Friday, December 12, 2014

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

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

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

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

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

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

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48%
No 45%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

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

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

How are the SNP faring on the transfer market?

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

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

Independent 98
SNP 77

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

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

Liberal Democrats 31
SNP 22
Conservatives 16
Independent 8

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

Independent 177
Conservatives 122
SNP 111

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

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

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

Independent 96
Labour 52

And in Oban North and Lorn -

Independent 183
Labour 91
SNP 12

And in North Coast and Cumbraes -

Independent 589
SNP 123

And in Midlothian East -

Labour 100
Independent 83
SNP 27

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

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

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

Tories tormented as super SNP secure staggering swing in cracking Kintyre contest

Is the South Kintyre by-election result an early tremor, presaging the earthquake to come next May?  Well, maybe, but we shouldn't jump to conclusions - this is the sixth local by-election since the SNP's post-referendum opinion poll surge started, and although there's been more good news than bad, there certainly hasn't been a consistent trend.  Tonight's numbers are pretty extraordinary, though.

South Kintyre by-election result (11th December) :

SNP 62.2% (+37.2)
Liberal Democrats 14.1% (-0.1)
Conservatives 13.4% (-32.5)
Labour 10.3% (+10.3) 

Swing from Conservatives to SNP : 34.9%
Swing from Liberal Democrats to SNP : 18.7%
Swing from Labour to SNP : 13.5%

Although the SNP were technically defending the seat, the Tories had a commanding lead in the ward in 2012, as you can probably gather from the off-the-scale swing from Tory to SNP.  Of course at a national level the SNP had a narrow lead over Labour of just under 1% in the 2012 local elections, so if we "just for a bit of fun" apply the above swings on a Scotland-wide basis, the SNP would be leading by the small matter of about 28%.

However, local factors obviously come into play, and without being familiar with the facts on the ground it's impossible to know how much to read into this result.  The Tories might have run a particularly dreadful campaign this time, or the personal vote for their incumbent councillor Donald Kelly may have flattered them last time around.  The most recent batch of by-elections two weeks ago demonstrated that it's possible for the SNP to have an excellent result in one part of the country while falling short elsewhere on the same day, so for all we know the Elgin result (to be announced in a few hours' time) might paint a completely different picture.  In the meantime, though...

*puts on Canadian accent*

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's time for Glaswegians to stop alienating themselves from their own linguistic heritage

I've always felt (or have felt for some time anyway) that supporters of independence can't afford to bang on about the Gaelic and Scots languages too much, because there's a danger of getting stuck in a ghetto inhabited only by people who are interested in language/cultural issues, and irritating everyone else.  For the proof of that, we need look no further than the way the Quebec sovereignty movement enjoys almost no support outside the French-speaking population.

But when you see how poorly educated people are about Scots, and how they don't even seem to notice when they're speaking the language themselves, it's difficult not to want to weep, or to do something about it as a matter of some urgency.  I've just had an exchange on Twitter with an STV journalist called Peter A Smith, whose heart is entirely in the right place on this subject - he sees Scots as a language not a dialect, and thinks it's harmful to the credibility of the language if something which is not really Scots is held up as an example of the language.  So far, so good.  Unfortunately, that leads him to look upon the Glaswegian dialect as something completely different from Scots - a language which is spoken "elsewhere". Even more astonishingly, he claims that Scots has never been spoken in Glasgow.  This misconception appears to be based on a garbled recollection of being taught about a language similar to Welsh that was once spoken in these parts, plus a "Lancashire dialect", both of which were superseded by "standard English".  He well and truly gives the game away by using the word "accent" when he mocks an attempt to replicate spoken Glaswegian on a menu.  That implies Glaswegian is simply heavily accented standard English, which it plainly isn't - standard English looks like standard English when it's written down, regardless of accent.  Glaswegian looks rather different from standard English when it's written down, and for a simple reason - it's a dialect, not an accent.

When I suggested to Peter that Glaswegian is actually a debased dialect of Scots, or a transitional dialect on a continuum between Scots and English, he insisted that the Scots elements of speech that exist in the dialect are just "borrowed words and expressions" - similar to the borrowed words and expressions we have from Gaelic and Latin.  I mean, where to begin?  The most basic words used by Glaswegians, the fundamental building-blocks needed to construct a sentence like "doon" and "aff", are Scots.  These are not "loan-words" - they are words which have been passed down through generations since a time when the Scots spoken in Glasgow was as distinct from standard English as modern-day Doric is.  It's the more complex Scots words, phrases and idioms that have been lost, due to the influence of English-medium education and the media.

(Incidentally, speakers of Glaswegian do of course also use the English forms of words like 'doon' and 'aff' at times, but that's simply code-switching, which is a completely normal phenomenon where a language continuum exists.)

