Saturday, November 22, 2014

SNP just 2% behind Liberal Democrats in Britain-wide Opinium poll

It's probably worth mentioning this poll individually, because I won't be able to make use of it for the Poll of Polls - for reasons only known to themselves, Opinium don't provide geographical breakdowns, so we never find out exactly what their Scottish subsamples show.  However, on these figures there's little doubt that the SNP have a comfortable lead in tonight's subsample.

Britain-wide voting intentions (Opinium) :

Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 30% (+1)
UKIP 19% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-2)
SNP 5% (+1)
Greens 4% (n/c)

The appearance of yet another poll showing the SNP and Liberal Democrats very closely-matched in terms of Britain-wide support will further increase the pressure on the broadcasters to reverse their proposal to exclude the SNP from the leaders' debates - especially given that we know on these numbers that the SNP would be well ahead of both the Lib Dems and UKIP in terms of seats in the next House of Commons.

Not too much should be read into Labour's three-point lead, because fieldwork took place between Tuesday and Thursday, and therefore preceded #WhiteVanManDanGate.

Heads I win, tails you're a Liberal Democrat

There's a very curious article on Reuters, which has a perfectly sound basic premise (that the UK is fast becoming Europe's most politically unstable country), but which is ruined by details that just don't make any sense.  The author keeps using phrases like "almost certain" to refer to specific future scenarios that in reality are either highly unlikely or in some cases virtually impossible.  For example...

"A Tory government supported by Scottish Nationalists and UKIP is a more plausible option. But the glue holding together such a coalition would be an EU referendum on membership terms that the rest of Europe would be extremely unlikely to accept."

Hmmm.  'Plausible' is not the first word that springs to mind, given that the SNP have explicitly ruled out any sort of deal with the Tories under any circumstances.  And as for an in/out EU referendum being the "glue" of this impossible coalition, I'm not sure how we're supposed to square that notion with the SNP's absolute opposition to an in/out EU referendum.

"The Scottish National Party is sure to demand another Scottish independence referendum as its price for supporting a coalition"

That's not quite right - the real price would be a huge transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament, including the unambiguous power to call a constitutional referendum at any time.  That isn't the same thing as demanding that Westminster calls an independence referendum itself.

Nevertheless, this is a useful reminder of the multiple options that the SNP have at their disposal in the longer term.  It's sometimes supposed that the biggest obstacle to a second referendum taking place (even well into the future) is that the PR voting system makes it murderously hard to cobble together an outright pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.  But if all else fails, there'll always be the Plan B of using coalition negotiations to seek a Westminster-initiated referendum, which in theory could even take place at a time when the SNP are not in power at Holyrood.

Not quite "heads I win, tails you lose", but it does mean that a second referendum will be much harder to thwart than certain unionists think.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is Rochester and Strood the most important by-election since Darlington 1983?

We've discussed this before, but by-election upsets are much more important when they happen just before a general election than when they happen at any other time.  That's why Govan 1973 is more historically significant than Govan 1988 - it generated momentum that just a few weeks later carried the SNP to an unprecedented general election breakthrough.

Probably the most important by-election in modern history was Darlington in 1983, because it took place on the eve of a general election that would decide whether Labour lost their position as the main opposition to the Tories - and if they had, there might never have been a Labour government again.  The SDP started the by-election as favourites, but their campaign was almost single-handedly destroyed by the BBC's Vincent Hanna (the Michael Crick of his day) who relentlessly undermined the candidate's credibility at press conferences.  As a result, Labour held on for an unlikely victory, and a few weeks later fended off the SDP/Liberal Alliance on a national level by just 3%.

It's quite possible that Darlington changed the course of history - if the SDP had won, Labour might have slipped to third-party status, or else they might have quickly changed their leader, in which case Denis Healey could have mounted a credible challenge to Margaret Thatcher.  Either way, things would have been very different.

Rochester and Strood tonight looks for all the world like a similar turning-point.  If, as expected, there is a UKIP victory, it's likely there will be a bandwagon effect for Farage involving further defections, less than six months before a general election.  But if there's a surprise Darlington-esque hold for the defending party, the UKIP bubble may be deflated somewhat, and next May could prove to be a massive anti-climax for them.

