Friday, July 17, 2015

Farq back

I knew there was something that didn't quite add up about the latest Times column from Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson, and it's suddenly dawned on me what it is.  Back during the election campaign, he claimed with his customary perversity that the SNP's success was damaging the case for independence, because it proved the party had previously been wrong to say that Scotland could not have influence at Westminster.  But now, he's suddenly saying that the Tory victory was all the SNP's fault.  He wants us to believe that the English electorate were so scared of Scottish influence that they voted Tory to freeze us out.

According to Farquharson logic, Nicola Sturgeon presumably should have done one of two things if she wanted to escape "blame" for Tory rule - either a) withdraw the SNP from the election altogether, or b) commit the SNP to backing every decision made by the government elected in England, without any conditions whatever.

If the prospect of Scottish influence at Westminster damaged the case for independence, I can only assume that the necessity of voluntarily abandoning any prospect of Scottish influence must make the case for independence unanswerable?

A Lib Dem election leaflet from a parallel universe

Hi, I'm Alistair Carmichael, and I'm your Liberal Democrat candidate for the Orkney & Shetland by-election on September 24th.

You remember me, surely?  I'm the chap who lied to you during the general election campaign.

I'm asking you to return me to Westminster with an overwhelming mandate for the traditional Liberal values of rehabilitation for me and giving me a second chance.

We had thought of putting these vitally important Liberal principles into practice without consulting you guys, but then we remembered we've got the word "Democrat" in our name as well.

This by-election is a straight choice between the SNP and rehabilitation for me.

ONLY the Lib Dems are strong enough in this area to rehabilitate me and give me a second chance.  Labour and the Tories can't do it.

The Liberal Democrats - REHABILITATING HERE!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tim Farron is the new Liberal Democrat leader

Well, we all knew that was going to be the case, so I wrote this a few minutes ago, and hit 'publish' when the confirmation came through.  Poor Caron Lindsay had to go through the motions of preparing an alternative "Stormin' Norman is leader" post for Lib Dem Voice, just to look even-handed and non-presumptuous.

UPDATE : Here are the full results -

Tim Farron 56.5%
Norman Lamb 43.5%

Turnout 56%

I find that quite interesting, because even though Farron is clearly the right choice (Lamb simply doesn't have the right personal qualities to get the Lib Dems back into the game), it wasn't an overwhelming victory by any means.  This is a result with "DIVIDED PARTY" stamped all over it.  The Orange Bookers will be sulking for some time - and then they'll either start plotting, or defect to the Tories.

Tip-top TNS poll suggests SNP honeymoon has extended into the summer

The monthly TNS poll of Scottish Parliament voting intentions has been published today...

Constituency ballot :

SNP 60% (n/c)
Labour 20% (+1)
Conservatives 14% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (+2)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 51% (+1)
Labour 21% (+2)
Conservatives 13% (-1)
Greens 7% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 5% (n/c)

We obviously have very limited information to go on since the general election - just two TNS polls and one Survation Poll (and precious few Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls).  But it looks as if we might see a pattern of 'real world' pollsters such as TNS and Ipsos-Mori showing even better results for the SNP than online pollsters such as Survation.  Today's poll has the SNP 4% higher than in the Survation poll on the constituency ballot, and 6% higher on the list ballot.  This, of course, is the complete reverse of the pattern seen during the independence referendum, when online firms - with the exception of YouGov - showed much better results for Yes than 'real world' firms, prior to the Great Convergence at the end of the campaign.

Labour's recovery in this poll from their catastrophic showing last month is so modest that it may well be margin-of-error noise.  However, it's probably fair to say that they've either recovered a tad, or that their sub-20 figures last month are likely to have been misleading.  Much the same can be said about the Lib Dems' position on the constituency ballot - they were on just 3% last month.

Probably the Greens are the party that will be most disappointed with today's numbers.  It could be that their 3% slippage is an illusion caused by sampling variation, and the fact that Survation had them up slightly would tend to support that view.  Nevertheless, TNS have clearly downgraded the higher-range estimate of Green support.   It's unlikely to be higher than 10%, and in reality is probably a little lower.  That decreases the chances of a telling breakthrough for the party in terms of seats.

