Saturday, November 21, 2015

It's a ComRes corker : GB-wide poll points to continued SNP dominance in Scotland

Tonight's much-trailed GB-wide ComRes poll is out, with the most eye-catching finding being that 40% of respondents agree that Jeremy Corbyn should be "removed by Labour MPs", while only 31% disagree.  It's impossible to make much sense of that result, though, given that ComRes didn't bother to ask whether David Cameron should be removed by Tory MPs.  You'd think that would be a much more natural question to put to people, bearing in mind that Cameron has been hanging around for a decade and Corbyn has been in harness for just two months.  I suspect the Labour "moderates" might even be a tad disappointed that 60% declined to say that their party leader should be deposed.

Of most interest to us is that the SNP are on 5% of the Britain-wide vote, and the Scottish subsample numbers are : SNP 54%, Conservatives 16%, Labour 14%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 5%, Greens 3%.  The subsample can't be considered statistically reliable, but nevertheless it's fascinating that on some questions, Scottish respondents are bang in line with the Britain-wide results, but on others they take a completely divergent view.  For example, Scottish respondents agree with English respondents that a UK ground attack in Syria/Iraq should not be ruled out under all circumstances, and that Jeremy Corbyn cannot be trusted to keep their families safe.  But they part company from English respondents by overwhelmingly rejecting the idea that Cameron can keep us safe, and by narrowly opposing UK air strikes in Syria without UN authorisation.

Across Britain, Nicola Sturgeon is regarded favourably by 27% of respondents, and unfavourably by 38%.  Those numbers are actually pretty good compared to many other leading politicians - Sturgeon has a better net rating than Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and George Osborne, which is nothing short of miraculous for a filthy separatist.  But you won't be surprised to hear that she fares much better still where it actually matters - in Scotland, 61% regard her favourably, and only 24% unfavourably.

It's painfully obvious from the numbers that hardly anyone has even heard of Tim Farron, but he still manages to have a negative rating.

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Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson on Twitter earlier today -

"Corbyn's 59.5% LAB leadership vote share compares with Duncan Smith's 60.7% in 2001 CON contest. 2 years & 2 months later IDS was booted out"

That would be a truly fabulous comparison if it wasn't for the fact that Corbyn's percentage was achieved against THREE opponents, while Duncan Smith had to face only one other candidate in the members' ballot.

I'm also highly dubious about Damian McBride's claim in the Guardian the other day that Jeremy Corbyn will be gone "within a week" if Sadiq Khan fails to win the London mayoralty in the spring.  Does anyone seriously think Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper would have been expected to resign as leader if Khan had lost?

Friday, November 20, 2015

From a strategic point of view, who should we want to win the Oldham West and Royton by-election?

Hopefully my radar isn't faulty on too many occasions, but it's probably fair to say my headline one year ago today of 'Is Rochester and Strood the most important by-election since Darlington 1983?' looks a tad silly in retrospect. I thought that a UKIP victory might produce a bandwagon effect leading to more defections, and ultimately to a telling breakthrough for Farage at the general election, but...well, it didn't. The outcome wasn't unexpected, and thus didn't produce any kind of shock factor - in fact the media reaction was extraordinarily muted.

But now that Jeremy Corbyn is Labour leader, we've moved into territory where we might expect to encounter a genuine Darlington-style contest sooner or later. One of the reasons that famous by-election 32 years ago was so crucial is that if Labour had lost to the SDP, as they were initially expected to do, Michael Foot's position as leader might have looked untenable and he might have been replaced by Denis Healey in time for the general election a few weeks later - in much the same way that Bob Hawke had just replaced Bill Hayden as Australian Labor leader after defeat in the Flinders by-election. The 1983 general election was probably unwinnable for Labour under any leader, but it seems plausible that Healey might have saved a good few dozen seats, perhaps paving the way for a return to power several years earlier than 1997, and under a much less divisive leader than Tony Blair. So Darlington may be a classic example of 'a good election to lose' - and unfortunately for Labour, that was the election they actually won in 1983.

