Saturday, May 5, 2012

The SNP's victory in numbers

Many thanks to DougtheDug on the previous thread for clearing up a point that had been bugging me for a few hours. I could distinctly recall that the SNP won fifteen more councillors than Labour in 2007 - this time the gap is thirty, and yet the BBC and others are reporting that Labour have made a slightly bigger net gain in seats than the Nationalists. The explanation for this discrepancy, of course, is that 2007 isn't being used as the baseline for the figures. Now, there's certainly a case to be made for taking into account seats that have changed hands in by-elections over the last five years, but to count as "Labour gains" seats won back from Glasgow First (ie. seats Labour "gained" from themselves) is without a doubt grossly misleading. To give a more meaningful idea of the direction of travel, here is the number of councillors won by each party yesterday, with changes from the 2007 position -

SNP 424 (+61)
Labour 394 (+46)
Conservatives 115 (-28)
Liberal Democrats 71 (-95)
Greens 14 (+6)
SSP 1 (-)
Others 201 (+8)

So not only did the SNP secure the most seats, they also enjoyed the biggest gains. Not a repeat of last year's landslide, but unambiguously a victory.

Not that you'd know it if you listened to Sarah Boyack. No, she would have you believe that Labour, unlike the SNP, weren't remotely interested in the overall number of seats they won in Scotland, but instead in "gaining the trust" of individual communities. That's the sort of sophistry that can easily make your head hurt, because uttered with conviction it can almost sound like a plausible distinction to draw - except of course that the best way of measuring which party has been most successful in gaining the trust of individual communities is to look at who won the most seats throughout the country. Evidently this is Labour's stock line for the occasion, though, because Duncan Hothersall tried a variation on it when I queried him on Twitter -

"There were 32 elections in Scotland yesterday. The idea that there is one national result is farcical."

Hmmm. I presume by the same token that Labour's victory throughout England and Wales is a mirage simply because the Tories held on in Harrogate.

* * *

In the mid-1990s, the perception was that the SNP had performed exceptionally well in local elections, in spite of finishing some 15-18 percentage points behind Labour in the popular vote. And until 2007, Labour used to regularly crow about the SNP having "lost every single election in its history". So this notion that Labour can be said to have performed well on Thursday in spite of being clearly defeated by the SNP is rather new and startling, and it demonstrates just how thoroughly the underlying assumptions of Scottish politics have been turned on their heads in a very short space of time.

* * *

Although the SNP's lead over Labour is gratifying, to my mind the much more important factor is the net gain in seats. I once read a suggestion that the reason Labour unexpectedly lost the 1970 election was that by shedding so many local councillors between 1967 and 1969, their local organisation had simply withered, and they could no longer compete with the Tories' national network of footsoldiers. Campaigning methods may have been transformed since then, but the number of councillors still correlates with strength on the ground, so an extra sixty in the bag can't be a bad thing in the run-up to the independence referendum - and nor can six more Greens, as it happens.

One thing is for sure - the overall number of seats won is far more significant in respect of the independence referendum than who controls Glasgow. It's been said a number of times that winning Glasgow would have been a crucial stepping-stone towards a Yes vote - but how, exactly? On the list of people whose voices are going to carry some weight in the referendum debate, the leader of Glasgow City Council ranks about 594th. Indeed, there are even circumstances in which taking control of a flagship council can ultimately prove an electoral millstone - we need look no further than the Glenrothes by-election for evidence of that.

* * *

There was an amusing period yesterday when the running tally on the BBC News homepage showed the SNP in third place throughout the whole of Great Britain, ahead of the Liberal Democrats. That didn't mean the party was in line to become the UK's third party of local government, because only seats up for grabs this time round were being taken into account. Nevertheless, for the SNP to come so close to beating the UK Lib Dems "on the day" was nothing short of astonishing. As I write this, the Lib Dems stand on 431 seats throughout Britain, and the SNP are on 424.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A year later than expected?

