Saturday, February 7, 2015

If Nick Clegg loses his seat, would opportunity knock even louder for the SNP?

Michael Ashcroft's reputation as a pollster has taken a battering today, after he admitted that the results of three key English constituency polls published towards the end of last year were inaccurate due to a basic error of arithmetic.  At the time, it was reported that Ed Miliband was under severe pressure from UKIP in Doncaster North, that Nigel Farage was trailing the Tories by a significant margin in Thanet South, and that Nick Clegg was very slightly ahead of Labour in Sheffield Hallam.  It turns out that all three narratives were totally misleading - Miliband was in fact light-years ahead of UKIP, Farage was more or less level-pegging with the Tories, and Clegg was slightly behind Labour.  And to make it even more embarrassing, this is the second time the Doncaster North result has been revised.

When I heard about what had happened, my initial reaction was "how refreshing to see a pollster openly admit they've made a pig's ear of it".  But in fact Ashcroft hasn't done that - he's instead tried to shunt the blame onto the (unnamed) firm he commissioned to conduct the fieldwork for the polls.  That's rather unseemly.  It would be fair enough for that firm to take the rap if they had been allowed to publish the poll under their own name.  But if Ashcroft wants to set himself up as a pollster in his own right, then the buck stops with him - he chooses the weightings and adjustments to apply to the raw data, and it's ultimately up to him to ensure they are applied correctly.  If he doesn't bother double-checking before hitting "publish", he has no-one but himself to blame.

The most important upshot of this is that we now have two constituency polls in Sheffield Hallam which agree that Nick Clegg is on course to lose his seat.  That's not to say that he necessarily will lose - the decks are stacked in favour of any party leader in this situation because of all the free publicity they get, and because people seem to like the 'honour' of having their constituency represented by someone important.  On the other hand, there are examples from other countries of even the most revered leaders being swept away when the electoral tide is strong enough - Helmut Kohl was defeated in his constituency seat in the 1998 German election.  And Nick Clegg is scarcely a Helmut Kohl.

If he does lose, the Liberal Democrats will be plunged into chaos at exactly the moment they hope to be negotiating a new coalition with either Cameron or Miliband.  They'll not only be without a leader, but also without a deputy leader, because Malcolm Bruce will have departed the scene by then.  Presumably an interim leader will quickly "emerge", but it's difficult to imagine that person carrying much authority ahead of a leadership election that will decide whether the party returns to its radical traditions, or perseveres with the hellish Orange Book experiment.  Would Labour or the Tories even know who they were negotiating with?  Would a coalition deal be worth the paper it was written on?

In such circumstances, a deal involving the SNP might look like the only game in town.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Poll of Polls update, and a Six Nations prediction

I've been keeping a beady eye on the Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls over the last couple of days to see if all the hoo-ha in the gullible/pliant press (delete as appropriate) over Labour's fictitious constitutional "rules", plus the latest rehashing of The Vow, has had any obvious effect on voting intentions.  There's been nothing out of the ordinary - there was a big SNP lead of 22% in yesterday's YouGov subsample, while today's shows a more middling gap of 11%.  The end-of-week Populus subsample shows an SNP lead of 9%, which until a few days ago would have been considered a good result, given that Populus have consistently been the least favourable firm for the SNP.  However, they've recently revised their methodology to mostly (not entirely) eliminate the anti-SNP bias.  So a 9% lead now looks pretty run-of-the-mill.

Today's update of the Poll of Polls is based on the full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, plus seven subsamples - four from YouGov, two from Populus and one from Ashcroft.  The increase in the SNP's lead is simply caused by the inclusion of a full-scale poll.  There's generally a narrower gap in updates that rely solely on subsamples.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 45.6% (+3.6)
Labour 26.5% (+0.4)
Conservatives 16.2% (-2.1)
Liberal Democrats 4.9% (-0.8)
UKIP 3.8% (-0.1)
Greens 3.3% (n/c)

(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.)

