Saturday, December 20, 2014

The ideal result?

I was amused the other night to see Flockers (our occasional visitor from Stormfront Lite) apparently licking his lips at the prospect of SNP supporters having to justify Alex Salmond's hints that the party may dispense with its recent practice of abstaining on English-only matters.  Flockers' implication was that a core part of the SNP's sense of itself was about to be casually reversed in an "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia" kind of way.  Dear God.  The mind boggles as to the number of Anglocentric assumptions that must be required to reach the conclusion that a Scottish pro-independence party's identity is somehow bound up with the stance it takes on English votes at Westminster.  In truth, I doubt if there are many SNP members, supporters or voters out there who give a monkey's about the English votes policy, beyond its tactical utility. 

And the question of tactical utility is exactly why the policy should be ditched if the SNP hold the balance of power next May.  If a self-denying ordinance reduces the party's bargaining power and makes it less likely that a deal can be done with Labour to transfer huge powers to the Scottish Parliament, then that self-denying ordinance serves no purpose and needs to go.  Full stop, end of story.  The best interests of Scotland come first.

For weeks now, Tory commentators like Fraser Nelson have been congratulating themselves that the SNP's abstentionism on English affairs will make it easier for the Tories to run a minority government, and will also get David Cameron off the hook of having to do anything about English Votes for English Laws.  But I'm afraid it's no part of the SNP's mission in life to make it easier for the Tories to rule.  It would also be crazy for the SNP to reduce the pressure for EVEL through their own nobility of action, given that EVEL will introduce a severe instability into the UK constitution that can only be of benefit to the Scottish national movement.

In rightly noting Alex Salmond's tactical astuteness in revisiting the English votes policy, the Scotsman's editorial makes a claim that I'm not sure is entirely well-founded -

"Mr Salmond must surely know this plan can only come into play if Labour is the largest party but does not have an overall majority and would certainly not have a majority of English seats."

That's misleading in two ways.  Firstly, it's perfectly possible that Labour will need the SNP's help to govern, even if they have more seats than the Tories in England.  But just as importantly, it's not true that Labour would have to be the largest party in the Commons for the SNP to have leverage.  Consider this highly plausible scenario -

Conservatives 285
Labour 283
SNP 32
Liberal Democrats 25
Sinn Féin 5
Plaid Cymru 4
Greens 1
Independent 1

The Tories are the largest single party, but a Tory-led government isn't arithmetically viable - or at least not without Labour's help.  Assuming Sinn Féin don't take up their seats, the target for an effective majority would be 323 seats.

Labour + SNP + Plaid Cymru + SDLP + Greens = 323

The SNP, Plaid and the Greens have all said they would have nothing to do with the Tories (and it can reasonably be assumed that the SDLP take a similar view), so Cameron's only hope would be that useful idiots in Labour's ranks like Tom Harris repeat their antics from 2010 and actively campaign for the Tories to take office, on the grounds of "They won the most seats!  It's only fair!"  But I think after five long years in opposition, Labour's hunger for power is sufficient to ensure that those voices would be shouted down this time.

In some ways, the scenario outlined above would be better for the SNP than one where Labour is the largest party - because it would mean that Labour wouldn't have the option of simply trying their luck as a minority government without the help of others.  In order to get their leader into Number 10 in the first place, they would need a deal with the SNP to demonstrate to the Queen that Miliband is better placed than Cameron to command a Commons majority.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Murphy cries into his patriotic beer as new Poll of Polls gives the SNP a 16% lead

There have been some suggestions that today's YouGov poll might be the last word from the firm for this year, and I was just a tad concerned about it overnight.  The headline figures showed Labour on an unusually high 35% across Britain, and I wondered if that might be a sign that they'd at last secured a decent showing in the Scottish subsample.  However, I needn't have worried - the datasets have now been released, and the SNP remain in the lead over Labour in Scotland by 42% to 31%, which is comfortably within the range we've been accustomed to since the referendum.  As is equally typical, Labour's support in the poll is lower in Scotland than in three of the other four regions of Britain - the exception being the south of England (outside London).

