Saturday, March 21, 2015

Murphy Plan B

I gather that many unionist commentators (naming no names, but Kenny Farquharson) currently spend far too much of their leisure time pacing up and down in their living rooms, trying to work out how in God's name they will explain to their readers that Jim Murphy is still a Great Man, even after he leads his party to a crushing election defeat.  Well, stop your fretting, guys, because I have the perfect solution.  Consider this...

In 1945, when the Conservatives suffered one of their worst defeats of the 20th Century, they were led by WINSTON CHURCHILL.

In May 2015, when Scottish Labour suffer their worst election result in living memory, they will be led by JIM MURPHY.

This means (I think) that Jim Murphy is EXACTLY LIKE WINSTON CHURCHILL.

No need to thank me, chaps - just send me the royalties.

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I must say I'm utterly baffled by the logic behind the modified version of the leaders' debates plan.  I had originally assumed that the four-way debate between Sturgeon, Wood, Farage and Bennett was intended as compensation for the Question Time special that will feature Cameron, Clegg and Miliband only.  But the four-way debate has now been expanded to five participants with the addition of Miliband, and yet Question Time is going ahead as planned.  So on the face of it, the Labour leader is getting an unfair advantage.  However, it may not work out too badly for the SNP, because it means that both debates they take part in are now guaranteed to be taken seriously, and should attract a huge Britain-wide audience.

I can only assume the thinking was "we'll call it an opposition leaders' debate and exclude Nick Clegg, and that way we can weave a convenient fiction that Cameron isn't there because we didn't invite him".

The biggest problem with the SNP's exclusion from Question Time is the programme's proximity to polling day - it's scheduled for just one week before May 7th.  If memory serves me right, when similar leaders' Question Time specials were broadcast in 2001 and 2005, the SNP leader of the day was given his own special (shown in Scotland only) to balance things out.  So I hope the party will be pressing the BBC to see if the same fair approach will be taken this time.

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Today has been distinguished by the appearance of what is possibly my all-time favourite Blair McDougall tweet -

"We did save the NHS. Now we have to do it again."

So it appears that when Better Together said "vote No to save the NHS", what they actually meant was -

"Vote No to save the NHS.   For the next six months only.  Terms and conditions apply.  Your statutory rights may be affected if you do not vote Labour for the rest of your natural life.  Jim Murphy is God.  Unbelievers shall perish."

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Political Betting have excelled themselves once again, although this time the treat is courtesy of David Herdson rather than Mike Smithson.  In his weekly Saturday essay, Herdson tells us (and I paraphrase) : "we can forget all about independence for the time being because of the oil price or sumfink and the SNP's sole purpose in life now is to get the Tories to replace Labour as the second biggest party in Scotland".

You won't be surprised to hear that Mr Herdson is a Tory himself.  You know what?  When we're just two days on from Survation showing majority support for independence for the first time in history, right-wing commentators might want to stop and reflect on who exactly it is that's missing the point about oil.  It's just possible that it's not the people of Scotland.  But even in the unlikely event that the SNP do ever put independence on the back-burner, I suspect they could think of at least twenty-nine billion alternative objectives that are considerably more worthwhile than the Mission Impossible of making the Scottish Tories more popular.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Danny Alexander leads another 'March of the Moderates' - towards oblivion

Just a quick note to let you know I have a new article at the International Business Times about the potential impact of both the real Budget, and of Danny Alexander's unintentionally amusing "alternative Budget".  You can read it HERE.  (It's also on Yahoo HERE.)

You may think you've seen some stunning pictures of the solar eclipse today - but just wait until you see mine

I knew you'd be impressed.  

It may not be immediately obvious from what you can see above, but the pin-hole projection method did actually work - which I was quite pleased about, because I can vividly remember attempting it to no great effect in our back garden in Kilsyth at the age of five or six.  At first I wasn't sure whether the shape I was seeing this morning was genuinely the eclipse or was just the shape of the hole in the cardboard, but then I punched another hole and found that the two projections looked exactly the same.

One thing that intrigued me was that a total eclipse was viewable from Tórshavn - and yet the 95% totality in central Scotland was a bit higher than we experienced during the 1999 total eclipse in Cornwall and Devon. Does that mean we're closer to the capital of the Faroe Islands than to southern England? Hmmm, there must be a political message there somewhere.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SNP surge to 21% lead in super second Survation survey of ce soir - and there is now majority support for independence

Full-scale Scottish polls from Survation are like the proverbial London buses - you wait a whole month for one, and then two come along on the same night.  But who's complaining?  The second one is even better than the first...

