Monday, May 26, 2014

SNP win the European elections - and the big losers are blundering Peter Kellner, and the BBC results programme

If I can trust the BBC website, 31 out of 32 councils in Scotland have declared, and it's now absolutely clear that the SNP are going to win the popular vote in the European elections by about 3% or so.  Their share of the vote is going to be roughly 29%, which we know must be good, because it's exactly what UKIP are getting across Great Britain, and the BBC keep telling us that's an absolutely bloody fantastic result.  In fact, it must be even better for the SNP than it is for UKIP, because you'd expect the SNP to suffer as an incumbent government, whereas UKIP are a 'free hit' protest vote party that have never governed anywhere at any time.

(UPDATE : It now looks certain that the SNP's share of the vote in Scotland will in fact be HIGHER than UKIP's across Britain as a whole after the London result is declared.)

And yet just a couple of hours ago, YouGov's Peter Kellner smugly informed the nation that Labour were heading for victory in Scotland.  Viewers of the BBC results show will have been forgiven for taking that wildly implausible claim seriously, because it was shorn of all context - it was the first time any Scottish results had been mentioned (other than a very brief comment from Kellner himself about Aberdeen).  Now, of course, the trends of early results can sometimes be unrepresentative, and if that was the case he could be forgiven for leading people astray.  But that categorically isn't what happened.  He immediately explained the percentage changes that had led him to conclude that Labour were winning, and they made no logical sense whatever - they in fact suggested that the SNP were heading for victory by about 2% or 3%.  It seems he hadn't even bothered to check the baseline figures from 2009 before coming into the studio.  The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson then had an immediate opportunity to correct an obviously flawed piece of arithmetic, but clearly he didn't know the baseline figures either, and instead eagerly seized on the latest concocted "blow for Alex Salmond" narrative.

When Mr Salmond appeared on the show later and pointed out that the SNP were in fact winning, and John Curtice implicitly accepted that to be true, I waited to hear the apology from David Dimbleby for the incorrect steer earlier.  I waited in vain.  An utter shambles, and it just ain't on.  We should have been watching a dedicated Scottish results programme - on past form that probably would have been less than perfect, but there's still no way it would have made such an unforgiveable mistake and then failed to come clean about it.

So just how good is this victory for the SNP?  The first point to make is that they've increased their lead over Labour by roughly 2% since their historic local election triumph two years ago.  Part of that can be explained by the fact that the SNP don't have to face the same challenge from rural independents in European elections that they do in local elections, but nevertheless this can probably be regarded as a slightly better result than 2012.  The most direct comparison is of course with the last European elections in 2009, when the SNP were assisted on their way to a decisive win by the unpopularity of Gordon Brown's Labour government.  Remarkably, in spite of the fact that Labour are now the challenging party at Westminster and should be sweeping all before it (especially in a supposed heartland like Scotland), the SNP have retained exactly the same share of the vote.  Brian Taylor has just claimed that the Nationalists will be disappointed that their vote "eased down" - well, as far as I can see, it's eased down by precisely 0.07%.  Let's get real here - they've replicated the 2009 result.

The other extraordinary claim that Brian Taylor made was that UKIP's snatching of a Scottish seat would somehow prevent Alex Salmond from pointing out that the political cultures of Scotland and the rest of the UK have totally diverged.  To be fair, Taylor did go on to concede that UKIP receiving 10% of the vote in Scotland and finishing fourth is still a rather different result from UKIP receiving 29% of the vote in the UK and finishing first, but he maintained that UKIP's seat would "complicate" the message.  Hmmm.  I'd suggest that's a distinction between the SNP being in a position to hammer their point home, and them being in a position to hammer the point so hard that it falls out the other end attached to a large slab of wood.

Incidentally, I had a chat on Twitter a few hours ago with an anti-independence troll who claimed that the SNP had "the UKIP bunting out".  I'll just pause briefly to note the irony of that remark in the light of Brian Taylor revealing that Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are all privately celebrating the fact that UKIP have taken a seat in Scotland, because they think that a minor scrap of success for a borderline-racist, anti-European party will somehow assist their anti-independence campaign.  That appears to be all that matters to them at the moment.