So we've now come to the end of the first full week of Labour's Great Patriotic War Against Nationalism, and there's still no sign whatever of that elusive "Murphy bounce". Probably the only chink of hope for them is to be found in the subsample from the ICM telephone poll, which prior to the turnout filter being applied has them level with the SNP.  However, after the turnout filter the SNP actually have a higher share of the vote than in either of the two previous post-referendum ICM phone polls, and are ahead of Labour by a comfortable enough margin of 43% to 35%.  Meanwhile, one of this week's other phone polls is probably not exactly making Her Majesty purr - the Scottish subsample from Ipsos-Mori has Labour trailing the SNP by a mind-boggling 52% to 15%.

I'm not entirely sure whether this will be the last Poll of Polls of 2014 - there's still a possibility that there might be one or two polls to come in the Sunday papers.  Either way, it's a good moment for another update, because the most recent full-scale YouGov poll has now dropped out of the sample, leaving us with numbers derived from eight subsamples from GB-wide polls, all of which were conducted either wholly or in part after Murphy's coronation.  Four of them are from YouGov, one from ICM, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from ComRes and one from Populus.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.4% (-1.4)
Labour 26.3% (-0.4)
Conservatives 15.5% (-1.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.6% (+1.9)
Greens 4.4% (+1.2)
UKIP 3.6% (-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.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A heartfelt plea to the imaginary Scotsmen in Dan Hodges' head - please stop doing beastly things to Dan Hodges

I still haven't got around to doing my Top of the Pops list of the stupidest things said by unionist politicians and commentators in the two or three days immediately after the referendum.  There are some absolute corkers in there, which all seemed pretty stupid even at the time, but needless to say they look utterly risible now that a bit of water has flowed under the bridge.  Each and every one of them, though, has just been effortlessly surpassed by something said by a unionist commentator a whole three months after the referendum.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr Dan Hodges.

"I’m not sure what’s going on in Scotland at the moment, and I’m not sure I want to know. But I know this. Diana has gone. And someone up there has to start to get a grip."

From the incredulous tone of that remark, you'd be forgiven for thinking that something truly unspeakable must be going on here in Scotland - you know, a horror akin to the Reavers in Firefly and Serenity who have been driven mad by a disastrous scientific experiment, and who roam the galaxy looking for men to eat alive for sheer pleasure, before plastering the bloody remains all over their spaceships. However, what Dan is actually referring to is the fact that some of us would quite like to have another peaceful democratic vote on our constitutional future at some point in the years ahead, and don't accept that the vote in September settled the matter for the remainder of time. But, hey, that's kind of similar to eating people alive, isn't it?

Specifically, Dan can't get his head around the idea that 59-year-old Alex Salmond, who can quite reasonably expect to still be around in twenty years from now, thinks that a second referendum will happen (gasp) within his lifetime. What an ABOMINATION.

Dan's spectacular loss of the plot hasn't come completely out of the blue, though. A few weeks before the referendum, he penned an article about Scotland that seemed uncharacteristically reasonable - he basically said that the London establishment should just chill out and let Scotland get on with it, he didn't think we would vote to govern ourselves, but if we did that would be fine. However, there was still a distinct trace of menace in there, because he made a gratuitous aside about how the referendum would settle the matter forever (or words to that effect). When I read that, I thought to myself - where's he getting that from? I assumed that it was probably just the normal unionist arrogance of thinking that they can make up the rules of the game as they go on, and that the rest of us just have to go along with it. But no - it's become clear that he really did have it in his head that some kind of definitive promise of "finality" had been collectively made by Scotland as a nation.

Hence, his current grievance is based on a complicated and largely fictitious account of how the referendum came about and what its intended parameters were. The only question really is whether he knows that he's invented most of the story.

"Scotland wanted to resolve – once and for all we were told – the issue of whether it remained part of the United Kingdom, via a referendum."

You were told the "once and for all" bit by who exactly? By Scotland's popular national spokesperson David Cameron, perhaps?

"And that referendum was duly granted."

