Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Or alternatively, Mr Smithson, you could have just put the "Scotland - where's that?" sticker on your forehead

"Gawd." Can he "be arsed"?

Yup, you've guessed it, it's our old friend Mike 'Varied Vocabulary' Smithson, editor of the right-wing discussion forum Political Betting. Back in March and April, Mike raised a few eyebrows among the small Nat contingent over at PB by directly asking us a number of questions about the SNP's prospects in the local elections. For a moment, I almost wondered if he was showing some uncharacteristic humility by being open to hearing more information about a subject he realised he wasn't an expert on - but I should have known better. His phraseology (ie. "has Salmond's popularity now passed its peak?") ought to have given the game away - he was in fact busy crafting a new PB gospel of 'the SNP are in crisis', and was only interested in hearing confirmation of his own predetermined narrative.

Now, while it's easy enough for Mike to filter out views from SNP posters that departed from this new PB orthodoxy, you might think it would have been a tad harder for him to ignore the elephant that noisily arrived on his doorstep on May 4th, when the SNP's historic victory in the local elections comprehensively disproved his theory. If so, you severely underestimate the man. No, within hours, he had posted an article declaring that Salmond was one of the day's "losers". This, let's recall, was an election in which the SNP had won more votes than any other party, more seats than any other party, had seen a bigger increase in votes than any other party, and had seen a bigger increase in seats than any other party. It was the first time in history that the SNP had won the popular vote in local elections, and only the second time in history that they had come out on top in terms of councillors. They had also achieved this feat while in mid-term, after five years in government - a point in the electoral cycle when an incumbent government can normally expect to be hammered in local elections. And yet all of this, according to Smithson, constituted a "defeat". Righty-ho.

The only possible explanation I could think of is that he'd mixed up his Collins Pocket Map of Scotland with his street-map of Glasgow. Easily done.

But just when I thought his journey into the fantastical had gone as far as it could possibly go, he took time out from his holiday in Spain yesterday to inform us that "the SNP leader is now in a mess". Yes, folks, the leader of a party that has just won an historic victory in the local elections, that achieved a miracle last year by winning a parliamentary majority under an electoral system that was supposed to make majorities impossible, and which last week helped to line up a galaxy of stars to back a Yes vote in the independence referendum, is "in a mess". And what are the factors that have led Smithson to this extraordinary conclusion? If I was being uncharitable, I might say that they're about as substantial as Yousuf Hamid's reasons for deducing that "something must be going on". But I'm not feeling uncharitable, so let's take them in turn -

"One electoral fact that hasn’t been given much attention is that the SNP’S vote share in the Scottish council elections on May 3rd was 13% down on what Salmond’s party secured a year earlier in the Holyrood elections."

It is nothing short of astonishing that a man who regularly savages politicians and fellow political pundits for their misuse and abuse of statistics would be brazen enough to try this wheeze. If anyone had tried to claim that the SNP's vote share had risen by 26% between the Westminster election of 2010 and the 2011 Holyrood election, Smithson would have laughed in their face. And rightly so, because different types of elections are not directly comparable - people have different voting habits in Westminster elections than they do in Holyrood elections, and they have different voting habits in Holyrood elections than they do in local elections. A meaningful comparison can only be made with the previous election of the same type.

Nor is this some kind of hair-splitting point that only makes a 0.1% difference. In 2007, when the Holyrood and local elections were held on the same day, the SNP's vote share was a full five per cent lower in the local elections than it was in the Holyrood constituency vote. The effect also extended to the SNP's performance relative to Labour's - the SNP were actually 0.2% behind Labour in the local elections, but 1.8% ahead on the Holyrood list vote. So the SNP's margin of victory this month has to be seen in that context. It's not at all hard to see why the party's vote share would be lower in local elections - in parliamentary terms, the SNP are strong in rural areas where people tend to vote for independent councillors.

And that's before we even factor in that this year's election was a mid-term contest in which you'd expect an incumbent government to lose votes and seats, not gain them as the SNP in fact did.

