Friday, December 6, 2013

Breslin-gate rumbles on...

As a quick follow-up to my last post about Jeff Breslin's now famous tweet comparing Alex Salmond with Nelson Mandela, here's a very brief exchange (the ending was abrupt in a rather familiar way!) I've just had with a Labour supporter called Rayleen Kelly on Twitter, who says without a trace of irony in her self-description that she "hates rude people".

Rayleen Kelly : Don't care what political persuasion it was tasteless when it was a joke, beyond it now!!

Me : What was tasteless about it? It was an honest opinion, which you're free to disagree with.

Rayleen Kelly : It was vulgar and crass, that you can't see that says everything I want to know about you

Me : You're also free to think what you like about me, I'm just struggling to understand your logic. How was it vulgar and crass?

Rayleen Kelly : If you don't know the answer to that you really need to learn about Mandela

Me : Do you have an answer to the question, Rayleen, or are you just going to sneer at people all night?

(At this point she blocks me.)

Rayleen Kelly : As I am entitled to my opinion I will be blocking any idiot seriously comparing wee Eck with Madiba!

Rayleen Kelly : Just blocked another yes fanny that thinks wee Eck is comparable to Nelson Mandela, insulting and crass

Rayleen Kelly : For those who don't quite understand Madiba united a torn people and made a country whole ... Wee Eck is he'll bent on division and hate

Well, we got there in the end, even if it was a thoroughly stupid (some might charitably say "vulgar and crass") answer. I'd be interested to see if Jeff's more thoughtful critics - for example Kenny Farquharson and Alex Massie - can come up with a more convincing explanation for why the tweet was supposedly so "offensive". As Tris points out on the previous thread, we might not think Jeff's comment entirely makes sense, particularly on the "personal sacrifices" point. But how precisely is it offensive?

Alternative 'tributes' to Nelson Mandela

I discovered the news about Nelson Mandela last night in the worst possible way - I stumbled on a Twitter conversation midway through, and the sickening realisation only very gradually dawned about what it was referring to. I'll leave the tributes to those who can do it far better than me. I'm not sure if Glenda Jackson has written anything yet - I recall that back at the turn of the century, there was a programme on the BBC News channel in which Jackson, Shirley Williams and Ken Clarke were all asked to choose their 'Person of the Millennium', and Jackson had no hesitation in opting for Mandela. (Williams chose Thomas Aquinas, while Clarke bizarrely plumped for Henry II of England on the grounds that he was an "excellent Tory"!)

Unfortunately, moments like this do tend to bring out the worst in some people, and in many ways we're seeing a reverse mirror image of what happened when Mrs Thatcher died - this time it's a few extremists on the Right who are disgracing themselves by 'celebrating' the demise of a 'terrorist'. Mick Pork sent me an email earlier today to say that, predictably, the racists and bigots were out in full force at Political Betting (with, we're entitled to assume, the full blessing of the site's right-leaning Lib Dem owner Mike Smithson, because we know that he has no compunction whatever about banning or censoring people when it suits him). Mick added that it was jaw-dropping stuff even by PB standards. I had a quick look, but to be honest I couldn't bear to wade through the usual drivel (believe it or not there was still someone wittering on about "the Shetlands"!) to get to the extremist comments.

However, I'm still glad I had a peek, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there was the unintentional comic genius of Plato, the site's untouchable (and unspoofable) Queen Bee, who was earnestly comparing Mandela to the Queen Mother! And secondly, the site's notorious Tory moderator TSE reposted a tweet from Jeff Breslin that I probably would have missed otherwise.

As long-term readers know, I used to be a huge admirer of Jeff's. To some extent I still am - it's refreshing to see a highly intelligent person with no fixed loyalty to any ideology or party thinking aloud in such a straightforwardly honest way about his political views and underlying reasoning. However, I stopped following him on Twitter a few months ago. The reason was that I got the distinct impression that he was one of the ten or so people (almost all of them associated in some way with the Better Nation blog or Green politics) who had immediately unfollowed me after Better Nation supremo and former Green press officer James Mackenzie decreed on the basis of no evidence whatsoever that I am a Woman Hater. Now, don't get me wrong - I have no problem at all with people unfollowing me. But when someone does it in apparent solidarity with an individual who has just launched an unprovoked and deeply offensive personal attack on me, then it's bound to give me some pause for thought about them.

