Saturday, April 23, 2011

The current voting system just isn't cricket

I see that the No to AV campaign wheeled out cricket stars Darren Gough and David Gower a few days ago as their latest converts. Which is intriguing, given that the No side have had such a predilection for sporting analogies about 'losers winning' and so on. Perhaps, given the circumstances, they'd care to explain how the following things can - and regularly do - happen in cricket...

1) The team that scores far fewer runs over a five-day Test Match 'draws' the game.

2) The team that scores fewer runs in a one-day international or Twenty20 match actually wins the game, courtesy of the Duckworth-Lewis method.

Does this mean that the game of cricket itself is not a "level playing field", to use Gough's own words? Quite the reverse. It would be utterly insane to automatically award a win in a rain-interrupted one-day international match to the side with most runs, regardless of whether they had also batted for more overs. It would be an incomplete picture. Just like the current voting system for Westminster uses an incomplete picture to award a win to a candidate with as little as 26% of the vote, taking no account of whether the majority of the electorate would have much preferred a different candidate. A vivid example of this problem is the Belfast South result in the 2005 election -

Unionist vote (DUP/UUP) - 51.1%
Nationalist vote (SDLP/Sinn Féin) - 41.3%

Under the current system, a nationalist won. Under AV (or indeed under any run-off system), a unionist would have won. Which would have been fairer? In what sense did the nationalist who was elected truly have a mandate?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Confirmed by the servants of the Lord : the regional list vote decides who forms the Scottish Government

I received an election leaflet today from the militantly anti-homosexual 'Scottish' Christian Party - led somewhat incongruously by the man who wrote (and still receives royalties from) the song So Macho. You might think it would have been mostly concerned with telling me about God and lesser-known details of the Old Testament, but not a bit of it. In fact the meat of the leaflet is about the minutiae of the party's split and subsequent glorious reconciliation with their 'brothers' in the Christian People's Alliance (no-one mention Life of Brian), followed by this rather convoluted explanation of how, for some unspecified reason, they're planning to help Iain Gray become First Minister -

"If you want Labour to form the next Scottish Government vote Christian Party - CPA on the Central Region List.

In 2007 Labour had to look on powerlessly as the SNP took five (5) of the list seats in the Central Region, including the very last seat. As a result, the SNP beat Labour by just one (1) seat in the Scottish Parliamentary Election. Had the Christian Party won that last Central Region seat, instead of the SNP, then Labour would have won the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary Election...


So there you have it on the Highest Authority - the list vote decides who becomes First Minister. In other words, the SNP's invitation for people to vote for Alex Salmond as First Minister on the list ballot is a helpful clarification of the vital importance and effect of that vote, while the Greens' '2nd Vote Green' slogan (implying that the list vote is - as many people mistakenly believe - some kind of second preference) is a misleading ruse. No-one is blaming the Greens for trying to maximise their vote by using any tactic within the rules - but what is slightly more galling is that they do this while at the same time brazenly condemning the SNP for 'confusing' the electorate with their 'sloganising'. It's the rough equivalent of hitting another child in the playground, then bursting into tears and saying "Miss, he hit me"...

A few nagging doubts do arise from the Christian Party's 'Trojan Horse for Iain Gray' pitch, though. For instance -

1) Perhaps they should have waited to see the opinion polls before concluding this was quite such a winner.

2) If they're really only interested in receiving votes from Labour sympathisers, does that mean us nationalists are all heathens?

3) They could have done with investing in a calculator. If the Christian Party had nicked a list seat from the SNP last time round, Labour would not have been the party with most seats, but instead would have been deadlocked 46-46 with the SNP. Even if the Christian MSP had voted for Jack McConnell as First Minister, Alex Salmond would still have won if the two Green MSPs had voted for him (as they did).

Ipsos-Mori poll : SNP take double-digit leads on both ballots

Tonight's poll certainly lived up to the earlier billing, with the SNP moving into an 11-point lead on the consituency ballot, and a 10-point lead on the regional list. Here are the full figures for the four main parties -

Constituency vote :

SNP 45% (+8)
Labour 34% (-2)
Conservatives 10% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-1)

Regional list vote :

SNP 42% (+7)
Labour 32% (-1)
Conservatives 10% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)

By my reckoning this is now the eighth Holyrood poll in a row to show the SNP up on its winning 2007 share of the vote, and for the first time the seat projections point to a hypothetical parliamentary majority in favour of holding an independence referendum.

