Saturday, May 2, 2015

SNP lead remains rock-solid at 23% in marvellous YouGov poll

Tonight sees the publication of the latest full-scale Scottish YouGov poll, and there are some suggestions that it might be the last Scottish poll from any firm before polling day.  I must say I find that hard to believe - surely given the unprecedented situation, at least one newspaper is going to fancy the idea of a poll on Wednesday, or even on Thursday morning?  Oh well, if this is the last one, the SNP can hardly have any complaints about the state of play it depicts, which is essentially unchanged since the 'second surge' that occurred a few weeks ago.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (YouGov) :

SNP 49% (n/c)
Labour 26% (+1)
Conservatives 15% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)
UKIP 2% (-1)
Greens 1% (n/c)

I haven't been able to track down the fieldwork dates yet, although I do know that the poll got underway before the Question Time leaders' special on Thursday night, and the revelation that Miliband would be willing in some circumstances to help Cameron stay in power.  If it turns out that the bulk of the fieldwork was done before then, we may not be much further forward, because that's the only recent event which seemed to have a reasonable chance of shifting opinion in either direction.

If I was going to sound any note of mild concern about the result, it would be over the Liberal Democrat share, which is significantly higher than in any other YouGov poll since the referendum - the previous range has been 3-5%.  There are basically three possible explanations for the jump - a) it's an illusion caused by the margin of error, b) it's a real but small increase in Lib Dem support across Scotland, or c) it's a real increase in support driven mainly by tactical voting, and is therefore heavily concentrated in Lib Dem-held seats.  The first two possibilities wouldn't present a problem for the SNP, but the third certainly would.

UPDATE : There seems to be some confusion over the exact numbers - Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report (who's in a position to know, because he works for YouGov) says it's SNP 49%, Labour 25%, Conservatives 17%, Liberal Democrats 5%.  Those figures are absolutely identical to the last YouGov poll, so I'm wondering if Anthony has got the two polls mixed up.

UPDATE II : And now we have a third slightly different set of figures.  The Sunday Times, who commissioned the poll, say it's SNP 49% (n/c), Labour 26% (+1), Conservatives 15% (-2), Liberal Democrats 7% (+2), UKIP 2% (-1), Greens 1% (n/c).  Presumably these are most likely to be the accurate numbers, so I've updated the start of the post (the Conservatives were previously on 17%).

Postal vote rumours

Someone has just alerted me to an article on Labour Uncut that contains whisperings from Labour insiders about postal vote results (you know, the results that no-one is supposed to know about).  The gist of it is that Labour are doing much worse than expected in England and are essentially losing the election in the marginals, but aren't doing as badly as expected in Scotland, and are still in contention in more than half of their current seats.

This is of course second-hand information which we shouldn't necessarily assume is accurate, although the fact that it's such a mixed bag for Labour means that it has the ring of truth to it.  It would also be consistent with the fact that the party do seem to be doing more than simply going through the motions in their Scottish campaigning.

However, to offer a reality check, there were similar reports in the run-up to the 2007 Holyrood election.  In fact, Nick Robinson announced live on the BBC that Labour sources had told him they were ahead in seats that they were supposed to be behind in.  If memory serves me right, we even saw exact figures from Ochil (in breach of the rules) showing Labour in the lead.

In the event, the national result was indeed a bit closer than the opinion polls had been suggesting, so in that sense what we're seeing tonight may be a meaningful warning sign.  But on the other hand, the SNP went on to win many of the seats that Labour had been so excited about after looking at the postal votes.  In Ochil, for example, the result was SNP 38.5%, Labour 36.9%.  People who vote by post aren't necessarily going to be a representative cross-section of the general population - they may be older, and more small 'c' conservative.  If so, it could be that the real SNP surge won't make itself felt until Thursday itself.

All the same, this is a useful reminder that the situation remains uncertain, and it's important to keep campaigning hard until the very last second.

Daily Record caught misleading its readers AGAIN : it turns out their Survation poll showed that 59% of voters want a second independence referendum within just TEN YEARS

Many thanks to the commenter "clyde1998" who tracked down the elusive Survation datasets relating to the independence question.  I'm fairly sure they've only just been put up, because they're in exactly the same place that I checked earlier today without any luck.

Let's start by recalling the headline the Daily Record used on Wednesday in relation to these results -

"General Election 2015: 51% of Scots plan to vote SNP but...51% DON'T want second independence referendum"

Now work out if you can reconcile those words with the totality of the picture you're about to see. I warn you - it'll be a struggle.

If there was another referendum on Scottish independence tomorrow and in the referendum voters will again be asked, "Should Scotland be an independent country?", do you think you would vote 'yes' or 'no'? (Don't Knows excluded)

Yes 49.4%
No 50.6%

If there was to be another referendum on Scottish independence when, if at all, do you think this referendum should take place?

Should be another referendum at some point : 80.4%
Should NOT be another referendum at some point : 19.6%

Another referendum should take place within ten years : 58.6%
Another referendum should NOT take place within ten years : 41.4%

Which of the following statements is closest to your opinion?

The SNP should include a commitment to holding another independence referendum before 2020 in their Holyrood manifesto next year : 31.5%
The SNP should NOT include a commitment to holding another independence referendum before 2020 in their Holyrood manifesto next year : 51.5%

So, of course, what the Daily Record do is pretend that only the last of those questions was asked, and omit to mention that it included the all-important caveat "before 2020". I suppose technically they could argue they weren't lying, but the idea that they were giving their readers an even remotely accurate impression of Survation's findings on attitudes towards a second referendum is, frankly, laughable.

Given that Labour have been using the Record's partial account of the poll to make hay with just days to go until the general election, it's also extremely troubling that there has been such a long delay in the publication of the datasets. I'm prepared to believe that it was an oversight on Survation's part rather than a conspiracy, but to say the least, this episode hasn't been the polling industry's finest hour.

