Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Who would be the SNP's Cabinet ministers in a Westminster coalition government?

And so we arrive at the final day of this most extraordinary of years.  As it happens, it's Alex Salmond's 60th birthday, and it's also the eve of general election year - an election which could leave Salmond in an even more powerful position than he enjoyed as First Minister.  There was an article in the Herald yesterday that claimed the SNP were talking about the possibility of full coalition with Labour for the first time, although I struggled to reconcile that interpretation with the actual quotes from Stewart Hosie.  The conventional wisdom remains that the SNP want a confidence-and-supply deal that would not entail taking up ministerial office in London.  But let's just suppose for the sake of argument that a full-blown coalition does happen.  Who might be the SNP's Cabinet ministers, and what portfolios might they hold?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER : Alex Salmond.  He would probably inherit his predecessor Nick Clegg's "special responsibility for constitutional reform", although the difference is that he might actually do something about it.

SCOTTISH SECRETARY : Stewart Hosie.  The deputy leader of the SNP would take over from the deputy leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  Yes, that's right, folks - Alistair Carmichael is Willie Rennie's deputy.  How does that work, exactly?

CULTURE SECRETARY : Angus Robertson.  The SNP's Westminster group leader used to be a BBC journalist, so who better to oversee the long-overdue transfer of broadcasting regulation to Holyrood control?  Of course, sport comes with the culture brief, which technically means that Robertson would inherit responsibility for the UK government's bizarre commitment to make the England football team better than the Scotland football team.  Perhaps he could delegate that one to an enthusiastic Labour Minister of State, such as Ian Davidson.

WORK AND PENSIONS SECRETARY : Philippa Whitford.  Health is already (thankfully) a devolved matter, so Ms Whitford can't take on her natural brief, but it's hard to think of anything that has a bigger indirect impact on health than the war that has been waged on the poor and vulnerable by means of welfare "reform".  There could be no more satisfying a replacement for Iain Duncan Smith.

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY : Angus Brendan MacNeil.  Obviously the SNP wouldn't want to go within a thousand miles of responsibility for London's foreign or defence policy, but ensuring justice for the world's poorest is a different story.

Of course in reality there would probably be a better gender balance than that, but with so few candidates having been selected so far, I've ended up looking mainly at the SNP's existing MPs by default.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The credibility of the Political Betting website hits a new low - because of hypocrisy as much as inaccuracy

When I started writing this blog way back in May 2008, it was literally attracting about three or four readers per day.  I thought it was an absolute miracle after a few weeks when I got 71 unique visitors in one day, but even that only happened because it was Eurovision weekend.  Compare that to the last six months, when there have been hardly any days during which the blog hasn't attracted at least 1000 unique visitors.  There have been a few occasions when the number has reached almost 7000.

I really have only one man to thank for that transformation, and it's Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson.  For years, I used to spend more time posting at his Political Betting site than I did here, but since he banned me (seemingly for life) for refusing to pretend that his spiteful banning of a fellow pro-independence poster had never happened, I've had the time to build up Scot Goes Pop.

As long-term readers may remember, my banning took on a Kafka-esque afterlife, with Smithson's Tory moderators first of all deleting any posts that linked to this blog or even mentioned it, and then ultimately deleting posts that mentioned my name.  Even after all this time, you'd be taking your life into your hands by uttering the words "James Kelly" at PB.  My charismatic Labour MSP namesake is absolutely raging about it.

The moderators (or specifically the notoriously dishonest moderator TSE) did dream up a thin excuse for banning links to Scot Goes Pop, albeit one that was based on a downright lie.  TSE claimed that I had once been "forced to apologise" to a polling company for posting inaccurate information about one of their polls, and that PB regulars should therefore "understand" the moderators' "concerns" about this blog.  In fact, his claim was wrong on two counts - there was no inaccuracy, and I most certainly had not been forced to apologise.  What I had done was speculate that an Ipsos-Mori independence poll may not have asked the real referendum question - but I made clear that was only speculation, and not a statement of fact.  I then received an email from Ipsos-Mori which claimed that they had used the referendum question in unadorned form, so I issued an immediate correction, and apologised as a matter of courtesy.

That sequence of events may be ringing a few uncanny bells for those of you unfortunate enough to have visited Political Betting today.  There was a wildly speculative post from Smithson this morning inviting readers to conclude that the SNP's failure to publish any voting intention figures from their recent Panelbase poll must mean that the party's lead over Labour has slipped.  I knew that was garbage straight away, because one of the advantages of Scot Goes Pop's hugely expanded readership is that I often get tipped off about polls in the field, and I've therefore known for days that Panelbase didn't ask a voting intention question.

Buried at the bottom of the PB post, you'll now see an update admitting that the SNP and Panelbase have both made clear that there were no voting intention numbers.  But in contrast to what I did in the case of the Ipsos-Mori poll, Smithson hasn't bothered correcting the body of the post, so anyone who doesn't read to the bottom will still be totally misled.  There is certainly no sign of an apology.

In the interests of consistency, I now look forward to Smithson being banned from his own site, and to the mere mention of his name being declared verboten.  After all, "you can understand our concerns".

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sorry, Kenny Farquharson, but your wish-fulfillment fantasy looks like a non-starter

Somewhere, deep down, we all have our own tailor-made wish-fulfillment fantasy.  Maybe it's that your ex who ran off with your best friend eight years ago will turn up at your door sobbing, and beg to be given a second chance.  Or maybe it's that your mysterious dinner guest will turn out to be the managing director of Hovis, and will find your home-made bread so irresistible that he'll offer you£250,000 a year to take over as head of quality control.

In the case of Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson, the long-nurtured fantasy seems to be that next autumn's SNP conference will turn out to be a Clause 4 moment, with Nicola Sturgeon confronting her party with the painful truth that it must grow up and forget about the idea of a second referendum over the next five-year parliamentary term, and instead get on with that blasted wonderful (not to mention mature) devo thing that has always been Scotland's manifest destiny.  There was a Scotland on Sunday editorial along those lines yesterday, and although it was anonymous, it bore all the classic Farquharson hallmarks.

As with almost all wish-fulfillment fantasies, I fear Kenny is going to end up bitterly disappointed.  Both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have laid so much groundwork for the argument that impending "Brexit" would re-open the debate on early independence, that I find it inconceivable that they even want the SNP's 2016 manifesto to totally exclude the possibility of a second referendum.  The most likely outcome is conditional language that makes clear that a referendum is only ruled out if certain circumstances persist - most obviously that Scotland remains part of the EU, and possibly also that sweeping powers are devolved to Holyrood.  There's also a chance that a consultative referendum on Devo Max, rather than on independence, will be proposed.

At any rate it's not hard to think of a range of options for the 2015 conference to choose from, all of which the gradualist and fundamentalist wings of the party would find little difficulty in uniting around, and certainly without the need for any gladiatorial blood-on-the-carpet theatre.  This is going to break Kenny's heart when the realisation dawns, but there's actually no need for Nicola Sturgeon to "slay the dragon of independence" in the way that Kinnock and Blair slayed the trade unions - not least because independence is even more popular than the SNP at the moment.  When did the SNP last get 1.6 million votes in an election?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Journalists must challenge Labour on their secret plan to go into coalition with the Tories

Do Labour know the meaning of the expression "no shame"?  This from Scotland on Sunday's report on the Craig Murray story -

"Labour last night seized on the row to challenge the SNP on whether they would do a deal on the Bedroom Tax to keep the Tories in power, which would be “a shocking betrayal” of the Scottish people.

Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said: “The SNP need to come clean about asking their prospective MPs if they would agree to keep the Bedroom Tax. This means they are willing to do a deal to keep the Tories in power.”"

The irony is, of course, that the intentionally extreme hypothetical question asked of the SNP's prospective candidates implicitly presupposed that Labour would insist upon retaining the bedroom tax in negotiations with the SNP.  There's no other way of making sense of the question, because the SNP have absolutely, explicitly, unambiguously, categorically ruled out doing a deal with the Tories under any circumstances whatsoever.

Labour, by contrast, have thus far failed to make any comment on whether they would refuse to go into coalition with the Tories and keep David Cameron in office.  That's highly significant, because "grand coalitions" between the main centre-right and centre-left parties are of course extremely commonplace in many continental European countries, and are not without precedent in the UK.

According to Curran-logic, a party that has categorically ruled out a deal with the Tories must be "willing" to do a deal with the Tories.  It presumably follows that a party like Labour which has not ruled out a deal with the Tories is absolutely certain to do such a deal?

Perhaps journalists should be asking them to "come clean" about that.

* * *

Of the comments from senior SNP people about the Craig Murray story, the one I found slightly troubling (and peculiar) was this from Andrew Wilson on Twitter -

"In his reaction to his failure to pass vetting Mr Craig Murray demonstrates why his candidacy was impossible. Old story."

Why is a decision that Craig Murray only found out about on Christmas Eve (ie. four days ago) an "old story"?

*  *  *

Congratulations to Bruce Anderson on having penned one of the top seventy most barking mad articles to appear in the Telegraph since the referendum - that's one of the toughest accolades to attain in journalism.  Here are a couple of particular highlights...

"There are no guillotines or concentration camps in Scotland. But even though most Nats have never heard of Rousseau, they are his disciples, behaving as if anyone who does not share their version of Scottishness is not a proper Scot."

You know, it's odd that you should say that, Bruce, because I was told by your fellow Brit Nats that I am "not a true Scot" due to the fact that I have Irish and French-Canadian ancestry, and that I don't believe in the most glorious political union in the history of the known universe (as presumably any "true-blooded" Scot would).  Any thoughts?