The other important question is how this result tallies up with recent opinion polls, and what it can tell us about which pollster is most reliable in respect of the referendum.  As it turns out, all of the pollsters who produced European voting intention figures - No-friendly and Yes-friendly alike - have overestimated the SNP.  That doesn't surprise me, because ever since PR was introduced for European elections all of the parties have consistently failed to break through the 30% barrier in Scotland, regardless of their showing in the opinion polls.  Probably a more realistic guide is the gap between the SNP and Labour, and on that measure YouGov were closest to the truth - but only in their sole full-scale Scottish poll, which underestimated the SNP lead by just 1%.  By contrast, YouGov's subsample results (including some very large subsamples) tended to wrongly suggest that Labour were winning in Scotland, which is yet another powerful indication that the sampling and weighting methods that YouGov use for Scottish respondents in GB-wide polls is totally misconceived.

But if this means that the methodology that YouGov use for full-scale Scottish polling is more reliable than some other pollsters (and that can only be a very tentative conclusion), is that good news or bad news for the Yes campaign?  Probably neither.  YouGov are still a No-friendly pollster, but only just - they've moved a long way towards the middle in recent months, and their most recent poll showed a No lead that was only 1% higher than the current average for all BPC pollsters.

Perhaps a more encouraging indicator is the fact that across Britain as a whole, online pollsters have done quite well.  Indeed, one of the most inaccurate polls of all was the highly-regarded ICM telephone poll for the Guardian, which put the Conservatives in first place for the European elections.  That's significant because online polls have tended to be more optimistic for the Yes camp than telephone polls (albeit telephone polls have been very few and far between in the referendum campaign, and have thus far only been conducted by Ipsos-Mori).

All in all we probably shouldn't jump to too many conclusions about the inaccuracy of certain polls, because there's a special challenge in trying to take account of differential turnout in an election where only about a third of people bother to vote.  A referendum in which perhaps 75% or 80% of people turn out to vote will be an entirely different proposition, and it could well be that pollsters who got it wrong tonight may yet prove to be more accurate in September.

The talk of the town among independence supporters in recent days was the question of which party was best-placed to deny UKIP a seat.  As I and a number of others have been predicting, the answer turned out to be the SNP.  When the d'Hondt formula is applied for the final seat (which will divide the SNP and Labour votes by three and the Tory vote by two), the SNP will be significantly ahead of Labour, the Tories and the Greens - and probably in that order, unless the Western Isles throws up a major shock.  Doubtless the Greens will still try to make the case that any extra votes for the SNP would also have been divided by three, and therefore tactical voting for the Greens could have closed the gap on UKIP at a faster rate.  But really that's a hopeless argument - if the Greens were to have any chance of claiming a seat, they needed to give some indication of being capable of breaking through the 10% barrier on their own merits, before taking into account the effect of the relatively small number of 'politically aware' people who were considering a tactical switch from the SNP.  Not a single opinion poll placed them anything like that high, and although the 8% share they claimed tonight is at the absolute higher end of my expectations, they were clearly never seriously in the running.  In relative terms they would have needed to increase their raw vote by a full third to overhaul the four parties that were ahead of them for the final seat, whereas the SNP would only have needed to increase theirs by less than a tenth to pip UKIP at the post.

I was firmly taken to task on a Hearts forum (ie. the football club) by an SNP supporter on Thursday, who suggested I was "incredibly patronising" for saying this -

"Maggie Chapman is a very fine candidate (and an asset for the Yes campaign), and if your number one priority is to have her as an MEP representing Scotland, then by all means vote Green - even though the chances of success look very slim indeed. But just be aware that it isn't going to stop David Coburn or UKIP."

I suppose I can see how that might look patronising when taken out of context, but in my defence I would say two things -

1) The point I made did turn out to be true.

