Saturday, June 27, 2015

The biggest casualty of #clypegate will either be Ian Smart, or moral consistency

Labour's risible 51-page "Clypegate" dossier is available to read, even though it was supposed to be embargoed until tomorrow. Three things leap out at me -

1) The clear implication is that the SNP are directly responsible for any ordinary members who say offensive things on Twitter, and that those members should be disciplined or expelled.

2) A startlingly large proportion of what Labour are offended by is the use of the words "traitor" and "Quisling". But there is no way on Earth that those words are any more offensive than the senior Labour activist Ian Smart repeatedly describing the SNP as Nazis and "fascist scum". Indeed, the equivalence between "Quisling" on the one hand and "Nazi" or "fascist scum" on the other is pretty blindingly obvious. Smart also, of course, used a deeply offensive racist term to refer to Pakistani people.

3) None of the people featured in the dossier are, as far as I can see, anything like as senior within the SNP as Ian Smart is within the Scottish Labour party.

Now there's not necessarily any hypocrisy here on Labour's part, as long as appropriate action is taken against Ian Smart and others like him. Smart is, as we know, under administrative suspension while an investigation takes place. But here's the snag - not long after his suspension, Smart boasted on Twitter that the whole thing was "nonsense", and added "watch this space". That strongly implies that he's been tipped the wink that the party is just going through the motions and that no action will be taken against him.

If that was Labour's intention, it's no longer tenable. Either Smart will have to go, or they haven't got a leg to stand on with this Clypegate drivel.

Clyping on Kezia

Those of you with long memories (and it does suddenly seem like an eternity ago now) might recall that I made two appearances on TV during the week of the referendum. On the first occasion, my 'opponent' was Duncan Hothersall, and when I arrived he was chatting to Kezia Dugdale. Now, I can honestly say that they're both lovely people in real life, but it is also absolutely true that in the short time I was with her, I heard Kezia use the F-word very loudly. I was never going to mention that - I was just going to permanently keep it as a private delight that I once heard the future leader of the Scottish Labour party say something naughty. But I've had a bit of a rethink after this bombshell revelation from Liam O'Hare...

"Scottish Labour have just sent out a 51-page 'dossier' to the press with names and tweets of people who've used the word 'traitor' or swore...It's under embargo until Sunday."

If Labour are implying that being caught SWEARING should now be considered a disciplinary (or possibly an expulsion) offence, have I just ruined Kezia's career? In fact, is there going to be anyone left in the Shadow Cabinet by Monday?

As for the word 'traitor', several people have already pointed out that anyone who has ever attended a Labour party conference has belted out these lyrics with gusto -

"Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we'll keep the red flag flying here."

OK, we all know they're only singing about socialism ironically, but even so...

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Quebec comparison

Our opponents love nothing better than a good Quebec comparison, don't they?  Over at PB today, Labour supporter Don Brind is drawing some small comfort from the total collapse of the formerly dominant Bloc Québécois, a development which is potentially opening the way for the social democratic NDP to take a share of power at federal level in Canada for the first time ever. But Labour supporters may want to look away now as I point out the less encouraging aspects of that comparison -

1) As spectacular as the Bloc's defeat in 2011 was, it only came about after the party had won an outright majority of Quebec seats in six consecutive federal elections - 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. If the SNP remain dominant for a similar extended length of time, it seems highly probable that there will be a second independence referendum at some point.

2) The Bloc were eventually defeated by the NDP, a party that had previously been only a minor player in Quebec politics, rather than by the Liberals or the Conservatives. Even now that the Liberals have the immense Quebec-specific advantage of Justin Trudeau as leader, the province still seems set to stick with the NDP. So there's no evidence at all that, having broken the mould, voters are keen to go back to their old voting patterns. If anything, the lesson would appear to be that if the SNP are eventually beaten in a Westminster election, it may not be Labour that does it.

3) Part of the reason for the NDP's success in 2011 was the late Jack Layton's "French kiss" towards Quebec voters - including the promise, which none of the other pan-Canadian parties have made, that a simple majority in a referendum would be sufficient to secure Quebec independence. This would suggest that voters in Scotland can't be expected to "move on" from the constitutional debate until at least one unionist party has made major concessions on it. The equivalent for Labour might be support for Devo Max, or the unambiguous transfer to the Scottish Parliament of the power to hold a legally-binding independence referendum. Or, better still, both.

4) There's nothing inevitable about what happened to the Bloc. As Peter Kellner pointed out a few months ago, when unionist parties were defeated in Ireland, they NEVER recovered, even though Irish independence didn't occur for several more decades. When the Irish Parliamentary Party was eventually displaced in 1918, it was by the even more radical Sinn Féin.