"The Scottish Highlands are a symphony of sea and loch and river, of moor and rock and mountain. It is as if a divine alchemist had transmuted grandeur into landscape – a landscape which nourishes splendid human beings...That said, nature costs money.   It has always been easy to make a small fortune in the Highlands. You just have to start out with a large one."

Ah, the Tory answer to the American Dream! Absolutely anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps in the Highlands, just so long as they have the odd half-billion to spare...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Craig Murray

I've been following Craig Murray's quest to become an SNP candidate at the general election with quite a bit of interest and curiosity, because the outcome was always going to be the most high-profile test of whether the SNP were following a 'broad church' or a 'tight discipline' approach in the wake of the referendum.  Craig's vision of how to fight for independence was almost the polar opposite of the SNP leadership's - as I understand it, he wanted no deals with the London parties and thought that more powers for the Scottish Parliament were a distraction or a trap, whereas the leadership want a deal with Labour to bring about as many powers for Holyrood as possible.  As it happens, I entirely agree with the leadership about strategy, and think that turning our back on the chance of a much more powerful parliament within the UK would be crazy.  But it doesn't necessarily follow that Craig's disagreement with the gradualist approach should have precluded him from standing for the SNP - there's a strong case to be made that the decision should have been left to the local constituency association wherever he decided to put himself forward.

So was today's decision to bar him from the candidates' register justified?  The general rule of thumb is that the minimum discipline required to remain part of a parliamentary party is that you follow the party whip on votes of confidence.  Strictly speaking, the question that apparently proved to be Craig's undoing (whether he would vote to retain the bedroom tax if a deal with another party required the SNP to do so) is not an issue of confidence in the government.  However, it could be argued that discipline on a wide range of issues is much more important for a smaller party that is attempting to become a junior partner in a 'governing arrangement' at Westminster (I call it that because it probably won't be a full coalition).  If, say, 2 or 3 of the party's 25 MPs were known to be unwilling to vote in line with the terms of any deal, that would significantly weaken its bargaining power in post-election negotiations.

The leadership were probably in a no-win situation on this one.  By taking this decision, they've bitterly disappointed many people, including myself, who admire Craig Murray and feel that the SNP would be enhanced by being broad enough to have a place for someone like him in its parliamentary ranks.  On the other hand, in these specific circumstances, I find it hard to criticise anyone too severely for having a laser-like focus on securing the prize of more powers, and ensuring that the momentum generated by the referendum isn't squandered.  I'm fairly convinced that's what lies behind this, and I don't think Craig's suggestion that there is a danger of "managerialism" creeping in is justified.  As I've said before, if the SNP end up surprising themselves by entering into a full-blown coalition with Labour, they'll do it not because they want to (they seem genuinely repelled by the idea), but because almost any price is worth paying to bring about self-government.

By the way, I don't think anyone should be concerned about the hypothetical question relating to the bedroom tax - I would imagine the interviewers just came up with the most extreme example they could think of, ie. could you vote for something that every single person in this party loathes if it was necessary to secure a bigger objective?  In reality, it's almost impossible to conceive of any Labour-SNP deal that wouldn't abolish the bedroom tax, but it's inevitable that one or two other painful sacrifices will have to be made.

One thing about this episode is that it should dispel the silly idea being put about by some commentators that the SNP aren't really interested in a deal with Labour, and are secretly hoping for a general election outcome that would leave them as a numerically strong but politically powerless opposition group.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Breathtaking poll from "gold standard" ICM gives the SNP a 17% lead

Heaven only knows what the Guardian are doing releasing a poll on Boxing Day, but that appears to be what's just happened...

Scottish voting intentions for the 2015 UK general election (ICM) :

SNP 43%
Labour 26%
Conservatives 13%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 4%

There doesn't seem to be any word on fieldwork dates yet, which of course are all-important.  I'll update the Poll of Polls at some point, although let's not forget it's Boxing Day...

UPDATE : The fieldwork took place between the 16th and 18th of December, which means the poll is more than seven days out of date, and consequently I can't add it to the Poll of Polls.  On a positive note, it was entirely conducted after Jim Murphy became Scottish Labour "leader", so this adds extra weight to the evidence from Survation that there was no immediate "Murphy bounce".  Unlike Survation, though, there have been no other ICM polls since September to provide us with pre-Murphy baseline numbers.

I haven't been able to access the datasets properly yet (possibly because I'm on my mobile), but Anthony Wells has noted that without ICM's "spiral of silence" adjustment the SNP would have had a lead of 19%, almost identical to the lead they enjoyed in the recent YouGov poll.  The adjustment basically takes a portion of Don't Knows and allocates them to the party they voted for in 2010.  This is based on past evidence that undecideds are disproportionately likely to go back to the devil they know, but whether that general rule will hold true in these highly unusual circumstances is anyone's guess.  Some of the undecideds who ICM have allocated to Labour will be people who since 2010 have voted for the SNP in the Holyrood landslide, and voted Yes in the independence referendum.  Can Labour really be said to be the default choice for such people after all that?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Queen-sized error of judgement

I didn't watch the Queen's speech today (I haven't bothered with it for years - paint dries in a more entertaining manner), but if it's true that she called for reconciliation between Yes voters and No voters, it was a spectacularly ill-judged comment.  For starters, as a Yes voter I'm getting a bit bloody sick of being treated by the London establishment as a belligerent in an unfortunate war that should be forgotten as soon as possible, rather than as a participant in the greatest exercise in democracy in British (let alone Scottish) history.  But more to the point, after the shocking revelation that the Queen breached her duty of impartiality to intervene on behalf of the No campaign just days before the referendum, what we needed to hear from her today was an apology, or more realistically an embarrassed silence on the topic.

I'm not a monarchist.  I don't necessarily think that getting rid of the monarchy should be the number one priority after independence, but it's high time for it to be slimmed down and totally stripped of its remaining political powers.  We've learned over the last couple of years that those powers are far more extensive than we realised, and include the right to secretly veto legislation affecting the Royal Family.  That's just not on in a supposedly democratic country.

Hope you're all having a splendid Christmas.  I should have pre-scheduled a quiz or a word-search or something, but I didn't think of it in time!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A stupid (and possibly malicious) mythology about the referendum polls which must not be allowed to take root

I wasn't intending to post again until after Christmas, but there's an article on Political Betting this morning which I can't allow to pass without comment. It's written by ICM's former head of polling Nick Sparrow, and seeks to cast doubt on the reliability of polls that are conducted using volunteer online panels. That's fine in principle, because we've always known that the most which can be claimed about online polls is that they work reasonably well in practice, although they definitely shouldn't work in theory. But Sparrow's use of recent Scottish examples to illustrate his reasons for thinking that online polling may not even work in practice is, I'm afraid, utterly misconceived, and possibly even malicious in intent.

"What if that poll, you know the one that said “Yes” would win in Scotland, the one that panicked the whole political establishment into making wild promises for constitutional reform for us all was – how can I put this – wrong; the product of views expressed by people with stronger views and a more optimistic outlook than others? People who might be considered to be more likely to embrace a new vision of an independent future for Scotland, less concerned than others, for example that Scotland may not have a currency, or place inside the EU."

Yeah, and what if that poll was in fact bang on the money, at least to within the standard 3% margin of error? What if we had lots of supporting evidence for that from other polls, including from PHONE POLLS? You know, like the ICM and Ipsos-Mori phone polls that put the Yes vote on 49%, well within the margin of error of YouGov's 51%? Not to mention the face-to-face poll from TNS-BMRB that had Yes on 50%?

What if there are an awful lot of people out there who simply can't understand that polls are a snapshot of opinion at a particular moment in time, and not a "prediction" of how people will vote ten days later? What if, because of that elementary misunderstanding, a politically convenient mythology is doing the rounds in some quarters that the referendum was never in fact too close to call ("the Jocks were always too sensible for that self-government nonsense"), and that the perception that it was had been caused by a single "wrong" poll? And what if someone from the polling industry, who must know perfectly well that none of this makes any logical sense whatever, buys into that mythology (albeit in a deniable way, using weasel words) in order to pursue an agenda of his own? Wouldn't that be rather cynical and irresponsible?

The reality is that polls using all data collection methods (phone, face-to-face and online) were in almost total agreement by the close of the referendum campaign. They all overestimated Yes, but not by much. YouGov's own on-the-day poll overestimated Yes by just 1% - and that was a 2% drop from the previous day's poll. That's fully consistent with Yes support having reached somewhere in the region of the high 40s by the penultimate weekend (reported as 51% in one particular poll due to the margin of error), before slipping back - which ironically is likely to have happened mostly because of the "shock and awe" campaign of terror that was triggered by the London establishment's reaction to the very poll Sparrow is moaning about.

"What if online polls, comprising panellists with stronger opinions than others, being more optimistic and more volatile suggest in the run up to the next general election that the LibDems will be annihilated, UKIP and the SNP in Scotland are surging upwards, Farage and Salmond will be the new kingmakers and mould breakers? In the end the “Yes” campaign in Scotland did not do as well as predicted, but did it do better than it would have done if the polls had suggested the “No” campaign were always going to win comfortably? What if online polls over the next few months inflate UKIP and the SNP, thereby encouraging more voters to switch to them? In the end they may not do as well as predicted by some polls, but they may do better than they would have done had earlier polls not suggested they were on the march.

This means pollsters are not innocent observers of public opinion, but active participants in the political process; not only reporting public opinion but helping to shape it."