2) When I wrote the post it was already deep into polling day, and it was becoming frustratingly clear on social media that some SNP supporters were being misled by James Mackenzie's spin on an unweighted YouGov subsample that put the Greens on 11%, and that had the SNP behind Labour.  In those circumstances, there didn't seem to be much point in pussyfooting around.

However, if anyone felt offended or patronised, I do apologise, and I'll try to be more tactful in future!

Final thought - this result is another hammerblow for the No campaign's resident referendum "seer", Ian Smart.  If his oracular insights into the trends shown by recent local by-elections had been on the right track, Labour should have won easily in Scotland tonight, rather than being beaten by the SNP in yet another national election.  Smart has also been relentlessly talking up the Scottish Tories recently - and that theory has fallen flat as well.  Ruth Davidson's troops have increased their share of the vote, but only by a measly 0.39%.


  1. What were you expecting from english imperialists? Scotland is a sad little colony about which they couldn't give a fk.

    And it is yet another election where Scotland suffers because of the broadcasting of the english campaign into our homes 24/7.

    Elections are supposed to be Free and Fair. When was the last time that happened here?

  2. Surely only a matter of time before the out of touch PB tories and Smithson declare winning in scotland is a 'disaster for Salmond'.


    They really are that clueless over there. What happened after the 2009 result that this SNP result tonight seems to mirror?

    Landslide win for the SNP.

    So yeah, winning with that vote is a real bad result for the SNP, isn't it?


    The kipper surge is entirely in line with what last May and all the polling trends since was indicating would happen. Not that those of us who kept pointing that out were listened to of course.

    It also looks like those of us who have been saying Clegg is toxic for years have been proved 100% correct yet again.

    Wee Danny Alexander apparently claimed on Radio 4 that Clegg was the lib dems "strongest asset".

    Pure Comedy Gold.

    That'll be precisely why the lib dem's utterly incompetent leadership are most accurately described as Clegg's ostrich faction.

    I still doubt any of the would be lib dem leadership hopefulls actually have the balls to challenge Clegg. So happily he'll keep driving the yellow tories to the outer fringes they so rightly deserve.

    As for the pitiful BBC coverage, no change there then. Exactly what did they expect would happen when they had wall to wall kipper coverage for months? Doesn't matter that the tories and right-wing press were attacking them for most of that time. They are a protest vote so just like last May that was always going to backfire. They want publicity and as much of it as possible. When they are ignored their polling starts to tank, just like it did after last May.

  3. As predicted, the out of touch PB twits like SouthamObserver are claiming Salmond was awful for pointing out the bleeding obvious. The SNP won. What part of that don't the imbeciles get?

    So the BBC view is -

    Triumph for UKIP who win EU election in rUK on 29% of vote Blow for SNP who win EU election in Scotland on 29% of vote.


  4. 29% or so is a good result for the SNP as a party, but as everyone knows, the proximity of the referendum has set the bar far higher. We need an awful lot of people who voted for Unionist parties to vote Yes.

  5. Very upsetting that UKIP sneaked in between SNP and Greens. I don't think that folk should transfer that obvious disappointment directly onto the referendum campaign.

    These UK EU election results will be the required eye opener they always promised to be. The average Scottish Labour voter will certainly not share in their betterNO leadership's celebrations of this UKIP seat gain in Scotland as proof that 'we are all as bad as each other on these Islands, so lets just carry on regardless!'

    The truth of the situation is quite easy to understand especially when reported as crudely as it is being on the BBC and MSM. UKIP 29% crushing victory in England! SNP 29% crushing failure in Scotland!

    Meanwhile Labour are struggling to get second place in England and may actually end up behind the Tories with only a year until the UK general election!

    All this added to the fact that the betterNO campaign now have a new, highly vocal freshly elected (in a blaze of publicity) rightwing voice in their midsts. A unionist voice they can't simply refuse to let join their unionist alliance by dismissing him as irrelevant to Scottish politics (a line used up until now).

    I think this will damage betterNO much more than we can imagine, by ramming a wedge between the leadership and their soft 'sensible' Labour NO voters. All aided and abetted by an overly helpful BBC and MSM.


