Saturday, February 28, 2015

Links to important SNP election fundraisers, and an Ashcroft update

I know many of you will already have done your philanthropic duty for the month by donating to the annual Wings Over Scotland fundraiser (which smashed through its £45,000 target within hours!), but if by any chance you've still got the odd pound or two burning a hole in your pocket, don't forget that local SNP campaigns up and down the country are currently running Indiegogo fundraisers to build up a war-chest for the UK general election, which is now only two months away (yikes).  There are lots and lots of these, so I won't overload you, but here are three good ones to be getting on with for now.  Obviously the first is closest to my heart, but there's a regular commenter on this blog who I suspect will be most interested in number three...

Elect Stuart McDonald in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East : Target £1500

Elect Margaret Ferrier in Rutherglen & Hamilton West : Target £1500

Elect Emma Harper in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale : Target £5000

*  *  *

Many thanks to the several people who left comments or sent me emails to say that they've been called recently by Populus, which in most cases will be for the second batch of Ashcroft constituency polls.  What's striking is that only a very small number of constituencies have been mentioned, but in each case they've been mentioned by more than one person.  That leads me to suspect that the process is in its early stages and that we may have at least a couple of weeks to wait (unless of course he's only doing a limited number this time).

So far we have...

Dumfries & Galloway (Labour-held)
Ross, Skye & Lochaber (Lib Dem-held, Charles Kennedy's seat)
East Renfrewshire (Labour-held, Jim Murphy's seat)
Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath (Labour-held, Gordon Brown's seat)

I'm slightly unsure about whether East Renfrewshire is an Ashcroft poll, though, because we know that Labour have been using Populus for internal polling in that part of the world.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Murphy's comfort blanket melts away as SNP race to 16% lead in terrific TNS-BMRB poll

Although the last full-scale Scottish poll from TNS-BMRB was ludicrously misreported as showing a narrowing of the gap when it showed no such thing, it was nevertheless fair to say that it offered some small hope to Labour, because it meant there was at least one polling methodology that suggested they were vaguely within striking distance of the SNP.  That comfort blanket has now been dramatically snatched away with the publication of tonight's new poll from TNS, which shows a much bigger SNP lead of 16% - very much within the range we've been used to seeing from all other pollsters apart from Ipsos-Mori.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 general election (TNS-BMRB, 30th January - 22nd February) :

SNP 46% (+5)
Labour 30% (-1)
Conservatives 14% (-2)
Greens 3% (-3)
UKIP 3% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-1)

Is there a chance that TNS have tweaked their methodology, I wonder?  They very foolishly introduced the discredited 2010 weighting procedure in their last poll, and if they've now reversed that decision, it would be extremely easy to explain the apparent movement towards the SNP.  Assuming there hasn't been any methodological change, though, there are basically three possible explanations for tonight's result -

1) There has been a genuine big increase in SNP support over a short space of time (probably no more than a couple of weeks).  That seems unlikely, given that the recent Survation poll showed a slight drop in the SNP lead.

2) The last TNS poll was a freakish outlier, and we're now seeing that the firm's methodology will typically produce results very similar to most other firms.

3) We're looking at an extreme example of normal sampling variation, with Labour being flattered by the last poll, and the SNP being flattered by this poll.  If that's the case, the TNS methodology will typically produce a lower SNP lead than other firms, but the divergence won't be quite as great as the last poll suggested.

But whichever explanation you favour, it's murderously hard to reconcile this poll with there having been any upward trajectory for Labour of late.  At best, their deficit has remained fairly static, which self-evidently isn't good enough with the clock ticking away fast.

TNS are of course the only pollster that still use the old-fashioned face-to-face data collection method, which is the reason we were always particularly excited when they produced a good result for Yes during the referendum campaign - it dispelled the worry that the only encouragement we were getting came from pollsters that were reliant on volunteer online panels.  Fortunately we don't have to fret in that way at the moment, because by far the best results for the SNP in recent months have come from a "real world" pollster - namely Ipsos-Mori, who poll by telephone.  Nevertheless, it's still reassuring to have proof that the face-to-face method is also capable of producing an enormous SNP lead.

UPDATE : As usual, it turns out that some of the TNS fieldwork is already quite a bit out-of-date - it started towards the end of last month, which (bizarrely) means that it overlaps to a small extent with their last poll.  Admittedly it didn't conclude until four days ago, so we've seen a lot worse than that.