As already noted, the Yes campaign could well have done without the poll that put them ahead. That poll did indeed "help" to shape opinion, but in a way that was - sadly - contrary to what Sparrow is slyly suggesting. But his point about the general election polls is, if anything, even more absurd than his witterings about the referendum. Tell me, Nick - which poll was it that first suggested that the SNP were heading for a landslide next May? That's right - it was an Ipsos-Mori PHONE POLL. As it happens, that poll gave the SNP an enormous 29-point lead, which is considerably larger than the lead that any online poll has reported. YouGov themselves have been positively conservative in comparison to the phone poll - they've shown SNP leads of "only" 16 and 20 points respectively.

Has this guy even been paying attention?

Christmas Poll of Polls shows SNP leading by 18%

Remember how I said last night that "unless any newspaper is crazy enough to publish a poll on Christmas Eve, that really should be that"?  Well, it turns out that the Daily Mirror is crazy enough, and they've just published a GB-wide Survation poll.  We've had an unexpected little flurry of three GB-wide polls over the last 48 hours, so for the sake of completeness I'm going to do another Poll of Polls update - I'm sure this will be the last one of 2014 (although I seem to have said that somewhere before).  It's based on one full-scale Scottish poll from Survation, plus six Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls - three from YouGov, two from Populus and one from Survation.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 44.1% (-1.7)
Labour 26.5% (+1.2)
Conservatives 16.5% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 5.8% (+0.5)
UKIP 4.0% (+0.3)
Greens 1.7% (-0.2)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

The final Scottish subsample before Christmas proved to be the oddest of the lot, with Survation putting Labour well ahead of the SNP (by 48.9% to 27.1%, to be exact).  That's only the second non-Populus subsample since the independence referendum not to have the SNP in the lead.  However, there are three very good reasons why that finding is probably not significant -

1) It's based on a particularly small sample of 69 people, prior to weighting.  For comparison, a YouGov subsample will typically be based on interviews with more than 200 respondents.

2) It's not bang-up-to-date.  It may be the last poll to be published before Christmas, but it wasn't the last one to be conducted.  The more recent subsamples from Populus and YouGov have continued to show the more familiar pattern of a huge SNP lead.

3) Survation's fieldwork even partly overlapped with their own full-scale Scottish poll, which showed a mammoth 24% SNP lead.

There's also the fact that Survation weight their results by recalled Westminster vote, which we know harms the SNP.  But that's something all firms other than Ipsos-Mori do in their GB-wide polls by one means or another (if they don't literally weight by recalled Westminster vote, they weight by Westminster-centric party identification figures).

The bottom line is that it's almost certainly just a freakish result, but it's one more drop of evidence to be put into the mix with all the other drops, and the overall picture we're left with is the SNP lead of 17.6% that you see in the Poll of Polls.

All the same, this is a timely reminder of how the huge divergence between Scottish and English voting intentions may be making GB polls less reliable.  Labour have a 3-point lead across Britain in the Survation poll - but if we assume the Scottish subsample is just a freak caused by normal sampling variation, that lead may not be particularly meaningful.

*  *  *

A small technical note : I realised tonight that I've been looking at the wrong table in previous GB-wide Survation datasets - I had assumed that Survation use the numbers which have been adjusted for the "spiral of silence" in their headline results, but it appears that they actually use the unadjusted numbers instead.  That means there may have been slight inaccuracies in a small number of previous Poll of Polls updates.  However, the inaccuracies will have been very slight indeed, so I'm not going to torment myself by trying to retrospectively correct them.

*  *  *

I know we're all reeling with disbelief after the terrible events in Queen Street and George Square, but I'd still like to wish all readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Support for independence reaches 50% for the first time ever in a Survation poll

I'll keep this relatively brief, because after the tragedy in Glasgow only ten hours ago, I know none of us are really in the mood for politics at the moment. However, this is a landmark finding from Survation, and many thanks to Calum Findlay for pointing it out.

Imagine there were another referendum on Scottish independence held today. How would you vote if the question were ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?'

Yes 50% (+3)
No 50% (-3)

The percentage changes are from the last Survation poll, which was (and remains) the only post-referendum poll from any firm to have No in the lead. YouGov have had Yes slightly ahead in both independence polls they have conducted since September, and there was also a narrow Yes lead in the sole Panelbase poll to ask the question. In some ways, though, tonight's result is the most impressive so far, because there's no obvious "alibi" to cover for the fact that Yes have drawn level. When the Panelbase poll was published, John Curtice was mildly critical of the question wording that had been used, and in the case of the YouGov polls he pointed out that Yes wouldn't have quite made it into the lead if there had been weighting by recalled referendum vote. With Survation there is no such get-out clause, because the question wording is scrupulously neutral, and weighting by recalled referendum vote has been applied. If that weighting hadn't been used, ie. if Survation had simply stuck with the same methodology they used in their pre-referendum polls, then they would be showing Yes in a clear lead tonight. That tells you all you need to know about the swing in favour of independence that has occurred since September (something that all pollsters agree upon), because at no point during the referendum campaign did Survation ever have Yes higher than 48%.

Respondents were also asked when, if ever, a second independence referendum should be held.  12.7% think it should take place immediately, a further 21.7% think it should happen before 2019, and 18.4% want it between 2019 and 2024.  14.5% think it should be at some point after 2024, while a hard-core of 26.3% (almost exclusively No voters) don't think a second referendum should ever take place.  Probably the best way of making sense of those numbers is to group together those who want a referendum within ten years, and those who don't (with undecideds excluded).

There should be another referendum within the next ten years : 56.4%
There shouldn't be another referendum within the next ten years : 43.6%

It's tempting to point out that the voters have once again given short shrift to the outrageously anti-democratic narrative of "it's over for a lifetime" that David Cameron tried to get off the ground on the morning of September 19th, but in truth I think even the majority of unionist politicians have long since given up on that one.  Incidentally, even with undecideds included, there is still an absolute majority (52.7%) in favour of a new referendum within a decade.

*  *  *

There have been two new GB-wide polls published over the last twenty-four hours - one from Populus, and yet another one from YouGov that I wasn't really expecting.  The Scottish subsample from the Populus poll (conducted between the 19th and 21st) has the SNP ahead of Labour by 37% to 23%, while the bang-up-to-date YouGov subsample (conducted on the 21st and 22nd) has the SNP in the lead by 43% to 27%.  Both of those results may look very similar to what we've become accustomed to, but in fact Populus are showing a significantly bigger gap than their recent average.  It's also striking that the SNP have maintained such a huge advantage in a YouGov poll that sees Labour at a Britain-wide level move up to an unusually high 36% - it seems to be in London and the North of England that Miliband is making some progress (although of course that may just be a one-off statistical blip).

And unless any newspaper is crazy enough to publish a poll on Christmas Eve, that really should be that!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mega Murphy meltdown as SNP rocket to 24-point lead in scorching Survation survey

There's a question I'd rather like one of the nation's journalists to ask Jim Murphy some time soon.  It goes like this.  "You know that promise you keep making that you will prevent the SNP from gaining even a SINGLE SEAT from Labour next May?  I take it you'll be resigning immediately if you don't deliver on that, yeah?"

Because as of this moment Murphy's powers of prophecy aren't looking too hot.  Survation have just released the first full-scale Scottish poll to have been conducted since he became Scottish Labour "leader" (the fieldwork took place between Monday and Thursday) and the message is absolutely identical to the one that Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls have been sending us over the last few days - namely that the "Murphy bounce" eagerly anticipated by Jim's right-wing admirers north and south of the border has quite simply failed to materialise.  Given that the SNP's Westminster lead in the last Survation poll seemed implausibly high, I had expected them to slip back a bit tonight due to normal sampling variation, but instead there has been a further net swing of about 1% from Labour to the SNP.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 48.2% (+2.4)
Labour 24.4% (+0.5)
Conservatives 15.9% (-0.8)
Liberal Democrats 5.3% (-0.8)
UKIP 4.0% (-0.8)
Greens 1.1% (-0.4)
BNP 0.4% (-0.3)
SSP 0.1% (-0.1)

On those numbers, Murphy's problems would go a touch further than merely a failure to keep his promise of preventing the SNP from gaining a single seat.  He'd actually be losing no fewer than THIRTY-SEVEN of the forty-one Scottish seats that Labour won at the last general election - and, needless to say, every single one of them would be a gain for the SNP.  Most amusingly of all, Murphy would even lose his own East Renfrewshire seat!

In the real world, the result is unlikely to be quite that good.  It seems reasonable to assume there'll be some kind of swing back to Labour as polling day approaches, if only because they'll have a huge advantage due to lop-sided coverage beamed in by the London media.  It's also possible that Survation are slightly overstating the SNP's lead, even as it stands now.  Although there isn't quite the clear-cut divide that we saw during much of the referendum campaign between Yes-friendly and No-friendly pollsters, Survation do seem to have emerged (at least in their online polls) as one of the most favourable firms for the SNP.  Oddly, though, the most favourable of the lot has been Ipsos-Mori, a pollster that spent the referendum campaign vying with YouGov for the title of most No-friendly firm.  Conversely, the recent polls from Panelbase have shown a somewhat lower (albeit still huge) SNP lead, even though they were for such a long time the only firm that had Yes even within touching distance.

We certainly shouldn't buy into the idea that Survation "must" be overstating the SNP, though.  It's worth pointing out that their methodology is actually much less favourable for the SNP now than it was in their pre-referendum polls, for the simple reason that they have started weighting by recalled referendum vote.  In this poll, 438 people who recall voting Yes were downweighted to count as only 411, while 482 No voters were upweighted to count as 509.  (Those numbers change slightly after undecideds and probable non-voters are stripped out, but the basic pattern remains the same.)  The mind boggles as to how big Labour's deficit would be if the pre-referendum methodology was still in operation.