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Survation, 12th - 17th March) :

SNP 47.1% (n/c)
Labour 26.1% (-1.9)
Conservatives 15.5% (+1.0)
UKIP 4.3% (+0.9)
Liberal Democrats 4.0% (n/c)
Greens 2.2% (-0.1)

The percentage changes listed above are from the first Survation poll of the evening, which is the correct approach because that's the last directly comparable poll.  The Daily Record (and most other sources) are reporting different changes, because they're measuring from the last Survation poll commissioned by the Record itself.  On that basis, the SNP are up 2%, and Labour are down 2%.

I've already had to correct this post, because I originally stated that this was the poll we had the sneak preview of yesterday, but in fact the fieldwork dates don't match up with this one either.  I'm guessing that the SNP's question about keeping the Tories out must have been a bolt-on to part of the fieldwork for both of tonight's polls, which effectively leaves us with a phantom 'composite' voting intention poll, albeit one that isn't filtered for turnout.

The independence question has also been asked...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 50.9% (+3.2)
No 49.1% (-3.2)

This is the first time ever that a Survation poll has shown majority support for independence - which is pretty extraordinary when you consider that Survation were consistently one of the most Yes-friendly pollsters until the "Great Convergence" at the very end of the referendum campaign.  The highest Yes vote they showed in a pre-referendum poll was 48%, and since September they've produced two narrow No leads and one 50-50 tie.  They were much quicker than YouGov to introduce weighting by recalled referendum vote, which means that this is only the second time that any firm has shown Yes ahead in a poll using the new weighting (the previous example was a Panelbase poll in the autumn).

People who voted Yes in September have been downweighted in tonight's poll from 442 to 414, and people who voted No have been upweighted from 496 to 511.  By definition, that procedure wouldn't have happened in pre-referendum polls.  If Survation had retained their old methodology, Yes would now be ahead by quite a bit, and would certainly be doing much better than the pre-referendum record high of 48%.  There can be no doubt at all that support for independence has increased markedly since polling day - all firms that have asked the question are agreed on that point.

As in previous Survation polls, respondents were asked when there should be a second independence referendum.  Only 20.1% replied that it should never take place.  A total of 40.3% want it at some point within the next five years, and a total of 59.4% want it at some point within the next ten years.  So nothing very different from the consistent picture we've been seeing over recent months.  The people of Scotland seem to have reached a clear judgement that they want a say on independence again before the semi-mythical "generation" is up, and they certainly want it well before David Cameron's breathtakingly arrogant timescale of "a lifetime" has passed.

Last but not least, here are the Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers.  As before, the percentage change figures are from the first poll of the evening.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot :

SNP 49.8% (+0.6)
Labour 26.3% (-0.6)
Conservatives 13.3% (+0.4)
Liberal Democrats 5.0% (n/c)
UKIP 2.5% (+0.3)
Greens 2.0% (-1.1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot :

SNP 39.4% (-1.9)
Labour 22.8% (+0.3)
Conservatives 14.6% (+2.7)
Greens 11.1% (-1.5)
UKIP 5.5% (+0.5)
Liberal Democrats 5.3% (-0.4)

Sassy SNP swish to 19% lead in super-sweet Survation survey

A new full-scale Scottish poll from Survation has been released.  Curiously, this isn't the same Survation voting intention poll we had a sneak preview of yesterday, because the fieldwork dates are slightly different.  I would expect that one will be on its way shortly from the Record.

Voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Survation, 6th-10th March) :

SNP 47.1% (+1.8)
Labour 28.0% (+0.5)
Conservatives 14.5% (-0.5)
Liberal Democrats 4.0% (-1.0)
UKIP 3.4% (+0.2)
Greens 2.3% (-1.1)

The fieldwork for this poll slightly predates the most recent YouGov, so the best way of looking at the results is as corroboration of the message from YouGov that absolutely nothing has changed.  Survation are suggesting that the SNP lead has increased by a trivial amount, but has remained within the previous range of 17-24 points, whereas YouGov suggested that the SNP lead had slipped by a trivial amount, but had remained within the previous range of 16-21 points.  In other words, it's highly likely that all the small fluctuations we've seen since October are just meaningless margin of error 'noise', and that the huge SNP advantage has remained absolutely rock-solid over that long period.  There was a little burst of optimism from Labour after last month's Survation poll showed their deficit being cut to "only" 17%, which was a post-referendum low - but it looks very much like that minor progress was a statistical mirage.

One point that I probably haven't stressed enough when discussing previous polls is that, even though this is a Westminster election, Labour's current predicament is even worse than their landslide defeat in the 2011 Holyrood contest.  Survation are suggesting that 20% of people who voted Labour in 2011 are planning to vote SNP in May, while only 8% of people who voted SNP in 2011 are minded to move in the opposite direction.