*  *  *

Having seemingly given up on the unionist parties getting their act together in time for the election, Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson has a brand new line in wishful thinking, which goes like this : Don't worry, it doesn't matter if the SNP win a truck-load of seats, because a mysterious forcefield will prevent them from having any actual influence.  He's pinning his hopes on a couple of assumptions - a) that good old British fair play will not permit Labour to take office if they are the second-largest party, and b) if Labour are the largest party, they will choose to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats and the DUP rather than the SNP.

There are, you won't be surprised to hear, a few small flaws in this reasoning -

1) If Labour and the SNP hold a majority of seats between them, and yet the Conservatives are deemed the "winners" in the London media due to being the largest single party, something will have to happen for David Cameron to remain Prime Minister.  The SNP will sure as hell be voting against the Tories' Queen Speech, so if Labour simply do the same, Cameron will be constitutionally obliged to resign, and the Queen will immediately invite Ed Miliband to form a government.  The ONLY alternative is that Labour abstain on the Queen's Speech - which will be tantamount to voting in favour of a Tory government taking office.  Are we really expected to believe their rank-and-file members (let alone their power-hungry MPs) will be sanguine about them doing that, particularly in an era of fixed term parliaments when they will be effectively condemning themselves to five more years in opposition?

2)  The idea of a three-way Labour-Lib Dem-DUP pact is just barking mad.  It's a complete non-starter.  The only way the Liberal Democrats will countenance a formal deal is if it produces a stable majority, thus ensuring the concessions they win in coalition negotiations are worth the paper they're written on.  Most likely, that means they will only enter a deal with Labour if the two parties between them can command an absolute majority.   If there is to be an additional partner, though, the DUP will be just about at the bottom of anyone's list of preferences.  They can't realistically be relied upon to stick to anything beyond a very short-term deal, but that's not the half of it - if Kenny genuinely doesn't understand the stigma they carry, he's beyond all hope.

3) There's no reason whatever to assume that Labour, if they're the largest party, will have an alternative to dealing with the SNP available to them even in theory - the arithmetic may well ensure that the only other option would be a grand coalition with the Tories.

I've heard of the zealotry of a convert, but this is ridiculous

You might remember a chap called Alex Massie, who took part in a high-profile TV debate last year on the specific basis that he was an "undecided voter" in the referendum, and that he was entirely open-minded on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country.  Can that possibly be the same Alex Massie who has just used the following colourful language in a Spectator article?

"If Miliband genuinely wants Britain to stay together, why even consider joining forces with a party whose central aim is to tear Britain apart?"

"the SNP is the enemy"

"A nationalist victory, by contrast, risks a second independence referendum which might break the Union forever."

"This is why so many Scottish unionists will vote tactically in May: it is crucial that the nationalists’ momentum is checked now."

"It is depressing that so many English Tories are plainly more exercised by ‘threats’ from Brussels than from Edinburgh."

"So unionists are entitled to feel a deep and heavy sense of foreboding. This election is going to be a disaster."

Now, I have no problem at all with someone who opposes independence with every fibre of their being (to use the Cameron drama queen line), who thinks that stopping independence should take priority over absolutely everything else, and who believes that a failure to stop independence would be a "disaster". But I have to say that I do find it fantastically improbable that such a person would have been open to voting in favour of independence only a few months ago, as Alex Massie claimed to be.

It was all a very elaborate stunt, building up to his pre-planned "shock confession" just before polling day that he'd mulled things over and had decided to vote No. What baffles me is why he hasn't been well and truly nailed for such appalling cynicism and mendacity.

* * *

Well, we now know the identity of one of the constituencies that will be covered by Ashcroft's second batch of Scottish polls - a poster on the previous thread was interviewed yesterday, and lives in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath. Feel free to let us know if you get a call in any other constituency - the polling firm will probably identify themselves as Populus.

SNP extend lead to 20% in new Poll of Polls

It hasn't been long since the last update of the Poll of Polls, but I think another one is probably in order, because the full-scale Survation poll has now dropped out of the sample, and there has also been an intriguing flurry of dreadful results for Labour in Scottish subsamples from Britain-wide polls.  And when I say 'dreadful', I mean dreadful even by the standards of recent weeks and months.  That may have happened by pure chance (ie. as a result of normal sampling variation), but it'll be well worth keeping an eye on the remaining YouGov and Populus subsamples this week to see if there's any further sign of public opinion hardening against Labour and the hapless Mr Murphy.

