Saturday, December 5, 2015

The STV political correspondent who thinks that "Scottish nationalists need not concern themselves with the troubles of foreigners"

There can be little doubt that STV are delighted to have Stephen Daisley as an online correspondent, and in some ways that's perfectly understandable.  Few would deny that he's a finer prose stylist than most journalists twice his age.  His opinion pieces are so provocative that they function brilliantly as clickbait, driving lots of juicy traffic to the STV website.  No broadcasting regulations on impartiality are being breached, because (to the best of my knowledge) the regulations don't apply to websites.

And yet, and yet.  There comes a point where some of the things said by Daisley are so totally bloody outrageous that they must start to affect his employer's reputation for balance and fairness, particularly given that his political commentary is not clearly separated out from the "news" section of the STV website, and is labelled as "analysis" rather than "opinion".  ("Analysis" is the word the BBC website uses for commentary by the likes of Laura Kuenssberg, so the reader's expectation is that insight will be offered in a politically neutral way.)  Visitors to the STV website could be forgiven for thinking that this is a broadcaster with an official editorial view that the man elected as Labour leader only three months ago should be deposed as soon as possible by an elitist coup, that extra-judicial killings are commendable and should be carried out more often, that torture is a good thing as long as it's branded as enhanced interrogation, that Israel has the right to claim sovereignty over land seized by brute force, that Scottish nationalists don't care about foreigners, and that the way "internationalist socialists" should show they care about foreigners is by dropping bombs on them.  Even a small-print disclaimer at the bottom of each article that "this is a personal view and does not necessarily reflect the views of Scottish Television" would, I suspect, be a great comfort to concerned and often offended STV viewers who simply don't share Mr Daisley's simplistic "centre-right, Zionist" worldview (that's his own description), with its good guys who you must only ever speak of with "songful joy" in your heart (Blair), and bad guys who you must torture and kill (or at the very least expel from the Labour party). In fact, the most accurate disclaimer would be "please note that this article forms part of an extended audition for Fox News".

The 2% of the Scottish population who are card-carrying members of the SNP, and indeed the 50% of the Scottish electorate that voted SNP in May, have a particular right to feel deeply hurt at Daisley's suggestion in his latest article (his maddest to date) that "Scottish Nationalists need not concern themselves with the troubles of foreigners". In true Hothersallite fashion, he contrasts our insularity with the much-vaunted "internationalism" of Labour. But just hang on a minute here. Which party was it that put its total faith in the international system and the United Nations to certify Iraq as free of weapons of mass destruction in 2003? And which party was it that turned its back on both the international system and international law to invade that long-suffering country in pursuit of weapons that didn't even exist?

It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone that the SNP have proved time and again to be the true internationalists. They were co-founded by R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Britain's first socialist member of parliament, and a man who shrewdly noted that nationalism (by which he meant civic nationalism) was a necessary prerequisite for internationalism. To be fair, there are plenty of people within Labour who share the SNP's vision of genuine internationalism rooted in democracy and the rule of law, but they're not to be found in what you might call the "Ernest Bevin tendency", which Daisley zealously professes to be the one true faith. Bevin's idea of internationalism was nuclear blackmail by the strong against the weak, the neo-colonial system of veto-wielding powers on the Security Council, and industrial-scale violation of the sovereignty of others when it suited our own selfish interests.

By the way, the funniest line in Daisley's new article is this -

"When I talk to sensible Labour people, they despair but assure me things will be better when Corbyn is replaced by Dan Jarvis or Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umunna. I don’t have the heart to tell them they’re wrong."

I'm sure Labour right-wingers are suitably grateful for the kindness of an omniscient 29-year-old journalist who has elected to spare them the burden of too much knowledge.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The RISE case for "tactical voting" becomes ever clearer...