Incidentally, respondents were also asked for their views on full fiscal autonomy. 53.6% say they either "strongly" or "somewhat" support the idea, compared to just 23.5% who are either "strongly" or "somewhat" opposed.

And here comes the Plaid surge, as Leanne Wood's party overtakes UKIP in Wales

A rare rift between the national movements in Scotland and Wales occurred just after the devolution referendums in 1997, when the future SNP MSP Dorothy Grace-Elder provoked irritation by snidely suggesting that Wales would never have been brave enough to vote Yes by the narrowest of margins if Scotland hadn't shown the way a week earlier.  There was never the slightest evidence to support that claim - in fact, it was striking how little effect the enormous Yes-Yes vote in Scotland had on the latter stages of the campaign in Wales.

However, in the case of the current general election campaign, I think it's probably fair to say that the SNP surge has had an important indirect effect on Wales.  The assumption is that Leanne Wood was only invited to the UK-wide leaders' debates because it was impossible to exclude the SNP in the current circumstances, and if the SNP were there, logically Plaid Cymru had to be there as well.  We're now seeing clear signs that a fairer level of coverage has weaved its magic for Plaid, which has overtaken UKIP in the latest Wales-wide YouGov poll -

Welsh voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (YouGov, 28th-30th April) :

Labour 39% (-1)
Conservatives 26% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 13% (+1)
UKIP 12% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 3% (-1)

Although the changes may look like meaningless margin of error stuff, it has to be borne in mind that Plaid are up from 9% in the last-but-one poll, and that 13% is a higher than usual figure.  It seems likely that Wood's involvement in the debates and her relentless focus on Wales while she was there is a big part of the explanation for this mini-surge, because a supplementary question finds that 29% identify her as the leader that best stands up for Wales, a full 17% ahead of her nearest challenger (Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister).

Unlike the SNP, Plaid's support is particularly concentrated in certain areas, which makes the result of the following question highly significant -

Thinking specifically about your own constituency and the candidates who are likely to stand there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency at the next general election?

Labour 37%
Conservatives 25%
Plaid Cymru 15%
UKIP 12%
Liberal Democrats 7%
Greens 2%

It looks as if Plaid are only shedding 3% of their potential voters due to tactical/local considerations, which is being more than offset by the much larger number of tactical votes in their favour from supporters of other parties.  These votes will presumably be, for the most part, in the handful of constituencies Plaid have a serious chance in. There's a maximum of six they could win - Arfon (Plaid-held), Carmarthen East & Dinefwr (Plaid-held), Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Plaid-held), Ynys Môn (Labour-held), Llanelli (Labour-held), and Ceredigion (Lib Dem-held). If they were to win five or all six, they could make up more than 10% of the informal 'progressive bloc' in the new House of Commons.

The mysterious absence of Survation datasets

On Wednesday, the Daily Record made a song and dance about a supplementary question in their monthly Survation poll, which purported to show that 51% of the electorate "don't want another independence referendum", and that 32% do.  On the face of it, this contradicts a string of polls we've had since September (some quite recently) showing that a clear majority want a second referendum to take place within the next ten years.  But that hasn't stopped Jackanory Jim seizing on the results, and claiming that "the opinion polls" show that "the vast majority" don't want another referendum.  Only on Planet Murphy can a single aberrant poll be described as "the opinion polls", and 51% be described as "the vast majority".

Anyway, since the Wednesday report I've been waiting patiently to see the datasets for the relevant question, but they mysteriously haven't appeared yet.  (Correct me if I'm wrong about that, because Survation's website isn't the most user-friendly, but I've searched as carefully as I can.)  What I want to see is whether there is something about the way the question was asked that might explain why it produced such a different result.  The Record claim the question was simply : "Do you want another independence referendum?", but given the agenda of that newspaper I'm not prepared to take that on trust.  If that really was the question, it may be that people interpreted it as meaning "Do you want another referendum right now, as a direct result of this election?", in which case respondents who want a referendum in a few years' time will have answered No rather than Yes, thus giving a misleading impression.  But it's also possible that the question was more complicated than we've been led to believe.

It would be nice (and dare I say appropriate) for us to get answers to these points before polling day, given that this has become such a topic of controversy during the campaign.

[UPDATE, 5.50pm : The datasets have now turned up, and guess what?  The Record were cynically misleading their readers.  The question included the all-important caveat "before 2020", and it was only one of several to be asked on the same topic.  One of the other questions found that 59% of voters want a second independence referendum within the next ten years.  Full details can be found HERE.]

Looking at it more broadly, this is a useful illustration of the importance of poll results, and how they're almost becoming "part of the constitution".  The SNP would never have been included in the UK-wide leaders' debates if it hadn't been for their wonderful showing in the polls over the autumn and winter, and by extension they would probably now be on course to win fewer seats on Thursday.  It looks very likely that polls will also now be the decisive factor in determining the 'legitimacy' of an early referendum, or indeed a referendum at any point.

If you're a member of an online polling panel, it might be worth bearing that in mind.  Even if you personally don't think a referendum should take place for, say, another ten years, I'd highly recommend being as positive as humanly possible about the prospect of an early referendum when you respond to polls, because otherwise the likes of Murphy will simply twist the results in an attempt to close down Scotland's democratic options for the foreseeable future.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Miliband crosses the Rubicon : now for the consequences

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about Miliband's declaration last night that he would be prepared to put the Tories in power to avoid working with the SNP.  You can read it HERE.  (It's also on Yahoo HERE.)

SNP still on course to defeat Jim Murphy and David Mundell in electrifying Ashcroft constituency polls

If you were hoping that further constituency polls from Ashcroft would cover interesting seats that haven't yet been polled (such as Glenrothes or Orkney & Shetland), it looks like you may be disappointed - instead he's decided to look at two key seats for a third time.