For anyone who thinks Labour's decline into irrelevance across the UK serves the best interests of the pro-independence movement, it's therefore hard to judge what would be a good result in Oldham West and Royton, where UKIP are rumoured to be running Labour close. I'll say straight away that this isn't Corbyn's Darlington - he would survive a defeat, but such an early electoral wounding would clearly be a landmark moment that would further darken the mood within the PLP. From a strategic point of view, what we don't want to see is Corbyn eventually being replaced with a charismatic leader who can transcend the divisions within the party (I'm not really sure if such a person exists, but one or two names have been mentioned as possibilities). So if you think a UKIP win on 3rd December has the potential to help set in train a sequence of events leading to that outcome, it might just be better if Labour cling on.

There's also a more immediate arithmetical reason why the SNP might prefer a Labour victory. We've already seen one crucial vote in this parliament where the SNP, the DUP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens lined up together in an attempt to defeat the government - but Douglas Carswell of UKIP went into the Tory lobby. So one more UKIP seat could make it harder for the SNP to hold the balance of power when there is a modest Tory rebellion. (Having said that, if Labour carry on abstaining as often as they have, that'll largely be an academic point.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Teaser on Thursday

I've come down with a heavy cold, so instead of a long blogpost today, here's a quick poser for you.

There are two European states with elected monarchies.  Can you name at least one of the very small number of people who are currently eligible to vote in elections for BOTH monarchs?

It's fastest finger first, folks.  The first person to give a correct answer in the comments section below will win the coveted title of Scot Goes Pop Quiz Champion 2015.  (I had thought about offering the winner a chance to choose my next alliterative adjective for a blogpost title about a Survation poll, but then I realised that Glasgow Working Class might win, and the results would be disastrous).

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UPDATE : Congratulations to Doug on becoming the Scot Goes Pop Quiz Champion 2015.  He correctly named Philippe Barbarin at 8.21am.

Any French citizen under the age of 80 who happens to be a Roman Catholic Cardinal (so it's not looking promising if you're a woman) is eligible to vote in elections for the French President (who is automatically one of the two co-princes of Andorra), and to take part in a papal conclave (the Pope is automatically the Sovereign of the Vatican City State).  Europe's two elected monarchs at present are François Hollande and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (better known as Pope Francis).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

SNP hold 30% lead in new Ipsos-Mori telephone poll

We actually haven't had much to go on recently as far as Holyrood voting intention polling is concerned - there was the TNS poll last week, but as usual much of the fieldwork for that was already out of date by the time we saw it.  So in a sense the new Ipsos-Mori telephone poll for STV can be regarded as the first tentative indication of whether the recent unionist propaganda campaign about tax credits has had any effect.  The SNP lead has dipped by 5% (albeit it still stands at an astonishingly healthy 30%), but the snag is that the last comparable poll was the best part of three months ago, so if the slippage is real, it's impossible to pinpoint exactly when it took place.

Constituency ballot :

SNP 50% (-5)
Labour 20% (n/c)
Conservatives 18% (+6)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 46% (-4)
Labour 19% (-1)
Conservatives 16% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)
Greens 7% (-1)

The TNS poll conducted at roughly the same time as the last Ipsos-Mori poll had the SNP on 58% of the constituency vote - exactly the same as in the new TNS poll.  The two most plausible ways of reconciling the two firms' divergent findings are that either a) SNP support has dropped somewhat, and it largely happened after the TNS fieldwork finished, or b) SNP support hasn't dropped, and the changes shown by Ipsos-Mori are margin of error "noise".  There are intuitive reasons for suspecting that the latter might be the case, not least the fact that the dramatic increase in Tory support is so unexpected.  It's surely pretty unlikely that a large chunk of SNP support has gone direct to the Tories, so to make much sense of the trend you'd have to assume that most of those votes have instead gone to Labour, but that Labour's gains have been almost perfectly offset by losses to the Tories.  You could, to be fair, make a perfectly plausible case for that scenario, given that Jeremy Corbyn is supposed to have appeal to left-wingers, and is a repellent to "moderate" unionists who used to love Jim Murphy.  But the problem is that no other pollster has shown any real sign of it happening (at least not on this scale).  Ipsos-Mori are unusual in that they don't weight by past vote recall, which makes their results slightly more prone to volatility.  At this stage, I would suggest that's the most likely explanation for the apparent SNP-Tory swing, but obviously the jury is still out until we hear from other firms.