No, it was not "granted". It was legislated for by Scotland's own parliament, and by no-one else. All the Edinburgh Agreement did was remove any ambiguity over the parliament's legal power to take that step, but the Scottish Government always held the belief that they could have gone ahead anyway. Whether a challenge in the courts would have occurred or not, and whether it would have succeeded or not, will now remain unknowable. That being the case, you are in no position to claim that London generously "granted" a referendum, even in the most indirect of senses.

"It was free. It was fair."

Well, it was free. But as for "fair", you're having a laugh aren't you, Dan? Did you sleep through the "shock and awe" campaign of terror waged upon the people of Scotland by the entire London establishment, including by some institutions that are legally or constitutionally obliged to remain neutral, or indeed to stay out of politics altogether?

"It cost £13 million."

Er, so what? All elections cost money, and that's the price we pay for being a democratic country. Or is the subtle implication here that the long-suffering English taxpayer "indulged" a crazy whim of the Jocks? If so, that's utter tripe. As already stated, the referendum was brought about by Scottish Parliament legislation - Westminster didn't take care of the bill.

"And having voted in their free, fair, multi-million pound election, what did the people of Scotland, and their elected representatives, do next? They said “That’s no good! We’ve been cheated! We demand another go!”."

Is that code for "we might legislate to have another go"? As it happens, we don't need to feel cheated to think it's perfectly OK to do that - we just need to think we live in some kind of democracy. The basic rule of democracy is that people get periodic chances to determine how they're governed - as far as I can gather, next year's general election won't be the last one ever, and consequently won't decide which government is in power in the year 2150. (Or perhaps it will on Planet Hodges.)

Oh, and by the way - we were cheated, actually. The London government broke every constitutional rule in the book by secretly colluding with Buckingham Palace to bring about an "intervention" on behalf of the No campaign by the Queen. And that's before we even get to the shameless bias of the London-based broadcast media. Not that this makes any difference to the democratic principle I've just set out, but it's well worth bearing in mind anyway.

"Alex Salmond, who had said the referendum represented the “last chance” for independence, is now telling anyone who will listen he believes he will witness independence in his lifetime."

Does anyone actually recall Mr Salmond saying that it was the "last chance"? It would have been a very odd thing for him to say, given that it was actually our first ever chance to vote for independence. The inverted commas suggest it's a direct quote, but if it is (and I have my doubts) it must be taken way out of context, because it flatly contradicts what he repeatedly said throughout the campaign - namely that he thought constitutional referenda were a once-in-a-generation thing, but that even this was only a "personal view", ie. it wasn't binding SNP policy. And note that even Salmond's personal view did not imply, let alone clearly state, that a second referendum could not happen in his lifetime. Quite the reverse - a generation can be as little as fifteen years. It sure as hell isn't "forever", Dan.

"The man [Jim Murphy] who had claimed we would all be better off together, told his audience “I need no one’s permission. I consult no one on the issues that are devolved in Scotland other than the people of Scotland and the Scottish Labour Party. That's the way it's going to be in future”...We are part of a political union. It is a union that was reaffirmed, by the Scottish people, a couple of months ago. And we all have a stake in that union. Even us knuckle-draggers south of the border...When Jim Murphy boasts “what happens in Scotland will be decided in Scotland” does he not wonder what conclusion his English colleagues and the people they represent will draw?"

Oh, I do love you, Dan - only in your world could Jim Murphy be a Cybernat. Doubtless Michael Forsyth will have become an evil separatist by next week's column.

"Do the people and politicians of Scotland honestly think the rest of the United Kingdom is going to simply sit back while they carry on the way they’ve been carrying on before, during and after September’s referendum? Do they genuinely believe they can continue demanding a series of referendums on independence in perpetuity, until they get the result right, or get bored of asking the question?"

Dan, let me put this to you. If as an English political class you want the result to be decisive and lasting, what you do (as you once suggested yourself) is step back and let Scotland make the decision for itself. What you don't do is beg - literally beg - Scotland to "stay" in return for Home Rule, near federalism and Devo SUPER Max, and then break that "Vow" within hours of the polls closing. You really have no-one but yourselves to blame, I'm afraid. The temptation of holding onto our natural resources and our usefulness as a nuclear weapons base was, I suspect, just too great.

