Saturday, September 27, 2014

A high information island

A guest post by Bibbit Blair

I was a YES polling agent on 18th September, in Kilmory Hall, Arran. I was there at 6.45 to witness the (empty) ballot box put in situ. I was there at 10.05 pm when it was sealed. Another YES person and I took turns being at the polling station all day. We decided to do our own very unofficial exit poll, between us. We reached our tallies based on: people volunteering info, seeing badges, people taking our leaflets, people not taking our leaflets (including people glaring as if we were trying to hand them a dead rat), one woman shouting that I was breaking the law, as I could not ‘electioneer’. When I explained that my presence had been checked at 6.45 that morning by Council officials, and offered to show her my polling agent card she went off grumbling. Her husband simply looked embarrassed. Shrill Home County (that’ll be a NO then). By the way there was no ‘NO’ polling agent at our polling station.

I asked the council officials number of voters and they advised that, barring postal votes, a maximum of 340 voters could turn up to vote. We counted 300ish voters. The overall vote we reached in our very imperfect way was 67% YES 33% NO. So we were feeling confident YES were going to win for many reasons, as our wee demographic should have been a strong NO area, ie. the vast majority of our voters seen were over 55, with a good number over 65. (Of course the 16-17 year olds would have been away at college by then and voting postally or by proxy but very few 16-17s sighted). We are in a rural area, traditionally Tory farming types and finally, a very high proportion of non ‘Scots-born’ reside on Arran. So we were pretty stunned at what we were tallying up. Before tea-time it was the NOs ahead by about 52-48. but there was a big surge of voters between 5-7 pm which turned it round for YES. We reckoned the non-Scots, very surprisingly, voted by a very narrow margin in favour of YES. The farmers also surprised us, as their vote was also split 50-50. The story seemed to be repeated across the island and people at the count on the mainland advised us that again unofficially (as Arran is in a ward with Ardrossan) that the ballot boxes from Arran were a YES win by about 55% YES to 45% NO, the opposite of the Scotland-wide result...

So why did we buck the trends with our older population (hundreds retire to Arran, very few young families can afford to stay here), non-native Scots population? Well it was probably offset by a very high proportion of artists/creative types who predominately vote YES, a very well organised Arran for YES group, but I think the clincher was simply that the Arran population educated itself online rather than relying on papers. You see we often can’t buy papers, so as an island we have slipped into a habit of not doing so. Ferry service in winter months means papers don’t get put in shop shelves until 1 o’clock, so people go online for news, far more than other demographics who can buy papers anytime, all day. We also had a star studded cast of Yes celebrities coming to Arran all through the campaign and the public really engaged with that process in halls, etc. (Dr Whitford, John Swinney, Kenny Gibson, Patrick Harvie, Lesley Riddoch, the two boys who did the Scotland Yet documentary, among others.)  All the 16-17s were for YES. As I said most of their Tory/Labour grannies were NOs.

So no doubt about it when the truth is sought the people vote YES. We really need a Scots news channel on Freeview and also a paper even if the latter is just for a short period before an election or referendum.

What do the parties' choice of nominees to the devolution commission tell us?

The short answer to that question is that it looks very much like the SNP are the ones who are serious about successfully reaching a genuine compromise - John Swinney and Linda Fabiani both strike me as natural conciliators who members of other parties find it difficult to dislike.  By contrast, I can't even imagine what sort of message the Lib Dems' appointment of Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott, and the Tories' appointment of Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!!" Tomkins, is supposed to be sending out.  Both men are noted for their irrational tribal loathing of the Scottish national movement.  In the case of Tomkins, you can kind of see the logic for having him there (even though he isn't, to the best of my knowledge, a member of the Conservative party), because he was the architect of the party's blueprint for greater devolution, and they'd want someone with a mastery of the details in on the discussions - although the snag is that he has a self-image of being an infallible God-like figure, so how flexible he'll be when he discovers that others think his blueprint can be (gasp!) improved upon is open to question.

Scott is a different matter.  His own personal loathing of the SNP famously extended to refusing even to enter into the most preliminary of discussions on a possible coalition after the 2007 election, even though his party had happily compromised for eight years to sit in coalition with the Labour party.  If these negotiations are to have a chance of succeeding, they will surely require the (nominally) federalist Lib Dems to act as the bridge between the Devo Max-supporting SNP and Greens on the one hand and the Devo Minor-supporting Tories and Labour on the other hand.  Is Scott the man to achieve that, or will he turn his back on his own party's policies so that he can do what every instinct in his body will be telling him to do, ie. side with Labour and the Tories?