But now for the reality-check. Ezio suggested on the previous thread that these figures could be a bit too good to be true, and my gut feeling is that might just turn out to be right. For starters, the fieldwork dates partly overlap with the weekend YouGov poll that showed a much narrower lead for the SNP. Admittedly that can be partly explained by the fact that a greater percentage of the YouGov sampling took place before the party's manifesto launch and Alex Salmond's well-received appearance on Question Time, but I wonder if there are methodology issues at play as well. Ipsos-Mori of course famously showed an SNP lead in February when in retrospect it seems likely that Labour still had the upper hand, albeit possibly not by much. Rather more troublingly, in the run-up to last year's Westminster general election the company also produced figures that don't seem even remotely credible with the benefit of hindsight.

Certainly the combined evidence of the two polls points overwhelmingly to some kind of SNP lead (at least as of the weekend) but just how significant a lead is much more open to question at this point. Also noticeable in Ipsos-Mori's figures is that the Conservatives seem to be struggling almost as much as the Liberal Democrats, which is somewhat at variance with what other pollsters have been suggesting.


This is an issue I've raised before, but I was slightly troubled to see Alex Salmond put all his eggs in one basket on Newsnight Scotland and more or less assert that the party that wins most seats will form the Scottish government. OK, that's probably a very welcome sign of confidence at this stage in proceedings, but it still seems like a totally needless hostage to fortune, not least because it's perfectly conceivable that the SNP could win a mandate in terms of the popular vote, but fall just short in terms of seats due to a quirk of the electoral system.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stonkingly good Ipsos-Mori poll for the SNP on its way...

The details haven't been published yet, but Angus Macleod has revealed on Twitter that the poll is "devastating" for Iain Gray and Labour. There are also suggestions elsewhere that the projected seat total for the SNP may be 58 - or even higher...

Stay tuned!

WARNING : This post is part of my creepy stalking campaign against a poor, defenceless female

Well, I had been planning to say something more about the AV referendum, or the Sun's endorsement of the SNP, or maybe talk about Iain Gray's appearance on Newsnight Scotland. But, in the circumstances, given the rather specific prodding I've been receiving over the last couple of hours at Political Betting, I somehow felt that I just couldn't let my delicate little 'stalking victim' down...

"No doubt you’ll pen something about this discussion on your blog just to prove how you’re always right about everything"

"No you are whining.

You are never wrong. You know what everyone else secretly thinks when you don’t approve of their point of view. You write blog posts that make up strawmen so you can prove how right you are. You comment endlessly and stalkerishly when asked not to, despite being told it feels creepy.

There you go = write another blog about how horrible I am, and how unfair everyone is about you."

I trust the appearance of this post 'feels creepy' enough for you, Ms Plato. Ever a delight...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Your super soaraway Salmond

Much as I've become an enthusiastic supporter of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, one thing that irritated me slightly in the early days was that I kept receiving emails during the passage of the referendum bill inviting me to revel in the fact that - "We're almost there, James! It looks like we're going to have our referendum on May 5th!". I of course didn't for one second want a referendum on the same day as the Scottish Parliament election, and the fact that the London coalition selected that day of all days drove a coach and horses through their much-vaunted 'respect agenda' towards Scotland.

Until now, it appeared I needn't have worried - the AV campaign has been staggeringly low-profile for what is only the second UK-wide plebiscite in history. However, that seems to be changing slightly with the widespread reporting of cross-party events by both sides, and that's where the problem kicks in - it means that the news will once again be unduly dominated by Westminster politicians talking about a Westminster issue, right in the heart of the Holyrood campaign period. I suppose we should just be grateful that the broadcasters haven't used the vote as an excuse to hold another series of rigged Prime Ministerial (sic) Debates!

In any case, it's hard to be too downbeat on the evening that the country's biggest-selling newspaper comes out for the SNP. It's too early to assess the likely effect - in one sense it just evens up the score, with the Record continuing to churn out mindless propaganda for Labour as only they know how. However, the fact that the Sun's stance is completely new (and indeed a total reversal of their notorious 2007 hatchet job attempt) might just mean that it carries a bit more punch with readers.

And one other small piece of good news tonight - the combined support for the SNP and Plaid Cymru in ICM's latest GB-wide poll of Westminster voting intentions stands at a healthy 5%.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Actions speak louder than words, no. 279 : Scottish Labour godfather enters unholy alliance with the Tories in middle of Holyrood campaign

If you ever had any doubts that Yes to AV is the right side of the argument, this should helpfully dispel them for you -

"...former Labour Cabinet minister Lord [John] Reid is today due to share a platform for the No campaign with Prime Minister David Cameron.

