Friday, October 17, 2014

SNP notch up astonishing 17% lead in Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

I'm in a mad rush this afternoon, but I thought I'd give you a lightning-quick Poll of Polls update, because once again it makes for rather pleasant reading.  It's based on the Scottish subsamples from ten GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, two from Populus, one from Survation, one from Ashcroft, one from ICM and one from Ipsos-Mori.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.1% (-0.7)
Labour 24.9% (-2.1)
Conservatives 18.2% (+2.5)
Liberal Democrats 6.4% (-0.6)
UKIP 5.1% (+0.8)
Greens 2.6% (+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.)

There is a full-scale Scottish poll out today from TNS-BMRB, but it's of no use for the Poll of Polls because it doesn't have any voting intention figures (either for Westminster or Holyrood). There are some interesting findings, however, and I'll hopefully be able to do some analysis soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

OK, London broadcasters, so tell us : just what WOULD be enough for a Jock party to get into your debates?

Of the many reprehensible things about the broadcasters' proposal to ban the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the TV leaders' debates, and indeed to ban them from even taking part in the negotiations about the debates, the most disgraceful of all is the fact that it is based on no objective criteria whatever.  In fact, the polar opposite is true - we have evidence that their starting-point is that the SNP and Plaid must be excluded ("why, the idea is patently absurd, Felicity!"), and that they work backwards from there to come up with a justification that fits.  It doesn't matter a damn to them what that justification is, or whether it is logically consistent with the other excuses they've used in similar situations in the past.  Last time around, Michael Crick (who was still with the BBC) openly admitted that the whole "Prime Ministerial Debate" wheeze was specifically concocted as a thin excuse to bar the door to the nationalist parties - if the debates had been billed as parliamentary leaders' debates (which is self-evidently what they actually were) it would have been much harder to explain away the absence of parties that have enjoyed unbroken representation in the House of Commons for decades.  Well, they've had to dilute the Prime Ministerial cover story this time to accommodate their beloved Nigel Farage, so what excuse are they left with now?  As of this moment, they just appear to be waffling, and hoping desperately that people will get used to the idea of the exclusion as a "normal" thing.

At the very least, the broadcasters must now be forced to set out firm criteria (which will not be conveniently altered in future) that the SNP and Plaid Cymru can meet to secure representation in the debates - and I do mean the real debates, not Mickey Mouse second-string debates which nobody pays a blind bit of attention to.  Is there a magic number of candidates that they must put up?  If so, what is that number?  200?  350?  If they could be guaranteed access to the debates with a specific number, I'm sure they would consider working together (perhaps with the aid of a dedicated fundraiser) to put up candidates in parts of England - the required deposit per constituency is £500, so the money involved would be significant, but not impossibly high.  It's certainly hard to see what additional hoops they could be expected to jump through beyond the number of candidates - the number of currently-held parliamentary seats can't be an issue, because between them they already have nine times as many seats as UKIP (who are pencilled in for inclusion in one debate), and nor can opinion poll support throughout Great Britain be an issue, because the 5% they have been getting in many recent opinion polls is in the same ballpark as the 6-9% enjoyed by the Lib Dems (who are pencilled in for inclusion in two debates).

But even if it is going to be one law for some (London-based) parties and another law for (non-London-based) others, there still does need to be clarity.  For example...

The SNP have six times as many seats in the House of Commons as UKIP.  If they had twelve times as many, would that be enough?

The SNP are the third-biggest party in the entire UK, with far more members than either the Liberal Democrats or UKIP.  If they were the second-biggest party, would that be enough?

The SNP currently hold the lead in Scottish voting intentions for Westminster.  If their lead over Labour was even bigger, would that be enough?

The SNP are currently projected to be ahead of UKIP as the fourth-largest party (at least) in the House of Commons after the general election, according to all Britain-wide opinion polls other than one.  If they were projected to be ahead of the Lib Dems as well as UKIP, would that be enough?

Tell us, London broadcasters : would anything ever be enough for a Jock party?  You'll have to forgive our scepticism.

