Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fraser Nelson wants to have his cake and eat it - again

Even by his usual standards, Fraser Nelson has said something utterly outrageous today.  He reveals that he's "delighted" the Tories have won an outright majority (there's a surprise), and notes that the SNP with their 56 seats are "technically" entitled to lots of places on select committees (including chairmanships), plus two questions per week at Prime Minister's Questions.  But he then adds that they shouldn't actually get those things, and that status in the Commons should be determined by share of the vote rather than seats won.

Dear God.  There is nothing "technical" about any of this, Fraser.  The most basic principle of how democracy works in the Westminster system is that ONLY SEATS MATTER.  If any other principle applied, we wouldn't have a Tory majority government at all - instead we'd have a hung parliament in which the Tories hold little more than one-third of the seats, in line with the rather pathetic 37% of the votes they received on Thursday.  If that's what you prefer, by all means let's have it.  But what you can't do is have it both ways - if you're prepared to justify absolute Tory rule on the basis of seats, not votes, then the SNP must also get exactly the degree of influence in the Commons that their haul of seats fully entitle them to.

On the subject of PMQs, the case for the SNP group leader having two questions per week is absolutely unanswerable - the Lib Dems were given that right after the 1997 election, in which they won 10 fewer seats than the SNP have now.

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I don't entirely agree with RevStu's assessment that it was the interpretation of the opinion polls that was wrong in this campaign, rather than the polls themselves.  The margin of error for any individual poll is 3%, but if the methodology is well-founded, different polls should be fluctuating around an average that is much more accurate than that.  The average in the closing stages showed the Tories and Labour in a virtual dead heat, so there's no doubt whatever that we've just seen a polling disaster on the scale of 1992.  In fact, the similarities to 1992 are absolutely uncanny - even the parliamentary majority the Tories ended up with is almost the same.  The one difference is that the exit poll came out smelling of roses this time, although that's only because it was much closer to being accurate than the regular polls.  In different circumstances, it might still have come in for criticism, because its central forecast was for a hung parliament rather than a Tory majority.

I'm not sure if anyone has pointed this out yet, but the pollster that has taken the biggest hit is probably Ashcroft.  A lot of people expected his two-question approach to constituency polls to be vindicated by a large number of Liberal Democrat holds in England, but the opposite happened.  As it turns out, he would have been much closer to the truth in Lib Dem held seats if he had headlined the results of his first question (asking for general voting intentions) rather than the second (asking for voting intentions that take into account local factors).  Needless to say, the notorious Lib Dem 'comfort polls' look even more fantastical than they did prior to Thursday.

Ashcroft fared better in Scotland, but even here he made some howlers - he showed the SNP well ahead in Dumfriesshire, and suggested that the Lib Dems were virtually tied for the lead in Berwickshire.

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Dennis Smith asked on the previous thread for suggestions of who the new Secretary of State for Scotland will be, and wondered if there may not be one at all.  I'll be amazed if it's not David Mundell, if only because Cameron will be eager to underline the fact that his government does still have a foothold in Scotland, albeit a tiny one.  A blogpost that I wrote in February 2010, with the title 'The most lightweight Cabinet minister ever?', suddenly looks well ahead of its time.


  1. Being a bit of a geek I was looking in some detail at the figures and here's something I noticed.

    Total Turnout collapsed in 2001 (for the first time it was under 60% and has only recovered to 66.1% (up 1% on 2010). 1945-1997 it was never under 70%, so there are still quite a few people not voting.

    So something happened between 1997 and 2001 to have the vote collapse as follows.

    UK in total: from 71.4% to 59.4%
    England: from 71.4% to 59.2%
    Scotland: from 73.5% to 61.6%
    Wales: from 71.3% to 58.2%
    Northern Ireland: from 67.1% to 68%

    Now I would put it down to a great many people becoming disillusioned with the political parties. It would be nice to look at party membership trends as well since there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that they have all hollowed out significantly – the exception being the post-referendum surge to the SNP and the Greens in Scotland.

    Turnout crept up a bit in 2005 (to 61.4% and again in 2010, to 65.1%).
    Now compare England, Wales and Scotland (sorry Northern Ireland) 1997-2015

    England: 71.4 %, 59.2%, 61.3%, 65.5%, 65.8%
    i.e. -12.2%+2.1%+2.2%+0.3% = -7.6% down on 1997

    Wales: 73.5%, 61.6%, 62.6%, 64.7%, 65.7%
    i.e. -11.9%+1%+2.1%+1% = -7.8% down on 1997

    Scotland: 71.3%, 58.2%, 60.8%, 63.8%, 71.1%
    i.e. -13.1%+2.6%+3.0%+7.3% = -0.2% down on 1997

    Now I don’t believe that the 7.5+ percent missing in England and Wales are all on the left but I would assume that many Tories turned off from voting in 2001 would have come back into the electorate to try to vote their party in in 2010.

    It’s interesting that Scotland, where there has been a return of grass-roots politics post-referendum *and* a progressive alternative the vote is virtually back to 1997 levels.

    You have much more experience of dealing with the numbers. Could there really be a "shy" left in England & Wales, so shy that they no longer even vote?