Whatever we might think about specific weighting procedures and their effect on the size of the SNP lead, one thing about this poll that we should be able to have a reasonable amount of trust in is the trend, because as far as I can see there has been no further methodological change since the last Survation poll.  And it's the trend where the true horror lies for Labour.  The idea that Jim Murphy was going to be some kind of "Messiah" figure now looks unutterably daft.  The Record (which commissioned the poll) are valiantly trying to put a positive spin on the situation by distracting our attention with the results of supplementary questions that asked specifically about Murphy, but in truth even those look pretty grim for Labour.  Just 14% of voters say that they are more likely to vote Labour now that Murphy is "leader", while 18% are less likely to do so.  A quarter of voters say they think Labour will be more successful due to Murphy, compared to 16% who don't - but that's actually a much less important finding, because it will have been influenced more by the media's propaganda efforts to paint Murphy as a political colossus and obvious vote-winner, rather than by respondents' own feelings about the man.

The Record's last throw of the dice is to point to the finding that 28% of Labour voters, 14% of Tory voters and 22% of Liberal Democrat voters agree with the statement : "I am more likely to vote Labour now Jim Murphy is Scottish Labour leader". Suspiciously, though, we are not told how many Labour, Tory and Lib Dem voters agree with the statement "I am less likely to vote Labour now Jim Murphy is Scottish Labour leader", and that part of the datasets hasn't been published yet. Perhaps the most important detail we need to see is how many current SNP voters say they are less likely to vote Labour now that Murphy is in harness - because of course a large chunk of Labour's support from 2010 is now in the SNP column.  Admittedly, we're told that 21% of current SNP voters would "seriously consider voting Labour" - but we aren't told how many current Labour voters would seriously consider voting SNP.  How mysterious.

If you wanted to summarise in a few words why the SNP are doing so well at the moment, it boils down to the fact that they have the support of the vast majority (85%) of people who voted Yes in September, while unionist parties have been unable to prevent a very substantial minority of No voters (29%) from "defecting" to Nicola Sturgeon's party - although in reality a lot of those people will have voted for the SNP in past elections anyway.  It's reasonable to deduce that the SNP need have little fear of suffering localised reverses next year in their No-voting north-east heartlands (and of course that was borne out by a recent council by-election in Aberdeenshire).

Jim Murphy is a dyed-in-the-wool Blairite, which means among other things that he believes in an authoritarian ideology (militarism, detention without trial, and all the rest of it).  It's curious, then, that he's recently spent so much time championing "targetted libertarianism" in a way that he hopes will appeal to a certain group of lapsed Labour voters that he wants to win back - ie. working-class men who he thinks above all else crave the personal freedom to drunkenly shout sectarian abuse at football matches.  I'm just wondering how well a macho offering like that will play with women, especially given that the SNP's new leader is female.  For now, the gender gap still works in Labour's favour (the SNP "only" lead by 46% to 28% among women), but for how much longer?

* * *

Yet more nonsense from Mike Smithson at PB -

"Previous Scottish polls with figures like these have failed to budge the Scottish single seat markets. Last week the SNP was only down as favourite to win 4 seats currently held by LAB. This suggests a lack of confidence on the ground."

No it bloomin' well doesn't. The vast majority of punters at UK betting exchanges are based south of the border and don't have the first clue about what's happening on the ground in Scotland (exactly the same problem that distorted the markets during the referendum). If you wanted to predict an English election using the "wisdom of crowds" principle, you wouldn't ask crowds in Belgium, would you?

"53% of those sampled in Survation Scotland poll "remembered" voting YES in IndyRef"

Heaven only knows where he's getting that from, but it's certainly not from the Survation datasets. In fact, 44% of the unweighted sample recall voting Yes, and 49% recall voting No (the remainder presumably didn't vote or can't remember).

* * *

Survation also have figures for Holyrood...

Constituency voting intentions for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election :

SNP 50.8% (+0.8)
Labour 24.6% (+1.6)
Conservatives 15.1% (+1.0)
Liberal Democrats 4.8% (-1.9)
UKIP 2.2% (-0.9)
Greens 1.5% (-0.8)
BNP 0.3% (-0.5)

Regional list voting intentions for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election :

SNP 39.8% (-0.8)
Labour 23.8% (+3.5)
Conservatives 13.7% (+0.7)
Greens 9.0% (-0.9)
UKIP 7.1% (-0.6)
Liberal Democrats 5.5% (-0.9)
SSP 0.5% (-0.4)
Christians 0.3% (+0.3)
BNP 0.2% (-0.1)

In spite of the slight uptick in Labour support (from a horrendously low base), this poll confirms what other firms have consistently shown - that the biggest threat to the SNP at Holyrood does not come from unionist parties, but instead from the inclination of some of their own voters to drift off to the Greens on the list.  If things remain as they are, that phenomenon would threaten the SNP's chances of a second overall majority.  If the state of play changes, it might even threaten the SNP's chances of remaining the largest single party.  Hopefully a very aggressive two-vote strategy will be put in place to counter this potentially huge problem.

*  *  *


Barring the improbable appearance of another full-scale Scottish poll between now and Hogmanay, this will be the last Poll of Polls update until 2015.  It's based on the Survation poll, plus five Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls - four from YouGov and one from Populus.  As always, the new Opinium poll (in which the SNP are flying high) is excluded, because the Scottish subsample result hasn't been published.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 45.8% (+3.4)
Labour 25.3% (-1.0)
Conservatives 16.5% (+1.0)
Liberal Democrats 5.3% (-1.3)
UKIP 3.7% (+0.1)
Greens 1.9% (-1.7)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Less than limitless levity looms for Lousy Libs as yummy year-end YouGov yields a 'Yikes!'

After the false alarm on Friday, it looks like this morning's Britain-wide YouGov poll really is the last from the firm for this year.  It's the Winter Solstice today, and the Lib Dems might just be wishing the darkness could swallow them up - once again they find themselves 2% behind the Greens, and just 1% ahead of the SNP and Plaid Cymru.  And yet the broadcasters still haven't announced a change to their initial proposal to exclude the SNP, Plaid and the Greens from the leaders' debates.  Just how much longer can this nonsense go on?

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 18th-19th December) :

Labour 34% (-1)
Conservatives 32% (+2)
UKIP 15% (-1)
Greens 8% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)

Even more importantly, the Scottish subsample gives the SNP an enormous 44% to 24% lead over Labour.  So while Jim Murphy may think he's had a "good week", the polls beg to differ.  Still, it's perfectly possible that proper, full-scale Scottish polls will pick up a change in attitudes that the Scottish subsamples in GB-wide polls have thus far failed to detect, and the first test of that will come in a Survation poll that is apparently due in the Daily Record tomorrow.  The last Survation poll gave the SNP a ridiculously big lead, so if that eases down only a little it might well be due to normal sampling variation.  A big drop might be more significant (unless there's another methodological change, of course).

I'll hold off for Survation, and then calculate the final Poll of Polls update of this tumultuous year.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The ideal result?

I was amused the other night to see Flockers (our occasional visitor from Stormfront Lite) apparently licking his lips at the prospect of SNP supporters having to justify Alex Salmond's hints that the party may dispense with its recent practice of abstaining on English-only matters.  Flockers' implication was that a core part of the SNP's sense of itself was about to be casually reversed in an "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia" kind of way.  Dear God.  The mind boggles as to the number of Anglocentric assumptions that must be required to reach the conclusion that a Scottish pro-independence party's identity is somehow bound up with the stance it takes on English votes at Westminster.  In truth, I doubt if there are many SNP members, supporters or voters out there who give a monkey's about the English votes policy, beyond its tactical utility. 

And the question of tactical utility is exactly why the policy should be ditched if the SNP hold the balance of power next May.  If a self-denying ordinance reduces the party's bargaining power and makes it less likely that a deal can be done with Labour to transfer huge powers to the Scottish Parliament, then that self-denying ordinance serves no purpose and needs to go.  Full stop, end of story.  The best interests of Scotland come first.

For weeks now, Tory commentators like Fraser Nelson have been congratulating themselves that the SNP's abstentionism on English affairs will make it easier for the Tories to run a minority government, and will also get David Cameron off the hook of having to do anything about English Votes for English Laws.  But I'm afraid it's no part of the SNP's mission in life to make it easier for the Tories to rule.  It would also be crazy for the SNP to reduce the pressure for EVEL through their own nobility of action, given that EVEL will introduce a severe instability into the UK constitution that can only be of benefit to the Scottish national movement.

In rightly noting Alex Salmond's tactical astuteness in revisiting the English votes policy, the Scotsman's editorial makes a claim that I'm not sure is entirely well-founded -

"Mr Salmond must surely know this plan can only come into play if Labour is the largest party but does not have an overall majority and would certainly not have a majority of English seats."

That's misleading in two ways.  Firstly, it's perfectly possible that Labour will need the SNP's help to govern, even if they have more seats than the Tories in England.  But just as importantly, it's not true that Labour would have to be the largest party in the Commons for the SNP to have leverage.  Consider this highly plausible scenario -

Conservatives 285
Labour 283
SNP 32
Liberal Democrats 25
Sinn Féin 5
Plaid Cymru 4
Greens 1
Independent 1

The Tories are the largest single party, but a Tory-led government isn't arithmetically viable - or at least not without Labour's help.  Assuming Sinn Féin don't take up their seats, the target for an effective majority would be 323 seats.

