Friday, August 30, 2013

Tony Blair's very finest handiwork

There are a number of obvious dangers attached to taking Nick Robinson's billing as a political expert too seriously. If I had turned the television off in disgust after hearing his 'reveal' of the Labour leadership result three years ago, I might still be firmly under the misapprehension that an entirely different Miliband had become Leader of the Opposition. I didn't make that particular mistake, but unfortunately I did stop paying much attention to the Syria debate yesterday after Robinson insisted that the government were assured of a win, mainly because their own foot-soldiers wouldn't want to give Ed Miliband any sort of fillip. I should, of course, have known that the government were doomed to defeat from the moment those words passed his lips.

The moral issues at stake yesterday weren't straightforward, because the use of chemical weapons is indeed different to the use of conventional weapons, and there's certainly a danger of a slippery slope if the world is seen to shrug its shoulders at a moment like this. But there are alternatives to studied disinterest that don't involve bombing civilians to kingdom come, or opportunistic Anglo-American attempts to alter the balance of power in the Middle East, or exercises in rank hypocrisy from politicians (including, disgracefully, Liberal Democrats) who spend much of their leisure time lecturing us about how failure to accept NATO as a first-strike WMD club is a sign of political 'immaturity'. Just for once, the Commons have stunned us all by getting a judgement call entirely right.

And for that we have Tony Blair to thank, paradoxically enough. He is the unwitting author of this result. It's worth making a comparison with the 2003 parliamentary vote on the invasion of Iraq - back then, the only real question was whether a majority of Labour backbenchers would vote for the war. Overall victory for the PM was assured in spite of the fact that the motion before the House was an umambiguous authorisation of military action that was just hours away. Fast forward ten years, and a watered-down motion that wouldn't have authorised anything has been rejected outright by a chamber in which the government hold a handsome majority of 77. And all because Blair lied, and because people's memories aren't quite as short as he'd care to think.

Philip Hammond suggested that the result of this vote would have a negative impact on the 'special relationship' with the US, which is presumably code for a marginally less slavish loyalty to US foreign policy. Now that's the kind of Blair handiwork of which I can thoroughly approve. It's almost as splendid an irony as Mrs Thatcher turning out to be the midwife of devolution.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pro-independence campaign makes gains in latest Angus Reid poll

Many thanks to Marcia for alerting me to the latest Angus Reid poll on referendum voting intentions, which shows the Yes campaign closing the gap from fifteen to thirteen points -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 34% (+2)
No 47% (-)

John Curtice's blogpost about the poll essentially bills it as a 'no change' affair. That's arguably a slightly odd analysis given that this is the second successive Angus Reid poll to show a cut in the No lead, which stood a full five points higher at the start of the year.  But give Curtice his due - his post is a hell of a lot more justifiable than the 'report' in the rag that actually commissioned the poll, which largely ignores the rather inconvenient headline figures and instead focuses on the "shock" findings that 16% of Scottish residents would "think about" leaving if Alex Salmond achieves his "dream" of "breaking up" the "United" Kingdom.  Apparently we should be particularly concerned that Tory voters are most likely to "think about" finding a new haunt, because of all the tax revenues they kindly donate to us less enlightened souls.

"The potential loss of tax revenue would be a disaster for the first government of an independent Scotland, as well triggering a crash in the housing market and leaving the nation with a catastrophic skills gap.

It would also prove a damaging blow to the confidence and credibility of the SNP."

Hmmm. If even Paul Daniels didn't keep his promise to leave these shores in the event of a Labour government, consider me a tad sceptical that one-sixth of the population of Scotland would up and leave in the event of a Yes vote. Even so, it would have been interesting just for balance to discover what percentage of the population of the rest of the UK would "think about" moving to Scotland after independence, to become refugees from London's austerity politics.

Another supplementary finding that the Express seem to consider more important than the headline figures is that "a sovereign Holyrood would be left in charge of around three million people who wish to remain citizens of a foreign nation". Well now, this is odd, because I'm already a citizen of a foreign nation (the United States), and I've no wish to give that citizenship up in the event of independence. In unionist-speak, I suppose this is "a catastrophic blow to the confidence and credibility of the SNP, as a pro-independence daft wee laddie (© Duncan Hothersall) declares that he would want to be a foreigner in a separate Scotland".

To move away from the Express for a moment and back to sanity, what strikes me most about this poll is that it is no longer really the case that Panelbase are the exotic outliers of independence polling. Although Angus Reid are still showing a slightly higher No lead than Panelbase, they're now much closer to Panelbase than to Ipsos-Mori or YouGov (admittedly we haven't had an official YouGov independence poll for almost a year, but it's probably safe to assume their methodology will continue to flatter the No campaign).

Now, a couple of quick questions for Blair McDougall, if he can take a moment away from his firefighting efforts in the wake of the disturbing #pounds4mcdougallgate revelations -

1) When the recent Panelbase poll on referendum voting intentions was released, you claimed in a tweet that the undecideds were "breaking for No", on the grounds that the No vote was up 2% and the Yes vote was up only 1%. Would it be fair to say, therefore, that this Angus Reid poll clearly shows that the undecideds are breaking for Yes, given that the Yes vote is up 2% and the No vote is static?

2) In your Sunday Times piece last week, you claimed that only one pollster - Panelbase - showed an increase in the Yes vote. In future #pounds4mcdougallgate articles, will you be equally keen to update that observation, and note that both pollsters who have reported most recently agree that the Yes vote has increased?