Friday, July 10, 2015

Congratulations to the Spectator on winning the Anglocentric Lack of Self-Awareness Award for 2015

There's a hysterically funny (in a gloriously unintentional way) article in the Spectator today, in which Kate Chisholm makes a disastrous attempt to poke fun at Nicola Sturgeon for a "gaffe that everyone missed".  There's a good reason why everyone missed it, because she's talking about the fact that Sturgeon was quite understandably mystified when an English radio interviewer asked her about "the big game", without specifying that it was an England women's football match.

"It’s lucky for her there’s no election just around the corner. For a woman who claims to be not your usual style of politician, who listens to her voters, she revealed a surprising lack of nous, of being out of touch with what ‘ordinary’ folk are interested in. How could she not have heard about the match? Had she not realised how big women’s football has suddenly become, headlining the back pages and the news streams day after day in the past few weeks?"

Would that be the English back pages? And the English news streams? As opposed to the back pages and news streams in Scotland - you know, the country that Nicola Sturgeon wants to be independent, and is currently First Minister of? Isn't it just possible that the kind of people who vote SNP will be forgiving of Sturgeon for being "out of touch" with the preoccupations of ordinary people in an entirely different country? I mean, is the Spectator going to start savaging David Cameron for being clueless about the fortunes of the French handball team?

Let's just hope that political magazines don't get punished too severely for being woefully out of touch with their Scottish readers.

To be fair, I did notice a little bit of Scottish interest in the women's World Cup on my Twitter timeline, but probably only a minority of those people were actively supporting England. As for myself, I watched parts of the semi-finals and final, mostly because I went to all of the women's Olympic matches that were played in Glasgow three years ago, and I've maintained a degree of interest since. But I was fairly neutral as far as England were concerned, and if anything I was mildly relieved when they went out, simply because the Anglocentric media reaction would have been so unbearable if they'd won (as the Spectator have just helpfully demonstrated).

The Thorniewood teaser : why are Tory and UKIP voters such big fans of Scottish Labour?

Here is the full result of yesterday's by-election in the Thorniewood ward of North Lanarkshire Council.  As you can see, the swing from Labour to SNP was even bigger than we were assuming from early reports last night - it was a whopping 25.3%.  Given that the SNP start from a better baseline in local by-elections than they did at the general election, this is the equivalent of a 36% or 37% swing on May 7th - very, very close to the peak of 39% reached by Anne McLaughlin in Glasgow North-East.

Thorniewood by-election result (9th July) :

SNP 47.0% (+22.7)
Labour 42.6% (-27.9)
Conservatives 4.5% (-0.7)
SSP 2.4% (n/a)
Greens 1.5% (n/a)
Christians 1.0% (n/a)
UKIP 0.9% (n/a)

From a political anorak's point of view, there's an immense advantage in the fact that nobody won outright on the first count, because it gives us a chance to see who was favoured by supporters of the smaller parties in their lower preferences.

There were only 29 votes for UKIP, but they were redistributed as follows : Conservatives 9, Labour 7, Greens 4, Christians 4, SNP 1 (the other four votes were non-transferable).  So it looks as if UKIP supporters, at least in that corner of Lanarkshire, will back absolutely anyone other than the SNP.

The transfers from the "So Macho" Christian Party are probably the least significant, but for what it's worth they broke like this : SNP 9, Conservatives 9, Greens 6, Labour 5, SSP 1.

As you'd expect, the SNP did particularly well on the Green transfers : SNP 21, Labour 11, SSP 7, Conservatives 5.

And you really do have to wonder who the three SSP voters were who preferred the Tories to both the SNP and Labour.  The SSP transfers were :  SNP 36, Labour 23, Conservatives 3.

Last but not least, here are the Tory transfers : Labour 61, SNP 25.

Are you noticing the pattern here?  Supporters of left-wing parties (SSP and Green) transferred more to the SNP than to Labour, but supporters of right-wing parties (Tories and UKIP) broke much more for Labour.  That's the authentic legacy of Labour campaigning with the Tories in the referendum, and electing Jim Murphy as leader to the delight of the right-wing press.