"Not only did the SNP fail to take its much hyped key target of Glasgow it saw the city’s council move back to Labour overall control."

Has Mike actually noticed that a) Labour only ever 'lost' overall control of Glasgow because of mass defections, and b) Labour suffered a net loss of seats in Glasgow and the SNP had a significant net gain?

Well, he's a busy man.

"Now comes news that one of the party’s leading donors, Sir Tom Farmer doesn’t want independence. What a gift to the unionist campaign on two levels."

Funnily enough, I always thought the word 'news' meant something we were previously unaware of. Tom Farmer made clear that he was a supporter of enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament, as opposed to outright independence or the status quo, when he first donated to the SNP in 2007. Not only has he not changed his view, he has today gone further by revealing that he would on balance prefer independence to the status quo, and is likely to vote Yes to independence if London succeed in denying the people of Scotland a vote on enhanced powers for Holyrood within the UK.

Now, that really does qualify as 'news'. Crikey, what a devastating blow for the SNP, eh, Mike?

"This development comes in the wake of a YouGov Scotland poll which found that just 58% of those who voted SNP in 2011 want an independent Scotland and that 28% are against."

'Just' 58%? When someone says something like that, they might as well be openly admitting that they haven't been paying attention to Scottish polling data for the last four minutes, let alone for the last forty years. There has always been 'cross-voting' by people on the constitutional issue - a significant minority of SNP voters don't back independence, and a significant minority of Labour voters do back independence. That has been the case for as long as the constitution has been a live issue. There was a time in the 1990s when the SNP were polling at 20-25%, and yet only half their voters wanted independence. The fact that 58% of the near half of the entire electorate who voted SNP last year now back independence is a formidable figure - and let's not forget that these numbers are being drawn from a poll commissioned by the No campaign, and which posed a loaded question that departed significantly from the proposed referendum question.

"All this points to a massive mis-reading of the SNP’s success at the Holyrood elections last year."

What in the name of John Pienaar is "massive misreading" supposed to mean? Is the implication that the SNP looked at their vote share last year, and said to themselves : "Hey guys, this must mean that all these people support independence. What say we hold an independence referendum? We're bound to win." Er, no, Mike. The SNP have always been well aware that not all of the people attracted to voting for them are supporters of independence - that was the whole point of separating the issue out by making clear that a vote for the SNP was a vote for a referendum (among many, many other things), not a vote for independence. That was also why Nicola Sturgeon replied with a flat 'No' when David Dimbleby asked her on the 2011 election results programme if the SNP's win was a vote for independence.

The true reason that the SNP are holding a referendum on independence is remarkably simple, Mr Smithson - it's because they're a pro-independence party, and that's what pro-independence parties tend to do when given a mandate. But if you'd rather believe that it was instead a half-cocked, Laurel and Hardy type plan dreamt up on the spur of the moment, and that Salmond now "has to find a way of getting himself off the hook" (yes, really!), then you just carry on talking to yourself, old chap. The rest of us have got a referendum to win.


  1. So, a few people got a bit over-optimistic about the SNP's prospects in Glasgow. And because of that, an impressive mid-term victory is portrayed as a defeat?

    If the party had gone round in a hair shirt and declared they'd be lucky to get more than a handful of votes, how would Smithson et al have reacted?

  2. All our 16 candidates in Dundee were elected. Is that to be classed as a defeat? Quite a number of voters in Scotland vote for different parties or individuals at the various elections we now have. To compare the local elections with Holyrood is quite laughable. Let him have his delusions, Smithson does not get the Scots voters and how their votes are more interchangable than those furth of Scotland. I know a few who vote SNP, Labour, Tory and UKIP all at different elections.

  3. If that woman can get the gaol for shouting racist abuse on a bus then why is Smithson allowed to run a race hate website?

  4. I like Mike's site, there are some good people who contribute in many areas, but the comment on comparing 2011 and 2012 results was clearly silly, in the same way if I compared UKIP support in an EU election (where they got more votes than labour last time) as being relevant to a GE.