*  *  *


And now for another of this blog's annual rituals, which comes about because a family member always asks me to fill in a prediction form for her work.  A bit of a rushed job this year - in retrospect I may have pushed the boat out a bit too far with the 20+ point margins.  However, I think it'll probably still prove to be marginally more accurate than Iain Dale's predictions for the 59 Scottish seats at the general election.  (Well worth looking up if you're in need of a laugh - he reckons Labour and the Lib Dems are going to hold off the SNP virtually everywhere, simply because they were "safe seats" back in 2010.)


Wales to beat England by less than 10
Ireland to beat Italy by 20 or more
France to beat Scotland by 20 or more


England to beat Italy by 20 or more
Ireland to beat France by less than 10
Wales to beat Scotland by between 10 and 19


Scotland to beat Italy by less than 10
France to beat Wales by less than 10
Ireland to beat England by less than 10


Wales to beat Ireland by less than 10
England to beat Scotland by 20 or more
France to beat Italy by between 10 and 19


Wales to beat Italy by between 10 and 19
Ireland to beat Scotland by between 10 and 19
England to beat France by between 10 and 19


Ireland 4 wins
Wales 4 wins
France 3 wins
England 3 wins
Scotland 1 win
Italy 0 wins

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Votes at 16 : an idea whose time has come

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about the plans to reduce the voting age to 16 in time for next year's Scottish Parliament election.  You can read it HERE.  (It's also on Yahoo HERE.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

If Labour actually believe their own propaganda, can they explain how Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister after the 1923 election?

This was the result of the 1923 general election...

Conservatives 258
Labour 191
Liberals 158
Independents 4
NI Nationalists 3
Scottish Prohibition 1

OUTCOME : Labour minority government.

If Labour or their sycophantic chums in the press actually believe one word of the lies they've been churning out about so-called "British constitutional rules" over the last 48 hours, they'll have a murderously hard job explaining how the above outcome was even theoretically possible, let alone how it happened so easily in reality.  Labour were miles behind the Tories, more so than was even the case in 2010, and yet they were able to form a government without entering into coalition with the Liberals, and without even a formal deal with the Liberals.  Why?  Because the real constitutional convention is that the monarch must appoint a Prime Minister who commands a majority in the House of Commons.  The Liberals held the balance of power, and they were absolutely opposed to the continuation of Tory rule, just as the SNP are now.  That made any form of Tory-led government a complete non-starter, irrespective of the fact that the Tories were the largest single party.

Nor, Torcuil Crichton, was it the case that the Tories' status as the incumbent government got them off the hook in 1923.  The only special privilege that the incumbent Prime Minister has in the event of a hung parliament is the option to hold on until the reconvening of parliament, and to see if he or she can command a majority in the House on the Queen's Speech (or King's Speech) vote.  If that vote is lost, the Leader of the Opposition will immediately be invited to form a government instead.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

CONFIRMED : Heart-racing Ashcroft constituency polls suggest Scottish Labour are heading for an electoral catastrophe of biblical proportions

These are now confirmed as the results of Ashcroft's polling of a selection of sixteen Scottish constituencies.  Note that the first part of the analysis below was written before the official confirmation.

The percentage changes listed in each constituency are from the 2010 general election result.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey :

SNP 50% (+31)
Liberal Democrats 21% (-20)
Labour 14% (-8)
Conservatives 11% (-2)

(This would be an SNP gain from the Liberal Democrats.  Danny Alexander of the Liberal Democrats would lose his seat.)

Gordon : 

SNP 43% (+21)
Liberal Democrats 26% (-10)
Labour 14% (-6)
Conservatives 11% (-8)

(This would be an SNP gain from the Liberal Democrats.  Alex Salmond of the SNP would return to the UK parliament after a five-year gap.)

Airdrie and Shotts :

SNP 47% (+23)
Labour 39% (-19)
Conservatives 7% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 1% (-7)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Pamela Nash of Labour would lose her seat.)

Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill :

SNP 46% (+29)
Labour 43% (-24)
Conservatives 6% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 1% (-7)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.)

Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East :

SNP 52% (+28)
Labour 34% (-23)
Conservatives 6% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 2% (-8)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Gregg McClymont of Labour would lose his seat.)

Dundee West :

SNP 59% (+30)
Labour 25% (-23)
Conservatives 6% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-8)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Jim McGovern of Labour would lose his seat.)

Glasgow Central :

SNP 45% (+27)
Labour 35% (-17)
Conservatives 5% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-13)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Anas Sarwar of Labour would lose his seat.)

Glasgow East :

SNP 51% (+26)
Labour 37% (-25)
Conservatives 4% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 1% (-4)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Margaret Curran of Labour would lose her seat.)

Glasgow North :

SNP 45% (+33)
Labour 33% (-12)
Conservatives 5% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 4% (-27)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Ann McKechin of Labour would lose her seat.)

Glasgow North-East :

Labour 46% (-22)
SNP 39% (+25)
Conservatives 4% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 1% (-7)

(This would be a Labour hold.  Willie Bain of Labour would retain his seat.)

Glasgow North-West :

SNP 44% (+29)
Labour 38% (-16)
Conservatives 7% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-13)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  John Robertson of Labour would lose his seat.)

Glasgow South :

SNP 48% (+28)
Labour 33% (-19)
Conservatives 9% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 2% (-10)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Tom "Bomber Admin" Harris of Labour would lose his seat.)

Glasgow South-West :

SNP 45% (+29)
Labour 42% (-20)
Conservatives 4% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 2% (-7)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Ian Davidson of Labour would lose his seat.  Let the Lord be praised.)

Motherwell and Wishaw :

SNP 50% (+32)
Labour 39% (-22)
Conservatives 5% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 1% (-9)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.)

Paisley and Renfrewshire South :

SNP 48% (+30)
Labour 40% (-20)
Conservatives 6% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 2% (-8)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Douglas Alexander of Labour would lose his seat.)

West Dunbartonshire : 

SNP 47% (+27)
Labour 38% (-23)
Conservatives 6% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 1% (-7)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Gemma Doyle of Labour would lose her seat.)

It's probably a bit foolish to launch into a full-blown analysis when we don't even know if these are the real results, but a few quick points -

* These are presumably the headline numbers.  As explained in the previous post, that would mean they come from the second of two voting intention questions, so it remains to be seen how big the divergence is between the results of the two questions in each constituency (I wouldn't be surprised if it was quite significant in Gordon, for example).  We only have half the picture so far.

* In the SNP/Labour battleground seats, the swing is remarkably consistent, varying only between 21% and 27%.  However, Ashcroft seems to have concentrated his polling in areas where the SNP are predicted to do particularly well due to the high Yes vote, so you'd expect the overall national swing to be somewhat lower.  That would suggest he's picking up a swing that isn't quite as enormous as the one reported by Ipsos-Mori - but is that only because he foolishly weighted by 2010 recalled vote?  We'll find out in a few hours.

* The lower swing in Gordon may seem a bit odd, but that's presumably partly due to this being the only constituency polled in which No did well at the referendum.  The fact that the Liberal Democrats aren't being hammered quite as severely there as elsewhere may also suggest that the efforts to coax Salmond-haters into a tactical vote may be bearing some limited fruit (why else would the Tories be down eight points?).  But it doesn't look anything like enough at the moment.

* There's a very clear pattern of the Tories dropping by anything between 1% and 4% in seats where they are also-rans.  Whether this is real or an example of the "Shy Tory Factor" is anyone's guess.

* The Liberal Democrat vote in west-central seats bears little relationship to their 2010 results - they're reduced to an irrelevance even in seats where they outpolled the SNP last time.  That suggests wholesale switching from Lib Dem to SNP.

UPDATE (1am) : The numbers have been officially confirmed, and they do come from the second question.  The differences between the two questions seem to be relatively modest, so at least the waters haven't been muddied too much.  On both questions, the SNP are ahead in fifteen out of the sixteen constituencies polled, while Labour are 7% ahead in Glasgow North-East.