A Thursday thunderclap in Thorniewood : SNP surge sustained in breathtaking by-election breakthrough, as lousy Labour lament a Lanarkshire licking

I can't bring you the full Thorniewood by-election result yet, because it doesn't seem to have been published online, and probably won't filter through to social media until the morning.  But what we do know is that the SNP were narrowly ahead on first preferences.  Labour nudged ahead at one point on transfers, and then the SNP fought back to reach the quota on the sixth count.  It sounds to me like the swing from Labour to SNP must have been in the region of 23%, because that's the minimum that would have would have been required to place the SNP in front on first preferences.

Just in case 23% sounds like a rather pedestrian swing compared to what we got used to a couple of months ago, fear not.  This time we're measuring from a completely different baseline.  The Thorniewood ward was last contested at the local elections in 2012, when the SNP were already 1% ahead of Labour nationally (a result that was memorably described by unwitting comedy legend Mike Smithson as a "disaster for the SNP").  So a 23% swing tonight is roughly equivalent to a 34% or 35% swing at the general election.  That's not quite as high as the record-breaking 39% achieved by Anne McLaughlin in Glasgow North-East, but it's very much at the upper end of the spectrum.  If it was replicated across the country, it would place the SNP very nearly 50 points clear of Labour, although of course that's grossly misleading, because the swings are bound to be biggest where Labour were previously strongest.

This being the crazy world of by-elections under the Single Transferable Vote system, it's technically an SNP "hold" - even though the SNP were a mind-boggling 46% behind Labour the last time the ward was fought.

*  *  *

UPDATE : The full result is now available.  At 25%, the swing was a bit higher than I assumed, and it turns out that Labour were never ahead at any stage in the count.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The dark legacy of the Tory Jockophobia campaign : Panelbase poll finds disturbing levels of anti-Scottish sentiment in England

Many thanks to Scottish Skier for pointing out a fascinating - and somewhat disturbing - detail from the Panelbase poll.  The Sunday Times asked a series of questions that was clearly designed to justify a story about "anti-Englishness", so they must have been startled that what was actually uncovered was evidence that there is significantly more anti-Scottishness in England than there is anti-Englishness in Scotland.  A full 22% of respondents in England and Wales have a negative perception of Scotland, compared to just 15% of respondents in Scotland who have a negative perception of England.  The problem is particularly rife among Tory voters, 29% of whom dislike Scotland.

Ludicrously, the Sunday Times ignored their own findings, and went ahead with their pre-planned "anti-English" headline anyway.  They clung to the fact that "one in four" Yes voters have negative perceptions of England - even though that falls short of the proportion of Tory voters in England who have a negative perception of Scotland.

It's hard not to suspect that this wave of anti-Scottish sentiment has been at least partly caused by the carefully-planned efforts of the Tory party and the right-wing London media to whip up Haggis-Phobia in the run-up to the general election, in order to maximise the chances of a Tory win.  And these are the people who claimed they would always put "our beloved United Kingdom" before party interest?  Don't make me laugh.  Fear and loathing are not compatible with a glorious union.

On their own heads be it (again).

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Panelbase datasets confirm genuine swing in favour of independence

After an unusually long delay, the datasets from this weekend's Panelbase poll have finally emerged. Of course the first thing I always look for with independence polls is whether the unrounded numbers are slightly better or worse for Yes than the headline numbers, and in this case the answer is 'better'.  In fact, the headline numbers effectively exaggerated the No lead by a full 1%.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47.5%
No 52.5%

That suggests there has been a decent 2.8% swing to Yes since referendum day last September.  The breakdown by recalled referendum vote reveals the broad nature of that swing, and it's very much in line with the pattern shown by other polling firms in recent months - slightly more No voters (6%) than Yes voters (4%) have made a direct switch to the other side, and more No voters (6%) than Yes voters (3%) have drifted off to the Don't Knows.

As I suspected, weighting by recalled referendum vote has boosted No quite significantly in this poll.  The 480 respondents who recalled voting No have been upweighted to count as 506, and the 451 who recalled voting Yes have been downweighted to count as only 416.  It does look likely, therefore, that if Panelbase were still using their pre-referendum weighting scheme, Yes would have a very slight lead.  The superficial appearance from the headline numbers that nothing much has changed since the pre-referendum Panelbase polling (which often had Yes at around 47%) is highly misleading.