East Renfrewshire :

SNP 39% (+30)
Labour 36% (-15)
Conservatives 20% (-10)
Liberal Democrats 3% (-6)

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

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale :

SNP 42% (+31)
Conservatives 31% (-7)
Labour 17% (-12)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-15)

(This would be an SNP gain from the Conservatives.  David Mundell of the Conservatives would lose his seat.)

As before, the percentage changes listed above are from the 2010 result, rather than from the previous poll in each constituency.

Although Labour have gained ground on the SNP since the most recent poll in East Renfrewshire, it's important to stress that they've done this almost entirely by squeezing the Tory vote.  The SNP vote is only down 1%, which is a trivial change that can easily be explained by the margin of error.  Labour have failed to reverse the dramatic gains made by the SNP last time (they jumped from 33% to 40%).  If we take the headline numbers at face value - and for reasons I'll come to in a moment, it may be wrong to do so - this seat is clearly in "too close to call" territory, but the fact that the SNP still seemingly have their noses in front at such a late stage in the campaign is extraordinary enough.  The fieldwork was carried out over the last week and concluded only yesterday, so it's bang up to date.

In Dumfriesshire, the SNP only made modest gains in the second poll last month - they crept up from 34% to 36%, although that was sufficient to move them into a slender lead over the Tories.  Now they've made a big jump to 42%, and that can't be explained entirely by direct gains from the Tories, who have only slipped back 3%.  A troubling thought must surely be occurring to the unionist parties here - it may well be that it's the SNP who are the beneficiaries of tactical voting in this seat, and that Labour supporters are moving across specifically to maximise the chances of a Tory defeat.  OK, Dumfriesshire is an unusual constituency in that it's Tory-held, but it's scarcely implausible that there may also be many Labour supporters in other parts of the country who would be willing to vote SNP to turf Lib Dem incumbents out.

As always with Ashcroft polls, we can't exclude the possibility that the SNP vote is being significantly underestimated due to two methodological quirks.  Firstly, the headline numbers are weighted by 2010 vote recall, which is known to be unreliable due to people who switched to the SNP in 2011 getting the two elections mixed up.  In Dumfriesshire, respondents who claim to have voted SNP in 2010 have been downweighted from 114 to 73, and in East Renfrewshire they've been downweighted from 127 to 68.  Secondly, there is the spiral of silence adjustment, which artificially reallocates a portion of Don't Knows to the party they voted for in 2010.  In normal circumstances, that procedure improves accuracy, but these are not normal circumstances.

So it's not totally inconceivable that the SNP have a somewhat more comfortable lead in East Renfrewshire, and are already practically out of sight in Dumfriesshire.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Miliband's suicidal "1979 moment" : he admits he'll let a Tory government take office to prevent Scotland having influence at Westminster

A few very quick observations on tonight's two leaders' specials -

1) Whoever is advising Ed Miliband on how to get back into the game in Scotland is giving him terrible advice.  You don't do it by openly blackmailing voters and telling them that you, as a Labour leader, will deliberately let a Tory government in unless they do what you want.  This is Scottish Labour's very own "1979 moment" - and if they don't backtrack very quickly, they may never recover from it.

2) David Cameron boasted - literally boasted - about "getting rid" of 20,000 administrators in the NHS.  However useless he thinks those jobs were, they were real jobs providing people with real livelihoods.  I thought it was supposed to be so unconscionable to get rid of jobs in any circumstances, and for any reason, that we simply have to keep inhuman weapons on the Clyde forever as a job protection scheme?

3) The "2017 scenario" which might lead to Scottish independence if Britain leaves the EU seems to have been firmly reignited tonight.  Cameron insisting that there will be no Tory-led government without an EU referendum, and Miliband effectively ruling out a Labour government if it requires SNP support, significantly increases the chances that the referendum will indeed happen.

4) Nick Clegg started rambling utter nonsense about how no-one was going to be Prime Minister next week, and then suddenly seemed to recall that there constitutionally has to be one.  He contrasted his approach to Cameron and Miliband by saying that the result the voters deliver has to be respected, and that everyone has to act responsibly within that framework.  But the reality is that he's been just as irresponsible as the others - by ruling out forming any government that is reliant in however informal a way on SNP support, he's effectively ensuring that there are a wide range of arithmetical scenarios in which it will be virtually impossible for a stable government to emerge.

5) Clegg said that he would downscale Trident from four submarines to three, because its purpose is no longer to "flatten Moscow at the press of button".  Er, Nick, I don't know how to break this to you, but if you no longer want to flatten cities at the press of a button and mass-murder millions of civilians, the correct number of submarines is not three, but zero.  That's what nuclear missiles do, you see.  They're quite limited in their application - you can't use them to tickle people's feet.

6) I burst out laughing when the young man in the audience addressed Nicola Sturgeon as "Madam First Minister".  I think the reason it seemed so incongruous was that there just didn't seem to be the same distance between her and the audience that was there when the three London leaders spoke.

It took time to understand Jim, we know Jim so well

STV's Stephen Daisley is a superb and frequently hilarious writer, and we've a lot to be grateful to him for - he's often been a constructive bridge between the mainstream media and alternative media such as Wings Over Scotland.  But his unshakeable belief in Jim Murphy's brilliance as a leader in defiance of all the evidence is leading him to say some increasingly absurd things.  He's penned an article today with the title "If Jim Murphy fails it will be because Labour is beyond saving".  Really?  I'm beginning to wonder if there is some kind of scientific law stating that nothing can ever be Jim Murphy's fault.  The newest poll projects Labour to lose all 40 of their Scottish seats under Murphy's watch - so just how bad would things have to get before it's at least partly his own fault?  If they're left with fewer than zero seats, would there then be an acknowledgement that Murphy isn't quite the Bill Clinton he was cracked up to be?

"And yet he presses on because what else is there to do. So he gets up on his Irn-Bru crate and tries to croak out the most radical platform the Labour Party has advanced in a generation above screeches of “traitor” and “Red Tories”."

