poll, with the SNP vote proving much more resilient on the list than Labour's, which would be more in line with what has happened in previous Scottish Parliament elections. The seat projections quoted would give the SNP 54 seats, and Labour 52. It's possible these numbers might nudge the SNP closer to favouritism with the bookies, but Panelbase is an untested pollster, and in truth it's now anyone's guess which way this election is headed.

Meanwhile, the most amusing detail of the poll is that Tavish Scott's profile is apparently so abysmally low that no fewer than 6% of the electorate believe he is none other than six-times world snooker champion Steve Davis!

One for the connoisseurs...

Yesterday's Daily Mail editorial on the AV referendum was one for the true connoisseurs of that newspaper's idiocy, because virtually every substantive point it made was the polar opposite of the truth. For example -

"It [AV] is also so fiendishly complicated that even its articulate proponents struggle to explain how it works."

Each voter lists the candidates in order of preference. The first preference votes are counted, and if any candidate has more than 50% of them, they have won the election. If not, the lowest-placed candidate is eliminated and each of his/her votes is redistributed to the voter's next-preferred candidate. If any candidate has more than 50% of the vote at that stage, they have won the election - if not, the process continues in the same way until someone does have more than 50%.

That took me all of 86 words. Fiendishly complicated? As has been so often pointed out, AV is considerably simpler than the voting systems for Dancing on Ice or Strictly Come Dancing, and people somehow seem to get their heads round those.

"It is no exaggeration to say that a Yes vote could condemn this country to permanent coalition politics which would allow political elites to stay in power indefinitely."

If you replace the word 'no' in that sentence with the word 'an', it suddenly becomes strikingly accurate. As it is...not so much. AV doesn't conceptually make balanced parliaments (and by extension coalitions) any more or less likely. In the specific circumstances of the UK, where there is a medium-sized third party perceived to be ideologically in between the two larger ones, it's true it might in practice make balanced parliaments very marginally more likely because the third party will be well-placed to pick up second preferences. But the idea that 10-20 extra Lib Dem seats would be sufficient to bring about "permanent coalition politics" (especially when that party's support is currently dropping like a stone) is utterly risible. For the avoidance of doubt, that is a Bad Thing and not a Good Thing.

"Yes means that leaders like Margaret Thatcher would probably never have been elected"

This, believe it or not, is one of the examples the Mail puts forward to support its proposition that "Britain is sleepwalking into a historic disaster". What a pity it isn't true. Mrs Thatcher would have had more than sufficient support to claim outright victory under a majoritarian system like AV. That, again, is a thoroughly Bad Thing. The good news is that by having to cast the net wider to seek second preferences from centrist voters, she might have had to moderate her policies slightly. It probably would have been only very slightly, but that's still better than nothing.

"it is utterly deplorable that he [Cameron] was blackmailed by the Liberal Democrats into accepting the referendum could be passed with less than a 40 per cent turnout. On such stitch-ups the wheel of history turns."

So, on Planet Mail, a situation where the No side won't be able to claim victory if they receive fewer votes than the Yes side is a "stitch-up". Oh-kaaay...