Labour + SNP + Plaid Cymru + SDLP + Greens = 323

The SNP, Plaid and the Greens have all said they would have nothing to do with the Tories (and it can reasonably be assumed that the SDLP take a similar view), so Cameron's only hope would be that useful idiots in Labour's ranks like Tom Harris repeat their antics from 2010 and actively campaign for the Tories to take office, on the grounds of "They won the most seats!  It's only fair!"  But I think after five long years in opposition, Labour's hunger for power is sufficient to ensure that those voices would be shouted down this time.

In some ways, the scenario outlined above would be better for the SNP than one where Labour is the largest party - because it would mean that Labour wouldn't have the option of simply trying their luck as a minority government without the help of others.  In order to get their leader into Number 10 in the first place, they would need a deal with the SNP to demonstrate to the Queen that Miliband is better placed than Cameron to command a Commons majority.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Murphy cries into his patriotic beer as new Poll of Polls gives the SNP a 16% lead

There have been some suggestions that today's YouGov poll might be the last word from the firm for this year, and I was just a tad concerned about it overnight.  The headline figures showed Labour on an unusually high 35% across Britain, and I wondered if that might be a sign that they'd at last secured a decent showing in the Scottish subsample.  However, I needn't have worried - the datasets have now been released, and the SNP remain in the lead over Labour in Scotland by 42% to 31%, which is comfortably within the range we've been accustomed to since the referendum.  As is equally typical, Labour's support in the poll is lower in Scotland than in three of the other four regions of Britain - the exception being the south of England (outside London).

So we've now come to the end of the first full week of Labour's Great Patriotic War Against Nationalism, and there's still no sign whatever of that elusive "Murphy bounce". Probably the only chink of hope for them is to be found in the subsample from the ICM telephone poll, which prior to the turnout filter being applied has them level with the SNP.  However, after the turnout filter the SNP actually have a higher share of the vote than in either of the two previous post-referendum ICM phone polls, and are ahead of Labour by a comfortable enough margin of 43% to 35%.  Meanwhile, one of this week's other phone polls is probably not exactly making Her Majesty purr - the Scottish subsample from Ipsos-Mori has Labour trailing the SNP by a mind-boggling 52% to 15%.

I'm not entirely sure whether this will be the last Poll of Polls of 2014 - there's still a possibility that there might be one or two polls to come in the Sunday papers.  Either way, it's a good moment for another update, because the most recent full-scale YouGov poll has now dropped out of the sample, leaving us with numbers derived from eight subsamples from GB-wide polls, all of which were conducted either wholly or in part after Murphy's coronation.  Four of them are from YouGov, one from ICM, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from ComRes and one from Populus.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.4% (-1.4)
Labour 26.3% (-0.4)
Conservatives 15.5% (-1.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.6% (+1.9)
Greens 4.4% (+1.2)
UKIP 3.6% (-0.1)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A heartfelt plea to the imaginary Scotsmen in Dan Hodges' head - please stop doing beastly things to Dan Hodges

I still haven't got around to doing my Top of the Pops list of the stupidest things said by unionist politicians and commentators in the two or three days immediately after the referendum.  There are some absolute corkers in there, which all seemed pretty stupid even at the time, but needless to say they look utterly risible now that a bit of water has flowed under the bridge.  Each and every one of them, though, has just been effortlessly surpassed by something said by a unionist commentator a whole three months after the referendum.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr Dan Hodges.

"I’m not sure what’s going on in Scotland at the moment, and I’m not sure I want to know. But I know this. Diana has gone. And someone up there has to start to get a grip."

From the incredulous tone of that remark, you'd be forgiven for thinking that something truly unspeakable must be going on here in Scotland - you know, a horror akin to the Reavers in Firefly and Serenity who have been driven mad by a disastrous scientific experiment, and who roam the galaxy looking for men to eat alive for sheer pleasure, before plastering the bloody remains all over their spaceships. However, what Dan is actually referring to is the fact that some of us would quite like to have another peaceful democratic vote on our constitutional future at some point in the years ahead, and don't accept that the vote in September settled the matter for the remainder of time. But, hey, that's kind of similar to eating people alive, isn't it?

Specifically, Dan can't get his head around the idea that 59-year-old Alex Salmond, who can quite reasonably expect to still be around in twenty years from now, thinks that a second referendum will happen (gasp) within his lifetime. What an ABOMINATION.

Dan's spectacular loss of the plot hasn't come completely out of the blue, though. A few weeks before the referendum, he penned an article about Scotland that seemed uncharacteristically reasonable - he basically said that the London establishment should just chill out and let Scotland get on with it, he didn't think we would vote to govern ourselves, but if we did that would be fine. However, there was still a distinct trace of menace in there, because he made a gratuitous aside about how the referendum would settle the matter forever (or words to that effect). When I read that, I thought to myself - where's he getting that from? I assumed that it was probably just the normal unionist arrogance of thinking that they can make up the rules of the game as they go on, and that the rest of us just have to go along with it. But no - it's become clear that he really did have it in his head that some kind of definitive promise of "finality" had been collectively made by Scotland as a nation.

Hence, his current grievance is based on a complicated and largely fictitious account of how the referendum came about and what its intended parameters were. The only question really is whether he knows that he's invented most of the story.

"Scotland wanted to resolve – once and for all we were told – the issue of whether it remained part of the United Kingdom, via a referendum."

You were told the "once and for all" bit by who exactly? By Scotland's popular national spokesperson David Cameron, perhaps?

"And that referendum was duly granted."

No, it was not "granted". It was legislated for by Scotland's own parliament, and by no-one else. All the Edinburgh Agreement did was remove any ambiguity over the parliament's legal power to take that step, but the Scottish Government always held the belief that they could have gone ahead anyway. Whether a challenge in the courts would have occurred or not, and whether it would have succeeded or not, will now remain unknowable. That being the case, you are in no position to claim that London generously "granted" a referendum, even in the most indirect of senses.

"It was free. It was fair."

Well, it was free. But as for "fair", you're having a laugh aren't you, Dan? Did you sleep through the "shock and awe" campaign of terror waged upon the people of Scotland by the entire London establishment, including by some institutions that are legally or constitutionally obliged to remain neutral, or indeed to stay out of politics altogether?

"It cost £13 million."

Er, so what? All elections cost money, and that's the price we pay for being a democratic country. Or is the subtle implication here that the long-suffering English taxpayer "indulged" a crazy whim of the Jocks? If so, that's utter tripe. As already stated, the referendum was brought about by Scottish Parliament legislation - Westminster didn't take care of the bill.

"And having voted in their free, fair, multi-million pound election, what did the people of Scotland, and their elected representatives, do next? They said “That’s no good! We’ve been cheated! We demand another go!”."

Is that code for "we might legislate to have another go"? As it happens, we don't need to feel cheated to think it's perfectly OK to do that - we just need to think we live in some kind of democracy. The basic rule of democracy is that people get periodic chances to determine how they're governed - as far as I can gather, next year's general election won't be the last one ever, and consequently won't decide which government is in power in the year 2150. (Or perhaps it will on Planet Hodges.)

Oh, and by the way - we were cheated, actually. The London government broke every constitutional rule in the book by secretly colluding with Buckingham Palace to bring about an "intervention" on behalf of the No campaign by the Queen. And that's before we even get to the shameless bias of the London-based broadcast media. Not that this makes any difference to the democratic principle I've just set out, but it's well worth bearing in mind anyway.

"Alex Salmond, who had said the referendum represented the “last chance” for independence, is now telling anyone who will listen he believes he will witness independence in his lifetime."

Does anyone actually recall Mr Salmond saying that it was the "last chance"? It would have been a very odd thing for him to say, given that it was actually our first ever chance to vote for independence. The inverted commas suggest it's a direct quote, but if it is (and I have my doubts) it must be taken way out of context, because it flatly contradicts what he repeatedly said throughout the campaign - namely that he thought constitutional referenda were a once-in-a-generation thing, but that even this was only a "personal view", ie. it wasn't binding SNP policy. And note that even Salmond's personal view did not imply, let alone clearly state, that a second referendum could not happen in his lifetime. Quite the reverse - a generation can be as little as fifteen years. It sure as hell isn't "forever", Dan.

"The man [Jim Murphy] who had claimed we would all be better off together, told his audience “I need no one’s permission. I consult no one on the issues that are devolved in Scotland other than the people of Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party. That's the way it's going to be in future”...We are part of a political union. It is a union that was reaffirmed, by the Scottish people, a couple of months ago. And we all have a stake in that union. Even us knuckle-draggers south of the border...When Jim Murphy boasts “what happens in Scotland will be decided in Scotland” does he not wonder what conclusion his English colleagues and the people they represent will draw?"

Oh, I do love you, Dan - only in your world could Jim Murphy be a Cybernat. Doubtless Michael Forsyth will have become an evil separatist by next week's column.

"Do the people and politicians of Scotland honestly think the rest of the United Kingdom is going to simply sit back while they carry on the way they’ve been carrying on before, during and after September’s referendum? Do they genuinely believe they can continue demanding a series of referendums on independence in perpetuity, until they get the result right, or get bored of asking the question?"

Dan, let me put this to you. If as an English political class you want the result to be decisive and lasting, what you do (as you once suggested yourself) is step back and let Scotland make the decision for itself. What you don't do is beg - literally beg - Scotland to "stay" in return for Home Rule, near federalism and Devo SUPER Max, and then break that "Vow" within hours of the polls closing. You really have no-one but yourselves to blame, I'm afraid. The temptation of holding onto our natural resources and our usefulness as a nuclear weapons base was, I suspect, just too great.

