Friday, April 24, 2015

The Ian Smart thing, that Ian Smart does

I've just been catching up with First Minister's Questions from yesterday, and I thought it was fascinating to see the effect of Nicola Sturgeon temporarily withholding the name of the vile Labour activist who had referred to the SNP as "fascist scum".  Some people have suggested that Kezia Dugdale was lying when she claimed not to know his identity, but I think she genuinely hadn't made the connection at that point - she would never have offered a hostage to fortune by implying that disciplinary action might be taken if she'd realised she was talking about the inexplicably untouchable Ian Smart.  I'm not quite sure how she would have talked her way out of the situation if Smart had been named up-front, but her inward reaction would have been : "Oh, that.  That's just the Ian Smart thing.  That Ian Smart does."  It was probably a very useful exercise (for Kezia's spiritual development as much as anything) to separate out the Ian Smart thing from Ian Smart, and then to recognise the inescapable logic that it doesn't become any less despicable after you've found out that it was your friend Ian Smart who did it.  The media pack may similarly be reflecting quietly on the rationality (or otherwise) of their long-standing belief that the simple fact of being Ian Smart grants an individual a broad exemption from the accepted principles of human morality.

I also thought it was rather amusing how Kezia begged Nicola Sturgeon to tell her the identity of the Labour culprit after First Minister's Questions was over.  It seems that it's OK for Sturgeon to be expected to answer for "SNP wrongdoing" (which turned out to be no such thing) in public, but if it's a Labour wrongdoer, suddenly the plea is : for heaven's sake let's sort this out behind closed doors, like civilised people.  Does Kezia think the public are too stupid to notice such a blindingly obvious double standard?

*  *  *

You've got to love Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson.  He's been gradually coming to terms with the new political reality by telling himself stories about how the SNP are going to win a landslide, but everything will be all right for unionists anyway.  A few weeks ago, he was trying to convince himself that the SNP would be powerless to act as kingmakers, because of some unwritten rule that he and Jim Murphy had just invented about the largest party having the moral right to form a government.  When Blair McDougall asked him on Twitter whether Alex Salmond had accepted the 'rule', he hilariously replied : "Not yet". Apparently it's only ever a matter of time before everyone else falls into line with our Kenny's way of thinking!

Now he's moved on to acknowledging that Labour may well govern with SNP support, but is comforting himself with the thought that this will somehow transform the SNP into "Brits" and make independence less likely.  Hmmm.  I don't want to ruin your breakfast, Kenny, but it's just possible that the SNP could win a landslide without it being a triumph for unionism in disguise.  Stranger things have happened.

*  *  *

Spare a thought for right-wing historian Andrew Roberts, who told the This Week programme that the massed ranks of Conservative supporters in Scotland were making nationalism look popular by voting tactically for the SNP to stop Labour being the largest party.  The poor chap seemed to be serious.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How will SNP supporters in the rest of the UK vote?

I know there are some readers of this blog who are either members or supporters of the SNP, but who live in other parts of the UK.  So which parties will you be voting for on May 7th?  Nicola Sturgeon suggested that people in England might want to consider voting Green, or for individual Labour candidates who have proved themselves to be on the progressive wing of the party.  Speaking personally, I wouldn't vote Labour if I was in England, irrespective of the candidate, because the Neanderthal attitudes towards Scotland run too deep within Ed Miliband's party, and afflict even those who are the voice of reason on every other topic.

The Guardian made a heroic effort the other week to suggest that those in England impressed by Nicola Sturgeon ought to vote Labour in order to maximise the chances of the SNP holding influence.  For the avoidance of doubt, that's complete drivel - a vote for Labour is just as likely to take Miliband to the point where he can govern without the SNP's help (probably in coalition with the Liberal Democrats).

So what are the attractive options in the rest of the UK for a typical SNP sympathiser?  Let's start with the easy ones, and then work down to the more problematical possibilities.

Plaid Cymru : Left-of-centre, anti-austerity.  Sister party of the SNP, and former junior coalition partner in the Welsh Government.  In favour of enhanced devolution for Wales, and of full independence as a longer-term objective.  Also very supportive of Scottish independence, and many members came north to work for the Yes campaign.  Held three Westminster seats at dissolution, and should have a decent chance of adding Ynys Môn and Ceredigion, both of which were previously Plaid-held for long spells.