From a hard-headed tactical point of view, it's difficult to know what we should be hoping for - a UKIP surge could split the right-wing vote and bring about a majority Labour government, thus depriving the SNP of any leverage in a hung parliament.  But on the other hand, a strong UKIP could hasten the crisis over Britain's EU membership that might lead to Scotland becoming independent fairly quickly.  We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

*  *  *

So, who can resist a mysterious summons from Robin McAlpine?  He asked if he could run something past me, so I ended up meeting him and Miriam Brett in a cafe in the west end of Glasgow this afternoon.  I'm not sure I was able to help them as much as they'd hoped, but from my own perspective it was fascinating to hear about their future plans, which are almost mind-boggling in scope and ambition.

One thing that became clear is that Robin could urgently do with a good night's sleep, or a full day off now and again.  So if anyone is trying to think of an 'alternative' Christmas present to give him...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scot Goes Pop fundraiser closes with £5937 raised

I'm delighted (and slightly relieved!) to say that the second Scot Goes Pop fundraiser has finally closed.  Including one offline donation, it raised a grand total of £5937 - that's almost 20% more than the original target.  Thanks again to the 208 people who donated, and I'll do my best not to let you down.

*  *  *

I had already received an automated acknowledgement of my submission to the BBC Trust consultation last week, so I was slightly surprised to receive another response today.  The cynical among you may be able to guess where this is going.

"Thank you for your submission to the BBC Trust's Election Guidelines consultation which will be considered in full.

Your comments addressed the proposed leaders’ televised debates. Please note, these proposed Election Guidelines do not refer specifically to the proposed debate/s. The role of the BBC Trust is distinct from that of the BBC’s management and it has no role in day to day editorial decisions such as who should be invited to participate in a particular programme. However, any election debates broadcast or streamed on the BBC must comply with the Election Guidelines and applicable advice on levels of coverage for the parties. This new material on levels of coverage will be made available on the Trust website in January in order for it to be as up-to-date as possible in terms of the political landscape, and will also form part of the consultation.

The Trust will take the consultation responses into account and publish the results on its website, together with the final guidelines once approved by the Trust. This is likely to be in March 2015."

In other words, my submission will be fully considered in the form of it being COMPLETELY IGNORED.  I can only apologise to people who may have taken their cue from me by making a submission in good faith - I honestly thought that at the very least a shaming effect might be achieved, because the number of demands for fair debates would have to be summarised, but it looks like they're even going to avert that by generically summarising those submissions as "irrelevant responses".

Remember the quote from the BBC spokesman that was strategically included within several BBC reports on the debates controversy, assuring viewers they would have the chance to make their views heard via the Trust consultation on the election guidelines?  What in heaven's name was the relevance of that observation, if the position is that BBC management can exclude whoever they like from the debates REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE GUIDELINES SAY?

These people are game-players - there's no other way of putting it.  It's like dealing with the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit.

That said, once this "new material on levels of coverage" is published in January, I'll probably try responding all over again.  The persistence will be worth it to see if they ever run out of excuses.

*  *  *

First Minister Election :

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) 66
Ruth Davidson (Conservatives) 15

Abstentions 39

*puts on Canadian accent*

It's another terrrr-ible afternoon for the Conservatives.

I was slightly surprised that Labour gave the SNP and Tories a free run, but then I remembered that the alternative would have been putting up Jackie Baillie as a candidate for First Minister.  Yes, that would have been pretty silly.

*  *  *

"Jackanory Jim" Murphy made a jaw-dropping statement on last night's televised Labour leadership hustings - he claimed that Nicola Sturgeon was "unusual in Scotland" in that she had never voted Labour.

Er, Jim, do you want to have a look through the records and tell me the last time that Labour won more than 50% of the vote in Scotland?  It'll take you a while.  Because it's never happened.

Confirmed : Survation found more supporters of independence than ever before - and if the old methodology had been used, Yes would be in the lead

I've finally had a chance to look at the datasets for this week's Survation poll, and as I suspected might be the case, it turns out that the introduction of a new weighting procedure (weighting by recalled referendum vote) has had quite a significant effect - without it, the pro-independence vote would have had a slight lead.  That's not to say that the reported result is necessarily wrong or misleading, but the important point is that at no stage during the referendum campaign did Survation ever have the Yes vote higher than 48% - so the fact that this poll would have had Yes above 50% if the old methodology had been used suggests that there are now more independence supporters out there than ever before.  That's entirely in line with the findings of YouGov and Panelbase, both of which did have Yes in the lead.