All the same, I wouldn't have wanted to miss Jeff's tweet today, mainly because of the revealing way in which certain people responded to it -

Jeff Breslin : I might as well say it since everyone knows it - in time, history will view Salmond as Scotland's paler Mandela. #LongWalkToFreedom

Now this is what Jeff does best, because there's so much potential ambiguity to it, and it forces people to stop and think. Is he being deadly serious, or only half-serious? Or is the tweet in fact dripping with irony, and intended to subtly poke fun at the regard in which some people hold Salmond? You can read it in almost any or all of those ways - or if you're less smart, you can give the game away about your own prejudices by not bothering to check, and rushing in with a knee-jerk response. Guess which course of action the chief of the anti-independence campaign decided to follow?

Blair McDougall : do you honestly not see how offensive that is?

Even if Jeff was being 100% serious, what would be "offensive" about it? It isn't in any way disrespectful towards Mandela - it might well be considered overly respectful of Alex Salmond, and therefore open to mockery, but it's not "offensive". Unless of course you find it inconceivable that the democratically-elected political leader of Scotland could ever be held in extremely high regard by any rational person - that's the only way in which comparing a recently-deceased world leader with the First Minister of Scotland could ever be considered disrespectful, insulting or offensive. And if that is indeed the way you see things, then you might want to reflect on what it says about your perception of your own country, and the credibility of your claim to be running a 'patriotic' anti-independence campaign.

For the record, here is how Jeff explained his tweet -

Wow. Mental response to earlier tweet. To clarify, only a handful of lives as remarkable as Mandela's, of which Salmond's isn't. But there are clear similarities to a lesser (i.e. paler) degree, eg personal sacrifices, which there's little point ignoring.

* * *

UPDATE : Has Jeff Breslin been harried into deleting his entire Twitter account? He suddenly seems to have completely disappeared. Absurd if so.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Support for independence increases, as new TNS-BMRB poll shows lowest lead for the No campaign in almost two years

There's an encouraging new poll out tonight from TNS-BMRB, which essentially backs up the trend suggested by the PSO poll the other day of a small swing to the pro-independence campaign since the publication of last week's White Paper. Here are the full figures -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 26% (+1)
No 42% (-1)

What's particularly significant is that this is now the third TNS-BMRB poll in a row to show a shrinking lead for the No campaign. In the late September/early October poll, the lead dropped from 22 points to 19. In the late October poll, it dropped from 19 points to 18. And now it has dropped from 18 points to 16.

Like the proverbial broken record, John Curtice and certain others have reacted to every single recent poll, regardless of whether it shows a static position or a small swing in favour of independence, with a "no change" narrative - the suggestion being that any apparent setback for the No campaign is merely an illusion caused by margin of error "noise". I'll be fascinated to see if he tries the same line when his analysis of this poll is released (presumably in the morning), because frankly I don't see how he can sustain it this time. It's quite true that, on their own, any of the changes in the last three TNS polls can be plausibly dismissed as "margin of error stuff", but taken together they add up to something more important - a clear six-point drop in the No lead over the last three months.

I noted last time round that the No lead had dropped to its lowest level in a TNS-BMRB poll since early 2012, and for obvious reasons the same thing has just happened again. And if anything, the news is even better if we turn our attention to the figures for those respondents who say they are certain to vote in the referendum, with the Yes vote back above 30%, and the No lead dropping by three points -

Yes 31% (+2)
No 46% (-1)

Oh, and yes. Just like last time, the first clue I had that this was a good poll for the pro-independence campaign came from what Blair McDougall didn't say in his tweet about it. In amongst all the complacent, self-congratulatory waffle, there wasn't the slightest trace of any mention of the Yes vote having fallen or the No vote having risen, so it was fairly obvious that the opposite had happened!