  2. Probably I'm missing something, not being too psephologically inclined, but I keep thinking: maybe we just have to accept that there is no way for polls to factor in people changing their minds at the last minute (or the undecided breaking heavily for a given party).
    In other words, the polls were perhaps an accurate reflection of what people were telling pollsters, but crucially, they simply can't deal with the last-minute psychology of the voter.
    My own preference would be for the media etc to stop commissioning so many polls. Not least considering how - as James Kelly often says - they are used to manipulate agendas.
    But also because they can never tell us what is going to happen with certainty.
    At the very least, I wish to God the media would stop using headlines like:
    "Party X set to take Y number of seats" and similar language...they often use forms of words that make it sound like this is what is almost certain to happen. Why not say, "Party X at 35% in poll" etc - far more accurate.
    Anyway, my main point is that there should be far more focus on policy, and far less on bloody polls!
    (none of this is aimed at JK's brilliant analyses of polls, much of which debunks msm BS)

  3. I'm not sure anything happened between 1997 and 2001 - the huge drop in turnout reflected the fact that 2001 was the dullest election in post-war history, and everyone knew from the word go it was going to be a second Blair landslide. But there was a big decrease in 1997, and another big decrease in 2001, from which there has only been a partial recovery. I think the explanation for that is the end of Cold War era politics after 1992 - big issues no longer seemed to be at stake.

    It's quite likely that right-leaning voters are disproportionately likely to turn out, but that's the case even in a high turnout election (witness the referendum).

  4. I understand that the costs for the Scotland office have skyrocketed under the Tories and that we in Scotland pay for this junketing. That has to be stopped.

  5. Perhaps they shouldn't bother with a Secretary Of State, and instead just deal with Scotland via a Scottish Embassy in London.

    1. Since we partly own the British state,we should demand emissary offices in Buckingham Palace.
      Cameron can visit us when he meets with his cousin Liz.

  6. I was being a wee bit frivolous when I raised the Secretary of State question. But Cameron does face a real dilemma. I agree with James that he needs to emphasise the Scottish credentials of his government. On that basis, with Carmichael no longer on side, it has to be Mundell.

    OTOH, does he really want to allow Mundell to debate complex policy issues against the likes of Alex Salmond and Stewart Hosie, week after week, on the floor of the Commons and in the media? Mundell's capacity for political and presentational disaster must give surely give Cameron nightmares.

  7. IMO the position of SOS for Scotland will be binned.

  8. Sounds about right. If they can't fulfil the role, remove the role completely. "What's Scotland?" would be typical of that lot.

  9. Could the Sun in England have helped with a last minute swing after all?
    2 hard hitting anti-Miliband front pages.

    The Edstone fiasco a couple of days before voting didn't help either.

  10. Long but relevant read:

    1. Thanks for the link; very interesting and not a little perturbing.

  11. Penfold as Sec of State for Scotland? Crikey!

    The sound of one neuron clapping.

    1. I prefer the Forfar Thumb Clap

  12. That Wings post was odd all right.

    And the prevailing idea that Cameron's scaremongering about the SNP was key also seems questionable. If that had been the case surely the pollsters, although badly wrong about the wider picture, would have picked up *some* kind of late swing to the Tories. It seems more likely that general shy Toryism was sitting there undetected by the pollsters for months. Gossip among staff at a certain pollster has it that a degree of shy anti-Semitism may have factored too (bacon sarnie, Ed?) though of course testing this suggestion would be problematic, to say the least.

    Great to see Slab carrying on with the shameless deceit and voter-contempt that served them so well during the campaign, with Murphy and McDougall blaming Scottish voters and the SNP for a Tory Govt that Better Together themselves paved the way for.

  13. When asked at his count whether he'd become SoS for S, Mundell said that was way above his pay grade. Think he'd find it difficult to live that remark down.

  14. During the STV election night coverage Annabelle Goldie was interestingly cagey when asked if she was expected a call from No10. As a peer of course she is eligible for a cabinet post. She would prove a more formidable SoSfS than Mundell.

    I offer this as proof that I was paying attention in the small hours and was nowhere near drunk. I had Newsshaft in one ear from my mobile and was channel hopping on the box.

    BTW if STV can switch from white to black lettering on yellow or light green backgrounds for the parties then wtf couldn't the Beeb?

    1. An interesting idea. But as far as I know the SNP (as a matter of principle) has no members in the Lords. So Goldie could not answer SNP MPs and they could not question her. A fitting image of non-communication perhaps.

  15. Is there any chance the last day swing was purely down to swing voters walking into the booth and thinking, "Ed? Nah..."? It would explain the dead heat in the final few weeks as well as the (reasonably) accurate exit poll. It would also confirm beyond doubt that the months of anti-SNP and anti-Scottish abuse in the English press wasn't the deciding factor.

    Wings said for years that the Tories would win on the Ed Factor (or the Kinnock Factor) if nothing else, although he also expected it to be clear cut with a few months to go. Many of us expected the Tories to have a large poll lead by Summer 2014, which would surely have catapulted Yes beyond 50%. Ah well, we live and learn!

  16. More interesting than the identity of the Sec of State for Scotland, is the identity of the Shadow Sec of State. While Scotland is used to have a government and Ministers it rejected at the ballot box, this time is unique (I think) in that we rejected the opposition as well. I think the SNP group should be well within their rights to claim this role.

    1. It doesn't work that way - Shadow Scottish Secretary is a title with no constitutional standing, so the SNP can't stop Labour designating someone. But yes, it'll be interesting to see if Murray gets the nod - in normal circumstances he would be a terrible choice.