I was tempted to use "Daily Record caught fibbing" as the title of this blogpost, because you might recall that they claimed that the independence numbers in the poll were Yes 47%, No 53%.  John Curtice says that the Yes vote is actually 48%, and sure enough, when I looked at the raw numbers in the datasets, they worked out as Yes 47.52%, No 52.48%, which on the face of it ought to be rounded to Yes 48%, No 52%.  However, there is a potentially innocent explanation here - even the "raw numbers" of weighted respondents in polling datasets are themselves rounded up or down, so they can sometimes give a misleading impression when things are very finely-balanced.  It could be that Survation privately relayed to the Record that the correct Yes figure was 47%, without putting that in the datasets and without alerting Curtice.  But I'm not sure whether we should take that on trust.

A really interesting set of figures tells us whether people who voted for each party in 2011 are now more or less likely to vote in a given way as a result of the referendum campaign.  Obviously there is the usual meaningless effect of people who were never likely to vote for Party X in the first place claiming they are now even less likely to vote for Party X, so the most useful results relate to whether people are less likely than before to stick with their actual 2011 party.

Labour voters less likely to vote Labour : 21.9%
Liberal Democrat voters less likely to vote Liberal Democrat : 15.2%
SNP voters less likely to vote SNP : 8.1%
Conservative voters less likely to vote Conservative : 3.1%

It's easy to look at these numbers in a superficial way and think "great news for the Tories", but you have to bear in mind that we're starting from a baseline of an overwhelming SNP landslide in 2011.  If the SNP lose only 8.1% of their voters from that contest and don't gain a single extra vote from elsewhere, it would still leave them with an overall vote share of 41.7% - comfortably a winning position (albeit probably not enough to retain an absolute majority in 2016).  This should probably set our minds to rest about there being any danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater - ie. the SNP aren't going to lose their No-voting heartlands as they chase Yes-voting Labour seats, or at least that won't happen unless the small percentage of disgruntled SNP voters identified in this poll are extremely heavily concentrated in certain geographical areas.

Murdo Fraser said the other day that he was looking forward to taking to the doorsteps of Perthshire with the message of "vote SNP, get Miliband".  Well, Murdo, absolutely nothing you guys have tried over the last NINETEEN YEARS has succeeded in dislodging the SNP in Perthshire, so if even this wheeze doesn't work, maybe it'll be time to give up the ghost completely?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Should Scotland seek self-governing Crown Dependency status, like the Isle of Man?

A guest post by Gavin Falconer

One of the results of the independence referendum is that it makes all of us, whether we like it or not, gradualists. Nearly all of you reading this will believe in the removal of Trident and in an end to elective wars against far-flung peoples; most of you also in a Scots republic with an elected head of state. None of those things will be happening in the near future.

That's not to say that there are not interesting times ahead. Over the next few months and years there will be a struggle to devolve as much power as possible to Scotland, with the erstwhile Yes campaign on one side of the argument and the Westminster establishment on the other. The Conservatives will be keen to keep as much of Scotland's oil income as they can in order to pass it on to their plutocrat friends in the form of tax cuts. The Labour Party will wish to retain its Scottish MPs as House of Commons lobby fodder, and those MPs will be happy to deploy esoteric arguments about the indispensible role of an increasingly attenuated pan-British welfare system in order to keep their snouts in the trough.

Deprived of its major weapon of an independence referendum, the Yes campaign will have to use alternative tactics: electoral pressure, yes; but also arguing from inside the system. Recently I read a biography of Daniel O'Connell, the great nineteenth-century Irish politician who delivered "Catholic emancipation", the right of Catholics to sit in the Commons, but failed in his attempts to achieve the repeal of the Union with Ireland Act 1800. O'Connell was a wily barrister and always keen to remain on the right side of the law, even if it meant calling off unjustly banned events, disbanding his own organisation or meekly yielding to the indignity of a rigged show trial. He was also famed for his "monster meetings", each attended by upwards of 100,000 people, which while peaceful carried with them an implied threat of mass action. The mass action that the Yes campaign can threaten is a second referendum, but only if it thinks it can win one. The coming period will therefore see a race to convince the public of the justice or injustice of the forthcoming devolution proposals.