This is crucial - weighting by 2010 recalled vote has indeed occurred, meaning that the SNP vote is probably being systemically underestimated.  In the fourteen SNP/Labour battleground seats, the 2853 people who recalled voting SNP in 2010 have been downweighted to count as only 1929.  For the uninitiated, the problem is that people who voted Labour in 2010 but then switched to the SNP in 2011 get confused between the two votes, and end up being wrongly scaled down as a result.  Without this distortion, Ashcroft would in all likelihood be showing the SNP ahead in all sixteen seats, and on course for a clean sweep in the city of Glasgow.

As with the Scotland-wide ICM poll published on Boxing Day, the SNP vote has also been adjusted downwards as a result of an artificial 'spiral of silence' procedure which allocates a portion of undecided voters to the party they recall voting for at the last general election.  The theory is that many Don't Knows tend to "go home" to their default party - but the problem is that some of the respondents being allocated to Labour in this case will have voted SNP in 2011, so it's not really clear who their default party is.

Why we should maintain a healthy scepticism about tomorrow's Ashcroft constituency polling

11am tomorrow (Wednesday) will herald what in some people's minds is the biggest polling event of the year so far, namely the release of the endlessly-hyped Scottish constituency polls from Ashcroft.  In particular, Mike Smithson over at Stormfront Lite has been investing almost millennial significance in them for the last few months.  I think that's slightly silly - as far as I'm concerned, Scotland-wide polls are more important.  I'll certainly be taking a keen interest in the Ashcroft results, but the following big caveats should be borne in mind...

1) Constituency polling has a very patchy track record.  There's no mystery over why that should be the case - the methodology for national polls can be honed through trial and error, but most of the constituencies we'll be hearing about tomorrow have never been polled in this way before.

2) Ashcroft may weight his results by 2010 recalled vote.  We don't know that for a fact, but it seems conceivable that he'll go down that road in order to keep his methodology consistent with his English constituency polling.  In Scotland-wide polls, it's become accepted good practice to weight by 2011 recalled vote, which we know is much more accurate than 2010 recall.  However, it's not really possible to do that in constituency polls, because nobody knows exactly what the 2011 result was in individual Westminster constituencies (with the exception of the Western Isles and Orkney & Shetland).  That leaves Ashcroft with two basic options - to weight by 2010 recall, or to follow the Ipsos-Mori practice of not weighting by recalled vote at all.  He should do the latter - and if he doesn't, the results will be unreliable, and in all probability will underestimate the SNP.  For the avoidance of doubt, that point will hold true even if the results appear to be very favourable for the SNP.

3) Ashcroft unwisely asks two voting intention questions, and headlines the results of the second question.  In a constituency poll, it's a very good idea to ask respondents to think about how they will vote in the context of the local seat and the local candidates - but that question should be asked upfront.  By asking it second, and immediately after a differently-worded voting intention question, you're inviting people to think they're "supposed" to give two different answers.  If there are several constituencies in tomorrow's polling that produce completely different results on the two questions, then alarm bells should be ringing.  The media will dutifully follow Ashcroft's edict that only the second question matters - but they'll be wrong.  The true position may well be somewhere in between the two results.

I should make clear that I have absolutely no idea at this stage what the polling will show - it may be good, bad, or wonderful for the SNP.  Ashcroft has been having a whale of a time dropping hints, but a lot of them have probably been red herrings.  So I just thought it might be worth airing my concerns well in advance, so there's no question of raising convenient objections to a disappointing result, or falling silent about the flaws in an encouraging poll.

UPDATE : Literally within seconds of me saying that I had no idea what the results were, I was pointed in the direction of what appear to be the results (the Gordon result is bang in line with what Cochrane led us to expect).  The person who sent me them suggested that I shouldn't report the numbers in case they turn out to be wrong.  But suffice to say that Danny Alexander's career prospects are not looking too hot at the moment, even allowing for a huge margin of error.