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I went to the Ryder Cup yesterday.  I bought the ticket last year when the random draw was held, and suffice to say that one day was all I was ever going to be able to afford.  With such ridiculous prices, it's unsurprising that there wasn't the same kind of democratic crowd we saw at the Commonwealth Games - it was mostly dyed-in-the-wool golf aficionados, plus a lot of corporate-looking people.

From my own point of view, the timing wasn't ideal, because for obvious reasons I'm still feeling a bit shell-shocked.  So I spent most of the day just trying very hard to concentrate on what I was actually looking at!  It was fun, though - there aren't many sporting events where you can turn around at any moment and find someone like Justin Rose sitting right next to you in a buggy.  The crowd was infectiously raucous, and of course Gleneagles itself is absolutely stunning.

The place was drenched in tartan, and kilts, and slogans about Scotland being "a land of #brilliantmoments".  I couldn't help wondering if international visitors thought this display of Scottishness-not-Britishness was a bit peculiar from a country that has just decided (albeit perhaps only for the time being, and only by a relatively narrow margin) not to be a proper country, and that was even grotesquely "congratulated" by the US President for voting not to join the global family of nations.  I'm sure the contradiction won't seem so strange once a few months have elapsed - after all, we've lived with it all of our lives.  But right at this moment it does feel very, very odd.  When the train pulled in to Gleneagles station, we were welcomed by a piper - surely in the light of the No vote, it should have been Bernard Cribbins singing Right Said Fred?

This is one side of their decision that I think a lot of No voters are in denial about.  How many times during the campaign did we hear Scott Hastings wax lyrical about how the union gave him the best of both worlds, by allowing him to proudly play for Scotland?  The problem is that the union didn't do that - it's just a freakish accident of history that allows Scotland to play as a country in its own right in rugby and in a handful of other sports (including golf).  In most sports, last week's vote has directly robbed athletes of their chance to play for Scotland, and has subsumed the country into a uniform Great Britain identity in which the waving of saltires Shall Not Be Tolerated.  Perhaps the most poignant moment of the last week-and-a-bit was Andy Murray's declaration of support for the Yes campaign being followed just a couple of days later with him issuing a statement about how he was looking forward to playing for Great Britain for "the rest of my career".  Now, I'm sure he genuinely is looking forward to it - he seems entirely comfortable with either identity.  But the point is that, even if he wasn't so comfortable, he wouldn't actually have a choice.

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If you think the conspiracy theories about the referendum being rigged are a bit silly, you should have heard the woman that was sitting opposite from me on the train back to Glasgow last night...

"I always thought that G-Mac was gay and that the girlfriend was just for show.  But then they got married and had a baby.  They could still just be pretending, though."

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Introducing the Scot Goes Pop Subsample Aggregator

OK, I probably won't be updating this one quite as religiously as I did the referendum Poll of Polls, but it might be interesting to have a look at now and again.  In the absence of regular full-scale Scottish polls of Westminster voting intentions, it's possible to get a very rough idea of trends by adding up the Scottish subsample figures from the daily GB-wide YouGov polls.  It's not an ideal method by any means, because YouGov weight their GB-wide figures by Westminster party ID, meaning they usually produce a much worse result for the SNP than other pollsters.  But as it happens, in the four polls that have so far taken place entirely after the referendum, the SNP have been doing extraordinarily well...

Westminster voting intention (average of four YouGov subsamples) :

SNP 40.3%
Labour 29.5%
Conservatives 17.3%
Liberal Democrats 5.5%
Greens 4.0%
UKIP 2.8%

We really can't rely on this lasting - it's only happening because the SNP have been in the spotlight so much recently.  Where we end up will depend on how resilient the vote proves when publicity from the London media melts away in the heat of a general election campaign, and especially after the broadcast of another round of rigged leaders' debates that completely exclude the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

The main hope will be that the debates don't capture people's imaginations in quite the same way this time.  Even if Clegg performs reasonably well, he's so distrusted now that he won't get much credit for it.  And I think we can safely assume there isn't going to be any "Mili-gasm".

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I gather that Alex Massie wrote a snide article the other day about how Yes supporters were going through the classic "stages of grief".  Well, he's half-right, but what we're actually grieving for is the loss of those halcyon days when we thought Massie was an "undecided voter" (ahem), and when it didn't even occur to us for a moment that he was misleading people by blagging his way on to a BBC referendum debate as a "Don't Know".  And then it turned out just days before the referendum that he'd been some kind of Tory unionist all along.  The shock!  The devastation!  How could we not have noticed?