12% of Labour voters from this year's general election told TNS they are planning to vote SNP next year on the list ballot.  That sort of finding wouldn't have been very surprising in the past - we'd have interpreted it as the normal phenomenon of people voting Labour for Westminster and SNP for Holyrood.  But given that Labour's support was stripped to the bone in May, this looks like something a little different.  Is it really conceivable that people who stuck with Labour at the general election, in spite of everything, have since been won over by the SNP?  Or are these just "honeymoon switchers" who will revert to the old Labour-voting habit when it really comes down to it?

Could commendable challenger Corbyn conceivably clinch the crown?

Without in any way wanting to "do a Lovatt", I thought it might be interesting to have a quick look at the latest Labour leadership odds on the Betfair exchange...

Andy Burnham : Evens
Yvette Cooper : 16/5
Jeremy Corbyn : 4/1
Liz Kendall : 14/1

Basically what's happened is that Corbyn and Kendall have swapped over, with Kendall now occupying Corbyn's previous role as the oddball outsider.

I think those odds probably represent quite a rational reaction to the reports of private polling that supposedly shows Corbyn in a clear lead.  Obviously he has a better chance than we once thought, but given that the private polls were commissioned by his opponents, you do have to question the motivation for leaking them, and whether they've been reported accurately.  And even if these had been public polls, there would still be a big question mark, because it's notoriously hard to poll internal party elections.  Does a Corbyn lead pass the "smell test"?  Is it really likely that a party membership with a recent track record of voting for out-and-out Blairite leadership candidates would suddenly plump for an MP to the left of Michael Foot?

Ironically, the fact that Kendall seems to be crashing and burning could be a big additional hurdle for Corbyn.  There are probably supporters of both Burnham and Cooper who loathe Blairism sufficiently that they will give Corbyn a higher ranking than Kendall, which might help Corbyn over the line if the final "instant run-off" is between the candidates from the two extremes. But if it boils down to a  Burnham v Corbyn contest, which seems much more plausible, Corbyn will be receiving a negligible amount of transfers from Kendall's supporters.

If by any remote chance Corbyn does win, what would be the consequences?  Firstly there would be utter pandemonium - it would be one of the biggest upsets in British politics for decades, perhaps rivalled only by Scottish Labour's wipeout this year.  We can be pretty sure that the Labour right wouldn't simply reconcile themselves to the result, although in contrast to the early 80s they wouldn't be able to pray in aid a gerrymandered voting system.  Probably their tactic would be to bide their time for a year or two, and then start darkly hinting that it isn't tenable for a party leader - even one with a clear mandate from members and supporters - to remain in office without the support of the parliamentary party.  If that didn't work, we'd then be looking at an SDP-style breakaway, but perhaps on a much bigger scale.  It would be interesting to see what the rebels call themselves, though - they can't really be the Social Democratic Party this time (it wouldn't be true anyway).  Maybe they'd plump for the Hard-Edged Compassion Party, in tribute to their spiritual overlord.

Final thought : it isn't actually irrational that people are thinking of voting for Corbyn.  Setting aside ideology, he's quite simply the most impressive of the four candidates.  This is the sort of thing that happens when someone as uninspiring and dreary as Andy Burnham somehow emerges as the frontrunner to become Leader of the Opposition.

*  *  *

Public Service Announcement : The new Liberal Democrat leader will be revealed today.  You can probably be forgiven if you weren't aware of that (I must admit I'd almost forgotten).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tally-ho! And off we go...

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a short article at the International Business Times, about the SNP's straight sets victory over David Cameron on the fox hunting issue.  You can read it HERE.  (It's also on Yahoo HERE.)

Surveying the Survation survey that's seen splendid SNP storm to stupendous 56%

Apologies for the delay, which was partly due to the Mail doing the tedious (and fruitless) #buyapaper routine, and partly due to me having a nap. Here are the numbers from today's bumper Survation poll -

Scottish Parliament constituency vote :

SNP 56% (+2)
Labour 20% (-4)
Conservatives 14% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)

Scottish Parliament regional list vote :

SNP 45% (+1)
Labour 19% (-2)
Conservatives 12% (+1)
Greens 11% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+2)
UKIP 5% (n/c)

The percentage changes are from the last Holyrood poll conducted by Survation - but that was before the general election, so the methodology has changed since then (to introduce weighting by recalled 2015 vote).  Although on the face of it the increase in the SNP vote is within the margin of error and therefore not statistically significant, the last poll was unusually good for the SNP as well, so there is very little room for doubt that the position has strengthened over a period of months.  The only question is whether it has strengthened still further since May.  When you take this poll in combination with the extraordinary TNS poll a few weeks ago, the most likely answer is 'yes'.