Isn't it just possible, Stephen, that the problem with Murphy suddenly deciding to advance a red-blooded socialist manifesto is that even the dogs on the street know that he's spent his entire parliamentary career arguing against socialism, and in favour of the Blairite Third Way?  Isn't the very first thing a brilliant leader has to judge is whether or not his words will be regarded by the public as remotely authentic or sincere?

"He bests Nicola Sturgeon in a string of debates and watches glumly as the polls swing further to, not against, her."

Er, excuse me? In what sense did he 'best' Nicola Sturgeon in a string of debates? Let's just refresh our memories of who won STV's own leaders' debate, according to the YouGov poll conducted over the two days immediately afterwards -

Which leader do you think came across the best in the FIRST debate? [Asked to respondents who saw the debate or saw clips or reports of it]

Nicola Sturgeon 56%
Ruth Davidson 14%
Jim Murphy 13%
Willie Rennie 1%

Generally you've only won a debate if the viewers think you've won it, rather than thinking you've come a distant third.  This isn't a TV talent show where the 'expert judges' get to overrule the audience.

"The ritual humiliation to which he subjects himself every day at the hands of triumphalist Nationalists and a contemptuous media warrants something else. It has earned him the right to take a run at 2016. The fact that he may not be an MP in the next Parliament is an important detail but a detail nonetheless. There aren’t going to be very many Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster for the next five years."

The rule of thumb in modern politics is that what "earns" you the right to carry on as leader is electoral success, or failing that, the avoidance of total electoral annihilation.  The idea that you've somehow earned the right to continue because you led your party to its worst defeat in living memory but kept shouting loudly while you were doing it is, shall we say, creative.

As for there not being very many Scottish Labour MPs after next week, so what?  There will still be a respectable number of Labour MSPs at Holyrood, and it doesn't strike me as being entirely unreasonable that the Scottish Labour leader should ordinarily be someone who holds a seat in the Scottish Parliament, rather than someone who potentially doesn't hold a seat in any parliament at all, and who may have just contrived to throw away a majority of 10,420.

"But there is only one leader capable of making a decent fist of the Holyrood elections..."

Kezia Dugdale? Jenny Marra?

"...and to turf him out after half a year would be to hang a “do not resuscitate” sign on Labour’s life-support machine."

Oh, you're still talking about Murphy. I think some journalists are going to need a support group after next week.

Run that past me again?

The 'Media Mole' feature at the New Statesman had a short piece last night poking fun at the Sun's decision to back the Tories in England and the SNP in Scotland in simultaneous front pages.  It was later updated to include the Sun's justification - namely that the two editions of the paper have very different readerships, and you wouldn't expect the Scottish Sun to back the England national football team.  The update concluded with this bizarre observation -

"This is a fair point. The Scottish Sun probably couldn't get away with saying that the English national team shouldn't be allowed to play football at all, though."

I get the impression that's intended to be a really obvious analogy that can be understood instantly, but I can't make head nor tail of it.  Is the idea supposed to be that the SNP wants to ban England from existing as a nation?  As far as I can see they're rather keen on England becoming a nation in a much more complete sense than has been the case over the last 308 years.

Any other thoughts?

A timely reminder of just one of the many reasons why Scottish Labour is heading for electoral oblivion next week

It's been far, far too long since I last reposted a Twitter exchange, so I thought you might enjoy this one, which took place at around midnight.  You really do have to pinch yourself to remember that the guy I'm talking to here - with one week to go until the general election - is Scottish Labour's director of policy, and not a sneering schoolboy with too much time on his hands.  Or at least, you would have to pinch yourself if we didn't all know Blair McDougall of old.

I must say I found it all rather moving, because I've been trying to get Blair to speak to me on Twitter for years, but without success.

Me : Just received an email from Margaret Curran telling a blatant lie: that Sturgeon "promised" the indyref was "once in a lifetime". Shameless.

Blair McDougall : she didn't did she? That's terrible! There's no proof Sturgeon ever said that...oh!

(At this point he directs me to a video in which Sturgeon says that the referendum is "probably a once in a lifetime opportunity". Fans of the English language will doubtless be aware that if I say I will "probably have a banana tomorrow", I am not actually promising to have a banana.)

George M Clarkson : Blair, you have forgotten...#nooneislistening no-one cares goodbye...

Blair McDougall : that's for letting me know you hadn't read my tweet

Me : That's a bit rich coming from the man who hasn't listened to (or understood) the words in his own video.

Blair McDougall : You're right she clearly never, ever promised #indyref was "once in a generation/lifetime"

(At this point he directs me to a longer video, featuring a compilation of clips in which Sturgeon once again does not promise that the referendum is a once in a lifetime event.)

Me : Agreed, Blair. She never, ever "promised" once in a lifetime. Glad you've grown up over the last few hours.

Blair McDougall : nope. Never.

(At this point he directs me to text stating that it is "the view of the current Scottish government" that the referendum is a once in a generation event. Once again, there is no sign of a promise, and the word "lifetime" is mysteriously absent altogether.)

Me : Sorry, where is the word "lifetime" in that text? Or, indeed, the word "promise"? I see what you mean. Never.

Blair McDougall : I'm saying you're right. Nicola Sturgeon never ever said it was "once in a lifetime"

(At this point he directs me to a headline in Yes campaign literature, which does indeed paraphrase Sturgeon as saying that the referendum is "a once in a lifetime opportunity", but yet again contains no trace of a promise. For example, it does not read : "Sturgeon's solemn promise to Scotland - If you vote No, that's it. There'll be no more democratic votes on this subject until you're all dead.")

Me : Thanks, Blair. So I was right when I said something that I didn't say. Interesting.

John Ferguson : So if 3 million people march in Edinburgh demanding a referendum, Labour would say no?

Me : Of course. This is the UK, not a bloody democracy.

Blair McDougall : yeah. You're right. Never any suggestion that there wouldn't be another referendum.