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Stewart Hosie for deputy leader

I wasn't expecting to take a view on this so quickly. If it had simply been a choice between the personal qualities of Stewart Hosie and Keith Brown, I'd probably think it was quite evenly balanced.  But I must admit I've been much more impressed by what Hosie has been saying so far, and in particular the refreshing clarity of his call for the devolution of all powers other than foreign affairs and defence.  Brown seems to be somewhat more focused on the managerial side of the deputy leader role, which is undoubtedly important, but given that we're looking at a coronation of the leader, it's only natural that members will want to use the only competitive election to express a view on policy direction.

Obviously there's nothing to stop the Westminster SNP group pushing hard for maximum devolution anyway, but there may well be something in Hosie's point that it would be helpful if he was there in London with the full weight of the deputy leader role behind him.

Lastly, I'm a bit disappointed that Brown seems to have gone out of his way to play down any chance of the much-needed electoral pact between the parties that will be pushing for Devo Max.  For all I know Hosie and other senior SNP people may take exactly the same view, but it seems depressingly "tribal politics as usual" to be rushing to rule things out at this early stage.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The enthusiasm gap, part two

Margo MacDonald always used to say that the SNP's biggest mistake was constantly deferring the task of convincing people that independence (as opposed to an SNP government under devolution) could make their lives better in a concrete sense.  I'm not sure we'll ever know whether she was right or not, because it's possible that if independence hadn't been largely set to one side in the 2007 and 2011 election campaigns, we'd never have got to the point of having a referendum campaign in which the case could be made to such an attentive audience.  Either way, we are where we are, and we now have a large segment of the electorate that is newly-politicised in precisely the way that Margo always said was possible.  Tens of thousands of those people have decided to directly transfer their energies from the Yes campaign into party politics, with all of the pro-independence parties enjoying mind-boggling increases in their memberships since Friday.  The SNP have understandably been the biggest beneficiary, with a membership that stood at roughly 25,000 only a few days ago now having soared to roughly 65,000 - meaning they have overtaken both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats to become comfortably the third-largest party in the entire UK.  (If you've been thinking about joining but haven't got round to it yet, here's the form.)

Sticking with the full-on sneer mode that he's preferred over the last couple of weeks (or arguably since he first learned how to scribble his name), Kenny Farquharson wondered aloud whether these new members were "natural gradualists", while Commentor yesterday expressed the hope that they wouldn't prove to be a "Scottish Tea Party".  I don't think we need have much fear on either score - the real fundamentalists will have signed up years ago.  The new members will largely be those who have only recently been fully persuaded that democratic control of our own affairs can bring about transformative social progress, and it's risible to suggest that such people will be shy about making the case for Devo Max if that's the best option on offer for the moment.

Commentor also poured cold water on the notion that the membership surge had any relevance to how the SNP and other pro-independence parties might fare in future elections.  I have slightly more sympathy for that reaction, because it's reasonable to assume that anyone joining the SNP would have voted for the party anyway.  But what's happening is obviously symptomatic of the enthusiasm gap that existed throughout the campaign between the Yes and No sides.  That didn't count for much last Thursday, because it seems that people who were scared of a Yes vote (and they were scared for a whole host of radically different reasons) were driven by their fear all the way to the polling stations.  With less at stake next May (a strange thing to say about a general election, but true) it could just be that enthusiasm will matter a lot more, and differential turnout might in itself be enough to deliver a 1% or 2% boost in vote share to the SNP, or more ideally to a pro-Devo Max electoral pact between the SNP, Greens and others.

Talking of which, it's fascinating to see Nicola Sturgeon stress that she won't be going into the devolution discussions "secretly hoping" for failure.  I think most of us are imagining that the SNP and Greens will fight the general election on the basis that the powers on offer from Westminster are inadequate, but is it possible that a deal could be negotiated that is sufficiently good that Sturgeon will think it's worth "banking" it?  If she does, the price will probably be putting her weight behind the new package in a wholehearted way, because from a Westminster point of view the biggest inducement for making a much more generous offer than they've hitherto contemplated might be that it would lead to a period of constitutional stability.  Would the SNP really be prepared to fight next year's election without seeking a mandate for further powers over and above the ones that have just been negotiated?  It's an interesting one.  If the talks do break down, probably the ideal scenario would be if Labour were seen to be the party that pulled the rug from under everyone else's feet, while the SNP had negotiated in good faith.  That's scarcely inconceivable, because even the Tories' proposals (which are ironically part-authored by Brit Nat fundamentalist Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!!" Tomkins) go considerably further than Labour's.