Just thought I'd jot down a few brief thoughts about the local elections while we're waiting for the last results to come through. In a way, this is the result we were expecting at the mid-point in the campaign for last year's Holyrood election, with both the SNP and Labour advancing at the expense of the Tories and especially the Liberal Democrats. As far as I can see, this is literally the SNP's best local election results in history, so how anyone will be able to spin that as a setback is a bit of a mystery, but certain London media folk will doubtless still try to do so, mainly because they seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that Scotland consists entirely of a city called Glasgow.

I do still wonder if the decoupling of the elections from the Holyrood vote for the first time since 1995 has made a difference for Labour, because the campaign has been very low-key, and to some extent has melded into a wider UK 'referendum' on the Westminster coalition. That was what we feared might happen last year, but didn't as a result of the Scottish 'framing' of the campaign. What will really matter now in determining who wins the spin war will be the overall result in terms of seats and first preference votes across Scotland. Alex Salmond seemed confident a couple of hours ago that the SNP will come out on top in both, but we'll just have to wait and see because it looks quite tight. Incidentally, one of the frustrations of the 2007 local elections was the difficulty of tracking down the first preference percentages for the whole country, so I hope that's not the case this time.

Last but not least, whatever criticisms might be made of Allison Hunter, I'm not sure her Labour counterpart's qualities are anything to write home about. He holds the award for the most cringe-inducing interview of the day, describing a 2:2 split with the SNP in a Glasgow ward as a "fawntahhhh-stic" result for Scottish Labour, and dismissing the SNP's overall showing as "dehhhh-sperate, dehhhh-sperate".

Moments like that remind me why I'm a Nat. Roll on 2014.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why you should seriously consider using all (or most) of your preferences when you vote today

After I mentioned the other day that I was planning to give the Labour candidate my sixth preference out of six in the local elections, Auld Acquaintance left this comment -

"I wouldn't even give that bunch of chancers my 6th preference, In fact I am not even using all my preferences."

That of course chimed with the sentiment uncovered by the poll I ran a few weeks ago, when most of you said that you weren't planning to rank the three London parties at all, and also with a comment that was left by an anonymous poster at the time -

"Surely the best way to not vote Labour up is to leave them off the ballot. Just select SNP and SSP and that's that?"

I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but the latter comment did make me wonder slightly if there might be some confusion about the voting system. There seems to be a sense that only ranking the SNP candidates somehow makes for a more 'emphatic' vote against Labour (or Tory, or whichever party), or conversely that opting to rank the other candidates with your lower preferences would 'dilute' your vote for the SNP. Neither perception is accurate.

If your top preferences are for the SNP, your vote cannot possibly stray from the SNP column until all the Nationalist candidates in the ward are either elected or eliminated. So if an SNP candidate fails to be elected, you need have no fear that your lower preferences for unionist parties will have somehow contributed to that. But if you don't fill in those lower preferences, what you are effectively doing is abstaining on every question other than the fate of the SNP candidates - including, for example, whether you would rather see an independent or a Labour councillor elected. How many of us are truly neutral on that point, particularly if we live in a council area where the fight for control is between Labour and SNP? We wouldn't literally be "voting Labour up" by abstaining, but we'd sure as hell be missing a golden opportunity to vote them down.

In my own three-seat ward, there are two SNP candidates, one SSP, one Labour, one Tory and an independent. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Labour candidate and both SNP candidates will be elected. But from what I've heard about him, the independent seems rather impressive (notwithstanding his sniping against the local SNP!), so it's perhaps not entirely inconceivable that he might just about find himself in the mix. Now, let's suppose the SNP candidates are the first two to be elected, and their excess votes are then proportionately redistributed to help decide whether Labour or the independent claims the third seat. It would seem absurd to have abstained in that stage of the voting, given that it would dilute the SNP's overall chances of dislodging Labour from power in the council. So here's how I'll be ranking the candidates -

1. SNP
2. SNP
3. SSP
4. Independent
5. Conservative
6. Labour

Only the sixth preference is superfluous here - not ranking Labour at all would have exactly the same effect, but all of the other five preferences are potentially significant. I would obviously prefer Labour to Tory in a Westminster contest, but given the state of play locally it makes sense from a tactical point of view to place the Tory fifth. I'm placing the SSP third solely on the basis that they are an explicitly pro-independence party - I've no idea where the independent candidate stands.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A message to the birds : what about MY rights?