Mebyon Kernow : Left-of-centre, anti-austerity.  Sister party of the SNP.  In favour of substantial devolution to a Cornish Assembly, and would doubtless be an ally of the SNP in decentralising power throughout the UK.  No realistic prospect of winning a seat this time around, but a serious party which has several local councillors.

Green Party of England and Wales : Left-of-centre, anti-austerity.  Natalie Bennett proudly noted that the Greens were the only major English party to support a Yes vote at last year's Scottish independence referendum, and she visited Scotland personally to campaign. They held one Westminster seat at dissolution, and may have an outside chance of gaining one or two more.

Yorkshire First : Technically a sister party of the SNP, because it's just become an observer member of the European Free Alliance - and it's the first EFA member party in the UK from outside the 'Celtic Fringe'.  Unlike Plaid and Mebyon Kernow, though, it doesn't identify as left-wing, but as centrist.  Supports Scottish or Welsh style devolution for Yorkshire.  If I lived in that part of the world, I would probably be torn between the Greens' lefty-ness, and Yorkshire First's emphasis on constitutional reform.

North-East Party : No affiliation to the European Free Alliance (not yet, anyway), but in every other respect appears to be very similar to Yorkshire First.  Supports devolution for the North-East of England.

Wessex Regionalists : Left-of-centre, pro-devolution.  A kind of "Plaid for Wessex" that has been around for ages, but with very little success.  They're standing against David Cameron in Witney.

SDLP : Left-of-centre, and in favour (at least in principle) of a united Ireland.  On the face of it, should be a perfect fit for any SNP supporter, but they're a sister party of Labour, not the SNP.  It's even sometimes been said that they "take the Labour whip at Westminster", although that never seems to have been a binding arrangement.  They famously helped to bring down the Callaghan government in 1979 - but strangely Labour seemed to forgive their Irish comrades within a week, as opposed to the 36 years they've been nursing a grievance over the SNP doing exactly the same thing.

Sinn Féin : Left-wing, anti-austerity, and in favour of a united Ireland - but carries a huge amount of historical baggage.

* * *

UPDATE : I overlooked the Northern Party, which only launched last month and is standing candidates in Lancashire. Seems to be very similar to Yorkshire First and the North-East Party, and is calling for "devo max", no less.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nicola's story

Yesterday the International Business Times asked me to write a profile of Nicola Sturgeon.  I think my hard-earned reputation as a propagandist may take a slight knock with this one - it's not an entirely one-sided hagiography!  Anyway, see what you think - you can read it HERE.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Enthralling YouGov poll sees SNP maintain massive 24% lead

The frequency of Scottish polling seems to be increasing markedly as we approach election day - YouGov have tonight released a new full-scale Scottish poll, just ten days or so after their last one.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (YouGov, 16th-20th April) :

SNP 49% (n/c)
Labour 25% (n/c)
Conservatives 17% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (+1)

This may look like a routine no change result, but in fact it's hugely significant.  The last YouGov poll saw both the SNP vote and the SNP lead over Labour soar to record-breaking levels.  The general rule of thumb is that no sudden change is meaningful until it's confirmed by a second poll showing much the same thing - in a sense we've already had that confirmation from TNS and Ashcroft, but it's still important to get a repeat poll from YouGov itself.  There can now be absolutely no remaining room for doubt that the SNP lead has increased still further over recent weeks, although pinpointing exactly when the additional surge occurred is quite difficult.

I'll have to wait until the datasets appear before I can say much more of any use, but the other obvious thing that leaps out straight away is that the bulk of the fieldwork for this poll appears to have taken place after the BBC leaders' debate on Thursday night.  So there doesn't seem to be any comfort for Polly Toynbee and her startling theory that Ed Miliband's performance in that debate would help turn things around a little for Scottish Labour.  Admittedly, we've been told that the poll does show a significant improvement in Miliband's personal rating, but he's still light-years behind Nicola Sturgeon, and for as long as that remains the case there's no rational reason to suppose that the leadership factor will help fuel a late Labour comeback.