5) It's entirely wrong to interpret the demise of the Bloc as representing the conclusion of the Quebec sovereignty debate. The first referendum in Quebec was held in 1980, over a decade before the Bloc was founded, and at a time when almost all sovereigntists voted for federalist parties at federal elections. The question of a future referendum will be decided at a provincial level, where the Bloc doesn't even stand. In the most recent provincial opinion poll, the sovereigntist Parti Québécois is level-pegging with its main federalist opponent - and the two largest sovereigntist parties between them have 47% of the vote. An independent Quebec is still very much on the agenda in the medium-term, regardless of whether the Bloc recovers.

6) Much - although admittedly not all - of the recent problems for both the Bloc and the Parti Québécois has been caused by uninspiring leadership. If we can keep Nicola Sturgeon in harness for at least a decade, and then ensure a smooth transition to someone of the calibre of Humza Yousaf, there must be a reasonable chance that we can avoid that problem.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oscillation ongoing in ORB offering : why are online and telephone pollsters light-years apart on the EU referendum?

As you're probably aware, there was an ORB poll earlier this week suggesting that the EU referendum is pretty tight at this early stage - before rounding, the Yes/"In" side are ahead by just 54.6% to 45.4%.  But it was only last week that we saw an Ipsos-Mori poll putting the Yes campaign almost out of sight, with a 3-1 lead.  There again, it's only been a couple of weeks since we saw a YouGov poll suggesting a very similar state of play to ORB.

Unfortunately, we're just going to have to get used to the same sort of madhouse commentary we saw during the independence referendum, with the media comparing apples with oranges, and breathlessly claiming there have been wild and decisive swings of opinion when in fact nothing much has changed.  Britain has not gone from being evenly divided to being heavily pro-EU - and then back again - all in the space of two rather uneventful weeks.  Instead, the difference in the numbers is caused by the data collection method - Yes are consistently polling much, much more strongly in telephone polls than in online polls.  Terrifyingly, that means we don't have a clue what the true state of play is, other than the fact that No probably don't have an outright lead.

But what is causing the divergence?  It's likely to be one of the following possibilities, or a combination of both -

1) Politically committed people who sign up for volunteer online polling panels are disproportionately anti-EU, and standard weighting techniques are unable to correct for that.

2) People are too embarrassed to tell a telephone interviewer that they want to leave the EU.

Obviously if the first possibility is correct, the big Yes lead in telephone polls is more accurate.  The opposite is true if the second possibility applies.  Take your pick.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A little postscript on the Adam Ramsay discussion

Since my post the other day in which I tried to explain why Adam Ramsay is wrong to claim that tactical voting on the regional list is a viable option, Adam has made a number of further comments on the subject on Twitter.  This was the most recent -

"mathematically, it's likely to be true in a significant majority of cases. I'm not sure why James can't see that. :-("

This basically repeats something he said in a comment here, which baffled me at the time -

"on average, given that we can't know what will happen in each region, your regional vote is more likely to make a difference if it's for the Greens than if it's for the SNP. I think that is a basic mathematical fact"

I'm still confused by that, but having given it lots of thought, my best interpretation of what he was getting at is as follows : If you take all the election outcomes that are possible under the laws of mathematics, there are a greater number of favourable outcomes produced by Green success on the list than there are by SNP success on the list.

Now, in a sense that's true (as long as you assume that the Greens can't win constituency seats), but it's also completely meaningless.  It's an argument that gives equal weight to plausible outcomes and to utterly fantastical outcomes, such as the Greens winning 30% or 40% of the list vote.  It's a bit like saying "on average, given that we don't know what share of the vote UKIP will get at the next general election, we can say that UKIP are likely to get more than 25% of the vote, because there are more numbers between 25 and 100 than there are between 0 and 25".  That's how silly this debate has become.

Sticking with the same theme, I was startled to spot that Tommy Sheridan left a comment at PB earlier this evening -

"Solidarity will field a strong list of candidates in each of the 8 regional lists. Their call will be SNP Constituency vote; Solidarity List vote. During the recent General Election Solidarity stood aside and encouraged voters to back the SNP as the biggest anti-austerity party and pro-independence party. Both the Greens and SSP stood candidates. The SSP votes were derisory but the Greens strategy effectively saved Scotland's only Tory, Mundell.  If they had stood aside and encouraged an SNP vote Scotland would be Tory free. Will SNP voters forget these factors? Solidarity are fielding well known candidates like IndyClimber Lindsay Jarrett in the Highlands and Islands and myself, Tommy Sheridan, in Glasgow. The mainstream media will ignore and denigrate Solidarity but many voters now ignore the mainstream media and get their news and ideas from social media. Solidarity will do well."