* * *


And now, drumroll please. It's only a couple of days since I unveiled the Poll of Polls, and already I can announce its first post-White Paper update. Just to reiterate, the Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of six polls - the most recent one from each of the British Polling Council members that have been running referendum polls (TNS-BMRB, Panelbase, ICM, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Angus Reid). The update simply replaces the last TNS-BMRB poll with the new one.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 32.2% (+0.2)
No 49.3% (-0.2)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 39.5% (+0.2)
No 60.5% (-0.2)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 38.9% (+0.1)
No 61.1% (-0.1)

Obviously with only one-sixth of the sample having changed, the movement in the figures is glacial in nature. But if the No campaign had been entertaining any hopes of getting themselves above the psychologically-important 50% threshold on the headline numbers, they've suffered a blow tonight.

* * *

UPDATE : John Curtice's analysis is now out, and to be fair he has indeed changed the record somewhat. He also notes that the fieldwork for the TNS poll largely took place before the release of the White Paper, which leaves open the possibility of an even bigger shift of opinion since then.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Poor old Judy Finnigan, begin ag'in

I never thought I'd get to the point with this blog where I'd actually sit down to 'fisk' a hostile article from TV's Richard and Judy (formerly of This Morning fame, now of I'm-not-quite-sure-what fame), but the outer circle of the anti-independence campaign throws up ever more bizarre surprises by the day. Is it because we is Jocks, Richard?

"Do you know couples whose marriage could never be described as being anywhere close to perfect, but who stay together for security, company and the sake of their children? Yup. Me too."

Oi, oi, wait for the bloody answer before 'agreeing' with me! No, Richard (for I believe it is you), I have to say I don't know anyone like that - although admittedly there was one troubled couple I can remember who probably would have stayed together, until the husband formed an irrational suspicion that he'd just caught a nasty head-cold from his partner's gerbil. That really was the final straw.

Now, then. Staying together for "company"? Assuming that isn't a euphemism for sex (and God knows how that would work), is the suggestion here that we'll regret becoming independent because there'll be no-one to have fireside chats with on a long winter's evening? Just how extreme is London's immigration policy going to be? And who exactly are "the children" in this marriage? Pitcairn and the British Antarctic Territory? I have every confidence that the penguins will get by just fine, Richard - just so long as they know that Mummy and Daddy still love them very much.

"Then there are the couples who go all the way to the wire, eyeball to eyeball until the morning of the day the judge is ready to declare they are legally sundered, entitled to go their own ways, open to new relationships, adventures and possibilities.

And then they blink and plead to be allowed to give things another go."

Is it just me, or do you get the distinct impression that Richard is either a) watching too many episodes of Home and Away these days, or b) fantasising about a chastened Alex Salmond coming to his senses and declaring that this whole referendum malarkey was just an awful, ghastly mistake? Good luck with that one, old chap...

"Does any of this remind you of another couple, still hitched today after a partnership going back years, with the ties that bind and the sentiment that seals still largely intact? Scotland and England: variously happily and unhappily married for 306 years."

Jesus. Were we really supposed to still be in a state of suspense about the destination of this tortuous analogy? OK, honestly, Richard, we get it. Can we crack on a bit now?

"Now a potential divorce date has arisen on the horizon but there is no wise judge to ponder the matter. The power to make the decision either way will be entirely one-sided. It is for Scotland to choose between continuing with the union or ending it with England meekly awaiting the outcome.

Hmm. This is rather trying to many south of the border."

Hmm indeed. Richard, do you actually understand the difference between a marriage and a hostage situation? Just checking.

"Meanwhile Alex Salmond's rosy and wonderfully vague promises this week to lead a separated Scotland to the broad sunlit uplands of better pensions, childcare and a nuclear-free nirvana of independence and liberation didn't half sound good on the face of it."

Wonderfully vague? 670 pages of vagueness? Actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure how much more 'vagueness' the printers could have stood. Is there a bookshelf in the known universe that wouldn't have collapsed under the strain of any more 'vagueness'?

By the way, Richard, I believe there are quite a few nuclear-free countries out there, some not too far away. Honestly. They aren't all in Narnia.