Again, we have the familiar pattern of the SNP vote dropping off sharply on the all-important regional list vote.  That wouldn't harm the party on the current figures, but of course the likelihood is that they're in a honeymoon spell at the moment, and that support will slip back by next year.  If, by then, the SNP vote on the two ballots is not 56% and 45%, but 45% and 36%, Nicola Sturgeon will fall well short of an overall majority.  So unfortunately, what's happening on the list is potentially a very real problem.

Survation have tended to be one of the more Green-friendly pollsters.  The 11% Green vote should therefore be treated with caution - if it's accurate, it would certainly point to the possibility of a meaningful breakthrough in terms of seats, but on the other hand it offers no support for the far-fetched claims that Patrick Harvie could somehow become leader of the official opposition.

Westminster :

SNP 51%
Labour 21%
Conservatives 17%
Liberal Democrats 7%

As we now have weighting by 2015 vote, these numbers imply real changes from the outcome in May.  A 1% increase for the SNP is not statistically significant, but a further 3% drop for Labour looks somewhat more interesting.  Unless Survation have come up with a freakishly anti-Labour sample, Kezia Dugdale clearly has it all do to get her party back into the game, in both parliaments.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48.2%
No 51.8%

This is very much within the range of results that Survation have produced since the referendum - mostly there has been a very slender No lead, but there has also been one Yes lead and one tie.  The fluctuation could well just be margin of error noise, and we've seen much the same thing from other polling firms.  The most plausible interpretation is that there was a modest jump in the Yes vote immediately after the referendum (probably caused by buyer's remorse among a small number of No voters after they realised The Vow was a con), and that the position has remained reasonably stable since then.

As always, it's important to stress that we can be confident that the Yes vote is genuinely higher than it was on polling day, because weighting by recalled referendum vote is now in place.  Almost 5% of No voters from September have switched to Yes, compared to 2.4% of Yes voters who have switched to No.  There are also significantly more people who have switched from No to Don't Know.

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

Within 10 years?

Yes 60%
No 40%

This is the answer that respondents have been consistently giving over recent months.  They oppose a referendum within the next five years by a 59-41 margin, so clearly the centre of gravity is that Indyref 2 should take place at some point between 2020 and 2025.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union? (respondents in Scotland only) :

Yes 66%
No 34%

An impressive margin for Yes given that this was an online poll (the online method tends to favour No), but the fieldwork took place between the 3rd and 7th of July - well before the "waterboarding" of Greece.

Monday, July 13, 2015

SNP momentum is monumental in magical Mail poll

And this is one of those occasions where the headline tells you pretty much all I know so far.  Once I track down the figures I'll update this post, but it looks like the SNP are polling higher than at the general election, and that No still have some kind of lead on the independence question.

More details to follow when available...

UPDATE : Having got out my magnifying glass to examine the front page of the Mail, I can now reveal that it's a Survation poll.  END OF UPDATE.

UPDATE II : It's taken so long to get the full result of the poll that I've decided to put it in a fresh post.  You can find it HERE.

In the meantime, the SNP's decision to vote to retain the full English ban on fox hunting is an interesting one, and it certainly seems to have caught the London media on the hop.  I had thought they might hedge their bets by making it a free vote, and leaving it up to the consciences of individual MPs to decide whether the principle of not voting on genuinely English-only matters trumped the moral imperative of preventing animal cruelty.  But I suppose if you're going to do something, you might as well do it full-bloodedly.  I've seen a few suggestions that this "makes the case for EVEL", but you could just as easily argue that the Tories obliterated the case for EVEL a couple of weeks ago by using English votes to overturn a 56-3 Scottish majority on a Scotland-only bill, and then loudly cheering what they had just done.

The reality is that the fate of EVEL will not be decided by whether the SNP obediently adhere to some unwritten Code of Honour to Iain Martin's satisfaction, but by cold arithmetic.  Without the DUP's support, the government are going to need iron discipline among Tory backbenchers to push it through.