This update is based on eight Scottish subsamples - four from YouGov, one from Survation, one from ComRes, one from Ashcroft and one from Populus.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43.8% (+0.5)
Labour 23.9% (-2.7)
Conservatives 17.4% (+0.8)
Liberal Democrats 6.9% (+1.3)
UKIP 4.5% (+1.1)
Greens 3.3% (-0.2)

(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.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Do the SNP have a genuine chance of beating Alistair Carmichael in Orkney & Shetland?

As you may have heard, Danus Skene was unveiled as the SNP's candidate for Orkney & Shetland a few hours ago.  He's 70 years old, which in combination with 20-year-old Mhairi Black's candidacy in Renfrewshire is a really encouraging sign that the party aren't interested in putting forward a slate of safe, dull, identikit candidates in an attempt to press home their current opinion poll lead.  Instead, the person considered to be the best option available for each constituency is getting the nod, regardless of age, gender, etc.  When Mhairi Black first started making headlines, our old friend Mike Smithson derisively snorted that any party putting forward such a young candidate was showing a complete lack of respect for the electorate.  He apparently didn't possess the self-awareness to spot the extraordinary disrespect he was showing to all young people with that remark.

It's true that I've said many times before that the current cult of youth when it comes to choosing party leaders has got way out of hand.  But the point is that good leadership requires experience and acquired wisdom.  By contrast, being a good constituency member of parliament does not really involve leadership skills - the required attributes are commitment, integrity and hard work (none of which Malcolm Rifkind could ever be accused of).  Age is not a barrier to those, either at the lower or upper end of the spectrum.

What many people assume will prove to be a barrier for Danus Skene is the electoral arithmetic in the Northern Isles, which have been held by the Liberal Democrats or the old Liberal party since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.  Curiously, though, as of this moment, the Election Forecast website is suggesting that the SNP have a 52% chance of gaining the seat.  That projection probably won't last, because the individual seat forecasts have been fluctuating from day to day.  But the fact that the SNP are even rated as being in with a shout is startling, given that unpublished constituency subsample data from YouGov is apparently factored into the numbers.

My gut instinct is to say that this sort of prediction ought to make us less trusting of the Election Forecast methodology.  I've been a touch sceptical all along, due to the website's consistent verdict that Plaid Cymru are facing "almost certain seat loss", which seems totally counter-intuitive.  There are any number of reasons for thinking that the forecast of an SNP gain in Orkney & Shetland is equally implausible -

* The SNP finished 41.4% behind the Lib Dems last time.

* Even as the SNP were winning a national landslide in 2011, the Lib Dems held the two Holyrood constituencies of Shetland and Orkney by reasonably comfortable margins.  The SNP failed to take second place in either.

* At a time when the Lib Dems were being slaughtered almost everywhere else in the entire UK, they won the European elections in both Orkney and Shetland last spring by a convincing margin.

* The Yes vote in the Northern Isles in September, although respectable, was probably low enough to ensure that the SNP can't win the seat in May by simply replicating that percentage.

That's the bad news, but are there any grounds for optimism?  Given the scale of the SNP's current poll lead, probably the best pointer is the 2011 Holyrood result.  The European election result is less relevant, because the SNP only had a modest national lead of 3%, and because there was a very low turnout.

This is the combined result for Orkney and Shetland in 2011 -

Liberal Democrats 42.0%
Independents 27.9%
SNP 18.1%
Labour 6.1%
Conservatives 5.8%

I know some of you will protest that the SNP fared considerably better on the list, but for my money the constituency results are a more useful guide to what might happen in May, because they factor in exactly the kind of personal incumbency bonus that Alistair Carmichael can be expected to enjoy.

The obvious hope is that the hefty vote for the independent candidates was a sign of deep disaffection with the Liberal Democrats.  If the SNP become established in people's minds as the only credible challenger this time around (as they surely are), the votes are theoretically out there to defeat Carmichael.  A very tall order, but not impossible.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Light a candle for Robert

I was tickled earlier to see the characteristically inventive line of defence that Scottish Labour's one-man online presence Duncan Hothersall was using in an attempt to insulate his party from the Robert McNeill scandal.  He claimed that it wasn't actually true that a Labour politician had urged people to vote for the Tories to keep the SNP out - because McNeill "isn't a politician".  I pointed out that this seemed to be a case of if all else fails, let's redefine the meaning of the word 'politician'.  But then I really started cracking up when Duncan, who is just as senior a Labour official as McNeill, replied by saying "Robert was no more a politician than I am".  I said that I wished I could have seen him attempt to keep a straight face as he wrote those words, and urged him to stop speaking about poor Robert in the past tense.