Astounding Ashcroft polls put SNP ahead in two Edinburgh constituencies

When the third batch of Scottish constituency polls was released by Ashcroft last Friday, there was something of a mystery over what had happened to the polls in Edinburgh North & Leith and Edinburgh South - we'd heard earlier in the week that both seats had been polled by Populus alongside the others.  It turns out that they were just taking a little longer to come through, and they've now been published.

Edinburgh North & Leith :

SNP 43% (+33)
Labour 29% (-9)
Conservatives 14% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-28)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Mark Lazarowicz of Labour would lose his seat.)

Edinburgh South : 

SNP 37% (+29)
Labour 34% (-1)
Conservatives 16% (-6)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-26)

(This would be an SNP gain from Labour.  Ian Murray of Labour would lose his seat.)

By some definitions, Edinburgh South is one of the two or three toughest seats in the whole of Scotland for the SNP to win - the problem is not just that they need a huge swing from Labour, but in contrast to many western seats they're also starting from a long way behind two other parties.  So although the SNP lead Ashcroft is reporting in the seat is small, that tends to confirm rather than detract from the impression given by other constituency polls that if the election was held right now, the SNP would win almost every seat in the country.

The main similarity between today's polls and the three polls last Friday that covered Labour-held seats in the west is that the SNP vote is surging forward by an equally impressive amount - but the main difference is that the Labour vote isn't collapsing to anything like the same extent.   (In fact, in Edinburgh South it has barely slipped at all.)  Both the similarity and the difference may be a mirage caused by the fact that the Liberal Democrats have been the main challengers to Labour in these two Edinburgh seats in the recent past.  The mass desertion of voters from the Lib Dem cause may have benefited both Labour and the SNP, meaning that the true underlying movement between the two main parties is being disguised in the headline numbers.  That movement is clearly very dramatic, but not quite as big as in the western seats.  In a sense, this bears out the spin we were hearing from Labour a few weeks ago that they were faring better in eastern and affluent seats - but it categorically doesn't bear out their conclusion that they are on course to actually retain those seats.  At best, they've got a fighting chance of clinging on.

Edinburgh South is of course always cited as a classic example of the sort of seat where Labour can expect help from Tory supporters voting tactically.  There's some evidence of that in the poll, but it's far from overwhelming - the six-point drop in the Tory vote is only a little bigger than the average drop elsewhere.

As always with Ashcroft, it's vitally important to bear in mind two features of the methodology that may be leading to the SNP's true strength being underestimated.  Firstly there's the "spiral of silence" adjustment, which artificially reallocates a portion of undecided voters to the party they voted for in 2010.  In normal circumstances, that would produce a more accurate result, but the circumstances we find ourselves in are not normal.  In both Edinburgh seats, the SNP's lead has been adjusted downwards by 1%.

Secondly and more importantly, the results are weighted by 2010 vote recall, which is known to be unreliable because people get mixed up between their Labour/Lib Dem vote in 2010 and their SNP vote in 2011.  In Edinburgh North & Leith, people who recall voting SNP have been downweighted from 118 to 66, and in Edinburgh South they've been downweighted from 97 to 53.  Almost a halving in both cases, and you don't need me to tell you that the potential distortion on the headline numbers is massive.  It's perfectly possible that the SNP are comfortably ahead in Edinburgh South, as opposed to the wafer-thin lead that is being reported.

The pompously-titled ANP ("Ashcroft National Poll") is also out today, and it's rather wonderful for the SNP.   They're on 6% across Britain, and the Scottish subsample figures are : SNP 59%, Labour 15%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Conservatives 10%, UKIP 4%, Greens 0%.  As usual, the Scottish sample size is extremely low.

*  *  *

I've fallen hopelessly in love with the new all-purpose Lib Dem catchphrase.  Last week it was "the SNP have taken their eye off the ball", now it's "I've seen the figures".  You know the kind of thing - Danny Alexander isn't going to lose his seat because "I've seen the figures".  Charles Kennedy most certainly isn't going to lose his seat because "I've seen the figures".  And if you think Nick Clegg is going to lose his seat, you're an absolute gibbering imbecile, because "I've seen the figures".