Ah well, never mind. You're in danger of cracking up over this, Dan, but at least it makes a nice change from the 748th minor variation on your traditional "Ed Miliband is a bit like Frank Spencer" article.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SNP hold 17% lead in new Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls

There's still no sign at all that the elusive "Murphy honeymoon" is having any effect whatever on the SNP's polling strength.  Nicola Sturgeon's party is at 44% in today's YouGov subsample, which is a touch higher than their recent average.  Admittedly Labour are also towards the upper end of their current "normal range" at 31% - that's probably just the effect of normal sampling variation, although it would be ironic if Murphy's coronation ended up slightly boosting both the SNP and Labour.  The logic for thinking that might happen is that some core Labour voters hate his guts, while lots of natural Tory voters love him to bits - ring any bells?

Today's update of the Poll of Polls is based on the recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, plus Scottish subsamples from eight GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, two from Populus and two from ComRes.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43.8% (-1.2)
Labour 26.7% (+0.2)
Conservatives 16.9% (+0.2)
Liberal Democrats 4.7% (+0.2)
UKIP 3.7% (+0.2)
Greens 3.2% (+0.3)

(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'll probably only be one more Poll of Polls update before the end of the year, because YouGov will shortly be closing down their daily polls for the Christmas/New Year period.  We'll then be into the scary twilight zone where public opinion might be changing without us having any way of knowing.  But from early January onwards, we'll have regular polling (at GB level) all the way through to polling day in May.

Incidentally, the above update doesn't include today's ICM poll in the Guardian, because the datasets haven't been published yet.  (I briefly thought I'd found them and posted the Scottish subsample on Twitter, only to realise that I was looking at the November poll!)  However, the Britain-wide figures are interesting, because they offer the first credible sign in ages that the Lib Dems might yet cling on to third place in the popular vote -

Britain-wide voting intentions (ICM, 12th-16th December) :

Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 28% (-3)
UKIP 14% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 14% (+3)
"Others" (including SNP) 6% (n/c)
Greens 5% (-1)

This of course flatly contradicts the picture painted by YouGov recently, which has suggested that the Lib Dems are roughly level-pegging with the Greens on around 6% or 7%, and only just barely ahead of the SNP and Plaid Cymru.  Most of the difference can probably be explained by data collection method - YouGov are an online firm, while ICM (at least in these polls) use telephone fieldwork.

If ICM are closer to the mark, it's hard to say whether it's good news for the SNP or not.  Assuming the Lib Dems are proving more resilient than expected in England, then that further increases the chances of a hung parliament, which is obviously exactly what we want.  But on the other hand there must be at least some kind of correlation between the Lib Dems' fortunes north and south of the border, and if they start to do too well it might threaten the SNP's chances in one or two of the more difficult target seats.  Then there's the issue of which party takes third place in the next House of Commons, which is not only psychologically important, but might also affect speaking rights in the chamber (for example at Prime Minister's Questions).

More damning evidence that the independence referendum was not fairly conducted : The Guardian reports that the "politically neutral" Queen was asked by the No campaign to interfere, and freely agreed to do so

One of the favourite tactics of the No campaign as the referendum approached was to portray their opponents as utterly paranoid - there was much mirth, for example, about the plans of some Yes voters to take their own pens with them to the polling station in case their votes were erased.  But as the saying goes, "just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not out to get you", and the evidence just continues to mount that the London establishment (political, media, business, you name it) flagrantly bent and breached the rules of the democratic process at their leisure to get the result they required in September.

With the benefit of hindsight, I may even have been a bit naive about just how far they were prepared to go.  When the media made a huge song and dance about a supposed "intervention" from the Queen that seemed to consist of nothing more than her being casually overheard to say to a member of the public that she hoped voters would think carefully about the big decision ahead of them, my reaction was this : Oh, come off it.  The Queen is probably anti-independence in private, and that has perhaps unwittingly shone through in the tone of her remark.  But she wasn't consciously saying anything at all, and she didn't expect to be overheard anyway.

