Friday, October 2, 2015

By-election bonanza for buoyant SNP

While I was unexpectedly marooned on Arran (I think my host at the guest house may even have used the word "incarcerated" at one point), the evidence continued to mount that Jeremy Corbyn has failed to turn things around for Labour in Scotland.  We still don't have a full-scale, post-Corbyn Scottish opinion poll, but seven local by-elections in the space of one day gives us quite a lot to go on, and the results are very much in line with what we saw in the period between the general election in May and the Labour leadership announcement last month.  This new information takes us quite a bit further forward, because unlike the straws in the wind from Scottish subsamples of recent GB-wide polls, the by-elections took place after the Labour conference.  Obviously opinions differ on whether that conference was a dazzling triumph or unmitigated disaster for Corbyn, but it was at least possible that the plentiful TV coverage of his speech on Tuesday might have produced a temporary bounce for Labour.  It appears even that didn't happen.

Glenrothes West and Kinglassie by-election result (1st October) :

SNP 59.0% (+16.5)
Labour 31.9% (-9.3)
Conservatives 6.2% (+3.2)
Greens 3.0% (n/a)

The swing from Labour to SNP in Glenrothes West and Kinglassie was just under 13% - but as always we must remember that the SNP start from a much higher base in local elections than they did in May.  In general election terms, this is the equivalent of a 24% or 25% swing.

Irvine Valley by-election result (1st October) : 

SNP 49.8% (+5.3%)

Conservatives 24.0% (+5.8%)
Labour 23.8% (-6.4%)
Greens 2.4% (n/a)

Nothing quite so dramatic in East Ayrshire - the swing from Labour to SNP was just under 6%, which is the rough equivalent of a 17% or 18% swing in May.  But Irvine Valley is a very different sort of ward, due to the sizeable Tory vote.  This result is strikingly similar to the Ayr East result a couple of weeks ago, in which the the SNP and Tory votes were both up by similar amounts.  However, in this case Labour were actually overtaken by the Tories, who turned around a sizeable deficit of 12% from three years ago to move into second place.

Heldon and Laich by-election result (1st October) :

Independent 41.1% (n/a)
SNP 31.1% (-5.9)
Conservatives 21.8% (+4.5)
Greens 6.0% (-0.6)

This is the only one of the seven by-elections that the SNP didn't actually win, and it's also only the third local council seat they've failed to win since the general election. However, on the previous two occasions it was literally impossible for them to take the seat, because they didn't have a candidate. So this one can be put down as the first real missed opportunity since May. They weren't officially defending the seat, but they did win the popular vote last time, and therefore on the face of it should have been in pole position for a nominal gain. The swing of just over 5% from SNP to Tory is particularly disappointing. However, commenters on this blog with local knowledge of Moray were predicting weeks ago that Heldon and Laich wasn't looking terribly promising, so it may well just be an aberration.

Midstocket and Rosemount by-election result (1st October) :

SNP 40.9% (+1.9)
Conservatives 23.6% (+9.8)
Labour 21.2% (-11.2)
Liberal Democrats 8.3% (+1.9)
Greens 6.0% (-0.4)

George Street and Harbour by-election result (1st October) :

51.2% (+17.5) 
Labour 26.1% (-5.4)
Conservatives 10.4% (+3.7)
Greens 7.2% (-0.1)
Liberal Democrats 5.1% (-4.8)

The above wards are both in Aberdeen, and the average swing in the two of them from Labour to SNP was just over 8%.  That's quite a bit lower than the 21% average swing recorded in the previous Aberdeen double-header back at the end of July.  But Doug Daniel cautioned us at the time that the July wards were ones that had recently swung to the SNP in a big, big way, and weren't typical of the rest of the city.

Stirling East by-election result (1st October) : 

SNP 45.2% (+12.1) 
Labour 37.7% (-7.8) 
Conservatives 11.8% (+4.0) 
Greens 5.2% (+1.0)

Roughly a 10% swing in Stirling, so the equivalent of a 21% or 22% swing in general election terms.

Linlithgow by-election result (1st October) :

SNP 43.1% (+1.4%)
Labour 22.9% (+2.6%)
Conservatives 20.5% (-12.7%)
Greens 5.9% (n/a)
Independent 4.8% (n/a)
Liberal Democrats 2.8% (n/a)

Last but not least, we have Linlithgow, where the Liberal Democrat candidate was none other than my fellow blogger Caron Lindsay.  (For those of you who don't know Caron, she's loved across the political spectrum for sticking doggedly to the following style of blogging : "History proved Nelson Mandela and Willie Rennie right about apartheid.")  Although she finished last out of six candidates, it's hard to interpret her showing because the Lib Dems didn't stand last time.  The real oddity in this result is the complete bucking of the swing from Labour to Tory seen everywhere else (a trend that may conceivably be caused by "moderate" unionist voters reacting against Corbyn's leadership).