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Whichever exit poll you look at, the message is the same - under-55s voted Yes

I've been asked by a number of people to have a look at the YouGov exit poll, in the light of the Herald's provocatively-worded claim that it shows "the elderly did not rob the young of an independent Scotland".  In fact, it shows no such thing, and instead bears out Alex Salmond's claim that under-55s voted Yes.  It's not possible to make a direct comparison with the Ashcroft exit poll, because YouGov use different age categories, but here is the nearest comparison possible -

How under-55s voted, according to the Ashcroft exit poll :

Yes 54%
No 46%

How under-60s voted, according to the YouGov exit poll :

Yes 50%
No 50%

So in order to believe that Yes did not also enjoy a lead among under-55s in the YouGov poll, you'd have to argue that 55-59 year olds broke for Yes, which seems highly improbable.

Of course the two polls show very different pictures in individual age groups, but you'd expect that due to normal sampling variation.  By extension that means we'll never be 100% certain that under-55s voted Yes, but whether the Herald (and the increasingly deranged Huffington Post) like it or not, the limited evidence we have suggests that they probably did.

What that means in practical terms is harder to say.  We've had a couple of No supporters on this blog comforting themselves with the mantra that people become more conservative as they get older, and that the Yes-voting under-55 of today is the No-voting over-55 of tomorrow.  The snag is that there's no real evidence that the No-leaning tendencies of older people are driven by conservatism - the real culprits seem to be the groundless fears over pensions, and national identity (older people are more likely to have a lingering attachment to Britishness).  There may be some evidence that advancing age makes people more conservative, but I know of no evidence that it makes them feel less Scottish.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why Nicola Sturgeon would be wise at this stage not to completely rule out a second referendum in the next parliamentary term

I didn't see Nicola Sturgeon's press conference this morning, but if she's been accurately reported as refusing to rule out the possibility of the SNP going into the 2016 election with a pledge to hold a second referendum, then I think that's a wise move.  Yes, there'll have to be clarity by the time of the election, and that clarity is likely to involve ruling out a referendum for the forthcoming five-year term, or at least ruling it out on the strict condition that the UK does not leave the European Union.  But it would nevertheless be foolish to hastily take the theoretical possibility of an early repeat referendum off the table at this stage, for the following reasons -

1) The unionist parties are trying it on, with Willie Rennie even invoking John Smith's famous "settled will" phrase to try to make out that the referendum has decided the constitutional question for good.  Given that "settled will" implies a will that is not subject to fluctuation or change, it's a very odd kind of settled will that sees the Yes campaign ahead in two opinion polls over the last fortnight of the campaign, and the No campaign flapping around in panic to try to rescue the situation.  However silly Rennie's claim may seem to us, it's very important that the notion that last week's vote represented some kind of final word on the matter is not allowed to take root in the public consciousness, and the best way of combating it is to make clear that no options on a future referendum have been ruled out for now.

2) The SNP will presumably be going into next year's UK general election seeking an explicit mandate for full Devo Max.  But even if they win a majority of Scottish seats (a tall order, and that's why I think they should seek out an electoral pact with the Greens and others if at all possible) they would still need some kind of leverage to press that mandate home.  The Conservative government were able to ignore the clear mandate that the Constitutional Convention blueprint secured in the 1992 election, because they felt under no kind of threat.  But if the SNP are saying "look, we don't want to hold another independence referendum, but if you refuse to even enter into negotiations over the clear mandate for Devo Max we have just received at the general election, what choice will you be leaving us?", then that might well constitute a degree of leverage.  The London government know that an early repeat referendum would be likely to fail unless there was a credible pretext for holding it, but they will also realise that their refusal to take a mandate for Devo Max seriously might just constitute such a pretext. It's like a chess game where both sides are trying to predict what their opponents will do several moves in advance.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The future's bright. The future's Green.