Ah well, never mind. You're in danger of cracking up over this, Dan, but at least it makes a nice change from the 748th minor variation on your traditional "Ed Miliband is a bit like Frank Spencer" article.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SNP hold 17% lead in new Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

There's still no sign at all that the elusive "Murphy honeymoon" is having any effect whatever on the SNP's polling strength.  Nicola Sturgeon's party is at 44% in today's YouGov subsample, which is a touch higher than their recent average.  Admittedly Labour are also towards the upper end of their current "normal range" at 31% - that's probably just the effect of normal sampling variation, although it would be ironic if Murphy's coronation ended up slightly boosting both the SNP and Labour.  The logic for thinking that might happen is that some core Labour voters hate his guts, while lots of natural Tory voters love him to bits - ring any bells?

Today's update of the Poll of Polls is based on the recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, plus Scottish subsamples from eight GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, two from Populus and two from ComRes.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43.8% (-1.2)
Labour 26.7% (+0.2)
Conservatives 16.9% (+0.2)
Liberal Democrats 4.7% (+0.2)
UKIP 3.7% (+0.2)
Greens 3.2% (+0.3)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

There'll probably only be one more Poll of Polls update before the end of the year, because YouGov will shortly be closing down their daily polls for the Christmas/New Year period.  We'll then be into the scary twilight zone where public opinion might be changing without us having any way of knowing.  But from early January onwards, we'll have regular polling (at GB level) all the way through to polling day in May.

Incidentally, the above update doesn't include today's ICM poll in the Guardian, because the datasets haven't been published yet.  (I briefly thought I'd found them and posted the Scottish subsample on Twitter, only to realise that I was looking at the November poll!)  However, the Britain-wide figures are interesting, because they offer the first credible sign in ages that the Lib Dems might yet cling on to third place in the popular vote -

Britain-wide voting intentions (ICM, 12th-16th December) :

Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 28% (-3)
UKIP 14% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 14% (+3)
"Others" (including SNP) 6% (n/c)
Greens 5% (-1)

This of course flatly contradicts the picture painted by YouGov recently, which has suggested that the Lib Dems are roughly level-pegging with the Greens on around 6% or 7%, and only just barely ahead of the SNP and Plaid Cymru.  Most of the difference can probably be explained by data collection method - YouGov are an online firm, while ICM (at least in these polls) use telephone fieldwork.

If ICM are closer to the mark, it's hard to say whether it's good news for the SNP or not.  Assuming the Lib Dems are proving more resilient than expected in England, then that further increases the chances of a hung parliament, which is obviously exactly what we want.  But on the other hand there must be at least some kind of correlation between the Lib Dems' fortunes north and south of the border, and if they start to do too well it might threaten the SNP's chances in one or two of the more difficult target seats.  Then there's the issue of which party takes third place in the next House of Commons, which is not only psychologically important, but might also affect speaking rights in the chamber (for example at Prime Minister's Questions).

More damning evidence that the independence referendum was not fairly conducted : The Guardian reports that the "politically neutral" Queen was asked by the No campaign to interfere, and freely agreed to do so

One of the favourite tactics of the No campaign as the referendum approached was to portray their opponents as utterly paranoid - there was much mirth, for example, about the plans of some Yes voters to take their own pens with them to the polling station in case their votes were erased.  But as the saying goes, "just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not out to get you", and the evidence just continues to mount that the London establishment (political, media, business, you name it) flagrantly bent and breached the rules of the democratic process at their leisure to get the result they required in September.

With the benefit of hindsight, I may even have been a bit naive about just how far they were prepared to go.  When the media made a huge song and dance about a supposed "intervention" from the Queen that seemed to consist of nothing more than her being casually overheard to say to a member of the public that she hoped voters would think carefully about the big decision ahead of them, my reaction was this : Oh, come off it.  The Queen is probably anti-independence in private, and that has perhaps unwittingly shone through in the tone of her remark.  But she wasn't consciously saying anything at all, and she didn't expect to be overheard anyway.

If the Guardian is to be believed, and it probably should be because its sources seem plentiful and credible, the polar opposite is true.  It seems our unelected Head of State breached her clear and solemn duty to remain politically neutral, and consciously colluded with the UK government to set up a little scene that was intended to be helpful for the No campaign.  In retrospect, it should have been obvious that was what had happened, because the media's breathless reaction was an integral part of the whole pre-scripted drama (in a similar way to an earlier incident when Nick Robinson dutifully asked Barack Obama the question he had been told by Cameron's minions to ask).  If News at Ten is telling you that the Queen has "intervened" and that the London government is "delighted" about it, it's because journalists have been tipped the wink that these things don't happen by accident.  Of course, what those journalists should then do is react with moral outrage, offer full disclosure to their viewers and listeners, and use their investigative skills to work out what the hell is going on and whose heads will roll as a result.  But they don't do that, because the London-based broadcast media, just like the London-based civil service, see themselves as being "on holiday" from their duty of impartiality, and are enjoying being part of a collective establishment effort to "save the union".  (Don't be surprised if, just like their civil service counterparts, they eventually receive a trophy for their sterling efforts at a glittering awards ceremony.)  So they instead credulously report on how the Queen has intervened on behalf of the No campaign, and somehow done so in a completely impartial way that is entirely befitting of her office.

Even the Guardian's report today maintains that ludicrous doublethink, insisting there was a "determination to ensure [the Queen] did not cross a line".  Look, guys, if you've established that there was a clear and conscious intent to intervene and to have a direct impact on the referendum result, then it doesn't matter a damn what the nature of that intervention was and what exact words were used.  The line has been crossed, the constitutional duty has been breached.  And, needless to say, this is a two-way street - it was just as outrageous for the London government to ask the Queen to breach her duty of impartiality as it was for the Queen to agree.

It looks very much like the Queen's 'off-the-cuff' comment was scripted for her by the No campaign, and that she was fully aware that she was being overheard and would be interpreted in the 'correct' way.  What we don't seem to know yet is whether the well-wisher who asked her the question in the first place was a Better Together plant, but logically we must conclude that was probably the case.  That would have seemed paranoid beyond belief if anyone had suggested it at the time, even as a vague possibility.  But every day is an education in post-referendum North Britain.

The SNP leadership will of course defend the Queen to the hilt over this.  They'll either try to shut down the story completely, or will place the blame for any wrongdoing squarely with the London government.  That's an astute thing to do, because any Scottish government has to be on the same page as the majority of the Scottish population (albeit perhaps not an overwhelming majority) in assuming the Royal Family's good intentions.  But that shouldn't stop the rest of us speaking truth about an appalling abuse of privilege.

Alistair Davidson penned a thoughtful piece on Bella Caledonia yesterday in which he suggested that the No campaign under Blair McDougall had been tactically brilliant in identifying courses of action that would help them to narrowly win in the short-term, but had been strategically hopeless in failing to spot that what they were doing would destroy their cause in the longer-term.  That same verdict could easily apply to the whole London establishment, who couldn't seem to see past September 18th, and still can't.  How else do we explain the bizarre spectacle of the civil service patting themselves on the back in public about conduct during the referendum that they freely admit was "very close" to being inappropriate?  Haven't they seen the opinion polls recently?

The monarchy's short-sightedness is even more inexplicable, because unlike other London institutions it would have survived in Scotland, and quite possibly thrived, after independence.  But it seems that wasn't enough for them, and that the Queen simply had to be this country's Head of State in the way that she is accustomed to.  That irrational conservatism has led her to take a step that may have poisoned the goodwill that some Yes voters felt towards her, and may as a result make it somewhat less likely that Scotland will retain the monarchy for very long if it becomes independent in future.  Hey-ho.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Despair for Jim Murphy as early straws in the wind suggest his coronation has failed to dent the SNP's enormous opinion poll lead

Jackanory Jim's investiture as the High Priest of Patriotism was, according to his most devoted admirers (many of them southern Tories), supposed to produce some kind of "honeymoon effect" for Scottish Labour in the opinion polls.  To be fair, the jury is still out on whether that will prove to be the case, because we only have very limited evidence to go on so far.  But, for what it's worth, that early evidence provides no encouragement at all for followers of the Church of the Crate.

The first GB-wide poll to have been entirely conducted in the Murphy Era has just been published by YouGov, and the Scottish subsample shows the SNP ahead of Labour by 43% to 26%.  If anything, that's a tad higher than the type of lead that has been typical over the last three months.

We also have two subsamples from polls that were partly conducted after the Coming of the Crate-Meister.  Populus have the SNP ahead by 36% to 28%, which as you'll remember from the song-and-dance Mike Smithson made about the Populus aggregate for the month of November, is significantly higher than the average SNP lead shown by that firm of late.  ComRes also have the SNP on 36% - but they have Labour on an abysmally low 21%.

Things may yet get better for the Irn-Bru Icon - but then they sure as hell can't get much worse.

On a Britain-wide basis, the YouGov poll puts the SNP and Plaid Cymru just 1% behind the Liberal Democrats for the fourth time in the last couple of weeks.  The Greens have opened up a 2% lead over the Lib Dems for the first time in a YouGov poll, and are now just 6% behind UKIP. 

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 14th-15th December) :

Labour 34% (+2)
Conservatives 32% (n/c)
UKIP 14% (-2)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)
BNP 1% (+1)

Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett certainly couldn't have chosen a better moment to join forces to demand inclusion in the TV leaders' debates.

Is David Maddox at it again?

There's a short piece in the Scotsman by David Maddox which attempts to weave a narrative of (and I'm paraphrasing here) : Nicola Sturgeon has slapped down Alex Salmond by saying that only Trident, and not Devo Max, will be a red line in any post-election negotiations with Labour.  The SNP will merely "argue very strongly" for full fiscal autonomy.