People who write RISE press releases might want to note that the SNP are now just 5% higher on the constituency vote than they were in the 2011 election, and just 2% higher on the list.  The silly idea that the SNP are certain not to require any list seats to retain their majority can hopefully now be allowed to die a dignified and long-overdue death.  Let's not forget, the constituency results in 2011 left them requiring a minimum of TWELVE list seats for a bare majority of one.

A lot of people are pointing out that the optimistic chatter in the right-wing media about the Tories overtaking Labour as the largest opposition party suddenly doesn't look quite so fanciful, with the gap between the two parties now standing at just 2% on the constituency ballot, and 3% on the list.  I'm still fairly sceptical - one swallow doesn't make a summer, and all that.  Or perhaps I should say two swallows, because YouGov reported an even tighter race for second place a few weeks ago.  But until there's at least a couple of polls actually showing the Tories overtaking Labour, I'd suggest our prospective new Leader of the Opposition would be extremely premature in preening herself too much.  As you'll see in the Poll of Polls below, the average Labour lead over the Tories on the list vote (which is undoubtedly the more important vote in this respect) is still a very significant 6.6%.

I always keep my eyes peeled for extreme examples of weighting, and the one that leaps out at me the most in this poll is that public-sector workers - who are somewhat more likely to vote SNP than the rest of the sample - have been sharply downweighted from 185 to 98.  Off the top of my head, I can't think of a reason why public-sector workers would be so heavily over-represented in the unweighted sample.

There's no sign in STV's report that Ipsos-Mori asked the independence question again.  That doesn't necessarily mean they didn't, because the results are sometimes staggered over a couple of days.  Having said that, TNS didn't bother following up their own astonishing independence poll from September, so I won't be surprised either way.  If independence numbers do appear tomorrow, we should probably brace ourselves for a reported fall in the Yes vote - because if sampling variation has caused the number of SNP supporters in this poll to drop significantly, it's highly likely it will have also caused the number of independence supporters in the poll to drop.

What we do have today are Scottish voting intention figures for the EU referendum, which STV have rather oddly decided to run as the headline story...

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 65%
Leave 22%

That's billed as the best ever result for 'Remain' in a Scottish poll from any firm, but of course we're well used to the Scottish results diverging sharply from the more finely-balanced Britain-wide position.  That said, Bernard Ponsonby should be reported to the Polling Police for trying to compare this poll to the new Britain-wide Survation poll showing a mere 2% Remain lead, because that one was conducted among a volunteer online polling panel.  It's been clearly established that the online method produces much, much better results for Leave.

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I haven't updated the Poll of Polls since mid-October, so last week's TNS poll is introduced into the sample alongside the new Ipsos-Mori poll.  That explains why Labour have crept up slightly, in spite of flatlining with Ipsos-Mori.

Constituency ballot :

SNP 52.8% (-0.6)
Labour 22.0% (+0.6)
Conservatives 15.4% (+1.2)
Liberal Democrats 5.6% (-0.4)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 46.6% (-0.8)
Labour 21.4% (+0.2)
Conservatives 14.8% (+0.8)
Greens 7.0% (-0.2)
Liberal Democrats 6.0% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the firms that have reported Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers over the previous three months, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are five - YouGov, TNS, Survation, Panelbase and Ipsos-Mori. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Solidarity are more likely than RISE to take a seat next year

I very rarely make predictions on this blog, but having thought about this subject so much recently I'm going to stick my neck out and make two tentative forecasts for next May : 1) the two radical left parties will between them take either zero seats or one seat, and 2) if they take one seat, it will be Solidarity that pulls it off, not RISE. If RISE are going to make even the most modest of breakthroughs, they've got less than six months to go from virtually zero support to at least 5% in one of the eight electoral regions. That's not going to happen without a bandwagon effect, and you can't generate one of those out of thin air. When the SSP managed it in 1999 and 2003, it was largely founded upon Tommy Sheridan's fame and charisma. Colin Fox is not a Sheridan, and neither is anybody else in RISE. They're probably quite glad about that in some ways, but it does mean there is a limit upon their realistic electoral ambitions.