UPDATE II : As the apparent Ashcroft results have been posted and discussed in the comments section below, I've just gone ahead and published the full numbers in a fresh post HERE.

Monday, February 2, 2015

SNP power to record 21% lead in jaw-dropping YouGov poll - and support for independence also reaches record levels

Tonight brings word of a truly extraordinary new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov...

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (YouGov, 29th January - 2nd February) :

SNP 48% (+1)
Labour 27% (n/c)
Conservatives 15% (-1)
UKIP 4% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 4% (+1)
Greens 3% (n/c)

This poll is pretty close to being a final nail in the coffin for the theory that the gargantuan SNP lead has slipped since Jim Murphy became Scottish Labour leader.  A couple of weeks ago, we had a Panelbase poll that seemed to suggest a significant drop in the lead, followed by polls from Survation and Ipsos-Mori that had smaller drops in the lead that could easily be explained by margin of error "noise".  It then transpired that the Panelbase poll was unreliable due to a dodgy question sequence.  Now that YouGov are showing a small increase in the SNP lead, the most plausible characterisation of what we've been seeing is a completely unchanged state of play, disguised by normal sampling variation in both directions.

It shouldn't be forgotten that the last-but-one YouGov poll had the SNP "only" sixteen points ahead, so the lead has actually increased by five points since then.  However, that's still consistent with margin of error noise, if you assume that the true position over the last few months (or "true" according to YouGov's methodology) has been a stable SNP lead of around 19% or so.

It goes without saying that 21% is the biggest SNP lead that YouGov have ever recorded in Westminster voting intentions, but it gets better still - the independence question was also asked, producing the biggest ever lead for Yes in a YouGov poll...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (+1)
No 44% (-1)

With Don't Knows removed, that works out as...

Yes 52% (n/c)
No 48% (n/c)

The previous record lead for Yes was 49% to 45% in the last-but-one poll, which was conducted in late October, just over a month after the referendum.

It's customary to point out at this stage in proceedings that YouGov (unlike Panelbase and Survation) don't weight by recalled referendum vote, and that if they did, the reported No vote would probably be a bit higher.  However, a five-point gap is large enough to make it conceivable that the Yes vote would be reaching parity even if weighting by recalled referendum vote had been applied.  In any case, the big advantage of YouGov's current approach is that it keeps their new polls directly comparable with their pre-referendum polls, meaning that we can say with absolute confidence that the Yes vote is now markedly higher than it was at any point during the long referendum campaign.  So much for the temporary slump in the oil price "destroying the case for independence".

I would guess the biggest shock of all for Labour will be the leadership ratings, which show an almost unbelievable gap of 52% between net satisfaction in Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Murphy.  (It's Murphy on the wrong end of that gap, for the avoidance of doubt.)  That's uncannily similar to the Ipsos-Mori findings, which I had assumed were a bit freakish.  OK, Sturgeon is still in her honeymoon period, and no head of government can possibly sustain popularity of this sort forever.  But Murphy should theoretically be enjoying his own honeymoon as well - in fact, his leadership is younger than Sturgeon's.  So while things probably won't stay as good for the new SNP chief, it's quite possible that this is also as good as it'll ever get for Jackanory Jim.

For my money, this is a painful journey of self-discovery that the Blairites were going to have to go through sooner or later.  They've told themselves for years that the SNP had only thrived as a result of being up against an unreconstructed Labour B-team.  It won't be until one of their own fails as Scottish Labour leader that they'll realise the political weather has authentically changed.  In fact, it may take more than a single failure - there was a delusional article in the Economist the other day that painted Murphy as a "moderate, reforming social democrat" who self-evidently would be sweeping all before him if it wasn't for these dratted exceptional circumstances.  But perhaps by May of next year, if he's been heavily defeated not once but twice, the penny will finally drop that Scottish Labour is not unpopular in spite of people like Murphy, but because of them.