(At this point he directs me to a quote from an SNP spokesman anticipating that there would not be a second referendum, because there would be a Yes vote in the first one.)

Me : Fantastic! I'm right about a second claim that I never made! I'm confident of a quick hat-trick.

Blair McDougall : yup. You are right. She never ever said it was "once in a lifetime."

(At this point he directs me to an SNP press release in which, you've guessed it, Sturgeon uses the words "once in a lifetime opportunity" but doesn't make any kind of promise.)

Me : The hat-trick! God, I wish I had made that claim now, because I WOULD HAVE BEEN RIGHT! You're making my dreams come true.

SoldierWhy : In years to come the dictionary definition of pyrrhic victory will feature a picture of Blair McDougall.

Me : As will the dictionary definition of "masterminded total wipeout".

Blair McDougall : yes. Never any suggestion there would just be one indyref (I have about 15 more but am off to bed)

(Pity he couldn't find even one example of a tweet in which I actually made any of the claims that he was gagging to refute, ie. that "there was never any suggestion there would be just one indyref", or that Sturgeon never used the words "once in a lifetime opportunity". Yup, it was just his luck that all I had done was point out that Sturgeon never made the "promise" that Curran lied about.)

Jon Smith : still beating that drum in the hope it swings voters? It's not worked so far. So Blair. What's your plan B?

Me : I think Plan B is trolling Nat bloggers at the dead of night. Surefire winner.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jim Jim-iney, Jim Jim-iney, Jim Jim Jer-oo, I don't think this makes sense, I wonder do you?

As far as I can gather, Jim Murphy's latest wizard attack-line goes something like this : Nicola Sturgeon has broken her promise that the independence referendum was a once in a lifetime event.  An SNP landslide will set Scotland on an unstoppable course for a second referendumVote Labour so Ed Miliband can act like a despot and block a referendum even if the majority of Scots vote for one.

There are, however, just three small problems with this -

1) It's based on a cynical, deliberate, downright lie.  Nobody in the SNP - not Nicola Sturgeon, not Alex Salmond, NOBODY - ever promised that the referendum was a once in a lifetime event.  Nor did anyone in the SNP even promise that it was a once in a generation event.  What did happen was that Alex Salmond stated that in his opinion constitutional referenda should be once-per-generation (defined as roughly 15 years), but he ALWAYS stressed that was only a "personal view", and not one that could bind the SNP or the people of Scotland.  The only reference to "a lifetime" was the observation that it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, which was a statement of the bleedin' obvious - ie. there was no guarantee that people would vote for a referendum again.  How exactly that was supposed to constitute a "promise" is anyone's guess.

2) It's a direct contradiction.  If a win for the SNP is supposed to make a referendum unstoppable, how can Miliband credibly promise to stop it regardless of whether the SNP win?  (Not to mention the fact that, as we discussed last night, there isn't universal acceptance of the view that he even has the despotic legal powers he thinks he does to thwart the democratic will for a consultative referendum.)

3) If Labour are using an absurd distortion of what Alex Salmond said about timescales to claim that last year's No vote was a vote to prevent a future referendum, it's going to be remarkably easy for us to take what Labour are ACTUALLY saying right now, and make the following case after next Thursday : "Labour promised that a vote for the SNP in the 2015 election was a vote for a second referendum.  Well, people voted SNP.  Labour cannot now break that promise and try to block a referendum from taking place at a time of the electorate's own choosing."

The record tumbles again, as SNP lead by THIRTY-FOUR points in immense, idyllic Ipsos-Mori poll

It seemed hard to believe that the SNP could improve further on the dizzying heights that they'd reached in the previous two post-referendum Ipsos-Mori polls, and yet the logic was inescapable - the last Ipsos-Mori poll was way back in January, and every polling firm that has reported recently has detected a further additional swing from Labour to the SNP.  So, although the figures you're about to see are truly extraordinary, they also have a touch of inevitability about them.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Ipsos-Mori, 22nd-27th April) :

SNP 54% (+2)
Labour 20% (-4)
Conservatives 17% (+5)
Liberal Democrats 5% (+1)
Greens 2% (-2)
UKIP 1% (n/c)

Again, we have a continuance of the pattern of firms that use a 'real world' methodology reporting a bigger SNP lead than firms that rely on volunteer online polling panels.  Ipsos-Mori collect their data by telephone, and are now showing a gap of 34 points, while the face-to-face pollster TNS showed a gap of 32 points in the poll they released on Monday.  Every other firm has been using a volunteer online panel, and all of them are showing a smaller gap.  The difference isn't huge in some cases, but we've yet to see the 'Great Convergence' that occurred just before the referendum.  (Admittedly TNS have shown a much more pronounced trend than anyone else, but it would be hard to call that a 'convergence', because they've rocketed from the Labour-friendly end of the spectrum a few months ago to the SNP-friendly end now.)

In a way, this is counter-intuitive - you might expect a sudden transformation in the fortunes of two parties to be magnified in polling samples populated by the political junkies that make up a significant chunk of volunteer panels.  Instead, the reverse seems to be happening, and online polls are lagging somewhat behind the tidal wave being detected by the 'real world' firms.  This is also, incidentally, a complete reversal of the pattern we saw during most of the referendum campaign, when Yes did far better with online firms (with the notable exception of YouGov, courtesy of the Kellner Correction).

It's tempting to assume that 'real world' polling is closest to the truth, but annoyingly there are other methodological factors that set Ipsos-Mori and TNS apart, and those may be muddying the waters.  Most importantly, neither firm weights by recalled referendum vote, which has become a new orthodoxy among online firms.  In fact, Ipsos-Mori doesn't weight by any form of past vote.  That might conceivably mean that enthusiastic SNP supporters are more likely to agree to be interviewed, and aren't being appropriately downweighted.  (The counter-argument is that people who are enthusiastic about their choice are also more likely to turn out to vote.)