If there was the slightest truth in that, I would be as concerned as anyone, because although I feel incredibly strongly about getting rid of nuclear weapons, I wouldn't want more powers for the Scottish Parliament to be de-emphasised.  I've had a look to see if I can find a video of Nicola Sturgeon's supposed comments, but without success.  I did, however, find an interview with her on yesterday's Good Morning Britain in which she says this -

"So that kind of arrangement [a confidence-and-supply deal with Labour] possibly, but we'd want commitments from Labour to substantial powers for the Scottish Parliament.  I'd want them to drop this crazy idea of renewing Trident nuclear weapons and putting them on the Clyde.  I think we'd want to see a change to the austerity agenda that's impoverishing so many kids, not just in Scotland of course, but across the UK.  So we'd drive a hard bargain."

That seems absolutely crystal-clear to me - a transfer of substantial powers to the Scottish Parliament is not just something that the SNP would be "arguing for", but is one of three things that they'd make a key part of any deal, and all three seem to be accorded equal importance.  I suppose Maddox's get-out clause might be that an insistence upon "substantial powers" is not the same thing as making full Devo Max an unbreachable red line.  But was the latter ever actually proposed by Alex Salmond? Or is Maddox using a creative interpretation of Salmond's rhetoric in an attempt to generate an "SNP split" where none exists?  I think we can probably guess.

If negotiations with Labour occur, it seems to be the case (as we've always assumed) that the SNP will simply be pushing for as many new powers as they can possibly get.  In those circumstances, it will be interesting to see what happens to abortion law, because of course that was something the Tories and Lib Dems were prepared to transfer to Holyrood, while Labour pompously insisted that they were never going to allow a situation where women would not have the same rights across the UK.  Leaving aside the fact that this is ignorant of the current reality (there are already two completely different abortion laws in the UK, one in Great Britain, one in Northern Ireland), it presumably means that women will be ineligible to become Fisheries Minister in both England and Scotland.  Isn't that right, Frank Doran?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Perhaps we should give Treasury civil servant Mario Pisani something to cry about properly?

You've probably already seen it on Newsnet Scotland, but this is nothing short of astonishing.  A team of civil servants in the London Treasury was last month given a special Civil Service Award for running a propaganda campaign in the run-up to the referendum that was designed to terrorise the electorate into voting No.  In their acceptance remarks, the team openly expressed pride for doing something that was, by their own admission, very close to being inappropriate.  They were also entirely shameless in setting themselves up as personal enemies to half the population of Scotland, as opposed to defining themselves as public servants who were dispassionately following instructions from politicians.

Mario Pisani : “In the Treasury, everyone hates you. We don't get thanks for anything. This is one occasion where we've worked with the rest of Whitehall.

We all had something in common, we're trying to save the Union here, and it came so close. We just kept it by the skin of our teeth. I actually cried when the result came in. After 10 years in the civil service, my proudest moment is tonight and receiving this award.

As civil servants you don't get involved in politics. For the first time in my life, suddenly we're part of a political campaign. We were doing everything from the analysis, to the advertising, to the communications. I just felt a massive sense of being part of the operation. This being recognised [at the Civil Service Awards], makes me feel just incredibly proud."

Shannon Cochrane : “we've learned that it is possible for civil servants to work on things that are inherently political and quite difficult, and you're very close to the line of what is appropriate, but it's possible to find your way through and to make a difference.”

Paul Doyle : “This award is not just for the Treasury, it's for all the hard work that was done by all government departments on the Scotland agenda.

The reality was in all my experience of the civil service, I have never seen the civil service pull together in the way they did behind supporting the UK government in maintaining the United Kingdom. It was a very special event for all of us.”

I know there are many readers of this blog who would be completely opposed to the SNP becoming part of a full coalition at Westminster after the general election, but let me ask you this - isn't there some appeal in the idea that within just five months, the proudly anti-independence Mario Pisani could be required to follow direct instructions from an SNP minister at the Treasury? By the sounds of things, that's a development that really would make him "actually cry".

*  *  *

The ever-reliable George Eaton has kept the laughs coming - he's claimed that Jim Murphy's Clause IV wheeze exhibits "the kind of imagination and creativity that will be required in the months ahead". Imagination? Really? Frankly, I'm struggling to think of anything LESS imaginative than a Blairite politician saying to himself : "Now, I need my own Clause IV moment, just like Tony. What could it possibly be? Wait, I know, why don't I rewrite Clause IV?"

The current abomination of a Clause IV as dreamt up by Blair starts promisingly enough by stating "The Labour party is a democratic socialist party", but then goes on to explain why the Labour party is not in fact a democratic socialist party. For my money, a new constitution needn't be longer than about twenty words to meet Jackanory Jim's specifications -

"The Labour party is a Democratic Socialist But party, and a Proud Scots But party. We love Irn-Bru."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Misery for Murphy as sparkling SNP seize sizeable Scottish Parliament lead in new YouGov poll

I've only got a couple of minutes to spare before I pop out for the rest of the day, but I thought you might be interested to see the Holyrood figures that have now been released from the new YouGov poll...

Holyrood constituency voting intentions :

SNP 50% (+4)
Labour 28% (n/c)
Conservatives 14% (+2)
UKIP 3% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-2)
Greens 2% (-3)

Holyrood regional list voting intentions :

SNP 42% (+4)
Labour 26% (n/c)
Conservatives 14% (+2)
Greens 7% (-3)
UKIP 4% (-2)
SSP 3% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-1)

Even with the Greens slipping back somewhat, it remains the case that the SNP's hopes are threatened most by people who voted for them on the constituency ballot drifting off to the Greens or SSP on the list ballot.  That's fair enough if those people actually regard the Greens or SSP as their number one choice, but if they instead think they're doing it as some kind of pro-independence "tactical vote", it's folly in the extreme.  As the 2011 result amply demonstrated, "tactical voting" on the list is a mug's game, and has at least a 50/50 chance of either not working or backfiring completely.

On a more positive note, it's worth remembering that it was on the list vote that the pollsters were miles out in 2011, so it could be that an aggressive "vote twice for an SNP government" strategy will do the trick again.

It doesn't look like YouGov have weighted by recalled referendum vote, because excluding didn't votes/can't remembers/refusers, the recalled Yes vote is 47.1%, compared to an actual Yes vote in September of 44.7%.  That's a pretty narrow gap, though, so the impact would be relatively modest even if an additional new weighting was introduced.  On the question asking for voting intentions for a hypothetical new referendum, Yes are slightly ahead even on the raw unweighted data.  Compare that to the famous YouGov poll showing Yes ahead ten days before polling, when No remained ahead on the unweighted numbers.  There really does seem to have been a sea-change over the last three months.

UPDATE : A point that's just occurred to me is that it would actually be wrong for YouGov to weight by recalled referendum vote, because they're only using over-18s for their current polls, and nobody has a clue what the referendum result was if 16 and 17 years olds are excluded.

Will Jackanory Jim even lead Scottish Labour into the 2016 Holyrood election?

The newly-installed "leader" of Labour's branch office in Scotland made clear during the campaign that as far as he was concerned he was also running to become First Minister.  But will Murphy even get to the point of submitting himself to the voters on that basis in May 2016?  I can think of at least four ways in which he might be dislodged before then...

1) He might stand in East Renfrewshire at next year's general election and be defeated.  People quite naturally talk about Murphy's personal vote and the bonus he may get from his visibility as "leader", but both of those points are already factored into the 2010 baseline result, which saw Murphy as the incumbent Scottish Secretary defeat the Tories by more than 10,000 votes in a constituency that in its "wild state" ought to have been either a safe Tory seat, or at best a Tory-Labour marginal.  So there's no obvious reason to suppose that he'll be enjoying a personal advantage over and above the one he had last time, which means that the following figures are entirely relevant -

Swing required for the SNP to defeat Murphy : 21.0%

Current national Labour-to-SNP swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 20.3%

Swing required for the Conservatives to defeat Murphy : 10.2%

Current national Labour-to-Conservative swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 7.8%

It looks a bit close for comfort on both fronts.  Yes, the likelihood is that the SNP's national lead over Labour will at least reduce as polling day approaches, but I don't see how anyone can ponder the above figures and conclude that East Renfrewshire looks at this moment like a shoo-in for Labour.  If Murphy were to lose, it's not entirely clear to me whether he would be automatically required by the party's rules to relinquish the leadership - but his position would surely be untenable anyway.

2) He might resign as an MP, stand in a Holyrood by-election and be defeated.  We all know that by-election campaigns can be as mad as a bucket of frogs and produce stunning upsets, and you can guarantee that the SNP would throw the kitchen sink at this one.  Murphy might seek to avert the "by-election bubble" problem by engineering a contest to take place on the same day as the general election, but then he would risk being carried away by a nationwide SNP tidal wave - if the current momentum continues (which is admittedly a big if).

3) He might take the rap for heavy losses to the SNP next May, even if he wins his own seat.  In theory, there's no particular reason why he should take the rap, because Ed Miliband is the leader in Westminster terms and Murphy will only be playing a support role in the general election campaign.  But it's Murphy himself who has chosen to personalise this by repeatedly claiming that he will ensure that Labour retains every single Westminster seat that they currently hold.  He might be able to gloss over the loss of Falkirk and one or two other seats, but if the carnage is as great as the opinion polls currently suggest, the media will be in a position to recite his words back to him over and over again and make his leadership look like an abject failure.  (Although the million dollar question is whether the media would actually choose to put him under that kind of pressure, because the likes of Kenny Farquharson seem to have a rather sweet crush on Jackanory Jim.)