*  *  *

You've got to love the reaction of Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!" Tomkins to the SNP's decision -

"More posturing from the SNP: last week EVEL, this week foxes. It's just tactics, designed to irritate. Ignore them and don't rise to it"

Questions :

1. Who exactly is Tomkins addressing here? The Scottish Tory masses?

2. How can you actually "ignore" a decision that will almost certainly swing the vote, and determine the law of the land? IT'S THE LAW, Adam!

* * *

Alan Cochrane has resumed his quest for a long-overdue British Comedy Award -

"Yvette Cooper’s pathetic little retreat from ever again ‘allowing’ Labour to do a deal with Tories to prevent the break up of Britain just about sums up how devoid of principle that party now is"

Well, a man who used his book to boast about setting aside all journalistic integrity to "do whatever Darling asks" is certainly a leading authority on being "devoid of principle".

"Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander, John Reid, Frank Roy, Jackie Baillie and many, many others, with a host of Labour battle honours to their names, resisted the jibes from Alex Salmond and the vile insults from the Cybernats and fought alongside Tories and Liberal Democrats in a common cause. And many have already paid dearly for their efforts."

You really know this team of heroes is sorely lacking strength in depth when Frank Roy suddenly appears at number four after John Reid. Has it ever occurred to Cochrane to pause and reflect on WHY Labour MPs paid so dearly for their "efforts"?

"They were joined by countless thousands of Labour supporters who believed that stopping the separatists and their outrageous claims...was the number one priority. They accepted the risks but decided to ignore them because they believed that saving their country was their most important task."

Is there anyone who seriously believes, even for a moment, that Jim Murphy realised he was potentially sacrificing his career by climbing on top of Irn Bru crates and screaming at passers-by? He isn't fondly known as @Jim4Jim for nothing. Labour MPs and supporters did not "accept the risks" - they were utterly oblivious to the risks, and we have several excellent eye-witnesses to testify to that. They thought a No vote would be a win/win for them, and would ensure that a solid bloc of Scottish Labour MPs remained at Westminster for many years to come. How they would have acted if they had known they were committing career suicide can only be a matter of speculation, but it's hardly unreasonable to suppose that they might have thought twice about campaigning alongside the Tories, at the very least.

"This insulting attack is a demeaning attempt to curry favour with one-time Labour voters who’ve now switched the Nats. I don’t think for a second that it will win back more than tiny number but I’ll tell you what it will do – it will prove to those many non Labour, but massively pro-Union, voters who have been prepared to support Labour as a way of halting the SNP juggernaut that [they] should do so no longer."

So let me get this straight - tactical anti-SNP voting by Tory supporters was almost a total failure in May, and now it's going to be abandoned anyway? I call that a result. Cheers, Al.

Is the alternative to Grexit an even bigger nightmare for the pro-EU camp in this country?

Throughout the Greek crisis, I've been trying to work out what the impact might be of any given outcome on Britain's forthcoming referendum (and by extension on Scotland's constitutional future).  But it's been almost impossible, because it's like trying to think several moves ahead in a game of chess.  For example, in the immediate sense, a Greek exit from the Eurozone might look like a calamity for the European project, and something that can only embolden the 'Out' camp.  But if it actually helped to stabilise the Greek economy, the crisis might be a distant memory for most voters by the time the referendum comes around.  Even as it is, many people don't see any direct relevance to our situation, due to the UK being firmly outside the Eurozone.

It could be, however, that the alternative to Grexit that now seems to be unfolding is the real nightmare scenario for the pro-EU camp, because the humiliation of Syriza is thoroughly alienating the British radical left, and even parts of the mainstream left.  I'm not sure that will feed into opinion polls any time soon, but it could make a big difference once the campaign gets underway in earnest.  A successful drive for a Yes will depend on enthusiastic footsoldiers from across the political spectrum, and they're going to be in shorter supply as a result of the events of the last 24 hours.

This isn't the first time that an EU country has been subjected to a Brussels/Berlin-sponsored "coup" attempt - a few years ago, Italy was effectively forced to replace its democratically-elected government with a technocratic administration under Mario Monti.  But that didn't cause so much disquiet among the British left, simply because it was Berlusconi that was displaced.

*  *  *

I've noticed an intriguing pattern since the general election.  On the rare occasions that the DUP have joined forces with Labour and the SNP to oppose a government policy, it's sent the Tories into headlong retreat.  It happened over repeal of the Human Rights Act, and it happened again last week over EVEL.  If you think about it, there's a good reason for that.  The DUP are very much in tune with the instincts of many Tory backbenchers, so whenever the DUP are opposed to a government decision, it's likely there will be a number of Tory rebels as well - certainly enough to overturn the wafer-thin government majority of 16 (it's officially 12, but 16 in practice).