Which figures?  Internal comfort polling?  Optimistic canvass returns?  We don't know, but you can rest assured that there are figures, and they are bloody wonderful for the Liberal Democrats.

I can just picture the scene in East Dunbartonshire in the early hours of May 8th...

Returning Officer : And I hereby declare that the above-mentioned John Nicolson has been duly elected to serve as member of parliament for the East Dunbartonshire constituency.

Jo Swinson : No, he hasn't.

Returning Officer : I'm sorry?

Jo Swinson : I've seen the figures, and he hasn't won.  I have.

Returning Officer : I can assure you, Ms Swinson, that we've counted the votes with great care, and Mr Nicolson has more than you.

Jo Swinson : Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  I think you'll find that the exclusive Liberal Democrat poll that we leaked to the Kirkintilloch Herald tells a rather different story.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I don't know how to love Jim, what to do, how to move Jim

Today has brought the bombshell revelation from Paul Hutcheon of the Sunday Herald that Jim Murphy is no longer a patriot.  Normal caveats apply of course -

"Who are these separatists to say that a non-patriot can't be patriotic?  My non-patriotism is every bit as patriotic as the patriotism of the patriots.  In fact, it's BECAUSE I'm such a patriotic Scot that I believe so passionately in non-patriotism."

- but in essence it appears that patriotic Labour is no more.

An even more fascinating nugget is that Murphy has apparently been taking legal advice over whether it would be within Labour party rules for him to remain as 'leader' if he loses his seat next month.  Although the rules clearly state that a candidate for leader must hold a parliamentary seat, there's a degree of ambiguity over whether retaining that seat is a precondition for carrying on as leader after an election.

Here's the thing, though - in the first instance, the interpretation of Labour rules is a matter for Labour itself.  So if there was unanimity in the party hierarchy that it would (for some bizarre reason) be desirable for Murphy to cling on for dear life after defeat in the general election, it would be very easy to simply interpret the rules in the most generous way.  If Murphy is taking legal advice, then, we can take it as read that no such unanimity exists, and that he's seriously contemplating the possibility of defying a challenge from within the party to his legitimacy as leader.

Might be worth having some popcorn to hand - you know, just to cover all contingencies.

Britain-wide YouGov poll confirms Nicola Sturgeon defeated Miliband in the BBC leaders' debate

Today's Britain-wide YouGov poll is the first to have been entirely conducted since the BBC leaders' debate on Thursday night.  There's a supplementary question about the debate itself, which shows that Nicola Sturgeon was judged to be the winner both by respondents across the whole of Britain, and by the Scottish subsample - although understandably her margin of victory was much, much bigger with the latter.

Which leader do you think came across best in the debate?  (Respondents across Britain) :

Nicola Sturgeon 30%
Ed Miliband 27%
Nigel Farage 17%
Leanne Wood 3%
Natalie Bennett 3%

Which leader do you think came across best in the debate?  (Respondents in Scotland only) :

Nicola Sturgeon 63%
Ed Miliband 22%
Nigel Farage 8%
Natalie Bennett 1%
Leanne Wood 0%

This isn't an instant poll, so respondents will have been influenced by the post-debate reporting, including the widespread reporting of the rather questionable instant poll from Survation that had Miliband slightly ahead (albeit only at Britain-wide level).  So perhaps the most important thing about YouGov's result is the reassurance it provides us that the Survation poll didn't distort people's perception of the outcome - or at least not sufficiently to convince a plurality that Miliband won.

The headline voting intentions from YouGov's Scottish subsample are also of particular interest, as they're the first numbers we have that are entirely post-debate.  They show : SNP 40%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 19%, UKIP 6%, Liberal Democrats 6%, Greens 2%.  If that was the result of a full-scale poll, it would look like the gap had narrowed, but in subsample terms it's very much business as usual, and doesn't give rise to any obvious suspicion that the debate has changed the state of play.

*  *  *

Here's a damning verdict on the leader of Plaid Cymru from one member of the YouGov panel -

"Uniformed spreader of misinformation, stupidly taken in by Nicola Sturgeon."

Hmmm.  Let's be fair to Leanne - she may be a gullible spreader of misinformation, but at least she has the common decency to do it in a uniform.