Jim Sillars has today backed the claims of RISE that it is somehow possible to vote "tactically" on the Scottish Parliament list ballot, which I think should comprehensively settle the matter for all of us, given that he was the man who thought thwarting devolution in 1997 was the best tactic for achieving independence.  In the wake of this intervention, I've had a long and illuminating exchange on Twitter with Craig Paterson of RISE, who has been one of the primary proponents of the "tactical voting" wheeze.  This is what I've learned about the RISE position -

1)  We can say with confidence that the SNP will win almost every single constituency seat (and therefore won't need any list votes), because there are only five months to go, and nothing much can possibly change in such a short period.

2)  It is absolutely LUDICROUS to point to opinion polls showing RISE with zero support, and suggest that this means they are unlikely to win any seats.  Don't you know there are still five months to go?  Anything could happen!  Anything!

3)  Voting RISE on the list cannot possibly put the SNP's overall majority at risk.  It's a completely risk-free thing to do.

4)  The only reason SNP supporters don't like RISE's "tactical votes" pitch is because it might put the SNP's overall majority at risk.  It's narrow-minded to care about that.

5)  People who prefer the SNP should vote for the SNP.  RISE have made absolutely clear - and always will make absolutely clear - that they are not seeking "tactical" votes from SNP supporters, but only from independence supporters. 

6)  Don't bother asking for any evidence that they've ever made that clear, because they haven't, and it's a totally natural thing that they haven't, because it's not their responsibility to make that clear and nobody in their right mind would expect them to.

7)  There is no such thing as an SNP supporter.  There are only independence supporters.  People who prefer the SNP because they support independence should vote for RISE instead.  This does not mean RISE are seeking the votes of people who prefer the SNP, because no such people exist.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm starting to think they've got a point.  I just don't know what it is.

Corbyn's success in Oldham confounds the media narrative

All the early indications are that Labour are set for a much easier victory in the Oldham West and Royton by-election than anyone thought possible.  This might be a useful moment to flag up an obvious but under-appreciated fact from the recent GB-wide YouGov voting intention poll - namely that Labour under Corbyn have exactly the same share of the vote (30%) that they actually achieved under Ed Miliband at the general election.  There's no particular reason to think that YouGov are still overestimating the party's support, because quite radical methodological changes have been made to address the previous errors.  So in spite of Corbyn's truly horrific personal ratings, Labour have stood completely still.  How can that be?

The answer is that they haven't stood still.  They've lost significant support to the Conservatives and other parties, but have completely offset it with support gained from elsewhere.  The best clue as to how they've managed to achieve that comes in two of the poll's supplementary questions.  Among people who actually voted Labour in May, Corbyn has a negative rating of -6, but among people who are currently planning to vote Labour, he has a positive rating of +31.  Labour voters from May were only opposed to bombing Syria by a margin of 42% to 35%, but current Labour voters were opposed by a whopping 57% to 23%.  In essence, Corbyn has replaced the previous Labour coalition of support with a different coalition more in his image, and the new one is just as big.  That's not quite the narrative we've been fed, although admittedly if Labour support is draining to the Tories (to some extent) and is being replaced mainly by support from the Greens, Lib Dems, UKIP and previous non-voters, that does still result in an increased Tory lead, which is a huge problem under first-past-the-post.  Even so, Oldham may be the first concrete electoral indication that the state of play is much more nuanced and interesting than we've been led to believe.

I have a helpful suggestion for anyone in the mainstream media who may be struggling with a headline for tomorrow -

"Hilary Benn's wonder speech saves Labour's bacon in Oldham"

Go on, I dare you to be that brazen!

UPDATE : It appears John "the Gardener" McTernan has already attempted that line.  He's literally beyond satire now.

UPDATE II : Here is the full result...