The pre-election speculation that the DUP could end up holding the balance of power might not be so wide of the mark after all.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Any thoughts on this blog's moderation policy?

As you know, I've always tried to keep the comments section of this blog as a completely open forum.  Partly that's because I've been on the receiving end of draconian and/or Kafkaesque moderation policies at websites such as Political Betting, and so I know all too well what it feels like.  (I've never even bothered attempting to post on sites like the Adam Tomkins blog, because everyone knows Tomkins deletes all dissenting views, regardless of how politely expressed they are.)

But there's no getting away from it - a small minority of people abuse their posting rights on open forums.  I've always felt that putting up with that was a price worth paying, but since this blog became more popular last year, I sometimes feel like I'm spending half my life responding to trolls (or vexatious commenters, if you think 'troll' is an overused word).  For example, on the last thread, a semi-regular commenter once again 'rebutted' all sorts of things which he claimed I had said, but which I hadn't said.  A few days ago, during the discussion on feminism, an irate anonymous commenter told me to stop insulting people I disagreed with - even though I had insulted absolutely no-one on that thread.  When I asked her to acknowledge that fact, she simply modified her claim to : "I often find your tone offensive".

It's easy to say "just don't respond to that kind of nonsense", but I find it impossible not to respond when people are deliberately trying to damage my reputation.  It's getting to the point where it's completely doing my head in.  The lowest point came a few months ago, when I went to a theatre show for my birthday, and made the mistake of turning on my mobile phone during the interval - you can probably imagine what delights were waiting in store for me, and it's a bit difficult to switch off and enjoy a night out after that.

I'm getting sorely tempted to "do a Smithson", and just start deleting any comments that have a go at me personally.  I'm not going to do that, because any moderation policy should work in the interests of everyone who uses a site, not just the owner.  However, I'm beginning to wonder if I should tighten the rules up a bit. 

Feel free to make any suggestions.  Bear in mind that on the Blogger platform, it's not possible to ban specific individuals from posting.

Lies, damn lies, and Tim Montgomerie's use of polling statistics

I missed this a couple of days ago - here's a classic example of how an opinion poll can be quoted accurately to give a totally misleading impression...

Tim Montgomerie :  80% of voters support Osborne's National Living Wage - @YouGov poll

You'd be forgiven for thinking from that statistic that 80% were backing Osborne against the criticism that £7.20 an hour is not a "living" wage, especially after the withdrawal of tax credits. But you'd be wrong. This was the actual question -

This week the Chancellor George Osborne announced his first budget since the election. Below are some of the announcements he made. For each one, please say whether you think it is a good idea or the wrong priority for the present time?

Introducing a new compulsory living wage of £7.20 an hour for over 25s, rising to £9 an hour by 2020 (compared with the current minimum wage of £6.70)

As you can see, anyone who thought that the "Living Wage" was a sickening con-trick had no option but to reply that it was a "good thing", because otherwise they were implicitly saying that the minimum wage should have remained at £6.70. So the public weren't backing Osborne against the criticisms that have actually been made of the policy in the real world, but instead against hypothetical criticisms made from a hard-right standpoint. While it's mildly reassuring to discover that the electorate don't think the Budget should have been even more regressive, I'm not sure that takes us much further forward.

* * *

STV's Stephen Daisley linked to my previous post yesterday, with this accompanying comment -

"There is nothing, not even a radio review, the Scottish Nationalists will not mine for grievance"

Stephen being Stephen, I naturally assumed that was one of his trademark pieces of hilarious postmodern irony, and it wasn't until half-an-hour later that the scary realisation dawned on me that he was actually being deadly serious -

"Nothing wrong with laughing at the radio review. Turning it into the latest tedious outrage is my problem."

Just by coincidence (or as far as I know it was coincidence), Grassy Knollington made a shrewd observation at roughly the same time -

"Pointing out errors & lies is mocked by unionists as "tedious grievance hunting". They hope to discourage you from doing it. Ignore them."

Other than the fact that Stephen Daisley isn't identifiably a unionist, I'd say that sums up the situation rather well.