  6. you are going to lose the referendum big time

    Labour 25.9%

    SNP 28.9&

    Ukip 10.4%

    Con 25.9%

    Lib Dems 7.1%

    Green 8.1%

    do the math the loyal unionist vote is massive compared
    to the puny pro-nat vote

    a ukiper wins under a snp dictatorship who would of
    believed up to today......not me !!!

    you lot are Cleggy

  7. Are you even aware of yourself and what you have become Niko?

    It was a 33.5% turnout by the way, hardly yer massive loyal unionist vote.

    Still planning to be 'massively loyal unionist' and retired in Cyprus after the vote?


  8. Hmm, quite apart from the low turnout, that assumes Niko that you can add up all the unionist party votes in the NO column. Not so. I believe there are quite a number of kippers in the YES column. I'm not sure of the numbers - I'm sure Scottish_Skier has an idea. ;)

  9. Niko, 1/4 of people who voted UKIP plan to vote Yes in September. Yes might not like that idea but normal countries have both a right and a left. There are also Tories for Yes, Labour for Yes, Libs...

    Anyway, UKIP have likely just guaranteed a Yes. Social media full of No and DK to Yes switchers this morning. That and shy Yes coming out.

    Thanks Nigel. You may have just ended the union.

    The cross-border difference is so incredibly stark. Hilarious the way the MSM is trying to hide it desperately. UK returns comfortably over 51% Tory/Extreme Tory, Scotland just over 1/4 on a low turnout.

    No polishing this turd for BT. They'd be better not advertising oor wee kipper at all.

  10. As you say James, I don't think too much can be read in to this - turnout was way less than half what it's predicted to be in the referendum. On the bright side, as the Rev points out this will at least mean that one of the pro-union voices in the next few months will be a Kipper, which is surely good for Yes.

    On the tactical voting front, I was one of many who considered voting green (though ultimately I went SNP given the polling evidence that they were closer). As it turns out, SNP and Tories were the closest contenders to take the seat the UKIP took. By my reckoning, in the final round, SNP were short of UKIP by 10699.7 votes (after division), the Tories were 24869 short (after division), and Greens were 32229 short. The SNP would have needed 3x10699.7=32099 more votes to take the 6th seat, the tories 49738, and greens (having a divisor of 1) just those 32229. So the SNP were marginally closer to taking the seat than the Greens - and with hindsight would have been the best recipient for anti-UKIP tactical voting.

  11. Of course, above should say "SNP, Greens and Tories were the closest contenders..."

  12. Hi Sandy, unless I've made a mistake Labour were also closer to the final seat than the Tories and the Greens were (after the d'Hondt calculation, I mean, not in terms of the absolute number of extra votes they would have needed).

    I make it -

    UKIP 140534
    SNP 129834.3
    Labour 116073
    Conservatives 115665
    Greens 108305
    Liberal Democrats 95319

  13. You're right, I have the same numbers. Labour are 24461 short of the third seat after division by 3, meaning they'd have needed an extra 73383 real votes to take the 6th seat.

    I was commenting based on the absolute extra numbers of votes needed - as from a campaigning point of view those are what would really need to change to impact on the result. The numbers after d'Hondt is applied are somewhat artificial - they all start to look pretty close after a few rounds.

  14. "as from a campaigning point of view those are what would really need to change to impact on the result."

    Yes, but the reality is that an extra 30,000 votes would have been a much tougher hurdle for the Greens than it would have been for a bigger party like the SNP (or Labour).

  15. Good point!

  16. This gentleman posting as "Niko" and of purported Greek extraction would, actually, seem to have more in common with the decadent and decaying elements of the Ottoman variation on the "Union".

    Both Grivas and Ataturk his trolling , opportunist bahookie (as would have the Greek Colonels, whom he seems to admire) for his Great Game divisive gambits in the fashion of the imperial British security services in his theoretical heartland (and elsewhere in the previously imperial pink world).

    Ergo,am curious about this individual's (s's) background(s).

  17. Erratum: "...Ataturk would have kicked his trolling..."