The news is also grim for the Tories, because Survation have failed to replicate YouGov's finding that support for Cameron's party had jumped.  We wondered at the time whether that finding was a reflection of the Tories' better showing of late in GB-wide polls, or was just a freakish result caused by sampling variation - well, the latter possibility is now looking somewhat more likely.

The poll also contains voting intention figures for next year's Scottish Parliament election...

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot :

SNP 49.2% (+1.2)
Labour 26.9% (-0.8)
Conservatives 12.9% (+0.2)
Liberal Democrats 5.0% (+0.3)
Greens 3.1% (-0.6)
UKIP 2.2% (-0.1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot :

SNP 41.3% (+2.7)
Labour 22.5% (+0.4)
Greens 12.6% (-0.5)
Conservatives 11.9% (-0.1)
Liberal Democrats 5.7% (-0.8)
UKIP 5.0% (-1.5)

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UPDATE : The second Survation poll of the evening is now out, and it shows an even bigger SNP lead, plus a Yes lead on the independence question.  You can find full details in a fresh post HERE.

Will we get a Scotland-only instant reaction poll after the leaders' debate?

So it now looks like there will be just one proper leaders' debate, and (miracles will never cease) it'll be a fair one including the leaders of all six parties that hold major party status somewhere on the island of Great Britain, plus Natalie Bennett of the Greens. But of course a crucial part of leaders' debates are the instant reaction polls that "tell you who won" - the Cleggasm wouldn't have been the Cleggasm without polls. If we only get GB-wide reaction polls, that won't really tell us anything useful about Nicola Sturgeon's performance - you could easily imagine her being judged the debate's best performer in a Scottish poll, but only being ranked fourth or fifth in a GB-wide poll. If there are no suggestions that the media will commission a Scotland-only poll, I hope the SNP will seriously consider commissioning one themselves, because we wouldn't want a false narrative to take root after the debate.

In many ways, the debate will be an even bigger opportunity for Plaid Cymru than for the SNP. They were severely disadvantaged in two constituencies (Ceredigion and Ynys Môn) by the rigged 2010 debates, and hopefully a good performance from Leanne Wood will transform their prospects and help them win both seats back.

I can understand why the Liberal Democrats were so keen to accept the new proposals, because they probably feel they have been "promoted" - the second seven-way debate has effectively been replaced by three individual Q&A slots for Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. But in compensation, there will be a four-way "challengers' debate" featuring Sturgeon, Wood, Bennett and Farage, and it wouldn't surprise me if that programme gets decent ratings - it will, after all, be a genuine debate and not a monologue.

Talking of debates, I watched this YouTube video yesterday for the first time since referendum day, exactly six months ago. I probably watched it at least ten times in the run-up to September 18th, but after the No vote I thought I'd never be able to bring myself to watch it again. And yet I got through to the end without feeling even a trace of pain - in fact I found it just as inspiring as I ever did. I think that must be a sign that the healing process has finally been completed. Or to put it another way : we're winning.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Survation datasets suggest another huge SNP lead

The SNP have released a new poll they commissioned from Survation, which undermines Labour's pitch by suggesting that more people (37.4%) think that a vote for the SNP is best able to prevent a Tory government than think the same about a vote for Labour (35.2%). There are no voting intention figures published, but it's possible to get more than a rough idea from the raw numbers provided at the top of the datasets. This is how it seems to work out -

SNP 42.6%
Labour 25.1%
Conservatives 13.0%
Liberal Democrats 4.1%

If the voting intention figures ever see the light of day (and they may do, because the monthly Survation poll for the Record must be due soon, and the SNP's question may have been a bolt-on to that), they won't be exactly as above, because the turnout filter would be applied. But it certainly looks as if the SNP's lead hasn't slipped at all from the 17% reported last month, and may even have increased slightly.

This doesn't really take us forward all that much, though, because the poll's fieldwork is slightly out of date, and took place at the same time as the recent YouGov poll, which similarly showed a more or less static position. Perhaps more interesting is the Scottish subsample in this morning's GB-wide YouGov poll, which shows an entirely typical lead for the SNP of 44% to 26% - in spite of the fact that Labour's Britain-wide vote of 36% is the highest recorded so far this year. Wherever those extra votes for Miliband are coming from, they're not coming from Scotland.

On the SNP's own question, the most interesting detail is that 25.4% of people who voted Labour in 2010, and even 18.3% of the rump Labour vote from 2011, think that the SNP are best placed to get the Tories out. Those people alone would be sufficient for the SNP to make big inroads. Liberal Democrat voters from both 2010 and 2011 split in favour of the SNP being the best anti-Tory option, although in their case it may not be entirely clear whether they think that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Does Douglas Alexander really think he can win Yes voters back to the Labour cause by patronising them?