The reason why this matters is illustrated perfectly by the latest update of the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls, which is based on the Scottish subsamples from the nine GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided - three from YouGov, two from Populus, two from Ashcroft, one from Survation and one from ICM.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.8% (+1.8)
Labour 27.0% (-0.4)
Conservatives 15.7% (-1.9)
Liberal Democrats 7.0% (-0.2)
UKIP 4.3% (+0.9)
Greens 2.1% (-0.7)

It's easy to look at these figures and conclude (as someone did on Twitter a couple of hours ago) that Scotland now constitutes a different polity from the rest of the UK.  But if you think for one moment that the SNP's lead is strong enough to withstand the broadcasters' Grand Exclusion Strategy, then you're dreaming.  Consider the one previous occasion when the SNP broke through the 30% barrier in a Westminster general election, in October 1974.  Do you think they would have had a cat in hell's chance of achieving that result if the run-up to the election had been punctuated by three leaders' debates between Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Jeremy Thorpe?  Of course not.  The momentum would have drained away.  The message sent out to viewers would have been : "The party you're thinking of voting for is not a serious party.  They're not part of the real contest.  Forget about them, and think about one of the main options instead."

On the morning after the referendum, I suggested that the broadcasters hadn't simply predicted the result, but had authored it.  (The glorious irony of the running vote tallies being projected onto Pacific Quay will live long in the memory.)  But their active participation in the London establishment's 'shock and awe' campaign during the referendum was positively subtle compared to the straightforward cause-and-effect of depressing the SNP vote in a general election by leaving them out of the debates - we saw how the party slumped in the opinion polls immediately after the first debate in 2010.  The broadcasters might as well be saying "we don't like the Scottish result currently suggested by the opinion polls, so we'll shape a result more to our taste instead".

Broadcasters are there to facilitate democratic debate, not to shape election results.  It is no part of their business to arbitrarily decide that a ceiling will be permanently placed on the support of any party that does not stand candidates in England.  This little game must be stopped.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A democratic outrage : the broadcasters plan to totally exclude the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the televised leaders' debates

After the debacle of the rigged 2010 leaders' debates (which not only saw the SNP and Plaid Cymru totally excluded but also saw their voters literally banned from being part of the audiences!), there were signs that one or two of the more thoughtful broadcasters realised that an Anglocentric framework had let viewers down badly and couldn't be sustained in future elections.  Sky's Adam Boulton, for instance, wrote a very good article reflecting on how the debates had totally dominated the campaign to the exclusion of everything else, and proposed that in the interests of fairness the SNP should be given some form of involvement in at least one debate next time around.  Well, those good intentions seem to have gone completely out of the window.  The joint proposal that has just been released is as follows -

A Sky/Channel 4 debate hosted by Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley (why not chuck in David Starkey and make our lives complete?), featuring the Conservatives and Labour only.

A BBC debate hosted by David Dimbleby, featuring the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats only.

An ITV debate hosted by Julie Etchingham, featuring the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP only.

Once again, the SNP (who have had continuous parliamentary representation since 1967) and Plaid Cymru (who have had continuous parliamentary representation since 1974) are being invited to accept that they should be completely excluded from debates for a parliamentary election.

Let's be clear about this - there is no such thing as a 'national party' in the UK, so that type of excuse for excluding parties who you think your London audiences will find boring doesn't work.  The UK has four constituent nations, and there is no party - not one - that has MPs in all four.  Three parties have representation in three of the four nations, the SNP and Plaid between them (who form a single parliamentary group in Westminster) have representation in two of the four nations, while UKIP have representation in just one nation - as do the Greens.  How exactly do we get from that state of affairs to the inclusion of UKIP and the exclusion of the SNP, Plaid and the Greens?

Nor does an excuse about "at least standing candidates throughout the country" work, because Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not stand candidates in Northern Ireland.  And nor does an excuse about "standing enough candidates for your leader to become PM" work, because in a parliamentary system a party participating in a complex coalition can supply the Prime Minister even with a tiny minority of seats - there are numerous examples of that happening throughout the world.  And that's before we even get to the inconvenient fact that the SNP are now the third biggest party in the UK, with far more members than either the Liberal Democrats or UKIP.

I presume the proposed Cameron v Miliband head-to-head debate would take place before the official campaign period, otherwise by definition it would fall foul of the broadcasting regulations.  But it wouldn't surprise me if the debate involving UKIP is being pencilled in for a date closer to the election, in which case the broadcasters are getting into very dangerous territory - including UKIP on the basis of one or perhaps two MPs, but excluding the SNP and Plaid on the basis of nine MPs.  To adapt George Bush Senior's words after the invasion of Kuwait, "this must not stand".  Mass complaints to the broadcasters are probably now in order, and perhaps even an early legal challenge if the SNP are shut out of the negotiations.