Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Enemy of the Empire and The Thistle of Fear

I don't know how rare it is to be both an SNP supporter and a lifelong Doctor Who fan, but as one such person I felt it was my public duty to inform you of something rather odd.  Like many others, I was thrilled and amazed the other day to discover that nine Patrick Troughton episodes that had been missing from the BBC archives for decades (five episodes of The Enemy of the World and four episodes of The Web of Fear) had suddenly turned up in Nigeria.  I dutifully downloaded itunes onto my computer, as for now it's the only way of watching the episodes.  So far I've got to episode five of The Web of Fear, which contains a series of scenes in which Victoria and Professor Travers are held captive by the Yeti in the London Underground.  Bizarrely, in the background, large as life, is the SNP logo.  Initially I thought I must be imagining things, and that it was probably an advert for a brand that used a similar logo, but no - clearly discernible in the middle of the thistle head are the letters 'SNP'.

I don't think anyone could accuse the BBC of giving free advertising to the SNP or the Yes campaign these days, but clearly things were different back in 1968.  How it happened is anyone's guess - the story was filmed in a studio rather than in the real London Underground, so the logo must have been put there 'deliberately', as George Foulkes would say.  I suppose the SNP weren't as well known back then (notwithstanding the Hamilton by-election) - maybe the people decorating the set thought it was an advert for washing-up liquid!

Friday, October 11, 2013

TNS-BMRB poll shows swing in favour of independence

Some very welcome news on the referendum front today - the latest TNS-BMRB poll has shown the No campaign's lead dropping by 3%, the equivalent of a 1.5% swing in favour of Yes.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 25% (-)
No 44% (-3)

Of course the headline story of the last TNS-BMRB poll was the dramatic and unexplained increase in the number of undecided voters, and that trend has continued in this poll, with the Don't Knows now comprising an extraordinary 31% of the electorate.  In every sense, then, the message that the Yes campaign should take away is that there is all to play for.

TNS-BMRB's methodology was called sharply into question after the last poll, due to their failure to weight the figures to take account of the fact that their respondents' recalled Holyrood vote from 2011 bore no resemblance to the actual outcome of that election.  I can't yet tell you if that problem has persisted, because I received an error message when I tried to download the full datasets from the TNS website.

A supplementary finding from the poll that leapt out at me is that a significantly higher proportion of No voters (40%, compared to 31% of Yes voters) feel that they don't yet have enough information.  That could suggest that the No vote is softer, and supports the evidence from previous polls that voters are more likely to turn to the Yes camp if they are better-informed.  And one thing is for sure - voters will indeed become better-informed as polling day approaches.

One other interesting nugget - a parallel poll of English and Welsh respondents was carried out, which discovered that slightly more people thought that the UK would be worse off without Scotland (26%) than thought it would be better off (23%).  Is the "subsidy junkie" mythology finally starting to wear a bit thin, even south of the border?

UPDATE : I should have read to the bottom of the page - TNS-BMRB have announced they are now coming into line with other pollsters by weighting according to past voting behaviour.  The wording is slightly ambiguous - I'm hoping they're following the lead of ICM and Panelbase by weighting solely according to recalled Holyrood vote, rather than the YouGov practice of weighting by recalled Westminster vote (which is much more likely to be subject to false recall).

Are Labour now standing candidates on behalf of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition?

It's long been obvious that the Tory/Lib Dem government are desperate for Labour people to speak on their behalf in the referendum campaign, and that Labour are shamefully only too happy to play ball. But I was rather startled last night to spot that two Lib Dems actually seemed to be identifying with the Labour candidate in the Govan local council by-election as 'their' candidate. Stephen Glenn approvingly retweeted this comment from Jade Holden (a Lib Dem candidate for the European Parliament, no less!) -

"Govan's voters reject Independence at the ballot by voting Labour at the by-election. SNP storm out as soon as it's declared they lost."

It resulted in the following little exchange -

Me : "Reject independence"? Does that mean the 2011 election was an endorsement of independence?

Scott Watson : We should declare a UDI in this case, no need for #indyref. 2011 election showed what people want.

Stephen Glenn (to Scott Watson) : Well less than 50% voted SNP, so if you're happy with being #BetterTogether that's fine with me.

Stephen Glenn (to me) : 45% for SNP is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nice of you to mix up plurality with majority opinion.

Me : I'm surprised at you, Stephen, for ever retweeting such an obvious piece of nonsense. Tacit retraction noted.

The point being, of course, that Stephen's original retweet had explicitly suggested that a plurality for Labour in Govan last night (with less than 45% of the vote, as it happens) somehow constituted a "rejection of independence". But no wonder Stephen is getting himself tied up in knots - his party lets the Tories speak for them in the south, and they let Labour speak for them in must get very confusing.

Stephen is in any case on somewhat dangerous ground in respect of the 2011 result, because in fact the combined list vote for all pro-independence parties in that election was just fractionally short of an absolute majority, and clearly exceeded the combined vote for all anti-independence parties (there were a number of fringe parties and candidates that had no identifiable position on the constitutional question). So if in Stephen's view all elections constitute a de facto plebiscite on independence, then 2011 may well have constituted a mandate for UDI. That would of course have been ridiculous, but that is the logic of Stephen's position.