Oldham West and Royton parliamentary by-election result (3rd December) :

Labour 62.1% (+7.3)
UKIP 23.4% (+2.8)
Conservatives 9.4% (-9.6)
Liberal Democrats 3.7% (n/c)
Greens 0.9% (-1.0)
Official Monster Raving Loonies 0.5% (n/a)

Obviously a 1% drop in the Green vote can't fully explain a 7.3% increase in the Labour vote, but nevertheless it's consistent with the notion that Corbyn is putting together a slightly different coalition of support.  What's even more interesting is where the lost Tory votes have gone.  I can't think of any reason to suppose the Tory abstention rate would be significantly higher than that of other parties, and it seems unlikely that many Tory voters would be interested in lending a tactical vote to a Corbyn-led party to keep UKIP out.  So the most plausible explanation is that the unfaithful Tory voters went to UKIP, but they were mostly offset by working-class UKIP voters from the general election returning to the Labour fold.

The Oldham campaign hasn't been as dramatic as Darlington in 1983, but at this very early stage the outcome does appear to have a Darlington-esque feel about it, because it's radically changing perceptions about Corbyn's "life expectancy" as leader.  It's now significantly more likely that he'll still be around at the time of the Scottish Parliament election in May, and I stand by what I said a few days ago - that's a good thing for the SNP, because it means that the chaos within Labour will carry on unabated.  Tony Blair gave the game away during the leadership election - ultimately, the problem he and his supporters have with Corbyn is not electoral, but ideological.  Even if Labour continues to hold its own in elections, the Blairites and others on the right still won't be able to live with Corbyn as leader, so we can look forward to the sniping and poison continuing.

I suppose the only downside of tonight's result is that we've been robbed of the chance of finding out what would have happened if the Blairites had been emboldened to make an early move to depose Corbyn, but failed.  Would they have talked themselves into a position where they couldn't remain in a party with a radical left leader?  Most of the MPs who defected to the SDP in 1981 couldn't have envisaged such an eventuality just a few months earlier.  A split of that sort really would have been a dream outcome for the SNP, but I'm sure we can make do with the Labour shambles we've actually got.

There had been some suggestions that a UKIP breakthrough in Oldham might have indirectly been a good thing for the independence movement, because it would have increased the chances of Brexit.  I'm not so sure about that.  We've seen in recent years that the fortunes of "Leave" in the opinion polls have had an inverse correlation with the fortunes of UKIP, probably because moderate Eurosceptics are appalled by Farage and co.  It may well be a good thing for the Out campaign if the Oldham result increases the sense that UKIP are becoming an irrelevance, thus allowing Eurosceptic Tory and Labour MPs to take the lead in future.  It's also arguably a good thing for them that Jeremy Corbyn's position has been stabilsed, because although he'll probably be campaigning to remain in the EU, he won't be doing it with quite the full-blooded enthusiasm that a more centrist successor might have done.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What we've learned tonight

1)  The idea that has been doing the rounds in the London media that Hilary Benn is a credible caretaker "unity" Labour leader is now dead in the water.  Becoming so visibly the darling of the Tory benches has completely put paid to any hopes he may have harboured in that direction.

2)  Sustained clapping in the House of Commons is, it turns out, perfectly OK and will not be ruled out of order by the Speaker, just so long as it's not the Jocks doing it and as long as it's expressing support for the dropping of British bombs on a faraway country.  (We already know from a previous episode that clapping is to be positively encouraged as long as it follows a speech in favour of John Bercow remaining as Speaker.)

3)  The Westminster elite are quite capable of getting over the solemnity of having just voted to end people's lives.  It only takes a matter of seconds for them to start chortling at the ludicrous thought of being expected to hang around for a late night debate about child abuse.

4)  Labour's Stella Creasy was either pro-fascism or fascism-neutral until roughly 9.30 this evening.  Or at least she was if we believe her fatuous statement that "Hilary Benn's speech persuaded me that fascism must be defeated".

YouGov subsample suggests Scotland is evenly split on air strikes

A new YouGov poll conducted over the last 48 hours suggests support across Britain for air strikes on Syria has dropped sharply in the last week, albeit with a plurality remaining in favour -

Would you approve or disapprove of the RAF taking part in air strike operations against Islamic State/ISIS in Syria? 