If the Guardian is to be believed, and it probably should be because its sources seem plentiful and credible, the polar opposite is true.  It seems our unelected Head of State breached her clear and solemn duty to remain politically neutral, and consciously colluded with the UK government to set up a little scene that was intended to be helpful for the No campaign.  In retrospect, it should have been obvious that was what had happened, because the media's breathless reaction was an integral part of the whole pre-scripted drama (in a similar way to an earlier incident when Nick Robinson dutifully asked Barack Obama the question he had been told by Cameron's minions to ask).  If News at Ten is telling you that the Queen has "intervened" and that the London government is "delighted" about it, it's because journalists have been tipped the wink that these things don't happen by accident.  Of course, what those journalists should then do is react with moral outrage, offer full disclosure to their viewers and listeners, and use their investigative skills to work out what the hell is going on and whose heads will roll as a result.  But they don't do that, because the London-based broadcast media, just like the London-based civil service, see themselves as being "on holiday" from their duty of impartiality, and are enjoying being part of a collective establishment effort to "save the union".  (Don't be surprised if, just like their civil service counterparts, they eventually receive a trophy for their sterling efforts at a glittering awards ceremony.)  So they instead credulously report on how the Queen has intervened on behalf of the No campaign, and somehow done so in a completely impartial way that is entirely befitting of her office.

Even the Guardian's report today maintains that ludicrous doublethink, insisting there was a "determination to ensure [the Queen] did not cross a line".  Look, guys, if you've established that there was a clear and conscious intent to intervene and to have a direct impact on the referendum result, then it doesn't matter a damn what the nature of that intervention was and what exact words were used.  The line has been crossed, the constitutional duty has been breached.  And, needless to say, this is a two-way street - it was just as outrageous for the London government to ask the Queen to breach her duty of impartiality as it was for the Queen to agree.

It looks very much like the Queen's 'off-the-cuff' comment was scripted for her by the No campaign, and that she was fully aware that she was being overheard and would be interpreted in the 'correct' way.  What we don't seem to know yet is whether the well-wisher who asked her the question in the first place was a Better Together plant, but logically we must conclude that was probably the case.  That would have seemed paranoid beyond belief if anyone had suggested it at the time, even as a vague possibility.  But every day is an education in post-referendum North Britain.

The SNP leadership will of course defend the Queen to the hilt over this.  They'll either try to shut down the story completely, or will place the blame for any wrongdoing squarely with the London government.  That's an astute thing to do, because any Scottish government has to be on the same page as the majority of the Scottish population (albeit perhaps not an overwhelming majority) in assuming the Royal Family's good intentions.  But that shouldn't stop the rest of us speaking truth about an appalling abuse of privilege.

Alistair Davidson penned a thoughtful piece on Bella Caledonia yesterday in which he suggested that the No campaign under Blair McDougall had been tactically brilliant in identifying courses of action that would help them to narrowly win in the short-term, but had been strategically hopeless in failing to spot that what they were doing would destroy their cause in the longer-term.  That same verdict could easily apply to the whole London establishment, who couldn't seem to see past September 18th, and still can't.  How else do we explain the bizarre spectacle of the civil service patting themselves on the back in public about conduct during the referendum that they freely admit was "very close" to being inappropriate?  Haven't they seen the opinion polls recently?

The monarchy's short-sightedness is even more inexplicable, because unlike other London institutions it would have survived in Scotland, and quite possibly thrived, after independence.  But it seems that wasn't enough for them, and that the Queen simply had to be this country's Head of State in the way that she is accustomed to.  That irrational conservatism has led her to take a step that may have poisoned the goodwill that some Yes voters felt towards her, and may as a result make it somewhat less likely that Scotland will retain the monarchy for very long if it becomes independent in future.  Hey-ho.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Despair for Jim Murphy as early straws in the wind suggest his coronation has failed to dent the SNP's enormous opinion poll lead

Jackanory Jim's investiture as the High Priest of Patriotism was, according to his most devoted admirers (many of them southern Tories), supposed to produce some kind of "honeymoon effect" for Scottish Labour in the opinion polls.  To be fair, the jury is still out on whether that will prove to be the case, because we only have very limited evidence to go on so far.  But, for what it's worth, that early evidence provides no encouragement at all for followers of the Church of the Crate.