Turning to the Govan result itself, it's obviously disappointing, but it's not as bad for the SNP as you might infer from the Labour (and chums) gloating. In fact, the SNP vote fell only modestly, from 32.6% to 30%. The bulk of the increase in the Labour vote share (I emphasise "share" - their raw vote was actually down) therefore came from other parties. I didn't follow the campaign, but judging from Twitter it seems that Labour's success was founded on scaring people witless with flat-out lies about the SNP. Unfortunately, as we know from the 2008 Glenrothes by-election (and indeed from the infinitely depressing AV referendum campaign), such disgraceful tactics can sometimes work if the lies get under people's skin. I now feel ever more strongly that attack is the best form of defence for the Yes campaign, and that we need to get on with reminding people of all the very specific things there are to be scared of in voting to have Tory governments two-thirds of the time - which is precisely what a vote against independence amounts to.

However, a warning sign for the No campaign in the Govan result is the success of the No to the Bedroom Tax candidate, who received 9.4% of the vote - more than double the Tory share. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Lib Dems received a truly miserable 73 votes out of the 4740 cast, finishing in EIGHTH place. But they don't seem to care - they've given up on cheering for themselves.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What will you spend your money on today?

I was contacted last night by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, who asked me to give a mention to the fundraising drive for their Common Weal project. In the unlikely event that you don't already know about the Common Weal, it's a bold and imaginative attempt to flesh out a Nordic-style social and economic model for Scotland in advance of the independence referendum, as an alternative to the now firmly entrenched Thatcherite Westminster model. The fundraising target is £25,000, and at the time of writing £9350 has been raised so far, with just two weeks to go. The 'flexible funding' option is being used, which means that the campaign will receive the money raised even if the target isn't reached, but the fee deducted by Indiegogo will be higher in that eventuality.

During the podcast I took part in a few weeks ago, Andrew Tickell (aka Lallands Peat Worrier) argued the case that Yes supporters may have been unwise to help fund the recent Wings over Scotland poll, on the grounds that the money could otherwise have gone to Yes Scotland, who haven't exactly given the impression of being awash with resources. I don't agree with that, because the poll was so inexpensive and its impact so great (even with the media blackout) that it's very hard to see any way in which the Yes campaign could have used a few thousand pounds that would have provided a better bang for our buck. Likewise, the campaigns to fund Wings itself and National Collective were well worth supporting, as a high-quality alternative media is an invaluable complement to the work of Yes Scotland. And I don't think any of us need to be persuaded of the logic for helping to fund Women for Independence.

But the Common Weal project is arguably in a different category, and it's not immediately obvious whether money would be better spent on it, rather than the Yes campaign. The counterargument is that this isn't a zero-sum game - people may well be so inspired by the Common Weal that they'd be prepared to donate money over and above what they would have given to Yes Scotland or the SNP anyway.

If you'd like to make up your own mind by reading more about the fundraising drive, click HERE.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Back to the future with Alistair Carmichael

You might remember that a long time ago, way back when Labour still innocently thought that the 2010 Westminster election was a stepping stone towards the glorious return of the 'Dream Team' of Iain Gray and Richard Baker to power at Holyrood, a fraud was perpetrated in a TV election debate that was almost on a par with the Tory government's current attempts to have a former Labour Chancellor represent them in an independence referendum debate with Alex Salmond. The Lib Dems were represented in the 2010 "Scottish leaders' debates" by a man who, as we discovered within the space of a few short weeks, was not Nick Clegg's first or second choice as Secretary of State for Scotland. Indeed, I speculated at the time that Alistair Carmichael may not even have been Clegg's third choice for the job - and nothing that has happened today has changed my mind about that. When I read that Michael Moore had been (deservedly) sacked, I fully expected that the next sentence would read "and his replacement is East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson", and I'm quite sure that would have been the case if Clegg had felt he had a free hand. But it seems that the independence referendum has concentrated minds wonderfully, and has suddenly made suitability for the job a greater virtue than slavish loyalty to the right-wing orthodoxy of the three London party leaderships.

The bad news, folks, is that we can't have an independence referendum every year, so if you want the people governing us to be vaguely suitable for the job on an ongoing basis, it is actually going to be necessary to vote Yes.

Carmichael will probably prove to be a slightly more formidable opponent for the Yes campaign than his two predecessors, but a) that isn't exactly hard, and b) if the Tory/Lib Dem government are so frit that they always want Labour to speak on their behalf in Scotland, does it really matter who the SoS is? I will, however, raise a glass to the fact that the ideological composition of the UK Cabinet has probably just moved about 0.001% to the left. In Westminster world, all you can do is cling to these scraps.

As for the apparent belief of BBC correspondent Norman Smith that the choice of SoS has to take into account the need to prevent Alex Salmond from being able to call the No campaign "you know, Sassenachs", words fail me. Evidently Smith didn't heed Robin McAlpine's timely word of caution that anyone who thinks that Scots actually call English people Sassenachs is giving away the fact that he or she has a perception of this country that is stuck in the 1950s.