Solidarity are more fortunate, because they do have a Sheridan, and his name is Tommy Sheridan. It's interesting looking back to the last time that he stood in Glasgow in 2007 - the fading of his magic was such a landmark moment that we tend to overlook the fact that he didn't miss out on holding his seat by all that much. Solidarity got 4.1% of the vote, which meant they were just 1.1% away from denying Patrick Harvie of the Greens the final seat (and how that might have changed history if they had done). And do you want to guess what percentage of the vote the SSP got in Glasgow that year? That's right - 1.2%. It's all very well for the small parties to complain about being branded as "vote-splitters", but in reality it's themselves that are the biggest victims of that problem. The true threat to a radical left party claiming a seat next year may well be RISE itself.

Sheridan was in prison by 2011, so he temporarily vacated the field in favour of his old friend George Galloway and Respect - a bizarre decision, given Galloway's hostility to the cause that has defined Sheridan's career ever since that election. But it's plausible to suppose that Respect basically inherited the Solidarity vote in Glasgow, and there wasn't all that much further slippage - they got 3.3%, while the SSP only slipped to 0.7%. So there clearly is a lingering radical left vote in the city, and it might be just about sufficient to sneak one seat once Sheridan's stardust is reintroduced into the equation (especially now that he's been redeemed in some people's eyes by his passionate campaigning during and after the referendum). But even if that's the case, everything will hinge on whether Solidarity can keep RISE down to a derisory vote. I think the odds are against them, but on past form it's certainly possible.

It wouldn't surprise me if RISE outpoll Solidarity in the other seven regions (albeit without coming close to winning a seat), but it seems almost inconceivable that Sheridan will be eclipsed by his former colleagues on his own home patch.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Vote "tactical", get Tory

It would be interesting to know whether it's now the editorial policy of Bella Caledonia to promote the bogus idea that "tactical voting on the list" is feasible, or whether it's just coincidence that they've published two articles in recent days making the same case.  The first was a RISE press release (I'm not being snide - it really was a RISE press release), and the second was a piece by Craig Paterson.  I've already given my opinion on the nonsense in the RISE release, which was brazenly entitled "TNS poll shows SNP 2nd votes wasted", even though that poll actually shows the SNP are on course to take no fewer than six list seats, and RISE are on course to take a big fat zero.  (TNS found that just two respondents out of 1034 were planning to vote SSP on the list. It's quite possible that RISE will find it even harder to attract support than the SSP on their own, who at least have a long-established brand identity.)

The Craig Paterson article covers ground that we've gone over a million times before on this blog, but in case anyone is new to the arguments, I'll just respond quickly -

"Some SNP members/supporters have accused the other pro independence parties of splitting the vote: I think this is unfair and highly damaging to the movement as a whole."

'Vote-splitting' is probably not the most helpful term in the context of the list vote, because it implies that there can be only one winner and that any splitting of a potential winner's vote is harmful under all circumstances. That's not the case, but it's undoubtedly true that splitting the vote in a particular way can be extremely harmful on the list. The example I've offered many times is the North-east region in 2011, where there was considerable anecdotal evidence (not least in the comments section of this blog) that SNP supporters and even members voted "tactically" for the Greens in the mistaken belief that it was impossible for the SNP to win a list seat, because they were set to win too many constituencies. In the event, the SNP took one list seat in spite of winning every single constituency in the region, and the Greens fell short of taking a seat. But the SNP only barely claimed the list seat, so it's just as well for the pro-independence movement that the wholly counter-productive attempts at "tactical voting" were not more widespread. If just 2000 more SNP voters had switched "tactically" to the Greens, and 600 more had switched to the SSP, the final list seat in the North-east would have been taken by the Conservatives rather than the SNP, and the pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament would have been cut from 72-57 to 71-58.

"Lets look at it another way, why have the SNP not offered to stand aside on the list for the other pro indy parties? As we all know this would clear the way for a huge pro indy majority at Holyrood."