*  *  *

YouGov have now published the full results, which has allowed me to fill in the gaps in the voting intention numbers listed at the top of the post.  It looks like we were misled slightly last night about the results of the independence question after Don't Knows are excluded, which remain unchanged from the December poll at Yes 52%, No 48%.  However, the figures we were given with Don't Knows included (Yes 49%, No 44%) were accurate, and that is indeed a record lead for Yes.

The Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers are as follows...

Constituency ballot :

SNP 51% (+1)
Labour 26% (-2)
Conservatives 12% (-2)
Greens 4% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 4% (+1)
UKIP 2% (-1)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 44% (+2)
Labour 24% (-2)
Conservatives 12% (-2)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 4% (+1)
SSP 3% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-1)

In their own commentary on the poll, YouGov point out that, in spite of Jim Murphy's personal unpopularity, he remains considerably more popular with Labour voters in Scotland than Ed Miliband is with Labour voters across Britain.  That's fine until you recall that there are simply fewer Labour voters left in Scotland per head of population - the party is practically down to the hard-core of true believers.

Or maybe not, because here comes the killer blow.  Respondents were asked to assess the likelihood that they will change their minds about their voting intention before the general election.  No fewer than 67% of people who are currently planning to vote SNP selected the option "no chance at all - I will definitely vote for this party".  The equivalent figure for people currently planning to vote Labour is just 50%.  Jim Murphy may have convinced himself that the SNP lead is soft, but the polling evidence is stubbornly refusing to offer him any comfort on that score.


As far as I can gather, Gordon Brown is claiming that Labour's "new proposals" for welfare devolution go further than The Vow.  But he's also claiming that the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government watered down The Vow, and that Labour's proposals will restore it to its former glory.  How can it be both?

Option 1 : The Smith Commission never proposed a general power to top-up any welfare benefit, and London party representatives such as Alistair Carmichael were lying through their teeth when they said it did.  In this scenario, Labour HAVE proposed going further than Smith, but the Tory/Lib Dem coalition have NOT watered Smith down.

Option 2 : The London parties were telling the truth when they claimed that Smith had proposed a general power to top-up any welfare benefit.  In this scenario, the Tory/Lib Dem coalition HAVE watered Smith down, but Labour have NOT proposed going further than Smith.

Which is it, Gordon?

SNP's lead in the Poll of Polls increases to 16%

Calum Findlay mentioned in a comment on the previous thread that Populus have finally stopped downweighting SNP supporters by such an extreme amount in their GB-wide polls.  I can't find any sort of official announcement, but if today's poll is anything to go by, they do suddenly seem to be weighting respondents who identify with the SNP to a more realistic target figure (although those people are still being downweighted slightly).  That's resulted in the SNP opening up a huge lead in the Scottish subsample, breaking a sequence of Populus subsamples that had Labour and the SNP more or less level-pegging.

If this methodological change is a lasting one, it should lead to a modest boost in the SNP's showing in any future Poll of Polls updates that are wholly reliant on subsamples.  Today's update is one such example - it's based on four subsamples from YouGov, two from Populus and one from Ashcroft.  As ever, the Opinium poll from the weekend has had to be excluded because the Scottish figures weren't published.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.0% (+0.7)
Labour 26.1% (-2.1)
Conservatives 18.3% (+1.4)
Liberal Democrats 5.7% (+0.8)
UKIP 3.9% (-0.7)
Greens 3.3% (-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.)

*  *  *

Alongside the release of his grandiosely titled "ANP", Ashcroft usually summarises the findings of his focus groups.  Today he reveals that asking voters in England about the Tory poster of Miliband and Salmond unleashed a torrent of unpleasant comments about Scots, with this example being given : "The amount of time and effort they’ve all gone to because they’re so desperate to get their additional powers. Why is Scotland so bloody special? Their kids get university for free, they get free prescriptions, and they’re still moaning."  This attitude is as irrational as it is offensive, because poll after poll in the run-up to the referendum showed that people in England overwhelmingly wanted Scotland to "stay" (to use our opponents' idiotic jargon).  Nor can it be claimed that those polls were only of academic interest - there's no way that the London party leaders would have been able to issue The Vow if they had been faced with an electorate in England that preferred to see the back of Scotland.