Sticking with that theme, the other factor that makes TNS and Ipsos-Mori a little different is that they both use a particularly extreme likelihood-to-vote filter for their headline results.  That did have a big impact on the TNS poll earlier this week - a 27% SNP lead was transformed into a 32% lead after the filter was applied.  Intriguingly, though, the same thing hasn't happened with Ipsos-Mori - the SNP were ahead by 34% even before the filter.  So no alibi for Jim Murphy there.

STV, who commissioned the Ipsos-Mori poll, have projected that it would give the SNP a clean sweep of all 59 Scottish seats.  In reality, I struggle to imagine the SNP taking Orkney & Shetland - the evidence from several recent elections is that the Northern Isles are still substantially insulated from the national trend.  You never know, though - it's possible that the aftermath of the referendum may have flicked a switch there as well.

As the Ashcroft constituency polling has amply demonstrated, all of the other 58 seats are undoubtedly up for grabs.  That's not to say the SNP will win all of them, but if they fall short in a few, it might not be by much.

By far the biggest oddity in this poll is the five-point increase in the Tory vote.  Predictably, the right-wing press have leapt on that finding as if it's unquestionable truth and a stunning vindication of Ruth Davidson as leader, but I'm afraid there is precious little evidence of a Tory surge to be found anywhere else.  The Survation poll on Monday had the Tories down 2%, TNS showed a static position, and Panelbase did show them gaining, but only by 2% (and therefore well within the margin of error).  Until another firm replicates the big increase, it's probably safer to err on the side of thinking that it's a freakish result.

Over the last week or two, some of the more thoughtful unionist commentators have begun to recognise what has been obvious to the rest of us for quite some time - namely that Labour are suffering partly because of Jim Murphy's fabled "activeness", and not in spite of it.  This poll will further assist the driving home of that painful truth, because Murphy's net satisfaction rating has slumped from -4 to -19.  Unfortunately it's not possible to tell what his rating is among people who voted Labour in 2010, but we do know that among respondents currently planning to vote SNP, it's a catastrophic -53.  Someone so hellbent on antagonising former Labour voters who have drifted to the SNP never had a prayer of making good on his early boast of "holding every seat".  Murphy's days as leader may now be numbered (possibly even in single figures).

On the supplementary questions that seek to probe how voting intentions might yet change before polling day, there's the familiar mixed picture.  Although a large number of people will vote both for and against the SNP on a tactical basis, that phenomenon looks like being a net negative for the party.  But it's offset by the fact that people currently planning to vote SNP are much more certain that they won't change their minds - 86% of prospective SNP voters have already made a firm decision, compared to 76% of Tory voters, 66% of Labour voters, and just 37% (!) of the small group of Liberal Democrat voters.

The simplest and yet most important detail of the poll is the fieldwork dates - it was conducted between last Wednesday and this Monday.  Many respondents will in effect not have been saying how they plan to vote, but how they have already voted by post.  If the headline numbers are anything like accurate, the die may therefore already be cast in a large number of constituencies.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remember Gordon 2007?

There was a pretty shocking article in the Guardian yesterday which seemed to come about after a journalist listened to some implausible Liberal Democrat propaganda about the party's election prospects in Scotland, and lapped it up absolutely unquestioningly.  We're told that they are "expected" to retain the majority of their Scottish seats, and that they believe they have a good chance of holding most of the others as well.  The justification for this startling claim?  Well, they weren't actually quoted using the dread words "we've seen the figures", but that was the gist.  Basically it boils down to the results of the Lib Dems' notorious "comfort polls", and their canvass returns.

As plainly nonsensical as this is, I don't think we should totally exclude the possibility that the Lib Dems have succeeded in convincing themselves that it's all quite true.  What it reminds me of more than anything is the Gordon contest in 2007, when Alex Salmond was challenging the sitting MSP Nora Radcliffe.  The Lib Dems were so sure of their canvass results that they briefed the BBC after the polls closed that they had defeated Salmond - at a point when they had absolutely nothing to gain from any more misleading spin.  After the real result became apparent, Malcolm Bruce openly admitted he was stunned, and claimed that people must have been lying to him and other Lib Dems on the doorstep.  He then proceeded to ungraciously cast around for reasons why Salmond might have won after all - of course nobody actually likes the guy, so they must have just fancied the idea of being represented by the First Minister, or something like that.

I suspect we could be treated to quite a few amusing interviews of that sort in the early hours of May 8th.

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I rarely disagree with RevStu, but I think he's putting slightly too much trust in Lord Ashcroft's summary of how focus group participants in Scotland feel about the prospect of an early second independence referendum.  First of all, we don't know whether it's a fair and representative summary of what was actually said - Ashcroft is genuinely neutral when crunching the numbers, but he tends to be much more mischievous in his narrative accounts of focus group sessions.  He does, after all, have a well-known political agenda of his own.  Secondly, his Scottish focus groups weren't representative of the whole population - "most of our participants had voted Labour in 2010".  And lastly, all focus groups are potentially prone to a snowball effect, with everyone falling into line with the direction in which the discussion happens to be going.  A good example of that is the bizarre televised focus group run by Frank Luntz in 2005, which identified David Cameron not only as the best candidate for Tory leader, but also as a potential Messiah.

Opinion polls are a much more reliable guide to the state of public opinion on the timing of a second referendum.  They've repeatedly shown that a substantial minority want it to happen within the next five years, and a clear majority want it to happen within the next ten years.