The average increase in the SNP vote across the seven wards was just under 7%, which would imply a national vote share of around 39%.  That's misleading, though, because the SNP tend to poll less well in local elections - independents are generally stronger in areas that are traditional SNP heartlands in parliamentary terms.  So realistically these results point to an SNP vote at least in the low 40s, and probably higher if you make allowances for the rather odd result in Moray distorting the average.

The average swing from Labour to SNP in the six wards where both parties stood was 7.7%, which implies a nationwide SNP lead over Labour of just over 16% (but again, it's necessary to factor in the SNP's slight handicap in local elections).

*  *  *

After I arrived in Arran on Thursday, I was surprised to discover that I didn't have to move too far onto higher ground to get completely out of the fog and into bright sunshine.  It suddenly occurred to me that if I walked halfway up Goatfell, I might discover what it's like to look down on a sea that's completely blanketed by mist.  It turns out that it looks like this -

Quite a contrast to return to the sea-front a couple of hours later, where the "view" out to the Firth of Clyde looked like this -

As I came down the mountain, I heard what I assumed to be the foghorn on the ferry getting ever closer, so I was absolutely convinced it would be there waiting for me.  It was a bit of a shock to my system to be told it was in Gourock, wouldn't be getting back for another three hours, and then would be staying the night.  I'm still not quite sure how to explain the foghorn - my theory is that they hid the ferry when they saw me coming.

My best-laid plans to conserve the charge on my phone to get me through Friday didn't work out, so instead I had a "1998 nostalgia day" as I tried to survive without a phone.  Inevitably, when I finally got home I discovered that I'd missed about seventeen important emails and texts.  Ah well, another life lesson learned - never, ever set off on a "day-trip" on a CalMac ferry without packing a phone charger.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Castaway Kelly

Good evening from the less-than-sunny Isle of Arran, where I've just got stranded AGAIN.  It wasn't even my fault this time - it was physically impossible to get back, because the ferry is apparently stuck in Gourock or some such semi-mythical location.  Mind you, I probably should have realised that "sunny and warm" on the BBC weather forecast last night was code for "thick, impenetrable fog".  Schoolboy error.  For a while I thought I was going to be sleeping on the streets, because most of the hotels and guest houses in Brodick seem to be full.

I'll have to save my phone charge, so amuse yourselves if a poll comes out overnight.  By the way, on the train this morning I overheard the most extreme example of anti-Scottish bigotry I've ever encountered - perhaps more on that tomorrow.

Ian Leslie and the fallacy of fatuousness

I've just read a piece by Ian Leslie at the New Statesman called 'Jeremy Corbyn and the nirvana fallacy', and it's been a long time since any article made me so angry.  It basically argues that Corbyn and his ilk present us with a bogus binary choice between a perfect state of affairs, and the imperfect state of affairs we currently have - which was created by those who lack the vision to understand what is possible.  Back in the real world, Leslie tells us, there are only a range of imperfect options, and the least worst one has to be chosen.  Inevitably, Trident is cited as the primary example - Corbyn is too simple-minded to grasp that nobody would ever want to see nuclear weapons being used, and that the best way of preventing that from happening is the deterrent approach.  The most jaw-dropping line is this -

"Even the most hawkish American neo-cons do not pretend that using nuclear weapons is a good idea – it’s more that they argue that holding them, and signalling your willingness to use them, is the best way to stop any being used."

It beggars belief that anyone seriously thinks the neocons wouldn't want to use nuclear weapons if they thought they could do so in a cost-free way - in other words if America was still the only nuclear armed state in the world, as it was when it dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The US didn't develop the bomb as a 'deterrent', but rather with the intention of using it on Germany or Japan as soon it was available.  Considerable diplomatic efforts were needed to prevent Truman launching a nuclear attack during the Korean War, and it seems highly probable that a repeat of Hiroshima would have occurred sooner or later if it hadn't been for the inhibiting factor of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.  Ironically, that's the 'deterrent' argument in a nutshell, but Leslie seems curiously reluctant to embrace it fully when it's the 'good guys' who need deterring.

In fact, it's Leslie himself who presents us with the bogus, fatuous binary choices.  The true choice is not between maturity on the one hand and opposition to Trident on the other.  You don't even have to be a unilateralist in principle to understand that Trident is useless in practice.  The only nuclear arsenals that are really factored in to the balance of terror are very large ones (like America's and Russia's) or those held by 'lone wolf' states such as Israel and North Korea.  Our weapons fall into neither category - they're relatively few in number, and if they didn't exist Britain would still be 'protected' by the American nuclear umbrella as a result of the NATO treaty.  Tony Blair openly (some would say brazenly) admitted in his memoirs that Trident had no military value, and that he only wanted to renew it to prevent a downgrading of Britain's national 'status'.  (So much for his eschewing of 'caveman nationalism'.)  Denis Healey mused a few years ago that the only conceivable rational reason for retaining Trident was to prevent France being left as Europe's sole nuclear power, although he didn't explain why that would be so awful.