To an extent Peter is right that it's counter-productive to parade modern-day Glaswegian as an example of Scots without any qualification, because that unintentionally plays into the hands of those who regard the idea that Scots is a separate language as being laughable.  But it's also counter-productive to set up an artificial Berlin Wall between Scots and Glaswegian, and to pretend that Glaswegian belongs only to English and has nothing to do with Scots apart from a few "borrowed words" here and there.  The much better approach is to clear-sightedly recognise the dialect for what it actually is - namely a transitional dialect between Scots and English, one that is probably closer to English these days, but which is undoubtedly an authentic blend of both languages.  In that way, Glaswegians can proudly take ownership of the Scots speech-forms they still retain, rather than needlessly regarding them as alien borrowings from a Burns theme-park.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Then raise the scarlet standard high...

I have a new article at the International Business Times, pondering whether a post-election Labour-SNP deal would provide Britain with its most left-wing government since Attlee left office.  You can read it HERE.  (It's also on Yahoo HERE.)

In an attempt to 'research' the piece, I visited the Labour party website for the first time in ages, and I discovered that they apparently think the visiting public is a three-year old child.  This isn't progress, guys.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

And make that a hat-trick - yet again, the SNP and Plaid are just 1% behind the Lib Dems in a Britain-wide YouGov poll

Today's Britain-wide YouGov poll is the third out of the last four to put the SNP and Plaid Cymru just 1% behind the Liberal Democrats.  Given the consistency of these results, there must be a reasonably high chance that sooner or later a YouGov poll will put the SNP and Plaid ahead of the Lib Dems across Britain.

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 7th-8th December) :

Conservatives 34% (+2)
Labour 33% (+1)
UKIP 15% (-2)
Greens 6% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)

In the Scottish subsample, the SNP hold a commanding 47% to 25% lead over Labour.  That marks a reversion to the norm of the latter part of last week, after the Sunday subsample showed a somewhat narrower gap.

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Today's update of the Poll of Polls will hopefully put yesterday's nonsense about Populus in some kind of perspective, because as usual (or as usual in the absence of any full-scale Scottish polls) it's based on an average of all Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls conducted within the last seven days by all firms.  Taken into account are four subsamples from YouGov, two from Populus and one from Ashcroft.  The latest Opinium poll is omitted because the Scottish subsample hasn't been published.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.6% (-1.0)
Labour 26.9% (+0.9)
Conservatives 16.1% (+0.5)
Liberal Democrats 6.3% (n/c)
UKIP 4.6% (n/c)
Greens 2.4% (+0.1)

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Piffle pertaining to Populus

Even if it wasn't for my past history at Political Betting, I would have sighed heavily at the latest post from Mike Smithson, which makes a big drama out of the fact that Labour are "only" 3% behind the SNP in a published aggregate of Populus subsamples from the month of November -

SNP 35%
Labour 32%
Conservatives 17%
Liberal Democrats 9%
Greens 2%

This of course only tells us what we already knew, because the individual Populus subsamples were all published and were freely available for anyone to tot up (but only if that person could "be arsed", of course).

Smithson does add a couple of half-hearted caveats to the figures, but still comes to the silly conclusion that Labour "will be delighted".  As we've been saying for weeks, Populus stick out like a sore thumb as the one and only pollster that has produced subsamples since the referendum putting the SNP behind Labour - and they haven't just done it once, but several times.  By contrast, every other pollster has put the SNP ahead in every single post-referendum subsample to date - and that includes YouGov, who produce at least five subsamples per week.  If you aggregated subsamples from every firm other than Populus, or even if you aggregated subsamples from every firm including Populus, you'd see a very handsome SNP lead - as this blog's Poll of Polls demonstrates.

There's no mystery about why Populus are different - they downweight the SNP much more severely than anyone else does, based on target figures for party identification from way back in 2010, when of course the SNP had much less core support.

In other words, the above figures are a red herring.  Nothing to see here.

On a vaguely related point of pedantry, Smithson keeps saying that there have only been three full-scale Scottish polls since the week of the referendum.  That's quite simply wrong, but naturally I haven't been able to correct him because of my random lifetime banning from his site.  There have in fact been six full-scale Scottish polls since September 18th - two from Survation, two from Panelbase, one from Ipsos-Mori and one from YouGov.  Even if you discount the first Survation poll because it was conducted immediately after the referendum, that still leaves five.

As forced choices go, this one isn't the most promising

We're used to Labour politicians desperately trying to defuse the SNP threat with the claim that the general election is a straight choice between Labour and the Tories, which is a well-worn line that may or may not still have some mileage in it.  But I was absolutely baffled to see Anas Sarwar go a step further and say that "the people of Scotland know" the choice is between Mr Miliband as PM and Mr Cameron as PM.