More about the TNS poll

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a short article at The National about yesterday's amazing TNS poll, which reported an unprecedented SNP vote of 54%.  You can read it HERE.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Stupefyingly staggering Survation survey shows SNP 25% ahead

Crikey, what a day.  No sooner had I finished pointing out the significance of the fact that only non-online pollsters have been registering an SNP vote of more than 50%, along comes an online pollster registering an SNP vote of more than 50%.  This is the monthly Survation poll for the Record -

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Survation, 22nd-27th April) :

SNP 51.2% (+4.1)
Labour 25.6% (-0.5)
Conservatives 14.3% (-1.2)
Liberal Democrats 5.4% (+1.4)
UKIP 2.0% (-2.3)
Greens 1.4% (-0.8)

The point about the divergence between online and non-online polls still holds true, though, because even 51.2% from Survation falls short of the 54% reported by TNS earlier today, and also the 52% reported by Ipsos-Mori in their most recent poll (which was way back in January, so logically the figure would probably be significantly higher in an Ipsos-Mori poll conducted now).

The general direction of travel now is blindingly obvious - all four polling firms that have produced full-scale Scottish polls in the last few weeks have shown a record SNP lead, and in most cases the previous record has been broken by quite some distance.  Survation have actually only broken their own record by 1% - their poll in December had the SNP ahead by 24%, although in retrospect that looks like an outlier.  The strong impression that there has been substantial additional movement towards the SNP recently was also bolstered by the Ashcroft constituency polls, which showed further swings across the board in seats that had previously been surveyed.

It's also the case, of course, that half of the pollsters that have been active in April are now showing that an absolute majority of the electorate plan to vote for Nicola Sturgeon's party.  That's a pretty startling position to find ourselves in with just ten days to go until the election. OK, the TNS fieldwork is a little out of date, but the Survation fieldwork isn't - it started last Wednesday and finished today.  The 50% barrier may be a purely psychological one, but it's massive all the same - how many times have you heard a unionist politician or commentator attempt to downplay the significance of the SNP's mandate in 2011 by pointing out that less than 50% of voters backed the party?  That simply may not be possible this time around - the moral authority of a manifesto that commands the support of an absolute majority of voters would be overwhelming.  Only one other party in post-war Scottish history has achieved that feat, and it wasn't Labour.

Most important of all would be the unambiguous demonstration of majority support for the SNP's policy of full fiscal responsibility.  If the incoming government (of either complexion) failed to respect that mandate by delivering enhanced devolution that goes well beyond the Smith proposals, the legitimacy of Westminster rule could quickly be called into question once again.

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There's about a million and one other things to say about both the Survation and TNS polls, but I've had a long day, so instead I'm going to buy you off with the long-awaited (sort of) return of the Poll of Polls.  This update is based on the full-scale Survation and Panelbase polls (TNS is excluded because the fieldwork is too far out of date), plus thirteen Scottish subsamples from Britain-wide polls - five from YouGov, two from Populus, two from Survation, one from ComRes, one from ICM, one from Ashcroft, and one from Opinium.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 47.7% (+4.1)
Labour 26.4% (+0.9)
Conservatives 15.1% (-1.0)
Liberal Democrats 6.0% (-1.6)
UKIP 2.3% (-1.0)
Greens 1.8% (-1.6)

(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.)

It's an SNP avalanche : Sturgeon's party leads by THIRTY-TWO points in new TNS poll

It looks like Rolfe's informant at the street stall the other day was bang on the money - just as he suggested, the start of the week has seen the publication of a poll showing the SNP vote rising by another two points.  What we couldn't have dared hope for, though, was that it would turn out to be a poll from TNS - which prior to today had already been the joint most favourable firm for the SNP, alongside Ipsos-Mori.  They now claim that mantle all for themselves.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (TNS, 1st-19th April) :

SNP 54% (+2)
Labour 22% (-2)
Conservatives 13% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2%  (-1)
UKIP 2% (+1)

The 32% lead is comfortably the biggest that the SNP have enjoyed in any poll since the referendum - the previous record was 29% in the famous October poll from Ipsos-Mori that first alerted us to the new political reality.  What makes this even more extraordinary is that the new high watermark has been recorded by a firm that just a few weeks ago looked relatively Labour-friendly.  The 16% gap that TNS reported in their first poll of 2015 was very much at the lower end of the scale, but has now doubled.

And can it be entirely a coincidence that the only two firms that have so far shown the SNP on the right side of 50% are also the only two that use a real world methodology, ie. with no reliance on a volunteer online polling panel?  You might remember the absurdly ill-informed article from ex-ICM man Nick Sparrow a few months ago in which he bemoaned how the political obsessives in online panels were artificially generating momentum for the SNP.  Even when he wrote that, Ipsos-Mori's telephone poll was already pointing to a bigger SNP lead than had been detected in any online poll.  Now that the same is true of TNS' face-to-face polling, it looks if anything as if online panellists are proving to be a drag on the SNP's numbers in online polls.  In other words, contrary to Sparrow's argument, the likes of YouGov and Panelbase could actually be artificially diluting the momentum behind the SNP (albeit not by much!).

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Miliband attempts the Harold Wilson strategy - but without Wilson's winning hand

To the best of my knowledge, today marks the first time that Ed Miliband has explicitly "ruled out" a confidence-and-supply deal with the SNP, as opposed to a full coalition.  (I'm using inverted commas, because at this stage in the game we can't completely exclude the possibility that he's making a Clegg Promise, one that he'll happily break and then "apologise for having had no choice but to break it".)  He's now left himself in a very unhealthy position if he's looking to form a stable government - the chances of Labour winning an absolute majority are microscopically small, and so his only remaining hope is that he might just scrape enough seats to give a potential Labour-Lib Dem-SDLP arrangement a small working majority (which ironically would include a party committed to "breaking up the United Kingdom"!).

In the more likely scenario that a stable Labour-led government is not possible without the SNP, what is Miliband's strategy for governing?  It seems that he's getting very close to the impossibly stubborn message that Harold Wilson sent out when the 1974 election resulted in a hung parliament : "we won't do deals, we'll just govern".  Remarkably, that strategy worked for Wilson, but he had several advantages that Miliband either won't have or may not have -

1) He didn't have to contend with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, and knew he could call a snap second election at the most favourable moment.