It's interesting to see Tommy fairly bluntly making the point that Solidarity are more worthy of a "favour returned" from SNP supporters than the Greens are, because they didn't follow the Green example of putting up candidates against the SNP at the Westminster election. That certainly does make it easier for them to take the moral high ground on this issue, but it doesn't change the basic reality - tactical voting on the regional list just doesn't work reliably under any circumstances, no matter whether a party is "owed" a favour or not. In fact, it's even less likely to work if you vote "tactically" for a party like Solidarity, which - with the best will in the world - is unlikely to make the threshold required to win any seats at all. Tommy Sheridan might have a very small outside chance in Glasgow, simply because he's Tommy Sheridan, but that's it.

With no fewer than three radical pro-independence parties all attempting this "tactical voting" wheeze, will they all cancel each other out to some extent?  I wouldn't be totally surprised to see a repeat of 2011 for the small parties, with the Greens winning two or three seats, and the Scottish Left Project and Solidarity failing to trouble the scorer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Funny how the "Yes to PR, No to AV" campaign has been airbrushed from history

I don't know if anyone else is having trouble commenting via Disqus on the Spectator website, but I've made about seventeen attempts to post a response to someone called Sue Ward, without success.  Just to get it out of my system, I'll post it here instead.

From Fraser Nelson's article : "the people on the streets yesterday were, in effect, protesting against the British public’s choice."

Me : Rubbish. The absolute most you could claim is that they were protesting against the choice made by a mere 37% of the electorate.

Sue Ward : At least they got a higher percentage of the vote than Labour this time OR LAST TIME. Public voted against getting rid of FPTP preferring the democratic system that has served us well for decades and was never considered a problem by the left when it put them in power. This is our democracy so stop being a sore loser.

Me (what I would have said if Disqus had let me post) : I'm sorry, Sue, but as you know perfectly well, that is completely untrue. The public did not "vote against getting rid of FPTP" - they voted against adopting AV, which is a majoritarian system that would have produced an even bigger Tory majority on just 37% of the vote. If anything, the public voted for the marginally more proportional of the two non-proportional systems on offer, but that doesn't mean FPTP is good enough for them. As you'll doubtless recall, the No2AV campaign even had a section on their website entitled "Yes to PR, No to AV".

I'm afraid trying to rewrite history now simply isn't going to wash. If the Tories had wanted to defeat PR, they should have put it on the ballot paper and made the case against it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Common Space launch party film

I mentioned yesterday that William Duguid and I were interviewed together for a Phantom Power video at the Common Space launch party, and here it is.  Also featured are Angela Haggerty, Derek Bateman, Jack Foster, and James Devoy.  If you have any trouble with the embedded video, the direct link is HERE.

Why Adam Ramsay is wrong to claim that tactical voting on the regional list is a viable option

Adam Ramsay is someone I respect a great deal, and for that reason it's incredibly disappointing to see him accuse people on Twitter of living in "fantasy land" and "denying basic maths" for pointing out that tactical voting on the regional list is not a viable option.  This is absolutely Orwellian stuff from him - black is white, war is peace.  I'll just take a selection of his tweets on the subject and try to explain why they don't make sense...

"if you only care about maximising the number of SNP seats, vote SNP twice...if you care about maximising the number of pro-Indy MSPs, vote SNP/ what plausible scenario is that not true?"

"NE list in 2011 is a case in point. Took 140,000 votes to elect 1 SNP MSP...if they'd votes Green or SSP, it's have delivered 5 MSPs."

The NE list in 2011 is of course the outstanding real world example of why tactical voting on the list doesn't work. We know that some SNP supporters and members voted "tactically" for the Greens in the North-East, wrongly assuming that the SNP had no chance whatever of winning a list seat in the region. As it turned out, the SNP did win a list seat (in spite of winning every constituency) and the Greens didn't, meaning that every single one of those "tactical" votes was wasted. Worse still, the strategy ran a significant risk of backfiring catastrophically - if 2000 more SNP voters in the North-East had switched "tactically" to the Greens, and 600 more had switched to the SSP, the final seat on the list would have gone to the Tories rather than the SNP. This isn't simply a question of tribalistic fretting about the SNP's position - it would have reduced the overall number of pro-independence MSPs by one, and increased the overall number of anti-independence MSPs by one, thus driving a coach and horses through what is supposed to be the whole purpose of this "tactical voting" wheeze.

Of course, Adam's response would be that he's not talking about a mere 2600 extra "tactical" votes, but tens of thousands. Let me just gently say that I'm not sure that someone who thinks it's possible to flick a switch and get that number of people to do exactly what you want is in any position to accuse others of living in "fantasy land".  If an attempt at tactical voting is made, it will be on a small scale - but potentially just enough to do real damage to the independence cause.  The worst case scenario is that it will directly bring about an anti-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.