One of my long-running fears about the immediate aftermath of a No vote was that the Greens might "do an ADQ".  For the uninitiated, the ADQ was a small party in Quebec that signed up to the tripartite pro-independence agreement in the run-up to the 1995 referendum, but which became firmly "ex-sovereigntist" once the vote was over.  So although (as I always say) I'm no great fan of James Mackenzie, this comment from him today may be just about the most heartening thing I've read since Thursday -

"That doesn’t mean going cold on the idea of independence, mind, any more than you should give up on any other principle or objective when you hit a setback.

The nationalists I know won’t do so. But, perhaps more importantly, I don’t think we non-nationalists for Yes will either. The ones I speak to are, like me, much more committed to independence than we were a year or five years ago. Friends who came over to Yes in the last week or month sound like they’ll never go back.

A large majority of the Scottish Greens’ membership joined in the last few days, too. Most will be Yes voters, but many will be No voters who want a radical slate of additional powers."

Of course he goes on to make clear that a new independence referendum is off the table for the time being, but that's just a statement of common sense that I'm sure is in tune with the thinking of the SNP leadership.

The reason this matters is not simply the importance of maintaining the strength of the grass-roots movement for change, it's also about parliamentary arithmetic.  Whatever tactics the SNP choose under Nicola Sturgeon's leadership, whether it's the medium-term aim of another referendum, or the shorter-term push for Devo Max (or more likely a combination of both), they really need to have an outright majority of MSPs who are singing from roughly the same hymn-sheet, and who can carry parliamentary votes.  Although we now know it's not as impossible for a single party to win an absolute majority as we once thought, it's certainly not ever going to be the norm, and in most cases the SNP will need to be able to build alliances with MSPs outside their ranks.  The direction of travel in the Green party makes it much more likely that it will be possible to put together pro-independence (or pro-Devo Max, or whatever) majorities in the future.

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Glenys Kinnock said that Labour's defeat in the 1992 election felt like a bereavement, and I'm sure a number of us have been feeling that way in recent days.  Actually, it maybe didn't hit me quite as hard as that, because I've been doing my level best for months to mentally prepare myself for the possibility of a No.  Even so, I still felt the need to force myself to start doing normal things again, so on Sunday I made a last-minute decision to take in the final day of the Glasgow Open Doors festival.  It was the first time I'd been to Glasgow since polling day, and I kept thinking back to the moment when it was announced that the city had voted Yes, and to the campaigners in the hall who didn't chant "Yes, We Can", but simply "Glasgow, Glasgow" in tribute to the city we all love, and the wonderful thing it had just done.

I visited two buildings - firstly the Briggait, which was probably a waste because I quickly discovered that it's normally open to the public anyway!  But then I went to the Arlington Baths Club, and that was much more like a peek into a magical secret world.  It was casually mentioned during the tour that water polo was devised there - I found that slightly hard to believe, because we're so proud of Scotland having invented other Olympic sports like golf, curling and rugby sevens that I was sure I'd have heard about it if we could also claim water polo.  A quick check of Wikipedia suggests it may well be true, though.

Let's not forget the moment during the campaign when the London parties promised "not just Devo Max, but Devo SUPER Max"

Yesterday, I had a brief exchange with Flockers, who is one of our occasional visitors from Political Betting (aka "Stormfront Lite").  He was trying to make the case that it was naive to think that the London parties could possibly be held to their perceived pledge during the campaign that a No vote would lead to Devo Max - ie. the devolution of all powers with the exception of foreign affairs and defence.  All they had done was sit back and let the broadcasters do their work for them by referring to their proposals as Devo Max, and if the voters were stupid enough to be deceived, then tough.

But that excuse doesn't quite work.  You see, it's not the case that the No campaign were only guilty of failing to proactively set journalists straight.  Of the many extraordinary decisions made by "Better Together" (the umbrella group representing all three London parties of "The Vow" fame), the most extraordinary of the lot was the decision to nominate George Galloway as one of their two representatives in a set-piece TV debate just a week before the referendum.  The BBC couldn't have been clearer about the basis on which he was there - both verbally and in captions, he was billed as the Better Together representative, meaning that he was directly speaking on behalf of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties when he explained that a commitment had been given that a No vote would lead to "not just Devo Max, but Devo SUPER Max".

Quite how it's possible for Scotland to be granted a form of devolution greater than maximum devolution is a bit of a mystery - perhaps we can look forward to the devolution of foreign affairs?  I'm certainly excited to find out.  Either way, let's make very sure that the London parties stick to the solemn pledge of "Devo SUPER Max" made by their handpicked representative just days before the vote.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

They "vowed" to thee, this country...