2) He was personally popular, and once he had got himself into power after the February election, people wanted him to stay there.

3) He had the supposed 'legitimacy' of leading the largest single party in the Commons.

It's quite possible that Miliband will be a personally unpopular Prime Minister, seeking to govern without the unofficial 'legitimacy' that comes from leading the largest party or from signing a formal deal that demonstrates he has more parliamentary support than the Tories, and without the clear option of calling a snap election in the unlikely event that a favourable moment presents itself.

Doesn't sound too promising, does it?  Labour haven't realised it yet, but they may well be pining for a deal with the SNP before this year is out.

*  *  *

The Panelbase datasets are now out, and a couple of things leap out at me.  Firstly, when asked to make a straight choice between a Labour-led and a Conservative-led government, Yes voters overwhelmingly prefer Labour, while No voters are virtually split down the middle (47% favour the Tories).  This once again demonstrates the indescribable idiocy of a Labour strategy that effectively says "we only want No voters" by aggressively opposing fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

Secondly, it's once again the case that people currently planning to vote SNP are more likely to have firmly made up their minds than anyone else, making it much harder to see where the Labour fightback is going to come from.  That said, it's probably worth being a touch sceptical about any kind of "certainty to vote" question in an online poll, because volunteer online polling panels contain a disproportionate number of politically committed people.


In light of the intervention of multi-millionaire Tory peer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the election campaign, I feel moved to point out that this song from Jesus Christ Superstar would make a highly suitable Tory anthem at the moment (if gender-adjusted, naturally).

Also, don't forget Scot Goes Pop's unofficial but wildly popular campaign song -

Chap every door for me
Banish Ed Balls from me
Children of Scotland are never alone
For we know we shall find
Our own peace of mind
For we have been VOWED
A land of our own!

Or, alternatively, there's the updated version of Lloyd Webber's Eurovision song from 2009 -

It's the SNP's time
It's the SNP's time
Our moment
We're not going to let go of it
It's the SNP's time
It's the SNP's time
And we'll stand proud
There's nothing we're afraid of
We'll show you what we're made of
Show you all it's Scotland's time now

Pivotal Panelbase poll pushes SNP to record-breaking 21% lead

I think I spoke too soon a few days ago when I observed that full-scale Scottish polls were coming thicker and faster as election day approached - there's been a frustrating silence over the last crucial week, which has seen people start to vote in huge numbers by post.  Tonight's Panelbase poll is likely to be the first Scottish poll conducted (at least in part) after some respondents had already voted.  The results are, therefore, rather encouraging for the SNP.  ***UNDERSTATEMENT ALERT***

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Panelbase) :

SNP 48% (+3)
Labour 27% (-2)
Conservatives 16% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 4% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-1)
Greens 2% (n/c)

This is the fifth Panelbase poll since the independence referendum, but the first and third used weird methodologies, which probably led to the SNP lead being understated.  So, assuming there hasn't been any more methodological changes, tonight's result can be most meaningfully compared to the second and fourth polls, which produced SNP leads of 17 and 16 points respectively.  In theory, the big leap to a 21 point gap could just be an extreme example of margin of error "noise", but it almost certainly isn't, because it replicates what we've seen from TNS and YouGov, both of whom also recently reported the SNP lead jumping to record-breaking levels.

And this isn't merely corroboration of the trend shown by other firms.  Because the fieldwork dates for tonight's poll are more recent, it also provides us with our first indication that the additional surge for the SNP hasn't gone into reverse over recent days.

Respondents were asked whether they favoured Full Fiscal Autonomy, and by an impressive margin of 53% to 33%, they said they did.  This should not be remotely surprising, given that previous polls have consistently shown that voters want Devo Max - which entails Full Fiscal Autonomy and a lot more besides.  However, Labour and other unionist parties have bet the ranch on the idea that people will be more scared by the sound of Full Fiscal Autonomy than they are by the sound of Devo Max.  It appears that hope is largely without foundation.

My guess is that Labour will always find it a lot harder than they think to frighten people about self-government within the UK, no matter how radical the proposal being made is.  After all, the anti-independence campaign repeatedly told us that they were offering "Devo SUPER Max", "near-federalism", "Home Rule" - and if they of all people claimed to be comfortable (and enthusiastic) about such a big transfer of power, why would anyone else be terrified by the prospect only a few short months later?

The independence question was also asked -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (-2)
No 51% (+2)

There hasn't been a consistent trend in favour of either Yes or No across the polling industry in recent times - some polls have shown Yes up a bit, and others have shown No up a bit, which probably means that sampling variation is disguising a largely unchanged position.  However, all of the polling firms with the exception of ICM are in agreement that the Yes vote increased by several points after the referendum, and hasn't slipped back to any significant degree since.  We know that the swing to Yes is real and not an illusion caused by methodology, because the results are now being weighted by recalled referendum vote.

All firms apart from ICM also agree that the race is now a 'statistical tie' - ie. because of the standard 3% margin of error, it's impossible to tell whether Yes or No are in the lead.

Rolfe mentioned on the previous thread that she had been approached at a street stall by someone who said they work for a polling company, and who claimed that a poll showing a further increase in the SNP lead was being sat on until the start of the week.  If that's true, I don't see how it can be the Panelbase poll, because that was commissioned by the Sunday Times, and has therefore been released at exactly the moment you'd expect.  Maybe it's the overdue monthly Survation poll for the Record?  (Mind you, it's Ipsos-Mori that have their call centre in Edinburgh, so it could just as easily be the quarterly "I'm John MacKay" poll.)

*  *  *

As part of an epic journey to the theatre in Edinburgh (it was Birdsong at the King's, since you didn't ask), I somehow found myself at the Hope Over Fear rally in Glasgow by complete accident.  I stayed for about five minutes and heard a little of Tommy Sheridan's speech, before I had to rush off and catch my train.  Here are some pictures...

(Click to enlarge.)