The former home secretary, who is to appear at the event in London with Mr Cameron, claimed first past the post was the "British way".

He said: "There are some issues so important that they transcend party politics, issues on which people expect politicians to put aside their party differences for the sake of the people and the public interest...""

This, remember, is the Labour politician who is so absurdly and destructively tribal that in the aftermath of last year's general election he made abundantly clear that he much preferred to see a Tory government take office to the prospect of having to work with other parties (ie. the Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru) to form a non-Tory administration. And what is this issue that is of such overwhelming national importance that it could possibly coax him into joining forces with his supposed arch-enemies just twelve months after helping them into office? Oh, the threat to the cosy system that allows both Tory and Labour MPs alike to be elected on minority shares of the vote, naturally. Nice to see you've got your priorities straight, John - although how many voters will believe this is all for the 'sake of the people' and not the sake of your party is another matter entirely.

As far as I can see, the attitude of leading SNP figures towards AV ranges from moderate support to indifference, but one thing's for sure - they won't be giving succour to the axe-wielding Tories by sharing a platform with David Cameron in the middle of an election campaign. Perhaps it's time to give one of John Reid's own 'greatest hits' (ahem) a spin, suitably altered to fit the occasion -

"And where were you, John, when the Tories were slashing jobs and public services?

You keep making speeches for the Tories, John. We'll keep making history for Scotland."

Finland's cult of youth

The big news from the Finnish general election is the advance of the party True Finns, described by Wikipedia as combining "left-wing economic policies with strongly conservative social values". On the face of it they sounds a bit like the Polish Law and Justice Party that has proved such a controversial ally for the Tories in the European Parliament. While I was at Wikipedia, I felt moved to correct the curious assertion that True Finns had won a 'landslide victory' in the election - they may have done remarkably well in comparison to last time, but they're still in third place in terms of both votes and seats. I wonder if that nugget of wisdom was added by the people who brought us the moronic No to AV campaign ad!

What leapt out at me, though, was how extraordinarily young most of the party leaders are. If you think we've got a slightly silly cult of youth in UK politics, with the three 'main' party leaders all in their early-to-mid 40s, that's as nothing compared to the situation in Finland. Here are the ages of the eight leaders whose parties have parliamentary representation...

Jyrki Katainen (National Coalition Party) - 39
Jutta Urpilainen (Social Democratic Party) - 35
Timo Soini (True Finns) - 48
Mari Kiviniemi (Centre Party, current Prime Minister) - 42
Paavo Arhinmäki (Left Alliance) - 34
Anni Sinnemäki (Green League) - 37
Stefan Wallin (Swedish People's Party) - 43
Päivi Räsänen (Christian Democrats) - 51

Sunday, April 17, 2011

SNP move into clear lead on both ballots with YouGov

I must admit I've been caught out over the last couple of days misinterpreting the words of John Curtice and Kenny Farquharson, and spotting dark hints of a Labour surge in the polls that weren't actually there (touch wood). I'll have to learn to stop being quite so jumpy - it must be the scars of Glenrothes! This election remains extremely tight with almost three weeks still to go, though. Here are the full figures from tonight's long-awaited YouGov poll -

Constituency vote :

SNP 40% (-)
Labour 37% (-2)
Conservatives 11% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+3)

Regional list vote :

SNP 35% (+3)
Labour 33% (-6)
Conservatives 12% (-)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)
Greens 6% (-)

On the seat projections, another minority SNP government would probably be the most likely outcome, although a three-way SNP-Lib Dem-Green coalition would have an overall majority of three seats. And the hypothetical parliamentary majority against an independence referendum would be just 69-60 on these figures, down from 79-50 at present.

Apparently before the campaign started, Labour strategists believed that the leaders' debates would work in their favour - they felt that Gray's poor leadership ratings were partly down to him being little-known, and that being seen on an equal footing with Salmond in the debates would help turn things round. Well, so far that theory doesn't seem to be working out too well - Salmond's personal lead over Gray has actually increased, from 15 points to 25 points. However, that can probably be explained as much by the notorious "hiding from protestors in a sandwich shop" incident as by the debates themselves.

One detail of the Scotland on Sunday report amused me -

"Furthermore, on YouGov's raw figures, unadjusted for likelihood to vote, the two parties remain neck and neck"

Now, weren't we all mocked a few weeks ago when we prayed in aid the unweighted data on the dodgy YouGov poll that showed Labour miles ahead?