Much has been made already of the circumstances in which another referendum might be called, one scenario being that England might vote to leave the EU but Scotland to stay in it. There is no guarantee, however, that the English will vote to leave, since presumably businesspeople and workers whose livelihoods depend on membership will campaign strongly to remain, as will many trades unions, whose attitude to the EU has been transformed since 1975. A second referendum may therefore depend on winning an argument about devolution, and since the "devo super-max" promised by Better Together is likely to be a lukewarm poultice rather than an out-and-out slap in the face, there is no guarantee of that either. Depending on how the likelihood of calling a referendum is phrased in the SNP manifesto, Westminster may refuse to play ball too, meaning that it would have to be held on an advisory basis. One obvious argument that the establishment would use against us is that the same question had been decided upon so recently.

There is an alternative route, however. Devo Max as those who actually study such things understand it is very similar to the position enjoyed by the Isle of Man, which through the Tynwald deals with everything save defence and foreign affairs. Putting to the people the question of whether Scotland should become a self-governing crown dependency is clearly very different from asking whether Scotland should become an independent country, so there could be no question of denying a referendum on democratic grounds. The issue of access to EU markets would be neutralised; the Isle of Man has full access for goods, and anyone with a British grandparent has access as a worker. In fact, we would even have our own passports.  Another advantage is that, because there is already a territory with the status in question, everyone will be clear on what it means, and that it is a practical proposition. As we have seen, "Devo Max" can mean different things to different people, sometimes out of sheer badness, but more often out of ignorance or genuine disagreement. At times it can be like wrestling jelly.

And there is a precedent for a second referendum on a different question. In 1995, Quebec came very close to accepting a question on "sovereignty-association". With luck, Scotland could do the same — and we got more support the first time round than Quebec.

The knock-on effects of crown dependency status would include losing Scots representation in the House of Commons and therefore what marginal — in fact, more or less illusory — influence we have on defence and foreign affairs. In my view, that loss would be more than compensated for by the competences and revenue streams accruing to a crown-dependent Scotland, which of course include the ability to set up an oil fund. According to, only 21 divisions out of the thousands since the Labour victory of 1997 would have gone differently if Scots MPs had been unable to participate, and some of those votes were on purely English issues.  In the 1997-2001 Parliament, there would have been none at all.

The fact that there would no longer be any Scots MPs at Westminster would also mean that there would be no high-profile establishment politicians protecting their vested interest against the common weal by arguing against independence when — as will surely happen — the substantive question is put to the people again. The absurdities of crown-dependency status are many, including the lack of power over foreign affairs, but, like "English votes for English issues", they are ultimately also arguments for full independence.

Another benefit of asking a question on crown-dependency status is that it to some extent circumvents Westminster by making a direct and highly embarrassing appeal to the monarch. Obviously, that is a distasteful tactic for democrats, but the Queen, who, purring aside, is supposed to be neutral, would find it harder to face down the democratic will of the people than the Tories and Labour are at the moment.

And, of course, it might never come to that, since Westminster could simply buckle under the pressure. A manifesto commitment to a referendum on crown-dependency status, effectively Devo Max + 1, may be the best weapon the Yes parties have to achieve Devo Max itself — and, probably quite soon afterwards, the independent republic that the people of Scotland deserve.

Respecting democracy and abolishing democracy are not the same thing

Last night I got into one of my occasional spats on Twitter, and this time it involved someone who a lot of you will be familiar with - Jill Stephenson, an Edinburgh University academic who absolutely bloody loathes Yes voters. In fact, I once saw her denouncing the entire male gender on the basis that we were collectively "to blame" for the independence referendum happening in the first place. Anyway, I innocently asked her how she manages to teach people who she hates, and after avoiding the question for quite a while, she eventually came out with these gems -

"How do you know whether I teach yes voters? I'm not aware of having done so."

"On the whole, I don't meet yes voters"

Hmmm. Given that 45% of the electorate voted Yes, and that (whisper it gently) some of those people are highly likely to be current or former students at Edinburgh University, it does seem somewhat improbable that Jill has managed to avoid us completely. But you never know, I suppose - perhaps she carries around an amulet which wards us off?

While I was having the exchange, a number of her chums piled in on me, and one of them suggested that the following image sums me up quite well -

Which, of course, is spectacularly misjudged, because I've only ever made one of those statements, and I've specifically repudiated every single one of the other nine.  But the odd one out is interesting, because it actually has no place on the list.  "We demand another referendum" has got nothing to do with conspiracy theories, or refusing to respect the democratic process - quite the contrary.  It's about saying that the winners of a vote can't just abolish democracy now that they've got the result they want.  Would the person who compiled the above image defend David Cameron if he said : "I won in 2010, so that's it - you're never getting another vote.  You're stuck with me as Prime Minister for the rest of your lives."