The second sentence is almost the only thing Craig says in his whole article that is actually true. The SNP standing aside on the list and making a recommendation to their supporters would indeed make this "tactical voting" wheeze work - but what Craig doesn't mention is that it's also the ONLY realistic way in which it could ever be made to work, because it's the only way people would be persuaded to switch in sufficiently huge numbers. So why don't the SNP do it? There are many good reasons, but the most important one is that it would be a blatant attempt to cheat the d'Hondt formula, and the Electoral Commission wouldn't let them get away with it. Simple as that.

"What is becoming evident by these polls is that the more constituency seats that the SNP win the less lists seats they will win"

That's just the nature of the Additional Member System, and it applies to every major party - it's got nothing to do with the current polls. What Craig doesn't point out is that polls can be wildly inaccurate (as we discovered yet again in May) and that it's impossible to know exactly how many constituency seats any party will take until AFTER the election is over - by which point it's a bit too late to do anything about your mistaken "tactical" vote on the list.

"Let’s take Glasgow as an example: somewhere we can surely all agree the SNP will clean up and take all nine constituency seats."

What?! With six months still to go? NO WE BLOODY CAN'T. Have we really forgotten how dramatically public opinion changed in the space of just two months in the run-up to the 2011 election?

"This will mean that the SNP’s list vote will be divided by 10 (9 seats + 1). Now I’m not going to go into the detail of who will get how many votes, but what I will say is that an SNP list vote is worth significantly less than a vote for any other party (pro indy or otherwise)."

That is simply untrue. Even if - and it's a huge if - the SNP's list vote ends up being divided by ten, that vote will in all likelihood still be "worth" more than a vote for a party such as RISE that is unlikely to even come close to doing well enough to take one seat. There is one respect in which the list ballot is exactly the same as first-past-the-post - if a party doesn't get enough votes to win a seat, all the votes for it have been totally wasted.

"The myth that by voting for another pro independence party more unionists will get in is just that, a myth, and it needs to be quashed and now."

Good luck to you, Craig, because you can't quash a myth that isn't actually a myth. The aforementioned North-east example from 2011 may be inconvenient to those who want to hoodwink SNP supporters into voting RISE on the list, but it's not going to go away.

"The truth is it’s much more likely that voting SNP on the list will result in more unionist MSPs. Don’t take my word for it, go look at the TNS poll. Labour are still picking up 33 list seats out of 56, even with the SNP taking more than 50% of the list vote they only get 6 list seats."

It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when people say things like. Yes, the TNS poll shows the SNP on track to pick up "only" six list seats. It also shows the Greens on track to take just three, the SSP/RISE on track to take ZERO, and Solidarity on track to take ZERO. In other words, the TNS poll shows the SNP taking TWICE as many list seats as all other pro-independence parties combined. In exactly what way are we expected to believe that the poll is "proof" that a vote for the SNP is wasted? This is just silly beyond words.

"This question of tactical voting also works both ways: by asking the pro indy movement to use both votes for the SNP as it’s the best way to gain independence and keep the unionists out, you are advocating a tactic that is an insurance policy for the SNP getting a majority government..."

An interesting and important tacit acknowledgement that "tactical voting" puts the SNP majority at risk.

"...but is also a guarantee that the Scottish Parliament will look similar to how it is now...Scottish politics, despite the referendum, will not look much different from how it did after the 2011 Scottish elections."

Do you know what? I would settle for that. In fact I would bite your hand off. The 2011 result was nothing short of a miracle, and it's got us to where we are now. Winning an SNP majority, or even a pro-independence majority of any sort, is murderously difficult under the current system. What on Earth are we doing playing silly buggers and putting that at risk? The chances of "tactical voting" working in the way that Craig seems to think it could (ie. "nearly 100" pro-independence MSPs) are fantastically small, and the chances of it backfiring are significantly larger. But even if the monumental risk did pay off, what would it even achieve? What could we actually do with 100 pro-independence MSPs that we couldn't do with 70? Can anyone explain that to me?

"And if you are worried about the SNP winning a majority through the constituency seats alone, you really shouldn’t be – find me 9 seats that the SNP aren’t going to win on the constituency. It’s possible to point to 3 or 4 that could be tricky..."