At some point, people in England are going to have to resolve this schizophrenic attitude to Scotland.  And if they do want us to "stay", that will mean taking us as we actually are - which at the moment is as an SNP-voting country that wants the proper Home Rule that we were solemnly promised.

Celtic Connections Open Stage photos

At this point during the last couple of years, I posted photos from the final of the Open Stage at Celtic Connections.  However, this year I had to choose between the Open Stage final and the Young Trad Musician of the Year final, because they were both on at exactly the same time.  So I plumped for the latter - and paid through the nose for the privilege, thanks to bloody FirstBus.  Unlike last year, there were a few rows separating me from the friends and relatives of the winner, so I was somewhat more protected from the volcanic eruption after the announcement of the result.

I think Claire Hastings was definitely the right winner.  However, it's the second year in a row that a singer has won, and looking through the list of past winners on the leaflet we were given, an awful lot of them seem to have been singers.  One of the criteria that is supposed to be taken into account by the judges is "connecting with the audience", and it's hard not to feel that this gives an unfair advantage to singers.  It's surely more difficult for a harpist to directly connect with the audience, for example.

I did go to some of the heats of the Open Stage over the last couple of weeks, so I can post photos from those.  I believe one of the six winners is in there somewhere.

You might remember that last year I mentioned a band called The Cask, who were brave enough to sing a pro-Yes song on the Open Stage.  Well, this year there were at least two songs lamenting the referendum result.  Most memorably, an Edinburgh singer called Bobby Nicholson performed an almost ridiculously in-your-face song called Dear Scotland, It Wisnae Me, which was scathing about No voters.  I was worried there might be an embarrassed silence at the end, but in fact it was rapturously received.  You can hear it HERE, although you have to scroll through to just over halfway.

While it's fresh in my mind from Saturday night, I can also recommend a version of Karine Polwart's The Dreadful End of Marianna for Sorcery, performed by the North-East Folk Collective, which is a large band comprised of teenagers from...well, from the north-east, strangely enough.  You can hear it HERE by scrolling through to just under halfway.

(Click to enlarge.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A second heartfelt plea to FirstBus

Dear FirstBus,

If you really must persevere with this eccentric pricing system whereby a single ticket is almost exactly the same price as a return, couldn't you just give everyone a return ticket automatically?  That way it wouldn't be quite so costly when the driver mishears me, even when I practically scream "RETURN to Glasgow, please".

That's yet another £5 pointlessly down the drain.

Comical Jim

You might remember that in the dying days of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership of the Tory party, the Mirror produced a front page with the self-styled "Quiet Man" mocked up to look like Comical Ali, making ever more ludicrous predictions about how he was about to sweep to a glorious triumph.  Does that remind you of anyone at the moment?

Since Jim Murphy first made his notorious promise that he would ensure Scottish Labour holds every single seat they currently have at Westminster, it must have become abundantly clear to him that things are not exactly going according to plan.  An Ipsos-Mori poll putting the SNP ahead by 28% with just three-and-a-half months to go was a bit of a clue.  Now surely anyone with a bit of sense would be trying to keep very quiet about that initial promise, and hoping that it gets forgotten.  Instead, Jackanory Jim seems determined to reiterate it at every opportunity.

"These wolves, these creemeenals, these mer-sen-arr-ees, Sturgeon and Salmond, we will crush them. We will hold EVERY SINGLE SEAT we have.  And we will GAIN East Dunbartonshire!"

Why stop there?  Why not chuck in Orkney and Shetland for good measure?

Perhaps a passing psychologist might be able to shed some light on what Murphy is playing at.  Does he regret taking over the leadership?  Is he trying to make his own position untenable, so that he can resume his Westminster career after May?  It seems a strange way of going about it, but I'm struggling to think of a more rational explanation.

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Sorry that I haven't updated the Poll of Polls this weekend - I'm feeling a bit under the weather.