4) He might not be able to resist standing for the UK Labour leadership if a vacancy occurs next year, or he might be tempted by an offer of a senior Shadow Cabinet post from Miliband's successor.  It's no secret that Murphy sees his native country as a backwater, and would never have dreamed of heading to the Scottish Parliament if his career prospects under Miliband hadn't looked as bleak as they did.  But if Labour are defeated in the UK general election, the situation will change, because Miliband will almost certainly no longer be leader.  Assuming Murphy is still MP for East Renfrewshire, he would be eligible to run for the UK party leadership, or to return immediately to the Shadow Cabinet in a senior role if another Blairite becomes leader.  Yes, he'd know that would leave the Scottish party in a state of utter chaos, but let's be honest - if he no longer has a personal investment, do we really think he would care?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Scotland swings decisively behind the SNP and independence in amazing new YouGov poll

The headline results from a new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov have been released by the Sun on Twitter.  So far I haven't been able to track down the fieldwork dates, but Calum Findlay mentioned yesterday evening that he'd just taken part in this poll, so it's presumably bang up to date.  Let's hope so, because the results are very much at the extreme upper end of what my expectations would have been.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 47% (+4)
Labour 27% (n/c)
Conservatives 16% (+1)
Greens 3% (-1)
UKIP 3% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-1)

There have of course been two post-referendum polls from other firms that were even better than this for the SNP (Ipsos-Mori gave them a 29-point lead and Survation gave them a 22-point lead).  But to see a gap of as high as 20 points from YouGov is still a bit startling, because that firm's previous estimate of a 16-point lead was more in line with the average results of their daily subsamples.  In fact, the SNP's subsample lead both today and yesterday was exactly 16 points.  And perhaps more significantly, the party's raw share of the vote in the subsamples has more often than not been quite a bit lower than 47%.  So this poll raises the serious possibility that the daily GB-wide YouGov polls have been understating the SNP's strength, in spite of the party performing outstandingly well in them.  To be fair, there's always been a straightforward reason for supposing that might have been going on - in GB-wide polls YouGov use Westminster-oriented weighting by party ID.

The other point that leaps out is just how dreadfully badly the smaller parties are doing.  I had assumed that the Liberal Democrats' 4% share in the last YouGov poll was a freakish result, but the chances of them being significantly underestimated by random margin-of-error effects in two consecutive polls is obviously pretty low.  The jury is still out on UKIP, though, because they fared a bit better in the last poll.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48%
No 45%

It's impossible to know the exact significance of this result until we see the datasets, or find out whether there have been any methodological changes.  The last YouGov poll (which was the only other post-referendum poll from the firm to ask the independence question) produced almost identical results to this, putting Yes on 49% and No on 45%.  However, it was immediately criticised by John Curtice and one or two others for not weighting by recalled referendum vote, which would have had the effect of keeping No in the lead, albeit only very narrowly.  I was slightly cynical about that intervention, because I don't recall Curtice making similar unofficial adjustments to the many pre-referendum polls that failed to weight by country of birth, and which therefore underestimated the Yes vote.  However, it's possible that YouGov will have heeded his complaint, in which case tonight's result is even better for Yes, because it suggests there has probably been a further swing in real terms since the last poll.

If they haven't made any methodological change (which is also perfectly possible - they may want to keep the trend figures meaningful) then it means there hasn't been a further swing, but also that the headline numbers remain directly comparable with pre-referendum YouGov polls, which in all but one (legendary) case had No ahead.  So either way there is no real doubt that a significant number of voters have been converted to independence since September 18th.

[UPDATE : A point that's just occurred to me is that it would actually be wrong for YouGov to weight by recalled referendum vote, because they're only using over-18s for their current polls, and nobody has a clue what the referendum result was if 16 and 17 years olds are excluded.]

Views on the Smith Commission and its proposals for further devolution :

It doesn't devolve enough powers : 51%
It gets the balance right : 23%
It goes too far : 14%

And there, in a nutshell, is the explanation for why the SNP have either maintained their advantage over Labour or increased it somewhat - it appears that they've comprehensively won the battle of perceptions over Smith.  It's all very well for Michael Portillo to sit on a BBC sofa in London, smirking at Alex Salmond like an overgrown schoolboy while tittering : "The Vow has been delivered!  You know that!  You're just playing games!"  But unfortunately for the London establishment and the Daily Record (is there a difference between the two?), it turns out that Scottish voters are not half as stupid as Portillo takes them for.  They know what they heard Gordon Brown promise - and they also know that what the Smith Commission has come up with is quite simply not "Home Rule".  Nor is it "near federalism".  Nor is it the "Devo SUPER Max" promised by Better Together's official representative at the TV debate in the Hydro.

Assuming that YouGov only offered respondents the three options listed above, roughly 58% of people who gave a view said that the Smith proposals are inadequate.  It's also fascinating to see how few people thought the proposals go too far, because that must encompass the evidently dwindling group who are opposed to devolution/self-government altogether.

I've been slightly bemused over the last few days and weeks by the number of London commentators who appear to think that Scottish Labour's problems are being caused by a "leadership vacuum" and that some sort of "honeymoon period" for Jackanory Jim is about to provide a quick fix.  In reality, the Scottish media have been shamelessly treating Murphy as the unofficial leader for weeks now, so that's already factored into the polling results.  To be fair, that doesn't necessarily mean that what's going on is Murphy's fault.  The electorate know that Miliband is the real leader, and above all else it's him that they don't like, rate, trust, or respect.

*  *  *


Tonight's Poll of Polls update is based on the full-scale YouGov poll, plus Scottish subsamples from five GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, and one from Populus.  That means fourteen-fifteenths of the sample comes from YouGov, which is plainly less than ideal!

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 45.0% (+2.4)
Labour 26.5% (-0.4)
Conservatives 16.7% (+0.6)
Liberal Democrats 4.5% (-1.8)
UKIP 3.5% (-1.1)
Greens 2.9% (+0.5)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

How are the SNP faring on the transfer market?

Craig Murray suggested the other day that I should take a look at how people who vote for unionist parties are using their lower preferences in local council elections.  There's probably not much point in examining what's been going on over a long timescale, because a) it would be an enormous undertaking, and b) what we're really interested in is the pattern since the referendum, to see if there's any clue as to who might benefit from tactical voting next May.  So let's concentrate for now on the most recent by-elections.

Probably most interesting is how Labour voters are behaving, because even in these darkest of days for the party they still have considerably more voters out there than the Tories or Lib Dems do.  At the Elgin North by-election yesterday, the Labour candidate was the last to be eliminated, so his votes could only be transferred to either the independent candidate or the SNP.  This is how they split -

Independent 98
SNP 77

Given that the SNP won the election, it's clear there was a disproportionate anti-SNP (or pro-independent) leaning among Labour voters as compared to the ward's electorate as a whole, but the difference was fairly mild.  They certainly weren't going against the SNP as a bloc.

The Troup by-election in Aberdeenshire two weeks ago was effectively an SNP-Tory battle (which the SNP won comfortably), but the Labour candidate was eliminated at an earlier stage of the count, so his votes were transferrable to the SNP, the Tories, the Lib Dems or an independent.  This is the breakdown -

Liberal Democrats 31
SNP 22
Conservatives 16
Independent 8

Given the unpopularity of the Lib Dems these days, it's probably significant that Labour voters preferred the party of Clegg to a winning SNP candidate.  On the other hand, there's no evidence here that they preferred the Tories to the SNP - albeit we can't be sure where the greater number of transfers would have gone if the Lib Dems hadn't been an option.  The North Coast and Cumbraes contest may help in that regard, because Labour votes were only transferrable to the SNP, Tories or an independent -

Independent 177
Conservatives 122
SNP 111

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this suggests that many Labour voters don't like either the SNP or the Tories very much, and are happy enough to find any sort of alternative to both.  To the extent that they did exercise a preference, it was for the Tories - just - but again we don't know what would have happened if there had been a straight choice.

It's also worth remembering that Labour are very much down to their core vote at the moment, so the numbers above aren't telling us much about the behaviour of Labour voters from the 2010 general election, many of whom will have given their first preference vote to the SNP in these contests and had done with it.  I also very much doubt if Labour sympathisers who voted tactically for the SNP in the last general election in places like Perth to keep the Tories out will suddenly find that they now prefer the Tories to the SNP.

As for Tory voters,'s a somewhat clearer picture.  Here's what they did in Elgin North -

Independent 96
Labour 52

And in Oban North and Lorn -

Independent 183
Labour 91
SNP 12

And in North Coast and Cumbraes -

Independent 589
SNP 123

And in Midlothian East -

Labour 100
Independent 83
SNP 27

So Tory voters consistently prefer Labour to the SNP by some distance, and in one case even prefer Labour to the convenient option of plumping for neither of the traditional "enemies".  Unlike Labour voters, then, Tories have enthusiastically fallen into line with their party leadership in viewing the other main unionist party as an ally.

OK, there are any number of people out there who once upon a time would have been considered "natural Tories" and who now vote SNP - but they're likely to have made the jump a long time ago, not since 2010.  (We know that because the Tory vote hasn't slumped any further in recent years.)  So the above numbers do tell us quite a lot about the attitudes of people who voted Tory in 2010.

By the way, if I'd done a post specifically about Elgin North, the headline would have been either 'Lousy Labour Earn Elgin Earbashing as Serene SNP Slide to Success' or 'Sturgeon Steals the Elgin Marbles', but I decided to spare you.