Unfortunately, we've seen this kind of thing from people on both sides of the debate.  In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, a number of Yes supporters were extremely impatient with anyone who even dared to mention the possibility of another referendum - for example, Lallands Peat Worrier bluntly said "stop it".  That was well-meaning, because he honestly felt that shutting down talk of another referendum would be helpful for the independence cause, but in my view it was totally misguided.  It simply played into the hands of anti-democrats such as the person who compiled the above image, who were all too keen to establish the Orwellian narrative that respecting democracy somehow entails the ruling out of future democratic votes.

Derek Bateman has returned to this theme over the last couple of days.  He's repeated something that he said immediately after the referendum : "I will go to my grave believing in independence and I will also go to my grave as a democrat." This presumably implies that there won't be - and shouldn't be - another independence referendum within his lifetime. That's really odd, because I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that he's only in his mid-60s, which means that even if we end up sticking to the "once in a generation" principle, there's no reason why he won't be around to see a second referendum. In Quebec's case, of course, the second independence referendum came after fifteen years, and the second Scottish and Welsh devolution referendums came after eighteen years. Is Derek really implying that in order to be good democrats, we have to rule out a referendum for LONGER than a generation, unless there is a "material change of circumstances"? If so, that argument is utterly unsustainable.

But what I think really needs to be knocked on the head is Derek's suggestion that people who talk about a second referendum are somehow analogous to the "dark forces" who might have sought to overturn a Yes vote using legal challenges. That's totally wrong. Only the out-and-out conspiracy theorists are trying to overturn a No vote - the rest of us who are looking forward to another referendum at some point in the future have accepted the result. The correct comparison for us would be with people in a post-independence Scotland who might seek to use the electoral process to gain a mandate for Scotland rejoining the United Kingdom. Would anyone seriously suggest that such people can't be considered democrats?

Derek has also reiterated that he doesn't think the flawed nature of the referendum campaign should in any way detract from our moral requirement to not just accept the result, but to celebrate it as an expression of democracy. I must say I think that's pushing it a bit. Yes, we have to accept the result, because this is the real world and you can't just immediately re-run a vote on the grounds that, for example, public service broadcasters actively participated in a "shock and awe" campaign directed by the British state. But accepting the result doesn't mean that you have to wax lyrical about the majesty of democracy when you've just come out of a campaign that may have been free, but most certainly wasn't fair.

Monday, November 17, 2014

SNP rocket to Westminster vote of 46% in stupendous Survation survey

As was exclusively revealed here a few hours ago (well, after a fashion) there is a stonkingly brilliant new poll of Westminster voting intentions out tonight - it's the second part of the Survation poll for the Daily Record.

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

SNP 45.8%
Labour 23.9%
Conservatives 16.7%
Liberal Democrats 6.1%

Although this poll is obviously a halfway house between the other full-scale polls we've seen recently (it's a bigger lead for the SNP than in YouGov or Panelbase, but a smaller lead than in Ipsos-Mori), what's even more interesting about it is that it comes from the only firm to have found Labour ahead of the SNP in any full-scale post-referendum poll.  On the day immediately after the referendum, Survation conducted a poll that put Labour on 38.6% in Westminster voting intentions, and the SNP on 34.7%.  On the face of it, that means the SNP have made an 11.1% gain over the last two months, and Labour have suffered a 14.7% drop, amounting to a net swing from Labour to the SNP of 12.9%.  However, a direct comparison isn't possible, because the September poll was conducted by telephone, whereas tonight's poll was online.

This is the Record's projection of what the result suggested by the poll would mean in terms of seats...

SNP 52
Labour 5
Conservatives 1
Liberal Democrats 1

Obviously if the actual result is even remotely close to that, it would leave the SNP as comfortably the third-largest party in the new House of Commons. Even on a very good night, the Liberal Democrats aren't going to be much higher than 30, and the conventional wisdom is that 12 is the limit of UKIP's realistic ambitions.  So this is the fourth successive full-scale Scottish poll to pile enormous pressure on the broadcasters to reverse their untenable proposal to exclude the SNP from the leaders' debates, but to include UKIP and the Lib Dems.

Talking of which, I was amused to spot the Labour spokesman in the Record trot out the standard issue "Michael Foot" quote used by any party in deep, deep trouble -

"The only poll that matters is the one on May 7 next year."