We've got some swifts nesting in the loft at the moment, after a technologically-advanced drilling operation to gain access through a corner of the roof that seems to have been going on for several years. However, an internet search has revealed that it would be illegal to disturb the nest in any way, and we'll have to wait until winter at the earliest.

I dunno. These bloody immigrant birds - not content with stealing our women and our jobs, it seems they can just swan into our houses without so much as a by-your-leave, and the law tells us that's fine. They've got more rights than the decent, law-abiding, Labour-voting (sixth preference out of six), hard-working families of this country. We're not even allowed to shoot them.

Let's all move to Texas and napalm some geese.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Being Labour means that every election is the 2001 election

It's been a bumper day for local election leaflets at the Kelly residence, with both Labour and the SNP making their pitch. Labour haven't quite managed to scale the dizzying heights of last year's "Frank and Bernadine McKenna" epic, but there were one or two small points that managed to confuse me all the same. For example, the headline on the back cover reads "Being Labour means giving everyone a voice", but the text that follows fails to explain that rather cryptic claim, or indeed to have any discernible relevance to it at all. So I can only conclude that Labour's inspiring voice-enabling exercise essentially constitutes a feedback form further down the page, which gives the following tick-box options -

"Yes, I'll be voting Labour. Count me in!"

"Yes I'd like a poster."

"I'd like to help in Stevie's campaign!"

"Yes, keep me up to date. Sign me up as a supporter of Labour."

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should note that there was also a fifth option of asking to speak to the Labour candidate. Nevertheless, there does seem to be an expectation here that constant repetition of the words "Labour are fab!" will account for at least 80% of the use people make of the voice that Labour have generously given them.

Elsewhere in the leaflet, a young lady called "Gillian" earnestly informs us that -

"Stevie has been a great servant to this area and faced with SNP and Tory Led cuts I believe Labour's commitment and excellent record is the positive way forward."

Which begs a number of questions - a) does anyone in the known universe, with the possible exception of Anas Sarwar, actually speak like that?, b) how can a "record", however excellent, be the "way forward"?, and c) why is there a capital 'L' in 'led'? Is the subliminal suggestion supposed to be that the SNP and Tories are a married couple, and that Led is their surname?

Other blurbs in the leaflet were making me feel distinctly nostalgic, but I was struggling to put my finger on the reason why...

"Labour has achieved a lot in Cumbernauld...

There is much more to do..."

"During difficult times, Labour in North Lanarkshire has delivered...yet we know there are continuing challenges...

We have achieved a lot, but there is more to do."

And then it suddenly came to me in a blinding flash - North Lanarkshire Labour seem to think they're fighting the 2001 general election. Well, as I firmly intend to give Stevie and Labour my vote on Thursday (sixth preference out of six), I'm now looking forward to at last finding out what it would have been like to have the starring role in that excruciating Labour PEB eleven years ago. I expect nothing less than hordes of suspiciously attractive and wholesome-looking teachers, firefighters and nurses to applaud me out of the polling station, ecstatically chanting the Blessed Mantra - "a lot done, James...but a lot still to do!"

All the same, Labour had only been in power for four years in 2001. They've continuously been in power at local level in Cumbernauld since 1980, so if they think they've still got "a lot left to do" here, heaven only knows how many more decades it's going to take them to actually get round to doing it.