The reaction piece I wrote for the International Business Times on Friday, entitled 'Why a Second Scottish Independence Referendum May Happen Sooner Than You Think', has now been published HERE.  It's also on Yahoo News HERE.  As I said yesterday, my thinking has moved on slightly since I wrote it - for example I said that (barring a UK exit from the EU) the SNP would have to make clear for the next two Holyrood elections that they were not planning to hold another referendum over the course of the forthcoming parliamentary term.  I maybe wouldn't be quite so definite about that now, because there's at least a slight chance that things may look different if "the vow" unravels completely.  However, there are obviously huge risks attached to trying again too soon, and I'm sure everyone involved will be suitably cautious about it.

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond attempted yesterday to break us out of the straitjacket of thinking that we necessarily have to be aiming for another referendum.  That led to cretinous and hysterical claims in the right-wing press and the Labour party (is there a difference between the two?) that the SNP were plotting "UDI" or "a coup".  In fact, all Salmond was doing was pointing out that there are two types of electoral mandate available - one is victory in a parliamentary election, the other is victory in a referendum.  The two aren't qualitatively different, because a mandate at a parliamentary election would only qualify as legitimate if it was made absolutely crystal-clear in advance that a vote for the SNP was a vote for independence.  (Remember that part of the reason the SNP proposed a referendum was precisely that people might otherwise have assumed that a vote for the SNP was for independence.)  OK, you might quibble that there is still no reason why the London government would automatically accept that mandate, but nor is there any reason why they would automatically accept a mandate from a consultative referendum, which is what the SNP were essentially proposing in both 2007 and 2011.  So what is the difference?

It seems to me that Salmond had two distinct purposes in making his remarks.  Firstly, he was trying to reassure Yes supporters that we can still move purposefully towards independence without a referendum in the near future, and that we can do it by securing parliamentary mandates for more powers, until we hopefully get to the point where we're so close to the powers of an independent country that the final step will seem like a trivial one.  Secondly, he was trying to keep the London establishment guessing, because they probably took it as read that a referendum would be the only possible route to independence, and may have had ideas about how to thwart that.  It's harder to hit a moving target, and while there may be differing views about the legality of a consultative referendum, there's no disputing that it would always be theoretically possible for the SNP to stand at a Holyrood election and submit a policy of independence to the people for consideration.  So it's a timely reminder that the options for Scotland exercising national self-determination can never be closed off, no matter what the Jack Straws of this world may believe.

In any case, this kind of discussion simply takes the SNP back to an older tradition.  I recall in the 1990s seeing a young Nicola Sturgeon in the Question Time audience demanding an explanation from Donald Dewar of why Labour had moved away from their previous acceptance that there would be a mandate for independence if the SNP won a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster.  That notion seems rather quaint in retrospect, because of course under the Westminster system a majority can be won on as little as 35% of the vote.  But the fact that it was taken seriously so recently tells you something interesting.  (Archive footage of that Dewar v Sturgeon skirmish would also be fascinating to watch - few would have guessed at the time that it was our first First Minister v our fifth First Minister.)

I suppose the million dollar question is how we actually get to Devo Max, or something close to it, without the leverage of a looming independence referendum. It's going to be tough, but one possible answer is that it might happen through mutual perceived self-interest.  It's quite possible for a London government (either this one or more likely a future one) to honestly conclude that Devo Max is the only thing that will ever kill off the prospect of independence, and to do so at exactly the same time that the SNP are relentlessly pressing for Devo Max because of an honest belief that it would bring independence closer.  We'd only find out who was right later.

A further possibility is that an element of luck might be involved - the SNP could find themselves holding the balance of power in a hung parliament at Westminster.  Obviously the bigger the number of seats they win next year, the greater the chance there is of that happening, but it would still largely be decided by chance.

And here's an option that few seem to have considered - what if the SNP do move to hold a consultative referendum in the coming years, but on the subject of Devo Max rather than independence?  The result wouldn't be binding, but a big Yes vote would certainly put terrific moral pressure on the London government.  OK, that takes us back to the question of whether Holyrood has the legal power to hold a consultative constitutional referendum, but at least it would keep Lallands Peat Worrier busy!

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Revisiting the idea of a pan-UK alliance for next year's general election

I was out all day yesterday, so I didn't get the chance to properly catch up with the contents of the Sunday papers, but I gather that several different SNP people floated the idea that the various pro-independence parties and groups should come together again and form an alliance for next year's general election, presumably seeking an unambiguous mandate for full Devo Max.