Leslie also asks us not to compare the last Labour government with the Labour government of our dreams, but instead with the alternative of John Major winning the 1997 election, and the Conservatives winning every subsequent election as well.  But that isn't the alternative, is it?  The Tories were so unpopular by 1997 that most Labour leaders would have beaten them.  John Smith certainly would have.  Pondering how far to the left Labour could have gone in 1997 and still won is a fascinating thought experiment.  A soft left leader probably would have won.  I'm not going to be brave enough to say Jeremy Corbyn would have beaten John Major, but neither am I going to say it's completely impossible.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't worry - Corbyn can't stop Labour destroying the world

I'm a tad baffled by the criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn for confirming the bleedin' obvious - that there is no way that he, as a lifelong unilateralist, would ever push the nuclear button and mass-murder millions of innocent men, women and children in foreign lands.  The argument seems to be that he must submit to the collective will of the Labour party, which at present is pro-Trident, thus requiring the maintenance of the fiction that British nuclear weapons might one day be used, in order to make the 'deterrent' effect credible.  But the decision to launch a nuclear attack is not, and can never be, a decision by committee.  It won't be remitted back to the Labour conference, and then resolved by a tortuous GMB/Unite composite motion.  It's at the total discretion of the Prime Minister, and Labour members have effectively delegated that role to Corbyn, subject to a general election victory.  If they wanted a leader who was willing to push the button, they should have voted for someone else.  Nobody was pulling the wool over their eyes.

In any case, it isn't actually true (unfortunately) that Corbyn's refusal to use Trident renders Labour's support for it redundant.  Even his most fervent admirers don't expect him to be Prime Minister for more than a few years, which leaves plenty of time for a bloodthirsty Labour PM to succeed him and get back to the serious business of destroying humanity. The only thing the 'moderates' have to do in the meantime is stop disarmament taking place, which in Yookay Okay ought to be an absolute doddle.  So please stop worrying.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Corbyn/McDonnell 'Big Lie' approach to taking on the SNP isn't just cynical - it's also bound to fail

I enjoyed listening to John McDonnell's speech at the Labour conference.  There's been a lot of talk about him and Corbyn hastily backtracking on their principles since they took over, but there wasn't much evidence of that today - it was full-fat left-wing fare.  He did try to tackle the charge of "deficit denial", but only by listing the cuts he would make at the expense of wealthy people.

It struck me once again that Labour have probably elected the wrong Campaign Group MP as leader - McDonnell is the articulate one, who exudes an air of competence and even has a touch of charisma about him.  But realistically the candidate had to be Corbyn, because by all accounts McDonnell is so loathed among the PLP that there's no way he'd have made it onto the ballot paper, not even to "widen the debate".

The one part of the speech that grated, of course, was the disingenuous, rabble-rousing attack on the SNP.  The Labour left, to their intense discredit, appear to have settled on the 'Big Lie' approach to taking on Nicola Sturgeon - they think they can somehow convince people that she opposes the living wage, is plotting the privatisation of CalMac, and was responsible for the privatisation of ScotRail (even though the latter took place in the 1990s under John Major, and before the Scottish Parliament even existed!).  Most voters don't pay attention to the detail, so it's not totally inconceivable that they might fall for some of this garbage.  But the snag is that they won't buy into the headline summary, namely that the SNP are pro-austerity or austerity-neutral (implied by McDonnell's assertion that Labour are now the only anti-austerity party in Scotland).  Who, seriously, is going to believe that claim after the events of the general election campaign?  If your main attack line doesn't ring true to people, it's simply not going to get you anywhere.

Still, I don't blame McDonnell for going through the motions.  Bashing the SNP is a rite of passage for new and slightly distrusted Shadow Cabinet members - a bit similar to posh-boy initiation ceremonies involving dead pigs.  He had to do it, and he got it out of the way in such a brief and tokenistic manner that the real impression I'm left with is that Labour's heart isn't in the coming Scottish battle.  They've already handed the SNP an enormous gift on Trident, which is going to make one particular part of next year's leaders' debates almost painfully easy for Sturgeon.  "Labour may have two opinions on Trident, but we have only one.  We've made up our minds.  We're against it.  Labour are so divided that they ran away from even discussing it at their conference.  Vote for a party that knows what it thinks and isn't afraid to say it."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

For the attention of the Labour party : a list of things that don't build houses

1) The Red Flag.  (The one you keep flying here, while singing lustily about "traitors" and "cowards".)

2) The Union Flag.  (The one that mysteriously keeps being displayed at Labour party conferences.)

3) Singing God Save the Queen.

4) Browbeating senior politicians into singing God Save the Queen against their will.

5) Browbeating Scottish and Welsh football players into singing God Save the Queen at the Olympics against their will.

6) "Team GB" in general.

7) Kneeling before the Queen.

8) Browbeating senior politicians into kneeling before the Queen against their will.

9) Liam Byrne.

10) Nuclear weapons.

Not one of these things has ever built a house.  (In fact, number 10 tends to have very much the opposite effect.)  So for the love of God, let's get rid of them, stop doing them, and start BUILDING SOME HOUSES.

Having said that, a house never built a school...