Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spot the howlers (it's not hard)

I took issue with a Guardian piece a few hours ago, but that one looks positively well-informed compared to this frankly laughable effort by Alex Stevenson in I appreciate that the London media has some way to go in getting their befuddled heads around the Scottish political scene, but all the same, you'd think the deputy editor of an online news outlet might just know how to do a Google search.

"Scotland will decide whether to end three centuries of union with Britain in its independence referendum on September 18th 2014."

How in heaven's name can we 'be in union with' a geographical entity that we are an integral part of, let alone end such a union?

"The decision to choose September is unlikely to prove decisive as the 'no' campaign opposing independence has a substantial lead in current polls."

Really? You wouldn't be implying that the current opinion poll lead of 13-21% is already "decisive" with a full eighteen months to go, would you Alex? Yes, right enough, constitutional referendums are notorious for seeing very little movement in opinion over the course of a long campaign. For example, the No campaign in the 1975 Common Market referendum maintained its early comfortable lead - that's why Britain is not currently a member of the European Union. And as predicted by the early polls, the Yes campaign swept to an easy victory in the 2004 referendum on an Assembly for the Northeast of England - that's why Alan Milburn is now the wildly popular First Minister of the Northeast.

Oh wait...

"But the Scottish Nationalist Party governing north of the border will hope it can persuade Scottish voters."

'Scottish Nationalist Party'? Did this shadowy organisation come about as the result of a Judean People's Front-style split from the better-known Scottish National Party?

""We will be able to stand on our own two feet, but we will not stand alone, we will have a partnership of equals," Salmond told SMPs earlier."

What are 'SMPs'? Members of the Scottish Machinal Party, perhaps?

Meanwhile, Tim Montgomerie at Conservative Home seems to think that Alistair Darling is going to scare the people of Scotland into voting No by telling them they'll "lose access to the NHS" under independence. Hmmm. That'll take some doing, given that NHS Scotland has been an entirely separate entity since its foundation in 1948, and is already controlled by the SNP government in Edinburgh.

Friday, March 22, 2013

More terminological inexactitude from the Guardian

This is an excellent example of how the London media persistently misrepresent the state of play shown by polls on independence, while maintaining a veneer of plausibility -

"But opposition leaders said Salmond knew that independence was unpopular: a series of opinion polls has consistently shown that about a third of Scots back independence, with support for remaining in the UK commanding majority support."

I have no problem with the claim that "about a third" of Scots back independence. That is indeed what recent polls have "consistently" shown - but only if the substantial number of don't knows and won't says are included in the calculation. The problem is that the only way the second part of the claim (that support for remaining in the UK commands majority support) can be said to be "consistently" true is by doing the complete opposite, and excluding the don't knows from the calculation. With don't knows included, the position suddenly looks a good deal less consistent. Here is the percentage No vote in each of the opinion polls this year...

Angus Reid, January - 50% - NOT A MAJORITY

TNS-BMRB, January - 48% - NOT A MAJORITY

Panelbase, January - 47% - NOT A MAJORITY

Angus Reid, February - 47% - NOT A MAJORITY

Ipsos-Mori, February - 55% - MAJORITY

TNS-BMRB, March - 52% - MAJORITY

So, far from the polls "consistently" showing a majority in favour of remaining within the UK, in fact only a third of the polls published this year do so. The Guardian have a choice - either they exclude don't knows, in which case the average support for Yes in recent months has been somewhat higher than a third, or else they include don't knows, in which case there is no clear majority for No. But they really can't have their cake and eat it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's a date

So there it is. We'll either remember Thursday, 18th September 2014 as one of the best days of our lives, or...we'll spend a wee while trying to forget it ever happened. Let's make sure it's the former.

Of course it's pure speculation what difference - if any - the date will make, but for my money it may not be a bad idea that Salmond has gone slightly earlier than predicted. If you want to make a case based on hope, it's probably best not to do so deep into October when the weather is likely to be miserable. OK, it could well be miserable in mid-September as well, but my recollection of the devolution referendum in 1997 (held just one week earlier on September 11th) is that it was a beautiful, warm, summery day. So you never know.