A Labour party strategist last night acknowledged that his party was facing a hammering in Scotland - and claimed it was all because of TALKING.

"Gone are the days when people communicated in a more natural way," sighed the apparatchik, who didn't want to be named. "It used to be very simple - you'd receive Labour party literature, and you'd digest it silently. But suddenly people are, how can I put this...talking, and it's just no good for them."

Labour's deepest concern about the new-fangled medium of talking is that it is lowering party morale, due to the easy spread of crackpot conspiracy theories about Facebook being a secret SNP weapon. The anonymous strategist recounted with bemusement an encounter he recently had in his local Asda.

"He was a perfectly intelligent man - well, I hope he was, he's been Shadow Foreign Secretary for a few years - and yet he had absolutely convinced himself that we were only losing because SNP people keep sharing things on Facebook.

"The nation is making a judgement to reject Labour. Among the minority of us who are disappointed about that, there's a great deal of grief, and grief can lead to anger. Some of us blame Facebook, some of us blame Twitter, and as crazy as it seems some of us blame Bebo. But my strong sense is that talking is the real culprit.

"For as long as talking is allowed, every Labour strategy meeting becomes an echo-chamber for these conspiracy theories about social media. That presents a profound challenge for those of us trying to confront the party with a dose of reality, and to promote healthier grieving."

If only you had listened to Jackanory Jim, things would have been much the same

Mark Coburn suggested tonight that Scottish Labour's Twitter account seemed to have been hacked, and I think I've spotted what he means.  Even by the conventional McDougall standards of stupidity, this tweet is very, very stupid indeed...

"Salmond told people to vote against Labour in 2010 and the Tories ended up being the largest party."

Hmmm. The snag here is that Salmond may have given that advice (if "vote against Labour" can be considered a legitimate longhand version of his actual "vote SNP" message), but Scotland didn't take that advice. Labour got more than twice as many votes in Scotland as the SNP did. Result? Not only were the Tories the largest single party at Westminster by miles, but David Cameron was the new Prime Minister.

Now, to be fair, a minority of people (20%) did take Salmond's advice. But let's suppose every single person in Scotland had been a good little boy or girl, and had voted Labour in the way that nature intended. This is what the result would have been...


Conservatives 306
Labour 276
Liberal Democrats 46
Others 22


So the Tories would have been the largest single party by a comfortable margin, and would have formed a coalition with the Lib Dems. Exactly the same as what actually did happen. This means, of course, that it was quite literally IMPOSSIBLE for anyone in Scotland to prevent David Cameron becoming Prime Minister, no matter how they voted.

Perhaps Labour could explain their theory of how Alex Salmond was personally responsible for the 2010 result in a little more depth? I'm sure we could all do with a laugh.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Swing low, sweet Poll of Polls, coming for to carry an enormous SNP contingent to the Palace of Westminster

Be afraid, haggis-phobes of the London press, be very afraid.  Incest, country dancing and an incomprehensible dialect are coming to a parliament building near you.  Even more scarily, there are suggestions that unnatural practices such as social democracy and constitutional reform may soon be on open display in the House of Commons.

Today's update of the Scot Goes Pop Poll of Polls is based on the recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, plus nine Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls - five from YouGov, one from Populus, one from ComRes, one from Opinium and one from Ipsos-Mori.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 45.3% (+3.2)
Labour 25.5% (-1.4)
Conservatives 17.7% (-1.0)
Liberal Democrats 4.9% (-0.5)
Greens 3.2% (-0.4)
UKIP 2.9% (-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.)

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I've been thinking - given that the London establishment have started talking about the prospect of a strong, democratically-elected Scottish contingent at Westminster in much the same way as they used to talk about IRA terrorism, surely some IRA-style broadcasting restrictions are now in order?  "In order to prevent harm being done to our glorious United Kingdom, Nicola Sturgeon's words are spoken by an actress."

*  *  *

Today's GB-wide YouGov poll in the Sunday Times contains a barrel-load of questions about the filthy tartan hordes (I keep having to remind myself that's us), and the responses of the Scottish subsample are rather fascinating -

Do you think it would be a good or bad thing if the SNP held the balance of power in a hung Parliament?

Good thing : 50%
Bad thing : 42%

Do you think it would be a good or bad thing if the SNP was part of a coalition government at Westminster after the next election?

Good thing : 51%
Bad thing : 39%

Do you think the Labour party should be prepared to do a deal with the SNP in the event of a hung Parliament, or should it rule out a deal?