It's interesting to note that Panelbase are still suffering from the slightly mysterious problem that has plagued most online pollsters - they've got far too many English-born people in their unweighted sample, and are having to make a hefty adjustment to correct for that.  Among Scottish-born respondents, Yes have a narrow 51% to 49% lead, which heightens the sensitive nature of the finding that, by a 52% to 48% margin, Scottish-born respondents think the franchise for any future independence referendum should be restricted to Scottish-born people - in line with the "Cameron Doctrine" of excluding EU citizens who are resident in this country from the EU referendum.

Not the Speaker's finest hour

I have very mixed feelings about John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons - he's quite forward-thinking in some ways, and it's obviously healthy to have someone in the role who is thoroughly loathed by David Cameron and most of the government front bench.  But he does display a severe attitude problem sometimes, never more so than in this bizarre rant today directed at Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland -

"Aw-dah, AW-DAH!  The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.  It's a DISCOURTESY to the House to be long-winded, especially when exhorted not to be.  The honourable gentleman has got - AW-DAH! - don't argue the toss with the chair, Mr Mulholland, don't shake your head mate, I'm telling you what the position is, you were too long.  Leave!  That's fine!  We can manage without you!  Mr Peter Bone.  AW-DAAAAAH!  Mr Peter Bone.  AW-DAAAAAH!  Mr Mulholland, LEARN IT MAN, you were too long, and you NEED TO LEARN, and that's the end of it.  Mr Peter Bone."

Hmmm.  Heaven forbid that anyone should make that place seem less classy by clapping now and again.  Bercow may feel that "we" can do without Mr Mulholland, but given that we live in a representative democracy in which everyone has just one MP, I'm not sure Mr Mulholland's constituents would agree with that sentiment.  (Which, incidentally, is also the problem with the system of temporarily suspending MPs found guilty of wrongdoing - ultimately, that's a collective punishment against a whole constituency.)

I look forward to reading furious articles in the unionist press about Bercow addressing someone as "man" - that is, presumably, just as despicable a crime as Alex Salmond addressing Anna Soubry as "woman".

Monday, July 6, 2015

Stephen Daisley is getting dangerously close to losing the plot over online abuse

Those Olympian heights from which Stephen Daisley observes us unclean mortals must be getting rather dizzying by now.  The great man's determination to cast all sides as equally to blame for online abuse reached an impressive new level of absurdity today, as he implied that the SNP were hypocritical in condemning Better Together's Jill Stephenson for calling Mhairi Black a "slut" -

"Of course, the Nationalists’ smelling salts routine would carry more credibility if they hadn’t lustily defended Alex Salmond’s own sexist braying against Tory minister Anna Soubry. That, a party spokesperson said, was a "boisterous but good-natured exchange”. No one sees the hump on his own back, runs an old Yiddish proverb."

Who the hell has "lustily defended" any "sexist braying"? Let's just recall what Salmond actually said to renowned feminist Ms Soubry -

"Behave yourself, woman."

Now, it's fair to say there was a sharp division of opinion in nationalist circles over whether he had said something inadvisable or not.   I was firmly in the "not" camp, for the following reasons...

Question : Is it conceivable, bordering on highly likely, that Salmond would have said "Behave yourself, man" in identical circumstances to a male Tory minister?

Answer : Yes.

Question : Is 'woman' a term of derision where 'man' is not?

Answer : No.

Question : Is there any qualitative difference between saying "Behave yourself, man" and "Behave yourself, woman"?

Answer : No.

Question : Therefore, was Salmond's comment in any way sexist?

Answer : No.

But even those SNP supporters who reject that line of reasoning (and in my view it takes some pretty contrived logic to do so) would still agree that the word "slut" is many orders of magnitude more sexist and offensive than "Behave yourself, woman". To equate one with the other trivialises the abuse that Mhairi Black was subjected to, and I'd suggest that's something Stephen Daisley should reflect upon.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Strong rumours of a Greek 'OXI' hammers another nail into the coffin of Bookmaker Infallibility

You might remember that, a few days before the independence referendum, Betfair produced a picture of David Cameron standing in front of a Union Jack, and declared the No campaign - which a jingoistic Cameron was apparently the living embodiment of - the winner.  They even paid out on 'No' bets early.  That was an extraordinary thing to do given how close the race was at the time, but they insisted that they were never wrong about these things.  Now, you could argue that they were ultimately vindicated (albeit only after an almighty late scare), but then they'd have had a 50/50 chance of being "proved right" about the outcome of a coin toss.  Too many stunts of that sort during close contests, and they're bound to eventually come a cropper.