It would be fascinating to know if it's just coincidence that various individuals came to the same conclusion simultaneously, or whether this is a sign that the SNP leadership themselves are interested in keeping the Yes coalition going in a new form.  I think it would be absolutely fantastic if that happened - it would be the clearest possible sign that we're not returning to politics as usual, and that we're going to finish the job of realising the unambiguous democratic will of the "45% plus", ie. the clear majority of the electorate who either voted Yes, or voted No on the specific basis of a promise that sweeping new powers (repeatedly described by the media as Devo Max) would be granted. 

That's probably the best way of ensuring that the dynamism and passion of the Yes campaign continues beyond the referendum, because it would be pursuing much the same objective as before (democratic control in Scotland to enable transformative social progress), but in a realistic way that seeks to organically build on the referendum result, rather than overturning it.

Of course it takes two to tango, and I've no idea if the Greens would be interested in the idea.  But if I put myself in their place I can see plenty of advantages.  They get a reasonable amount of airtime in a Holyrood election, but in a Westminster context they become practically invisible, and a "Devo Max alliance" would be a fantastic opportunity to have Patrick Harvie as the de facto joint leader of a high-profile movement, just as he was during the referendum. To make this an attractive option for the Greens, though, it would have to be clear that the alliance wouldn't just be the SNP with the Greens tacked on - it would need to be as broadly-based a movement as the Yes campaign itself was.

And I'm wondering if there may be an opportunity to take it a step further, and use the momentum generated by the referendum to set up a temporary pan-UK alliance of progressive parties that are seeking radical constitutional change - namely the SNP, the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Green Party, Plaid Cymru and perhaps Mebyon Kernow.  With a formal alliance on that scale, putting candidates up throughout the UK, and involving parties with existing parliamentary representation in England, Scotland and Wales, it's very hard to see how broadcasters would be able to do anything other than give the same coverage during the general election that they would to the three London parties - and that crucially includes equal coverage in any leaders' debates.  I certainly wouldn't object to sometimes being represented by Natalie Bennett, as long as she was making the case for full Home Rule for Scotland within a package of wider constitutional reforms.

Of course, none of this may come to pass, and the SNP may have no choice but to try to build on the momentum generated by the Yes campaign as a stand-alone party.  That's not a hopeless task, but yesterday's Survation telephone poll showing a handsome lead for the SNP at Holyrood also showed them 4 points behind Labour for the Westminster election.  That reaffirms the difficulty of fighting on 'away soil', and it's likely that Labour's lead will only increase as the London media's focus turns away from Scotland.  To keep the relentless pressure up for a huge transfer of powers to Edinburgh, we really need to be aiming to win a majority of Scottish seats next May, not for the business-as-usual respectability of 25% of the vote and a few gains from the Liberal Democrats.

So if we all want what we say we want, I think we urgently need to think out of the box, and find a way to keep the spirit of Yes going for the general election, and hopefully even expand it beyond the borders of Scotland.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jack Straw professes hatred of democracy, as Ashcroft exit poll reveals almost half of voters are open to having a second referendum after just TEN YEARS

I can't recall which country it was, but when I was growing up I remember seeing a news report about an election somewhere in Africa, in which the President was seeking a mandate to set up a Marxist-Leninist one-party state.  The logic for the supposed legitimacy of this action was stated with cold clarity - the abolition of democracy was a political proposal just like any other, and if that proposal received a majority of votes in a free and fair election, the will of the people should be respected.  Forever.  By themselves.  Even if they changed their minds five, twenty or thirty years later.  Even as a child, I intuitively sensed there was a flaw in that argument somewhere.

But suppose it had been taken a step further.  Suppose that proposal had never actually been made, and the President had won the election and only then announced that in his view he had just received a mandate to abolish democracy.  That's the rough equivalent of what Jack Straw has just declared he'd like the London establishment to do.  He wants them to permanently abolish the Scottish people's right to democratic self-determination, keeping them prisoner within the United Kingdom forever whether they like it or not, and his justification for doing so is that Scotland has just made a permanent decision.  That'll be news to the people who actually voted No on Thursday, 38% of whom (according to the Ashcroft exit poll) said that their vote will settle the matter for no more than ten years.  It hardly seems unreasonable to suggest that if the likes of Straw had told them before Thursday that they were voting to abolish their right to ever again decide on independence, they might have been given severe pause for thought about whether they were doing the right thing, and the result may well have different - after all, only about a quarter of those 38% of No voters would have had to change their minds to swing the balance.