For as long as the broadcasters are using (or claiming to use) the polls as part of their "objective criteria" for deciding who gets into the debates, the above statement cannot possibly be true.  Tonight, for example, there's a GB-wide YouGov poll that puts the Greens ahead of the Lib Dems on 8% of the vote.  If that sort of finding becomes typical over the coming weeks, it's very hard to see how Natalie Bennett won't be involved in the debates (although whether legal action will be required to get her there remains to be seen).

As noted last night, Survation have followed Panelbase's example by introducing weighting by recalled referendum vote.  In Panelbase's case that led to the SNP vote being adjusted downwards - we'll have to wait for the datasets to see whether the same thing has happened in the Survation poll, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.

Although there isn't much detail yet, we've been told that this poll offers the first direct evidence that traditional Labour voters have moved to the SNP specifically because Labour backed a No vote.  If true, that might suggest that the SNP vote will prove more resilient in the face of media bias than we've been fearing, because the referendum experience was such a powerful one for many people, and could well override other factors. It was interesting that in Sunday's GB-wide YouGov poll, Scottish respondents were actually slightly more likely to plump for the SNP after being presented with various hypothetical line-ups of London party leaders, even though all of those lists treated the SNP as if they didn't exist.

The one small piece of bad news about tonight's poll is that it's not as bang up to date as you'd normally expect from an online survey - the fieldwork started the best part of two weeks ago.

Someone sent me an email asking why the Record has published a poll showing Labour facing a wipe-out, and wondering whether it might be a tactic to scare Labour voters back into the fold.  I think there's a danger of over-thinking this sort of thing - the reality is that any media organisation that goes to the expense of commissioning a voting intention poll is going to make use of the results, regardless of what they show.  As we saw last night, if there had been any way at all, however implausible, of putting a Nat-bashing gloss on the numbers, they would have done it.  As it is, they've made the best of a bad job by reporting the story in front of them and using it to drum up interest, although admittedly they've made a small, half-hearted attempt at spin by falsely claiming that the result suggested by the poll would end hopes of getting Cameron out of Downing Street.

*  *  *


This update of the Poll of Polls is based on the full-scale Survation poll, plus Scottish subsamples from eight GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, two from Populus, one from Ashcroft and one from ComRes.  I won't be able to include the figures for UKIP and the Greens until the Survation datasets appear.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 44.1% (+1.1)
Labour 24.8% (-0.9)
Conservatives 16.7% (+1.3)
Liberal Democrats 6.3% (+0.6)

(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 alternative referendum

We're not there yet, because for now the only game in town is using next year's general election to hold Westminster's feet to the fire over The Vow.  But at some point before the 2016 Holyrood election, the SNP are going to be faced with a crucial junction in the road.  The moderate (for want of a better word) wing of the party will be pressing for the constitution to be put on the backburner in the 2016 manifesto, in order to demonstrate to people that we've accepted the referendum result, and that we're not just the party of independence but also the party of bread-and-butter issues and good governance.  I believe that was broadly the message of the guest post Marco Biagi MSP wrote on Lallands Peat Worrier's blog just after referendum day.  In the other corner will be people who think now is Scotland's golden opportunity to make a huge constitutional leap, and that to put off doing anything at all about it for seven years or whatever would be utterly crazy.

Nor can this choice really be averted by leaving a degree of creative ambiguity in the manifesto over whether an SNP government would seek to hold a referendum within the coming five-year term or not.  There are two reasons for that.  Firstly, for as long as there is legal ambiguity over Holyrood's ability to hold a referendum without Westminster's acquiescence, it'll be particularly important to secure an explicit and unambiguous popular mandate for any referendum that is proposed, as happened in 2011.  And secondly, if there was one big lesson from this year's Quebec provincial election, it's that a lack of clarity over plans for a constitutional referendum can prove fatal.

Luckily, I think there may be ways of squaring the circle.  Most obviously, the manifesto could make a conditional commitment that the SNP would seek an early second independence referendum if the UK voted to leave the European Union.  Moderates might seek the insertion of an equally clear commitment that there would be no independence referendum over the five year term in any other circumstances.  That would be a crystal-clear position that I think voters would see as reasonable.

But that can't be the end of the story, because the balance of probability remains that the UK will not leave the EU.  And that brings me back to a possibility that we've discussed before, and that Kevin raised again on the previous thread - why not commit to a referendum on full Devo Max instead?  That should be something that the moderates can accept, because there would be no question of it being a "re-run" of September the 18th.  It would build on the popular will that has already been expressed, rather than seeking to overturn it.  Fundamentalists in the party shouldn't have any great problem going along with it either, because it's not hard to see how it might bring independence closer - if there's a clear mandate for Devo Max established and the UK government ignores it, the next step is fairly obvious.