"What will happen to the BBC? Britain as we know it will have ceased to exist. Will the BBC become the EWNIBC: English, Welsh and Northern Ireland Broadcasting Corporation?"

Calm yourself, Richard, calm yourself. I haven't seen you in such a state since that disastrous interview with Bill Clinton. I strongly suspect it'll still be called the BBC, in much the same way that Blake's 7 was still called Blake's 7 after Blake left and there was no longer seven of them. People tend to favour continuity of brand names over purist pedantry. But on Planet Madeley, Blake's alter ego Gareth Thomas would probably have been locked in a TV studio for two years with no means of escape, just to be on the safe side.

For pity's sake, people, don't let these crazy separatists put the conciseness of the BBC's name at risk. THEY JUST CAN'T GUARANTEE THERE WON'T BE TOO MANY LETTERS!

"What about the licence fee? It seems people living north of the border would stop paying it."

Well, we probably wouldn't pay the licence fee for another country's broadcasting service. But we might just pay a licence fee for our own country's broadcasting service. Crazy idea, but it might just work.

"Would our diplomatic service stop representing Scotland?"


"They'd have to, wouldn't they?"

Yes, Richard, they would, yes.

"What would Mr Salmond do then? Set up his own embassies around the world?"

You know what, I think he probably would, yes.

"Who'd pay? Not us."

You're getting it, my man.

"It goes on and on and on."

You certainly do.

"On a scale of one to 100, think of the messiest divorce you've ever heard of.

Square it.

Then times it by 10. And you know what? If it comes to it, it'll be even worse than that."

On a scale of one to 1000, think of the least self-aware man you've ever met.

Now multiply that number by a googol (that's 1 followed by one hundred zeroes).

Now imagine your new number has been married to luckless Judy Finnigan since 1986.

And guess what? You're still not even close to how lacking in self-awareness Richard Madeley is. He thinks he's a political analyst, you know.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Introducing the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

Well, I say "introducing" - this may be its one and only outing if I can't be Smithsoned to keep it going. But after the appearance yesterday of a highly dubious poll, I thought now might be a good moment to seek a more realistic assessment of the current state of play, based on the widely varying figures from all the credible pollsters. Now, I'll repeat what I've said in the past - there's no reason to automatically assume that an average of the polls will produce a more accurate result than the findings of any individual pollster. If the majority of pollsters are making methodological mistakes that are all tending in one direction, then that would distort the average, and it could well be that (for example) the more rosy figures for the pro-independence campaign produced by Angus Reid and Panelbase are closer to the truth than the overall average. But the problem is that, prior to polling day, we simply have no way of knowing which pollster (if any) has its methodology right, so there's at least a case to be made that a polling average is likely to be less inaccurate than any other method we could dream up for attempting to divine the true position.

Here are the principles that the Poll of Polls will be based on -

1) Only polls conducted by British Polling Council members will be included in the sample - as of now, that means Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori, Angus Reid, ICM, YouGov and TNS-BMRB. I see no case whatever for including polls conducted by companies that don't even bother to match the BPC rules for transparency. As I said yesterday, I simply cannot fathom why Professor John Curtice is treating the Progressive Scottish Opinion poll in the same way as all the others. Given that he felt able to airily dismiss the partial information from internal Yes campaign polls due to a lack of transparency, it's incredibly hard to understand how he can justify his reverential treatment of a pollster that does not reveal its methodology, datasets, or even something as basic as the question it asked respondents. And as Progressive Scottish Opinion have been commissioned by a rabidly anti-independence newspaper, the latter point in particular ought to be setting alarm bells ringing.

2) I will not be playing Kellner-type games by discriminating between different BPC members on the basis of whether I happen to agree with their numbers. All BPC members (including Ipsos-Mori, who are currently the least favourable for the pro-independence campaign) will be treated absolutely equally.

3) To ensure this equality of treatment, I will not be following the traditional Poll of Polls method of including all polls conducted within a certain time-frame. Instead, I will simply use the most recent figures from each pollster, regardless of how long ago that poll was conducted. In case any passing No supporter is sceptical about my reasons for doing this, let me emphasise that this method will actually significantly reduce the percentage for Yes, and increase the percentage for No, because there has been a disproportionate number of Panelbase polls recently, and only the most up-to-date one will be taken into account. But by doing it this way any changes we see over time will be meaningful, rather than an artificial product of differing levels of activity from different pollsters.