The first GB-wide poll to have been entirely conducted in the Murphy Era has just been published by YouGov, and the Scottish subsample shows the SNP ahead of Labour by 43% to 26%.  If anything, that's a tad higher than the type of lead that has been typical over the last three months.

We also have two subsamples from polls that were partly conducted after the Coming of the Crate-Meister.  Populus have the SNP ahead by 36% to 28%, which as you'll remember from the song-and-dance Mike Smithson made about the Populus aggregate for the month of November, is significantly higher than the average SNP lead shown by that firm of late.  ComRes also have the SNP on 36% - but they have Labour on an abysmally low 21%.

Things may yet get better for the Irn-Bru Icon - but then they sure as hell can't get much worse.

On a Britain-wide basis, the YouGov poll puts the SNP and Plaid Cymru just 1% behind the Liberal Democrats for the fourth time in the last couple of weeks.  The Greens have opened up a 2% lead over the Lib Dems for the first time in a YouGov poll, and are now just 6% behind UKIP. 

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 14th-15th December) :

Labour 34% (+2)
Conservatives 32% (n/c)
UKIP 14% (-2)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)
BNP 1% (+1)

Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett certainly couldn't have chosen a better moment to join forces to demand inclusion in the TV leaders' debates.

Is David Maddox at it again?

There's a short piece in the Scotsman by David Maddox which attempts to weave a narrative of (and I'm paraphrasing here) : Nicola Sturgeon has slapped down Alex Salmond by saying that only Trident, and not Devo Max, will be a red line in any post-election negotiations with Labour.  The SNP will merely "argue very strongly" for full fiscal autonomy.

If there was the slightest truth in that, I would be as concerned as anyone, because although I feel incredibly strongly about getting rid of nuclear weapons, I wouldn't want more powers for the Scottish Parliament to be de-emphasised.  I've had a look to see if I can find a video of Nicola Sturgeon's supposed comments, but without success.  I did, however, find an interview with her on yesterday's Good Morning Britain in which she says this -

"So that kind of arrangement [a confidence-and-supply deal with Labour] possibly, but we'd want commitments from Labour to substantial powers for the Scottish Parliament.  I'd want them to drop this crazy idea of renewing Trident nuclear weapons and putting them on the Clyde.  I think we'd want to see a change to the austerity agenda that's impoverishing so many kids, not just in Scotland of course, but across the UK.  So we'd drive a hard bargain."

That seems absolutely crystal-clear to me - a transfer of substantial powers to the Scottish Parliament is not just something that the SNP would be "arguing for", but is one of three things that they'd make a key part of any deal, and all three seem to be accorded equal importance.  I suppose Maddox's get-out clause might be that an insistence upon "substantial powers" is not the same thing as making full Devo Max an unbreachable red line.  But was the latter ever actually proposed by Alex Salmond? Or is Maddox using a creative interpretation of Salmond's rhetoric in an attempt to generate an "SNP split" where none exists?  I think we can probably guess.

If negotiations with Labour occur, it seems to be the case (as we've always assumed) that the SNP will simply be pushing for as many new powers as they can possibly get.  In those circumstances, it will be interesting to see what happens to abortion law, because of course that was something the Tories and Lib Dems were prepared to transfer to Holyrood, while Labour pompously insisted that they were never going to allow a situation where women would not have the same rights across the UK.  Leaving aside the fact that this is ignorant of the current reality (there are already two completely different abortion laws in the UK, one in Great Britain, one in Northern Ireland), it presumably means that women will be ineligible to become Fisheries Minister in both England and Scotland.  Isn't that right, Frank Doran?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Perhaps we should give Treasury civil servant Mario Pisani something to cry about properly?

