Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I was playing with numbers, and I didn't know what it meant

Now I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking : "That James Kelly, he just hasn't been on enough podcasts over the last month.  When oh when is someone going to invite him to do another podcast?"

Well, your prayers have been answered.  I'm the guest on episode 5 of Apolitical Podcast, which you can listen to HERE.  I get to talk about my favourite subject again (although I'll leave you to judge whether my favourite subject is opinion polling or the Eurovision Song Contest).

When I was at the recording last night, I was given a sneak preview of Apolitical's future guest list, and it sounds fantastic.  I also made a few suggestions of potential Liberal Democrat or right-of-centre guests, so it's not impossible that one or two future podcasts will be my "fault"!

Incidentally, if Justin Kenrick is around, I talked a little bit on the podcast about the subject you wanted me to address the other day - it's around 16 minutes in.  Other topics covered are the accuracy of Ashcroft constituency polling, whether betting markets are more predictive than opinion polls, how polling for the EU referendum might unfold, the prospects for future polling on independence, how I became drawn to the SNP and independence, how this blog started, and a few other things as well.


  1. Excellent questions from Apolitical's Iain Bartholomew. Made for a very interesting interview. Thanks.

  2. Just listened to, and enjoyed, your interview. Well worth a listen.


  3. What is this with amateur psephologist? Now Nate has been sent away, surely we could have a Eurovision Song Contest between you and the good Professor. Indeed, have you ever been seen on screen together?

    OK, I thought it was funny when I wrote it ;-(

    Ach, publish and be damned!

  4. Great podcast James,

    Much to mull over, and thanks for answering the question I asked about whether SNP voters should vote Green on the List for Holyrood in 2016.

    I think (and I hope I'm not wrong, but we'll know as the polling continues) that the SNP has replaced Labour, and Labour is not going to come back from this.

    Labour used to be who we voted for but, as we all know, they exited stage right and the huge surge of new members post-referendum joining the SNP, Greens and SSP, means that we can have a strong SNP Government, and a strong and constructive opposition, if the 51.3% vote SNP on the Constituency vote in 2016 and vote Green on the List.

    We can vote for the Government and vote in the Opposition we prefer at the same time.

    Many Greens came back very strongly at me for writing the Bella piece before GE2015 - http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2015/05/03/greens-are-voting-snp-will-snp-voters-return-the-favour/ - focusing on how Tactical voting means not voting for what you really believe in, and and also on the point you raise in the pod cast, which is that tactical voting may work when voting in one constituency seat but doesn't work in such a complex situation.

    I have 2 responses:

    (1) Greens voting SNP last week were not voting for a least worst option but voting positively for an anti-austerity, anti-Trident, internationalist party. It is possible to support two parties at the same time, even if one is your preferred Govt and one your preferred Opposition;

    (2) If the voting pattern holds (and I expect support for the SNP to increase, rather than decrease, which means they'd be at between 40 and 55% once you strip out the Green voters from their GE 2015 support) then in a sense we are dealing with the whole of Scotland as ONE constituency. Once you reach a certain level of support, all the hold-your-noses tactical voting by the unionist parties has zero impact.

    However I am NOT talking about tactical voting,
    I am talking about positive voting (after a seismic change in Scotland's politics).

    The SNP now needs a very strong constructive opposition rather than gradually fall into the entitlement trap Labour fell into.

    This next election is our chance to vote Yes twice:
    - Vote SNP into Government, and
    - Vote Labour out of Parliament, and the Greens in to being the constructive Opposition.

    p.s. I hope you fund raise to ensure you just take your foot off the pedal for a few much needed months!

    p.p.s. Douglas Clark - That was funny (~; I was imagining the dancing scene!

    1. at (2) above that should have read "the SNP would be at 40%+" (not "at between 40 and 55%")

    2. "We can vote for the Government and vote in the Opposition we prefer at the same time."

      No, we can't. We really, really can't! The list vote and the way d'Hondt is applied just doesn't allow that opportunity. You describe it as positive rather than tactical voting, but what you set out in the earlier thread is indistinguishable from tactical voting - it's based on the assumption that the SNP will have too many constituency seats to win seats on the list, and that the Greens will have enough support on the list to win seats in each region. As the 2011 result proved, it simply isn't possible to have that detailed foreknowledge of the result. The polls were significantly overestimating the Greens on the list, and there were any number of constituency results that were a complete bolt from the blue.

      In an ideal world, I would be delighted with a majority SNP government and a Green opposition, but there is no way SNP supporters can vote for both of those things simultaneously. If they vote for the Greens on the list, they are voting against having an SNP majority government, and in certain circumstances they could even be voting against having any sort of SNP government.