One other point worth making is that the whole sample comes from polls that were conducted before the publication of the White Paper. So this will give us a useful baseline from which to judge the impact of Scotland's Future.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 32.0%
No 49.5%

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 39.3%
No 60.7%

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 38.8%
No 61.2%

The observant among you will already have noticed a few things -

1) When Don't Knows are included, the anti-independence vote is fractionally below the pyschologically-important 50% threshold.

2) The average figures are actually somewhat closer to Panelbase on the "Yes-friendly" end of the spectrum than they are to Ipsos-Mori on the "No-friendly" end. This completely blows out of the water Alex Massie's suggestion of a few months ago that it's somehow "Panelbase versus the field".

3) The swing required for Yes to win from the position implied by the Poll of Polls is considerably less than the SNP achieved over a much shorter timescale prior to their 2011 Holyrood win. In January 2011, a TNS-BMRB poll showed Labour ahead by 16%. By polling day in May, the SNP had turned that around by force of argument to a 14% SNP lead - a swing of 15% over just four months. By contrast, if this Poll of Polls is accurate, the Yes campaign would require a swing of just 8.75% over the next nine-and-a-half months to draw level (or a 10.7% swing if Don't Knows are excluded).

In case you're wondering, it's not really feasible to produce a median figure that doesn't exclude Don't Knows - it would produce too many statistical anomalies. For instance, the median lead for No could easily be totally different to the gap between the median Yes figure and the median No figure.

The Strange Death of UKIP Scotland, or 'Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining'

Here's the bad news, folks : Nigel Farage has sacked Lord Monckton as "leader" of "UKIP in Scotland" (if the latter isn't a contradiction in terms). The party's administrative body has also been disbanded, prompting Monckton to declare that UKIP in Scotland has ceased to exist. ('Ceased'?)

But here's the good news : Monckton and his co-author Edwina Currie now have much more time to crack on with their long-awaited historical masterpiece Salmond : The Labour Years.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Polling boost for pro-independence campaign after the White Paper, as the No lead drops by 3%

It's very difficult to know whether it's worth the bother of reporting referendum polling figures from Progressive Scottish Opinion. Their track record is truly appalling - although they correctly showed an SNP lead for most of the 2007 Holyrood campaign, the figures were jumping about in a thoroughly unlikely manner from week to week, with for example the SNP ahead by twelve points one week, Labour supposedly ahead by three the next, and the SNP ahead by six the week after that. They have only attempted one independence poll so far in the referendum campaign, which produced an implausible No lead that was even in excess of the most extreme outlier of the mainstream pollsters (Ipsos-Mori). Perhaps most significantly, they don't seem to be members of the British Polling Council or to abide by their rules, which makes it very hard to understand why someone like John Curtice is giving them the time of day. At the very least, their results have to be treated with extreme caution.

Nevertheless, their latest poll is of some small interest due to it being the first one conducted since the publication of the Scottish Government's White Paper, and for what it's worth it shows the anti-independence campaign's lead dropping by 3%.

Yes 27% (-)
No 56% (-3)

And with Don't Knows stripped out (as would be customary in Westminster/Holyrood election polls) there's a bigger drop in the No lead of 4%.

Yes 33% (+2)
No 67% (-2)

Of course the raw figures for Yes and No are virtually meaningless - we know that some pollsters are much more favourable for Yes, some are much more favourable for No (this one is at the extreme end of favouring No), and some are in the middle. Until polling day, we will have absolutely no way of knowing for sure who is right and who is wrong. So the only important figure in each individual poll is the trend, and this one is very much in line with what TNS-BMRB polls have been showing recently, with the Yes vote remaining steady, and with No voters drifting back to the Don't Know camp.

The bad news, of course, is that Progressive Scottish Opinion are so unreliable that the trend is just as likely to be inaccurate as the raw figures!