"Aren't going to win" is the wrong test - "might not win" is the correct one. Here's a suggestion, Craig - how about starting with the TWENTY-ONE constituency seats that the SNP do not currently hold, in spite of their landslide victory in 2011?

"We only have to look across to Catalonia or even Portugal to see what can be achieved when our parliaments have a multitude of progressive parties to vote for."

I'm struggling to understand what that even means. Catalonia has exactly what we have - a parliament with a modest pro-independence majority. The news seems to have gone quiet in Portugal, but as far as I can see the President still hasn't allowed the left-wing coalition to take power, in spite of the centre-right government losing a vote of confidence last week. Why? Because the left-wing vote was split three ways, and the President can use the excuse that the socialists aren't the largest single party. Fortunately, the First Minister of Scotland is elected not appointed, but it's very hard to see how Portugal of all countries can be used as an example that "vote-splitting" isn't a problem.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Is Andrew Neil's Scottish fanbase much bigger than we ever suspected?

To test his suspicion that the BBC's Scotland 2015 has a very low number of viewers (perhaps as few as 5000 per night), RevStu used his latest Panelbase poll to ask respondents which political/current affairs programmes they watch or listen to.  The results are useful in giving a sense of the relative popularity of each show (and indeed Scotland 2015 turns out to be less popular than everything apart from the radio programmes), but the raw figures actually say much more about the shortcomings of polls that rely on volunteer online panels.  For example, 6% of the sample claim to watch either every episode or most episodes of The Daily Politics, which would imply a 'baseload' Scottish viewership of hundreds of thousands of people for a BBC2 politics show broadcast on weekday lunchtimes (and which its presenter Andrew Neil apparently thinks isn't broadcast in Scotland at all!).

The problem is, of course, that volunteer online panels attract a disproportionate number of people who are extremely interested in politics.  In theory, you can correct for that in voting intention polls with sophisticated weighting techniques, but that theory may have its limits - telephone polling came out of the debacle in May slightly less badly than online polling, and it also proved more reliable in the 2010 general election.  If the inquiry into what went wrong takes us 'back to the future' and declares that real world data collection methods generally produce more accurate results, what does that mean for supporters of Scottish independence?  It's mostly good news, because as of this moment, telephone and face-to-face polls are producing much more favourable results for Yes.  On the other hand, it's bad news for anyone pinning their hopes on Brexit triggering a quick second independence referendum, because telephone polls are currently far, far more favourable for the 'Remain' side in the EU referendum.

Incidentally, I feel slightly vindicated by the results of another of the questions in the Panelbase poll, because a majority of respondents (including 48% of SNP voters) think that the SNP should take up the seats they are entitled to in the House of Lords.  I'm a huge admirer of Pete Wishart, but I was very dubious the other night when he had a go at the Green Party of England and Wales for taking up a seat in the Lords.  If both the Greens and Plaid Cymru take the view that it's important to have their voters' views represented in the Lords for as long as it exists, it's just possible that they've got it right and the SNP have got it wrong.

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Scot Goes Pop fundraiser : I'm slightly relieved to say that the fundraiser will close early tomorrow morning (Monday), so this is the last time I'll be promoting it in a blogpost!  Thanks a million to the 276 people that have donated so far - £5,595 has been raised, which is almost as much as was raised over a much longer timescale in the second fundraiser last autumn.

After the previous two fundraisers had closed, one or two people got in touch to say that they still wanted to contribute, and asked where my donate button is.  As it happens, Indiegogo has a new 'In-Demand' feature that allows fundraisers which have reached their target figure to remain open for contributions after the closing date (if that makes sense).  So I hope to leave that switched on for a little while, just in case someone comes along in a few weeks' time with a burning desire to donate.  But rest assured I won't be promoting it heavily - there'll probably just be a discreet link on the sidebar (desktop version of the blog only).

I know there are always a large number of important pro-independence causes seeking funds at any given moment, so I'm incredibly grateful and honoured that this one was deemed worthy of several thousand pounds.  I really can't thank you enough.