Duncan was furious by that point, and severely scolded me for my tone of frivolity -

"He's been forced to resign. He is personally very hurt. It's not in the least bit funny. It's very sad."

I have to say that, on reflection, I think Duncan has a good point here.  Although it's true that Robert McNeill has brought this on himself by breaking Labour rules, that doesn't change the fact that he has just suffered an immense personal tragedy.  Being a non-office-holder of East Lothian Labour party is a terrible cross to bear, as those of us similarly afflicted can readily testify.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Robert and his family as he attempts to salvage something from the wreckage of his life.

Altogether now...

Light a candle
Light a candle with me
A thousand candles in the dark
Will open our hearts

SNP lead by 17% in new Poll of Polls

Today's update of the Poll of Polls is based on one full-scale Scottish poll from Survation, plus nine Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls - four from YouGov, two from Populus, one from ComRes, one from Ashcroft and one from Opinium.  I haven't previously been able to incorporate polls from Opinium, because they've only just started publishing geographical subsample figures.  However, that long-overdue step has coincided with them introducing a barking mad methodological change which has led to the SNP being severely downweighted.  It's particularly irritating that this has happened not long after Populus finally put their house in order to some extent.

I may go into more detail about Opinium's folly when I have the time, if only because I've got an alliterative title in mind for a blogpost, and it'll probably nag away at me until I get it out of my system.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 43.3% (-0.5)
Labour 26.6% (+3.6)
Conservatives 16.6% (-1.2)
Liberal Democrats 5.6% (-1.4)
Greens 3.5% (+0.6)
UKIP 3.4% (-1.1)

(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.)

Riddle of the Rifkind Rib-tickler

George Galloway, the Respect MP and former official spokesman for David Cameron's anti-independence campaign, asked Hugo Rifkind yesterday if he had any comment to make about his father's spectacular fall from grace.  Rifkind responded with a rather tired and unimaginative attempt at a put-down -

"Thanks for asking, George. I suppose I'd just say I salute my dad's courage, strength and indefatigability. Hope this helps."

For some reason, though, the Mirror thought this boilerplate insult was bloody hilarious, and gushed about a "brutal smackdown" and a "truly epic burn".  This raises a few questions -

1) Why is the "left-wing" Mirror cheerleading so fervently for a posh Tory journalist?

2) Why are two of Cameron's disciples squabbling with each other anyway?

3) Why did Rifkind think comparing his dad to Saddam Hussein would annoy Galloway?

Answers on a postcard...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This is how stupid Labour think you are - they want you to believe that a 1 in 4 chance is a freak occurrence

You might remember that a few weeks ago, the Labour party lied through their teeth in an attempt to scare people who were thinking of voting SNP - by claiming it was a "FACT" that in a hung parliament, the largest single party gets to form a government.  When it was pointed out that there were historical precedents of the second-largest party forming a government (most recently when Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister after the 1923 election), they hurriedly changed their line to "for the last 90 years, the largest party has always formed the government".  The implication was that this amounted to much the same thing, ie. something that hasn't happened for nine decades must be extraordinarily rare, and thus unlikely to happen now.

But here's the thing - there have been twenty-five general elections over the last century, and just four have resulted in a hung parliament.  Those four occasions were 1923, 1929, 1974 and 2010.  One of them resulted in the second-largest party forming the government.  I don't know about you, but a 25% strike rate seems pretty decent to me.  And it gets even better, because on at least two of the other three occasions, the second-largest party made a serious attempt to form a government.  In February 1974, Edward Heath's Tories were narrowly beaten into second place, but immediately opened coalition talks with the Liberals, and offered the post of Home Secretary to Jeremy Thorpe.  There were even suggestions that Heath might step down in favour of Willie Whitelaw to make the deal more palatable.  And then of course there was 2010, when the Liberal Democrats agreed to Gordon Brown's request to open up formal coalition negotiations with the second-placed Labour party.  Those negotiations were eventually scuppered by right-wing Labour politicians such as Tom Harris and David Blunkett, who toured the TV studios openly campaigning for David Cameron to become Prime Minister.

So what Labour should really be saying is : If we're the second-largest party in a hung parliament after May, history tells us there's 'only' a 75% chance that we'll make a serious attempt to take office, and if we fail it'll probably be because our own members sabotage us.  But somehow that doesn't sound like a very compelling argument against voting SNP.