There are also legal advantages in making the next referendum about Devo Max rather than independence.  Lallands Peat Worrier recently claimed that the Edinburgh Agreement had weakened the argument that Holyrood already has the power to hold a consultative independence referendum.  I suggested to him that a Presiding Officer from a pro-independence background might use a generous interpretation of the law to certify a referendum bill as being within the parliament's powers, and then let the courts decide - an act which would in itself demonstrate that an exercise in Scottish democratic self-determination was being thwarted by London diktat.  LPW dismissed the idea out of hand, and insisted that the Presiding Officer didn't have the discretion to act in that way.  I'm not entirely convinced by that line of argument, because one thing you can be sure of is that any proposed referendum question will have been written by an ingenious lawyer trying to make it as indirect as possible in order to have at least a theoretical chance of being deemed to be in conformity with the law.

But luckily, all of this would be an academic point if the referendum was about Devo Max, because the Edinburgh Agreement had no effect whatever on the legality of consultative referenda that are not about independence (the word "independence" was specifically used in the Section 30 order).  LPW has confirmed that a Devo Max referendum would be a runner in legal terms, subject to the correct wording.

What format could it take?  The most obvious option would be a straight Yes/No question on the blueprint for maximum devolution that the Scottish Government submitted to the Smith Commission.  But there would also be the opportunity to do something more imaginative.  Why not do exactly what some of the polls do - give voters a shopping list of individual powers, and ask them to say in each case whether they think the Scottish or Westminster governments should be in control of them?  (We could even be cheeky and add foreign affairs and defence to the list - that might be seen as an attempt to secure independence via the backdoor, but if nothing else it would force voters to think carefully about what their specific objection to independence really is.)

The recent Catalan consultation offers another potential way forward.  It asked two questions - should Catalonia be a state, and should it be an independent state?  In our case we've already had the answer to the second question, but we've yet to ask the first.  You might wonder what a non-independent state actually looks like - well, it could be a sovereign state-within-a-state like a US state or a Canadian province, but a more interesting possibility lies closer to home, in the shape of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.  Those territories are states, they are not independent of the United Kingdom, but they are not part of the United Kingdom either.  It's been lazily stated by a number of people (and I'm one of them) that by rejecting independence we've chosen to remain part of the UK for the time being, but that isn't strictly speaking true.

* * *

Bobmidd left this comment on the previous thread -

"there's an opinion poll coming out tomorrow giving the SNP 50% in Scotland."

Obviously I can't vouch for whether this is true or not, but I just thought you might like to know. "50% in Scotland" might imply a subsample, in which case it wouldn't be quite so significant.

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The second Scot Goes Pop fundraiser closes on Wednesday morning at 8am (UK time).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cameron's "it's all over" narrative falls apart as 60% of the Scottish electorate demand another independence referendum - and 48% want it within just TEN YEARS

Ignore the utterly desperate spin Davie Clegg of the Record is putting on the new Survation poll his paper commissioned - the results are nothing short of catastrophic for the narrative of "it's over, it was decisive, for heaven's sake let's all move on" that he and his spiritual overlord Mr Cameron (along with the rest of the London political and media establishment) have been trying to pedal for the last two months.

Total who want another independence referendum : 60%
Total who don't want another independence referendum : 28%

Total who want another independence referendum within ten years : 48%
Total who don't want another independence referendum within ten years : 40%

This is massive - it means that, at least as things stand in the current febrile atmosphere, there's clear support for another referendum well before "a generation" has passed.  And that's without even factoring in the possibility of a major change in circumstances, such as a betrayal of The Vow, or Scotland being forced to leave the EU against its will.

And yet if you allow yourself to be guided by Davie's headline in the Record, you'd be forgiven for believing that the really significant news here is that 28% of people don't want another referendum - because we all know that 28% is a much bigger number than 60%, don't we?  Davie also reads epic significance into the fact that 6% of respondents claim to have suffered a permanent falling out as a result of the referendum - even though this of course means that an utterly trifling 94% of respondents don't claim to have suffered a permanent falling out, even when they're asked a leading question.