That hasn't happened to Betfair yet (it will), but amusingly it looks like it might be about to happen to Paddy Power.  They paid out on a Yes victory in the Greek referendum four days ago, which was a barmy thing to do at a time when some polls were actually showing No in the lead!  Today, the betting exchanges have swung very suddenly and dramatically towards No, seemingly on the basis of leaked exit poll results.  At the time of writing, No are overwhelming 2/11 favourites on Betfair, and Yes are 4/1.  Quite some turnaround, and if there isn't another twist in the tale to come, Paddy Power are going to be left with copious amounts of egg on their faces tonight.

Doubtless our old friend Mr Lovatt will still attempt to claim without any trace of irony that the betting exchanges once again "correctly predicted the outcome".  Which is quite true - if at some point or another you predict both outcomes in a two-horse race, you can't really go astray.

Portentous Panelbase poll puts support for independence 2% up since the referendum

Panelbase have today released their second independence poll since the referendum -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47%
No 53%

The previous poll from the firm in the autumn actually had Yes slightly ahead, but the results are not directly comparable, because that one was commissioned by Wings Over Scotland, and used a very particular question.  In a sense, then, this is the first 'conventional' referendum-style poll from Panelbase since September, and it bolsters the strong consensus across a number of firms that the Yes vote has increased by a modest amount since polling day.  We can be extremely confident that this progress is real and not merely a methodological mirage, because all of the firms have changed their procedures to bring in weighting by recalled referendum vote.  (YouGov were slower to do so than Panelbase or Survation, but they eventually fell into line.)

It's particularly important to stress (because someone has already made a misleading claim in the comments section below) that this means it is categorically not true to say that "the polls have barely shifted since the 19th of September".  47% Yes from Panelbase may look very similar to the results we were seeing towards the end of the referendum campaign, but it's likely that Yes are now being downweighted significantly based on recalled vote in a way that, for obvious reasons, wasn't happening in the pre-referendum polls.  In real terms, the Yes vote has increased since those polls - by a significant if not dramatic amount.

The datasets for today's poll aren't out yet, but we can use the autumn poll commissioned by Wings as an illustration.  On that occasion, the 491 respondents who recalled voting Yes were downweighted to count as 431, and the 474 respondents who recalled voting No were upweighted to count as 534.  There's no way of knowing yet whether the adjustment was quite so huge this time around, but if by any chance it was, it means that Yes would now be ahead if Panelbase were still using their pre-referendum methodology.

Make no mistake about it - there was nothing inevitable about support for independence continuing to swell after the referendum.  September 18th could easily have been as good as it ever got for Yes, with people feeling afterwards that they could "move on" now that the matter was settled.  I suspect we have two main factors to thanks for that not happening - a) the inspiring positivity of the Yes campaign, which people didn't want to let go of, and b) the spectacular boneheaded obstinacy of David Cameron, David Mundell and Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!!" Tomkins in refusing the budge an inch over more powers for the Scottish Parliament.  It's getting to the point where we may end up looking back on Tomkins as the midwife of  a second indyref.  Cheers, Adam.

We're told that a supplementary question in today's poll found that almost half of the population feel that people not born in Scotland should be excluded from voting in the next referendum.  The Sunday Times commentary invites us to feel concerned about that, but I can't think why - the right-wing London media are pretty much unanimous in backing the decision to largely exclude people born outside the UK from the forthcoming EU referendum, so they can't credibly argue that anyone who feels that the equivalent principle should also apply to a Scottish referendum is a filthy xenophobe.  I'm sure most readers of this blog would agree with me that we should remain as inclusive as possible, and use just as broad a franchise as we did last time - but the logic of those who take a different view can't be faulted.  They're simply adhering to the Cameron Doctrine.

As you probably recall, research from Edinburgh University found that if the Cameron Doctrine had been applied in September and a more restrictive franchise had been used, Yes would have won.