He'd better hope the people of Scotland "know" no such thing, in the light of the absolutely unambiguous opinion poll evidence we've seen on this subject for years now -

Which of these would make the best Prime Minister? (Respondents in Scotland)

David Cameron : 26%
Ed Miliband : 15%
Nick Clegg : 4%
Don't Know : 55%

That's from the most recent YouGov poll to ask that question, on 2nd-3rd December.  The Don't Know figure was much higher than in any other region of Britain, so it seems reasonable to suppose that many people were using it as a de facto 'none of the above' option.

Sarwar notoriously said within minutes of the referendum result becoming clear that we could all get back to normal politics now (and presumably eat some cereal).  The tragedy is that he still honestly seems to believe that - even with the benefit of the last ten weeks of hard truths, he's yet to notice that Scottish politics as "normal" is now utterly dead.  It's not that people in Scotland want David Cameron as Prime Minister for a single moment - it's just that they think the Labour alternative would be even worse, and are determined to escape altogether from such a grim false choice.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Alex Salmond could become Deputy Prime Minister of the UK - at Labour's request

The expression "hung parliament" is an adaptation of "hung jury", explained Vernon Bogdanor on the BBC's election results programme in May 2010.  A hung jury is one that has no prospect of reaching a majority verdict, and therefore must be dismissed by the judge to make way for a fresh trial.  Bogdanor concluded that the parliament that had just been elected had no prospect of producing a sustainable government, and therefore would be dismissed in short order, leading us back to the polls within a few months.

Bogdanor was completely and utterly wrong, but to be fair he was only wrong because he was making a basic assumption that was very widely held at the time - namely that the Conservatives were unable and unwilling to enter into coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  As it turned out (only a few hours later), the Tory leadership were actually even keener on coalition than the Lib Dems were, for a number of good reasons -

* They feared, in Norman Lamont's famous phrase, being "in office but not in power".  Compromise with the Lib Dems and the prospect of getting at least most of the Tory manifesto implemented was preferable to treading water for an unknown period as a minority government and getting nothing of any substance done.

* A weak Tory minority government could have become unpopular very quickly, and if they had been forced to call an early general election, there was a risk of being defeated by a Labour party which would by then have had a chance to regroup and elect a new leader.

* Having the Lib Dems inside the government, rather than offering limited support from outside, meant that there would be more than one party taking the blame for unpopular decisions.  Indeed, there was a chance that the Lib Dems might end up taking more than their fair share of the blame.

* Adding on a ready-made "liberal wing" to his government appealed to Cameron in some ways - it meant that he would be at the ideological centre of the administration.

Now let's try and imagine what would happen next May if the arithmetic works out as we hope, and Labour's only chance of cobbling together a governing majority is to do a deal with the SNP that delivers Devo Max, or at the very least something much closer to Devo Max than the Smith Commission has proposed.  As has been well-established, the SNP would prefer that deal to be a confidence-and-supply arrangement, rather than a coalition.  But what would Labour prefer?  I doubt if even they know the answer to that question yet, because they're still in denial about the very real prospect of the SNP taking most of their Scottish seats.  But when and if that reality hits home, it's not impossible that they might come to the same conclusion that Cameron did in 2010, meaning that they would take the experts by surprise and press hard for full coalition with the hated Nats.

Confidence-and-supply might be of limited appeal to Labour, because even if it was a firm deal that was guaranteed for a full parliament, it would leave them with the "in office but not in power" problem - especially given that the SNP would continue abstaining on England-only votes.  If Labour were going to make big and painful concessions to the SNP, it might only be worth it if they were sure of being able to win parliamentary votes consistently for five years, or four, or three, or however long the agreement is proposed to last.

Or perhaps they detest the SNP and the whole idea of Scottish self-government so much that they would refuse to do a deal at all, no matter what the cost?  Maybe, but they would be fully aware that the potential cost could be very substantial indeed.  If the Tories feared in 2010 that a Prime Minister Cameron at the head of a weak minority government might lose an early general election after six months, the mind boggles as to what Labour think would happen to a Prime Minister Miliband in similar circumstances.

And what about the other side of the equation - would the SNP be willing to accept the painful sacrifices that would be required to enter into formal coalition?  Like the Lib Dems, they would be risking deep unpopularity as the junior coalition partner, and would also have to deal with the awkwardness of dispensing with their long-held position of not voting on England-only matters.  But IF the coalition agreement contained a cast-iron guarantee of Devo Max within a short timescale, my guess is that any amount of pain would be worth accepting.  To borrow Alex Salmond's phrase from the referendum campaign : "it's an opportunity that may not come our way again".

So on the day that Mr Salmond confirms he'll be seeking to return to Westminster, it's worth pondering the irony that his return might lead to him to become Deputy Prime Minister of the UK - and that if it does happen, it may well be at Labour's specific request.