You've probably already seen it on Newsnet Scotland, but this is nothing short of astonishing.  A team of civil servants in the London Treasury was last month given a special Civil Service Award for running a propaganda campaign in the run-up to the referendum that was designed to terrorise the electorate into voting No.  In their acceptance remarks, the team openly expressed pride for doing something that was, by their own admission, very close to being inappropriate.  They were also entirely shameless in setting themselves up as personal enemies to half the population of Scotland, as opposed to defining themselves as public servants who were dispassionately following instructions from politicians.

Mario Pisani : “In the Treasury, everyone hates you. We don't get thanks for anything. This is one occasion where we've worked with the rest of Whitehall.

We all had something in common, we're trying to save the Union here, and it came so close. We just kept it by the skin of our teeth. I actually cried when the result came in. After 10 years in the civil service, my proudest moment is tonight and receiving this award.

As civil servants you don't get involved in politics. For the first time in my life, suddenly we're part of a political campaign. We were doing everything from the analysis, to the advertising, to the communications. I just felt a massive sense of being part of the operation. This being recognised [at the Civil Service Awards], makes me feel just incredibly proud."

Shannon Cochrane : “we've learned that it is possible for civil servants to work on things that are inherently political and quite difficult, and you're very close to the line of what is appropriate, but it's possible to find your way through and to make a difference.”

Paul Doyle : “This award is not just for the Treasury, it's for all the hard work that was done by all government departments on the Scotland agenda.

The reality was in all my experience of the civil service, I have never seen the civil service pull together in the way they did behind supporting the UK government in maintaining the United Kingdom. It was a very special event for all of us.”

I know there are many readers of this blog who would be completely opposed to the SNP becoming part of a full coalition at Westminster after the general election, but let me ask you this - isn't there some appeal in the idea that within just five months, the proudly anti-independence Mario Pisani could be required to follow direct instructions from an SNP minister at the Treasury? By the sounds of things, that's a development that really would make him "actually cry".

*  *  *

The ever-reliable George Eaton has kept the laughs coming - he's claimed that Jim Murphy's Clause IV wheeze exhibits "the kind of imagination and creativity that will be required in the months ahead". Imagination? Really? Frankly, I'm struggling to think of anything LESS imaginative than a Blairite politician saying to himself : "Now, I need my own Clause IV moment, just like Tony. What could it possibly be? Wait, I know, why don't I rewrite Clause IV?"

The current abomination of a Clause IV as dreamt up by Blair starts promisingly enough by stating "The Labour party is a democratic socialist party", but then goes on to explain why the Labour party is not in fact a democratic socialist party. For my money, a new constitution needn't be longer than about twenty words to meet Jackanory Jim's specifications -

"The Labour party is a Democratic Socialist But party, and a Proud Scots But party. We love Irn-Bru."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Misery for Murphy as sparkling SNP seize sizeable Scottish Parliament lead in new YouGov poll

I've only got a couple of minutes to spare before I pop out for the rest of the day, but I thought you might be interested to see the Holyrood figures that have now been released from the new YouGov poll...

Holyrood constituency voting intentions :

SNP 50% (+4)
Labour 28% (n/c)
Conservatives 14% (+2)
UKIP 3% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-2)
Greens 2% (-3)

Holyrood regional list voting intentions :

SNP 42% (+4)
Labour 26% (n/c)
Conservatives 14% (+2)
Greens 7% (-3)
UKIP 4% (-2)
SSP 3% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-1)

Even with the Greens slipping back somewhat, it remains the case that the SNP's hopes are threatened most by people who voted for them on the constituency ballot drifting off to the Greens or SSP on the list ballot.  That's fair enough if those people actually regard the Greens or SSP as their number one choice, but if they instead think they're doing it as some kind of pro-independence "tactical vote", it's folly in the extreme.  As the 2011 result amply demonstrated, "tactical voting" on the list is a mug's game, and has at least a 50/50 chance of either not working or backfiring completely.

On a more positive note, it's worth remembering that it was on the list vote that the pollsters were miles out in 2011, so it could be that an aggressive "vote twice for an SNP government" strategy will do the trick again.