    3. Hi James,

      I appreciate that you have greater knowledge of how this electoral system works (which is why I've been asking you for this advice, and fully appreciate your responding).

      However, I think that you are wrong to take 2011 as your reference point for how to approach 2016.

      I think we are in completely new territory post-IndyRef1, and can act imaginatively and generously (if, and this is the test, the numbers proposing to vote SNP hold and the numbers proposing to vote SGP rise).

      In 2011 as in 2015, I think (just from my very local experience [research methodology alert!]) great numbers of Greens voted SNP on the list/ in the GE.

      There's a huge desire across the movement a behalf of society - the active half - to build that better Scotland anyway (despite losing IndyRef1) and many see SGP policies as crucial to pushing the SNP government into doing that. Many people who have recently joined the SNP as well as those out with it.

      If you are right that collaboration in 2016 is counter-productive then that suggests that we Greens should support our candidates on the constituency vote as well as the list vote as we seek to build for the future the way Caroline Lucas has done in Brighton and other Greens are on the way to doing in Bristol, Norwich, Manchester and Sheffield.

      If you are wrong, then my argument holds.

      I think we should watch the polling unfold and reflect in the light of that (maybe Wings could enlighten us by asking relevant questions in an opinion poll?).

      As you know I want to see as strong collaboration as possible between SNP and SGP voters to achieve the greatest possible level of change.

      However in terms of how we approach SE2016, this shouldn't involve collaboration between the 2 parties themselves since - although they share a pro-Indy, anti-Trident, anti-Austerity platform - they fundamentally differ on whether we need to move away from an oil-based to a renewable-based economy, and fundamentally differ on a commitment to corporate-led economic growth (SNP) or to co-operative enterprises focused on ensuring fair returns for all within a framework of Green Re-industrialisation (SGP).

      A strategy that doesn't recognise the basic maths (as your suggesting mine is) or that doesn't recognise we're living in dramatically changed times (as I'm suggesting yours is) is no help to anyone.

      That's why I'll keep my mind open, and I'm sure you'll do the same. The big shift in politics in Scotland is that the SNP vs Labour tribalism and the entitlement Labour assumed in the light of that, has given way to a dynamic where people are leading and parties are following. Long may it continue.

      Thanks, as ever, for your excellent blog and willingness to engage with those whose points of view suffer from yours.

    4. "If you are right that collaboration in 2016 is counter-productive then that suggests that we Greens should support our candidates on the constituency vote as well as the list vote"

      The Greens' rationale for mostly skipping the constituency ballot since 1999 has had nothing to do with furthering the cause of independence, or indeed with anything else that might involve collaboration between SNP and Green supporters. In the 2011 campaign, the Greens made clear that they were open to working with either Labour or the SNP, and there was absolutely no indication that a deal with Labour would be contingent on any form of constitutional progress for Scotland, let alone an independence referendum.

      The reason for the Green list vote strategy has been simple - to try to convince voters that the list vote is some sort of second preference vote, or at least an additional vote that should ordinarily be given to a different party than the constituency vote. Hence the "2nd Vote Green" slogan. Standing in the bulk of constituencies would dilute that message.

    5. I am sure you're right about the history you describe, but I am not arguing about Green Party or SNP strategy in the past, or indeed in the future.

      I am trying to think through what we (Green and SNP voters) should do in 2016.

      Where the Green Party stood on independence in 2011 is not the point.

      The membership and orientation of people in the SGP (becoming strongly pro-Indy) and SNP (becoming strongly anti-austerity) has changed utterly as a result of the IndyRef1 process.

      If you are right that we can't support each other (by those of us who see merit in both parties voting SNP on the constituency vote and Green on the list vote) then we obviously should all vote for our own party on both votes.

      For now that would benefit the SNP, but over time it will benefit the Greens as the continuation of the adversarial approach will mean the SNP not listening to a robust constructive opposition, and being replaced as they have replaced Labour (but rather sooner given the political speed at which we are living).

      It will mean Greens not asking people to lend their 2nd vote (as has, you tightly point out, happened previously), but saying their platform deserves your 1st and 2nd vote. That is the implication of your logic, and if there was only independence to win that would be fine.

      But how it is won shapes what kind of a country independence enables us to become.

      Many many of us are aiming to Vote SNP on the constituency vote, and Vote Green on the list. It still seems to me that the logic presented by parties (SNP, Green, whoever) is not shaping how we vote. When we vote for any party we now know that we are lending each party our votes. They don't own our votes, we do.

  5. "Those whose points of view differ [not 'suffer'!] from yours"