Incidentally, the independence referendum will be held on the seventeenth anniversary of the Welsh devolution referendum - which the Yes campaign won by 50.3% by 49.7%. Not that I believe in that kind of omen, but we'd settle for that. (We'd also settle for 70.7% to 29.3%, of course.)

Even the Daily Mail has noticed that Scotland is fundamentally different

Apologies if this has already been widely mentioned elsewhere, but courtesy of the PB poster Tim I've just spotted the hilarious contrast between the front pages of today's Scottish and English editions of the Daily Mail.

Scottish cover

English cover

I honestly thought the English cover was a spoof at first.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Further evidence that Scotland is more pro-European than the rest of the UK

The supplementary questions in today's YouGov poll add to the substantial body of evidence that Scotland is more enthusiastic about membership of the European Union than the rest of the UK...

Do you think Britain would be better or worse off economically if we left the European Union, or would it make no difference?

Better off -

London 32%
South excluding London 36%
Wales and English Midlands 36%
North of England 37%
Scotland 28%

Worse off -

London 40%
South excluding London 32%
Wales and English Midlands 32%
North of England 30%
Scotland 43%

Do you think Britain would have more or less influence in the world if we left the European Union, or would it make no difference?

More influence -

London 14%
South excluding London 13%
Wales and English Midlands 12%
North of England 15%
Scotland 7%

Less influence -

London 41%
South excluding London 38%
Wales and English Midlands 36%
North of England 38%
Scotland 47%

The main point about these figures is that they reinforce the danger that Scotland could be forced out of the EU against its will if it remains part of the UK. The scenario is straightforward - the rest of the UK votes Tory, we vote against the Tories = we all get the Tories, who then hold an in/out referendum on membership of the EU. The rest of the UK votes to leave the EU, we vote to stay in = we all leave.

Monday, March 18, 2013

From ultra-unionist to separatist - the Tavish Scott story

Willie Rennie has established himself as such a political colossus of late that, by all accounts, primary school children routinely ask their teachers if non-Willies are even allowed to become leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  But older readers will know only too well that the Lib Dems are no strangers to Golden Eras such as the one we're currently blessed enough to be living through.  The last few days have provided a poignant reminder that it's a mere two years since the party was presided over by arguably the finest orator of his generation, Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott.  Thrillingly, it appears that the tragic Lost Leader has embarked on something of a political journey since we last heard from him, and has as a result departed decisively from his previous trademark ultra-unionism...sorry, I mean "federalism, but maybe not for a wee while".

Mr Scott put forward the Isle of Man as an example that the Northern Isles could follow.

"The Manx parliament is a good model for Shetland," he said.

"Speaker Roden is a Scot, he's a former young Liberal. He lit the liberal flame in Moray in the 1979 general election.

"But his powers, those of the Tynwald and the powers that the isle has could be copied in Shetland.

"So would the SNP oppose Shetland becoming a Crown Dependency?"

Perhaps a more interesting question is this - why wouldn't the Lib Dems oppose Shetland becoming a Crown Dependency? It would, after all, mean leaving the United Kingdom, and possibly (if the examples of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are anything to go by) the European Union as well. I thought the Lib Dems were supposed to loathe this "separatism" stuff? As I say, a remarkable journey in just two years.

What can explain this rapid change of heart? A few cynical souls have suggested that it's all to do with the fact that Scottish independence is suddenly a serious prospect. Tavish was content enough to see his islands have no autonomy at all as long as they were being ruled direct from London, but similar direct rule from Edinburgh is seemingly too horrific for him to contemplate. If there's any truth in that, it would say something rather profound about the Scottish Lib Dems' attitude to the country they purport to represent - they appear to regard the prospect of governance from Edinburgh in much the same way as the Ulster Unionists of the early 20th Century regarded the prospect of 'Rome Rule' from Dublin.