Overall, the Ashcroft poll shows that 48% of voters think a No vote will settle the matter for no longer than ten years, and 72% think it will settle the matter for no longer than a generation.  Just 19% take the Straw view that this was a "forever" decision.

Straw's other piece of 'logic' was that because a Yes vote would have had irreversible consequences, it's only 'fair' that the same should be true of a No vote.  But hang on just a minute here.  Who was it that was actually saying that there was no going back on a Yes vote?  That's right, it was the London establishment themselves, as part of their push to scare people into voting No.  The only thing the Yes campaign said was that it was fantastically improbable that anyone would want to reverse a Yes vote later - they didn't claim for one moment that it would be illegitimate to do so.  So the Straw argument seems to be "well, because we said that a Yes vote would abolish your right to self-determination, it's only fair that we're allowed to say that a No vote did the same thing".

On Friday I was asked to write a reaction piece for the IBTimes - as far as I can see it hasn't appeared yet, so I'll ask tomorrow if they're planning to use it, and if they're not I'll hopefully post it here instead.  But my thinking has already moved on slightly since I wrote it, because I was arguing that the SNP had to be slightly cautious about the timetable for moving towards a possible second referendum.  The reason I've adjusted my view is not just the Ashcroft poll, but the anecdotal evidence that a large section of the public are not simply open to the idea of a repeat referendum, but are positively willing it to happen.  Yesterday morning, a taxi took me to Edinburgh on my way to take part in the BBC Breakfast show again, and the driver was saying that practically every young person he'd had in the taxi since polling day had told him they were "gutted" and expected another referendum relatively soon.  It seems that much of "the 45" were not just casually won over for this particular vote - they now have the proverbial zealotry of converts, and recognise that independence is an essential prerequisite for solving Scotland's problems.

We can't rely on this mood lasting, of course.  Once the febrile atmosphere settles down, there's always a possibility that people might reframe the referendum in their memory as a disruptive event they don't want to repeat soon.  But next year's general election might give us a clue - if the SNP make significant gains, it'll be a sign that the simple fact of 45% of the electorate actively voting for independence has changed the game for good.  It would still probably be the case that there would only be two specific circumstances in which a second referendum could be contemplated within ten years - a) if the UK left the EU, or b) if the promise of more powers was completely reneged upon.  Otherwise, I think the SNP would have to make clear that they were putting independence "on ice" for a set period of time, along the lines of the stance the Coalition Avenir Qu├ębec used to take (although has now abandoned). But that period might not have to be much longer than ten years - it's just a question of gauging the public mood correctly. And of course in the meantime, there's nothing to stop the SNP and other pro-independence parties demanding the maximum amount of devolution possible within the confines of the UK, because that option most certainly wasn't rejected on Thursday - quite the reverse, in fact. Not only did 45% of the electorate vote for full sovereign independence, but according to the Ashcroft poll a further 14% of people voted No on the specific basis that more powers would be granted. That's 59% altogether - fairly convincing evidence that Devo Max is the only option that can bring Scotland together for the time being, and that can truly be regarded as reflecting the democratic will of the Scottish people.

Incidentally, my "opponent" on the BBC Breakfast show this time was the Conservatives' Mark Brown. We both arrived quite early, so I had a long chat with him. Hopefully I'm not betraying any confidences if I tell you that I asked him whether he honestly thought that substantial new powers would be granted soon, and without hesitation he said that he was sure they would be. So that cheered me up, but it does seem to me that what used to be the Yes campaign urgently needs to re-coalesce in order to maximise the pressure for the "vow" to be honoured in full.

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Psychological warfare

You don't need me to tell you that the comment section of this blog has been infested with No-supporting trolls for months. But I now have quite convincing evidence that the suspicion that we also had "concern trolls" - ie. No supporters posing as "worried Yes supporters" in an attempt to sap morale - was fully justified. In particular, I'm 90% sure that the supposed Yes supporter called "Feline" was a No troll. She (if it even was a she) gave herself away in subsequent posts.

I know a number of you also strongly suspect that the "Yes campaigners" who tried to undermine the fundraiser yesterday were probably No trolls as well, but I can't be 100% sure of that.

Heaven only knows whether this has been a co-ordinated operation, but it's certainly left that impression. And it wouldn't completely surprise me if someone has paid for it to be done.

So just be careful - people leaving comments may not always be who they say they are.

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