The overwhelming appetite for a second referendum is very much in line with other polls since September, and this poll also concurs with the earlier evidence that support for Yes in any new vote would be higher.  However, the extent of the increase is not as great as in the YouGov and Panelbase polls, and still leaves No in a slight lead by 53% to 47%.  The important thing, though, is that we can be confident that the 2% boost for Yes is real, because Survation have introduced weighting by recalled referendum vote to make sure.  That means this may well be, in real terms, the highest Yes vote Survation have ever recorded - 47% is at the upper end of their previous "normal range", but that's before you take account of the likely adjustment caused by the new weighting.  Panelbase introduced a similar procedure in their recent poll, and that led to quite an extreme downweighting of the Yes vote - they had Yes in the lead by 51% to 49%, but that would have been significantly higher if the old methodology had been retained.

It's also important to note that Survation became known as being almost a "broken record" pollster during the campaign - apart from after a major methodological change, they never showed anything more than very minor shifts in opinion, even as other pollsters were reporting a massive swing to Yes.  It could be that Survation online panellists are unusually entrenched in their opinions, and therefore won't fully reflect any real world changes on the ground.

The other key finding of this poll is that Scotland would vote to stay in the EU in Cameron's proposed in/out referendum, and by a much wider margin than suggested by the Panelbase poll -

Stay in the EU : 47%
Leave the EU : 35%

That's another hammerblow for the Murdo Fraser/Kenny Farquharson worldview that insists Scottish public opinion is "more or less" identical to the rest of the UK.  With recent Britain-wide polls suggesting that the UK is on course to leave the EU, a major constitutional crisis in pro-European Scotland is now very much on the cards.

Blankety-Blank, Blankety-Blank. Blankety-Blank, Blankety-Blank. Super Max Game, Super Max Game, Super Max Game. Super Max Game!

I must have been living down a hole over the last week, because I somehow missed this notorious comment from Downing Street spokesman George Galloway about the Scotland v Ireland game at Celtic Park -

"Celtic fans welcome to support the country which colonised the land of their fathers then 'welcomed' us as immigrants like a case of Ebola"

Now I would never dream of imposing a Tebbit-style "cricket test" on anyone, especially not someone from the same community as me (although it has to be said Galloway's surname is considerably less Irish than mine).  But I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to expect a little intellectual consistency here.  If he really does see himself as Irish-not-Scottish, how does he justify the prolonged outbreak of synthetic anger he displayed in the TV debate with Jim Sillars a few months ago, after Sillars suggested he was no longer a Scottish MP because he doesn't represent a Scottish constituency?  And when he made his famous Promise To The Nation at the Hydro on behalf of Downing Street, he should really have phrased it a bit differently -

"As an Irishman, let me say this to you, my conquerors and oppressors - you are forgiven!  And as a gesture of reconciliation, I bring you a gift!  Not just Devo Max, but Devo....SOUP-per Max*!"

*Terms and conditions apply.  Offer only applicable until you vote No, and thereafter will be subject to rapid reinterpretation and convenient memory loss.  Your statutory rights are most definitely affected.

*  *  *


With today's update of the Poll of Polls, we revert to being totally reliant on Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls (five from YouGov, one from Populus and one from ComRes).  In spite of that, the numbers have remained remarkably stable, with the SNP retaining a 17.3% lead over Labour.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43.0% (-0.6)
Labour 25.7% (-0.4)
Conservatives 15.4% (-0.5)
Liberal Democrats 5.7% (+1.0)
UKIP 4.6% (-1.7)
Greens 4.4% (+2.0)

(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 other day, I was taken to task on Twitter again - this time not by a troll, but by an Oxford political scientist (albeit one who has been known to spend a bit too much time in the company of "risk assessor" groupies for his own good). Basically, he was complaining about my use of subsamples in the Poll of Polls, which he described as "like being thirsty and drinking salt water because it's the only water around". I have to say I'm not remotely impressed by that line of argument - if the great and the good don't take Scotland seriously enough to commission regular Scotland-specific polls, then it's totally unrealistic to expect people who care about Scotland to ignore the only available evidence, however imperfect that evidence may be (and regular readers will be only too aware of the health warnings I've been monotonously putting on subsamples since I first started covering them on this blog in 2009).

Where does it lead if you do ignore that evidence? For starters, it led John Curtice a few weeks ago to misleadingly point to massively out-of-date Opinium polls as suggesting that the SNP had little chance of making a Westminster breakthrough, even though by then we were already snowed under by subsample evidence that correctly suggested the situation had completely changed, and that the SNP were well in the lead.