For my own part, I'm entirely comfortable with the push for much greater Shetlandic autonomy, and to that end maybe the Lib Dems should start by getting their own internal party structures sorted out. Surely the Shetland Liberal Democrats should have been granted special status as a Clegg Dependency long ago?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Canavan would be your choice for Falkirk

Thanks for all your votes in yesterday's poll - by an overwhelming margin you feel that Dennis Canavan, rather than an SNP candidate, should fly the flag for independence in any Falkirk by-election that might occur over the coming months.

Dennis Canavan 90%
An SNP candidate 9%

It looks like being an academic point, however.  Question : what does a disgraced Labour MP who has even less shame than Denis MacShane look like?  Answer : well, he looks quite a bit like Eric Joyce.

*  *  *

I'm relieved to say I've finally put my money where my mouth is, and made a £10 donation to the Wings Over Scotland fundraising appeal.  I was hoping I might be able to cobble together a bit more, but alas (and not to put too fine a point on it) I'm slightly broke at the moment.  With nine days to go, the campaign is about three-quarters of the way to making its target figure (it looks like less than that on the Indiegogo website, but RevStu apparently has an extra few thousand in direct donations that he can add to the fund if needed to swing the balance).  The target isn't purely psychological - if the amount raised falls short, Indiegogo will deduct a 9% rather than a 4% fee.  So your ten pound donation might just make a thousand pounds' worth of difference.

*  *  *

A few days ago, the website comments platform Disqus changed its system without warning, and sent the management and posting community at Political Betting into apoplexy, largely because it's no longer possible to view the discussion on the site in chronological order.  I must admit 'New Disqus' is indeed pretty rubbish, but all the same it's hard not to raise a smile at the gloriously ironic way in which the PB management have been desperately trying to get Disqus to back down.  A kind of 'tag-team' has been organised to harrass the 'DisqusHelp' account on Twitter - "they must listen to us!" has been the cry.  Oddly enough, I can't recall such inspiring enthusiasm for people power on the many occasions when left-wing posters have been arbitrarily banned or treated unjustly on PB itself.  "It's our site, it's our rules, and if you don't like it go elsewhere," has been the response (invariably gaining 798 instant Disqus 'likes' from PB Tories).  Or, in Kafka-esque style, complaints have simply been wiped from existence on the grounds that "talking about the rules is against the rules".  And if the complainant doesn't back down, he's then banned because "continuing to talk about the rules is a banning offence".  And other posters never find out that the banning has occurred, because if anyone ever mentions it, they'll be bann...well, you get the picture.

I left the following comment on PB about an hour ago, and it didn't even appear briefly - it was instantly caught by the moderation trap.  Is there an algorithm that somehow knows?  For the uninitiated, HD2 (aka Brian Corbett) is this guy.

"I see Amanda of DisqusHelp has been getting the HD2 treatment -

HD2 : @PlatoSays @disqushelp Posting has all bust stopped, so ad revenue down. Much as I dislike OGH, that's not fair on him. I can't even 'like'!

Plato : @HD2onPBdotcom It's just dreadful @disqushelp

HD2 : @PlatoSays @disqushelp I've been with hotmail since 1995 or so. I've just been 'upgraded' to Outlook, which is unusable too. Never impose!

Plato : @HD2onPBdotcom @disqushelp Site moderator is now ticking off posters who use Reply or Likes as it makes the site unusable politicalbetting

HD2 : @PlatoSays @disqushelp NEVER impose, always 'OFFER' upgrades = happy customers/users. We choose = happy punters: they impose = anger & riots

DisqusHelp : @HD2onPBdotcom We appreciate the feedback, Brian. We're phasing out Disqus Classic, which is why sites are being switched over. -Amanda

In other words, "f*** off, Brian". I really think Amanda should have gone for a classier, PB-style passive-aggressive response, and said "it's our system, and our rules, and if you don't like them why not set up your own comments platform?". And then of course huffily blocked everyone who had dared to raise a word of protest.

As an aside, I've just realised that I'm still blocked by Plato on Twitter (three years on, is it?), and yet I can still view her profile and read all her tweets! Twitter must have the most rubbish blocking system ever."