"But it's simple. If the SNP get 7 constituencies...then an SNP vote on the list is worth 1/7 of an @scotgp vote"

That's technically true, but irrelevant. There's an even simpler and more basic factor that trumps all of these elaborate calculations - namely that nobody knows how many constituency seats the SNP will win until after the votes are counted. The snag is that we're being invited to cast this "tactical" vote before the votes are counted, at a point when nobody has a scooby. Do you think you can rely on the polls to tell you what's going to happen? We've just been through a general election in which the exit poll and the YouGov on-the-day poll couldn't agree on whether the Liberal Democrats were going to win 10 constituencies or 31 (they got 8), or whether the SNP were going to win 58 constituencies or 48 (they got 56). And that was the degree of uncertainty AFTER the polls had closed! What chance has anyone got of a detailed level of foreknowledge about constituency results at a much earlier stage?

It's worth heeding something that John Curtice said a few weeks ago. He revealed that he always ditches all of his preconceptions on election day when preparing the exit poll, because he knows from past experience that there is a significant chance of a big surprise.  Never has that proven to be more true than this year.

"some oppose tactical voting, others are ok with it. All this chat does is ensure that...those who want to vote tactically at least do it in an informed way."

No. Some claim that tactical voting on the list is a viable option, others point out that it isn't. Those who want to vote tactically can't do so in an informed way, because it isn't possible to vote tactically on the list at all. Those who are informed on the subject will not be attempting to vote tactically, because they know there are no realistic circumstances in which it will not run a dreadful risk of backfiring.

"you do know that an SNP list vote is very unlikely to elect an SNP MSP?"

That's an assertion, not a fact (and certainly not a "mathematical" fact, as the SNP's list seat in the North-East helpfully demonstrates). An equally plausible assertion is that a Green list vote is very unlikely to elect a Green MSP in some regions, because the Greens may well not reach the threshold required to win a single seat. If they fall below that threshold, all of the stuff about Green votes counting five, six, or seven times as much as SNP votes is rendered utterly meaningless.

We know from both 2007 and 2011 that there is a past history of opinion polls significantly overestimating the Greens' strength on the list. It's probably not a coincidence that the only Holyrood election in which the Greens did make a breakthrough in terms of seats was also the only one in which the SNP's leader did not look like a credible First Minister in waiting. They certainly can't rely on that factor this time.

But as I say, my suspicion that the Greens may not do as well as they expect next year is just that - a suspicion. It's not an established fact. That's the whole point about this debate - those of us who say that tactical voting can't work do so because we acknowledge that there are a whole range of things that are fundamentally unknowable. It's Adam who has to pretend that he knows everything for a fact, because otherwise the whole tactical voting conceit crumbles to dust.

"voting SNP on principle is fair enough, but understand it means...more unionist MSPs in total."

It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at this point, but instead let's turn Adam's statement on its head. Voting Green on principle is not only fair enough, it's a good thing. As I and so many others have said a billion times : If you're a Green member, vote Green on the list. If you're a Green supporter, vote Green on the list. If you like Green policies more than SNP policies, vote Green on the list. But if you actually prefer the SNP to the Greens, and are only voting Green on the list because someone has fed you a cock-and-bull story about how "the mathematics" will supposedly maximise the number of pro-independence MSPs, something is going very, very seriously wrong.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Spending the Summer Solstice at the School of Art

As a few of you already know (because I met you there), I was at the Glasgow School of Art this afternoon for the Common Space launch party.  It reminded me a bit of the first day at Primary 1, because I was given a name-badge upon arrival!  I met lots and lots of interesting people - too many to mention, but for example there was Mark Jardine, who wrote Neil Oliver's scripts for A History of Scotland, Gerry Mulvenna from Independence Live (who was beaming the event direct to a friend in Spain!), and William Duguid of To September and Beyond fame.  William and I were interviewed together for a Phantom Power video, and I also did an audio interview with Derek Bateman.

William said to me : "Events like this are all about networking.  Shaking everyone's hand!  Being shameless!"  And I thought : oh God, are they?  Are they not about sitting quietly in the corner listening to the music and sipping mineral water?  No, I suppose they're not.  Actually, people very kindly got me off the hook throughout the afternoon by coming up to me and striking up conversations, but I still wearily came to the conclusion that I'd better make at least one bona fide, spontaneous attempt of my own at networking, if only for the sake of tokenism.  So just before I left, I went back upstairs, and surveyed the room for a potential victim.  It occurred to me that it might be slightly less awkward to approach a stall rather than interrupt someone's conversation, so I boldly strode up to the NewsShaft table brandishing my name-badge.  Jack Foster and James Devoy were talking to each other and were oblivious to the world, but I caught Carolyn Scott's eye, made a few grunting noises, and then walked away again feeling slightly embarrassed.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the sum total of my spontaneous networking efforts this afternoon.  The maestro must conserve his strength.

One thing you can always rely on me for, however, is a thrillingly low-quality photographic record of proceedings.  Enjoy...