It doesn't look like YouGov have weighted by recalled referendum vote, because excluding didn't votes/can't remembers/refusers, the recalled Yes vote is 47.1%, compared to an actual Yes vote in September of 44.7%.  That's a pretty narrow gap, though, so the impact would be relatively modest even if an additional new weighting was introduced.  On the question asking for voting intentions for a hypothetical new referendum, Yes are slightly ahead even on the raw unweighted data.  Compare that to the famous YouGov poll showing Yes ahead ten days before polling, when No remained ahead on the unweighted numbers.  There really does seem to have been a sea-change over the last three months.

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.

Will Jackanory Jim even lead Scottish Labour into the 2016 Holyrood election?

The newly-installed "leader" of Labour's branch office in Scotland made clear during the campaign that as far as he was concerned he was also running to become First Minister.  But will Murphy even get to the point of submitting himself to the voters on that basis in May 2016?  I can think of at least four ways in which he might be dislodged before then...

1) He might stand in East Renfrewshire at next year's general election and be defeated.  People quite naturally talk about Murphy's personal vote and the bonus he may get from his visibility as "leader", but both of those points are already factored into the 2010 baseline result, which saw Murphy as the incumbent Scottish Secretary defeat the Tories by more than 10,000 votes in a constituency that in its "wild state" ought to have been either a safe Tory seat, or at best a Tory-Labour marginal.  So there's no obvious reason to suppose that he'll be enjoying a personal advantage over and above the one he had last time, which means that the following figures are entirely relevant -

Swing required for the SNP to defeat Murphy : 21.0%

Current national Labour-to-SNP swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 20.3%

Swing required for the Conservatives to defeat Murphy : 10.2%

Current national Labour-to-Conservative swing implied by the Poll of Polls : 7.8%

It looks a bit close for comfort on both fronts.  Yes, the likelihood is that the SNP's national lead over Labour will at least reduce as polling day approaches, but I don't see how anyone can ponder the above figures and conclude that East Renfrewshire looks at this moment like a shoo-in for Labour.  If Murphy were to lose, it's not entirely clear to me whether he would be automatically required by the party's rules to relinquish the leadership - but his position would surely be untenable anyway.

2) He might resign as an MP, stand in a Holyrood by-election and be defeated.  We all know that by-election campaigns can be as mad as a bucket of frogs and produce stunning upsets, and you can guarantee that the SNP would throw the kitchen sink at this one.  Murphy might seek to avert the "by-election bubble" problem by engineering a contest to take place on the same day as the general election, but then he would risk being carried away by a nationwide SNP tidal wave - if the current momentum continues (which is admittedly a big if).

3) He might take the rap for heavy losses to the SNP next May, even if he wins his own seat.  In theory, there's no particular reason why he should take the rap, because Ed Miliband is the leader in Westminster terms and Murphy will only be playing a support role in the general election campaign.  But it's Murphy himself who has chosen to personalise this by repeatedly claiming that he will ensure that Labour retains every single Westminster seat that they currently hold.  He might be able to gloss over the loss of Falkirk and one or two other seats, but if the carnage is as great as the opinion polls currently suggest, the media will be in a position to recite his words back to him over and over again and make his leadership look like an abject failure.  (Although the million dollar question is whether the media would actually choose to put him under that kind of pressure, because the likes of Kenny Farquharson seem to have a rather sweet crush on Jackanory Jim.)

4) He might not be able to resist standing for the UK Labour leadership if a vacancy occurs next year, or he might be tempted by an offer of a senior Shadow Cabinet post from Miliband's successor.  It's no secret that Murphy sees his native country as a backwater, and would never have dreamed of heading to the Scottish Parliament if his career prospects under Miliband hadn't looked as bleak as they did.  But if Labour are defeated in the UK general election, the situation will change, because Miliband will almost certainly no longer be leader.  Assuming Murphy is still MP for East Renfrewshire, he would be eligible to run for the UK party leadership, or to return immediately to the Shadow Cabinet in a senior role if another Blairite becomes leader.  Yes, he'd know that would leave the Scottish party in a state of utter chaos, but let's be honest - if he no longer has a personal investment, do we really think he would care?