Should be prepared to do a deal with the SNP : 51%
Should rule out doing a deal with the SNP : 36%

If there was a hung Parliament and the following were the only options available which would you prefer? A minority Labour government without any secure majority, or a Labour/SNP coalition with an overall majority?

A minority Labour government with no secure majority : 30%
A Labour/SNP coalition with an overall majority : 51%

A Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition or a Labour/SNP coalition?

A Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition : 33%
A Labour/SNP coalition : 52%

Thinking about some of the things the SNP could possibly ask for in exchange for supporting a minority government in Westminster, would you support or oppose the following?

Getting rid of Trident, Britain's nuclear weapons system?

Support : 51%
Oppose : 36%

Keeping Trident, but moving Britain's nuclear submarine base out of Scotland?

Support : 40%
Oppose : 44%

Holding a new referendum on Scottish independence?

Support : 44%
Oppose : 44%

Giving Scotland greater devolved powers, such as control of welfare and oil revenues?

Support : 65%
Oppose : 24%

The question about the SNP negotiating a second independence referendum as part of the deal implies that it would be held within the next five years. The results are therefore broadly in line with other polls we've seen on whether and when a second referendum should be held - an overwhelming majority do think it should happen, but views are more evenly split over whether it should be in the immediate future.

As always, the pressure on the Westminster parties to reverse their cynical betrayal of "The Vow" on Home Rule remains intense.

The ultimate irony : anti-Scottish chauvinism could succeed in putting paid to the God-awful first-past-the-post voting system, where reason and logic failed

Sir Gus O'Donnell, who served as Cabinet Secretary under three Prime Ministers (Blair, Brown and Cameron) has declared that the SNP's seemingly imminent breakthrough at Westminster will call into question the legitimacy of the first-past-the-post voting system.   He quite clearly tied this point to the ongoing outbreak of Tartan Terror and Haggis Phobia by noting that what the election is "all about is Scotland" - which is plainly a fate worse than death as far as Whitehall mandarins are concerned.

So we're being invited to believe that the SNP winning 7% or 8% of the seats on the basis of 4% of the UK-wide vote, and holding merely a share of power as a result, somehow instantly renders first-past-the-post no longer fit for purpose, when the following was apparently perfectly OK -

* Elections being "all about" the West Midlands, London, and the North-West of England, because that's where all the marginal seats were.  Party leaders used to make one or two bored visits to Scotland during general election campaigns to avoid looking impolite.

* Labour being "elected" to rule on a single-party basis in 2005, in spite of 65% of the electorate voting against them.  It barely seemed to even occur to anyone in the London media to raise question marks over legitimacy, and when one journalist went through the motions of doing so, Tony Blair effortlessly got away with a show of astonishment.

*  Mrs Thatcher using the absolute power of an elective dictatorship to turn the UK upside down and devastate working-class communities, even though anything up to 58% of people had voted against her.  (The combined non-Tory vote was never lower than 56% in any of her three general election "victories".)  It's remarkable that so many people in Labour were relaxed about this effect of the voting system - it was a price well worth paying, apparently, just so long as they got their own shot at absolute power eventually.

You might suppose that it's wishful thinking to suggest that even the London establishment's loathing of the Jocks will prove strong enough to finally get rid of first-past-the-post, but consider this - the UK political system is becoming more like India's.  We still have first-past-the-post, and yet we have little prospect of anything other than proportional representation-type outcomes (ie. no single party holding a clear working majority) for the foreseeable future.  The reason this is happening is the same as in India - fracturing and regionalisation of the party system.  If a "regional" party gets 40% or 45% of the vote in its own part of the country, first-past-the-post exaggerates the effect and ensures that "national" parties are unlikely to pick up many seats there, thus significantly reducing the chances of anyone winning an overall majority.

Northern Ireland effectively "seceded" from the UK party system in the early 1970s, and it looks like Scotland could be about to do something similar.  When the Liberal Democrats regroup from their upcoming disaster, they could start to look like a de facto regional party of South-West England, and of course Plaid Cymru are already dominant in a few pockets of Wales.  Even Labour and the Tories are becoming increasingly "regional", because both are failing to challenge outside their own heartlands as effectively as they used to a few decades ago.

So if the London establishment are no longer enjoying the supposed "advantage" of first-past-the-post (ie. single-party elective dictatorship on a minority vote), they might just conclude that they have nothing left to lose by "stuffing the Jocks" (to use Mike Smithson's favourite phrase), and introducing proportional representation to weaken the SNP's influence.  Let's hope so - even when the right thing is done for stupid and offensive reasons, it's still the right thing.