(Respondents across Britain) :

Approve 48% (-11)
Disapprove 31% (+11)

There has been a lazy assumption among the right-wing commentariat in Scotland that public opinion north of the border is not especially divergent on this topic, and that the SNP are therefore essentially going against the grain of their own constituents' wishes by voting against air strikes. With the usual caveats about the statistical unreliability of subsamples, this poll suggests that may not be the case, and that Scotland is basically evenly split -

Would you approve or disapprove of the RAF taking part in air strike operations against Islamic State/ISIS in Syria? 

(Respondents in Scotland) :

Approve 44% (-7)
Disapprove 41% (+12)

Very unusually, YouGov have also asked a voting intention question.  I can't remember exactly how many times they've done that since the polling disaster in May, but the number can certainly be counted on the fingers of one hand.  The SNP lead in the Scottish subsample is unusually "low" : SNP 41%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 20%, UKIP 8%, Liberal Democrats 4%, Greens 2%.  Although on the face of it that's bad news, it leaves open the possibility that there are too few SNP voters in the subsample as a result of normal sampling variation, in which case it's perfectly conceivable that Scottish opposition to air strikes is being underestimated by the above figures.  The fact that a wildly implausible combined total of 28% of the subsample are Tory or UKIP voters would tend to support that theory.

Labour right-wingers have been given something of a headache in advance of tomorrow night's parliamentary vote, because until now they've been able to draw a distinction between anti-war party members, and Labour voters who are supposedly in favour of air strikes.  YouGov are suggesting that people who voted Labour across Britain in May are in fact opposed to military action by 42% to 35%.

The paradox of this poll is that it shows opinion moving in the direction of Jeremy Corbyn's stance on Syria, but also suggests public confidence in Corbyn himself is collapsing.  In the space of just a fortnight, his net personal rating has slumped from -22 to -41.  Intriguingly, he seems to be doing just as badly in Scotland, where he stands at -38, although that figure should be treated with caution given the over-representation of Tory and UKIP supporters in the sample.  Doubtless Corbyn's critics within Labour will leap on these figures, but the reality is that this is their own handiwork - if you systematically brief against your leader, it harms both him and the party's standing.  Labour's deficit in this poll has increased from six points to eleven.

I'm coming even more firmly to the conclusion that a Labour win in the Oldham West and Royton by-election on Thursday would be in the SNP's strategic interests.  Although it's still unlikely that a UKIP gain would in itself be sufficient to topple Corbyn, that no longer looks totally inconceivable. It would be best for us if Corbyn's position is stabilised by a narrow electoral success, thus allowing the chaos within Labour to continue for the next five months.  The last thing we need is for the run-up to the Scottish Parliament election to be dominated by a second Labour leadership contest.  OK, that could exacerbate the divisions even further, but it might just prove a unifying experience for them if they happen to stumble across a credible candidate from the soft left.

*  *  *

It looks like internal trouble is brewing for the Liberal Democrats as well.  Of the comments left so far by grassroots members and activists on Liberal Democrat Voice, only 13 are in favour of Tim Farron's decision to support the Tories and air strikes, and 23 are opposed.  It may be even worse than it appears, because some of the supportive comments are in the mould of "the leader is right because it's hard to be the leader and make hard decisions and we must support the leader because he is our leader and he has made a hard decision".

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How many MPs will vote to bomb Syria?

The conventional wisdom at the moment seems to be that only 30 or 40 right-wing Labour MPs will go into the Tory lobby tomorrow night to vote in favour of bombing Syria.  That's a suspiciously low estimate, and is in the same ball-park as the number that might have defied Corbyn's whip if he had bothered to impose it.  So I'll believe it when I see it, but for the sake of argument let's take the upper figure of 40 at face value, and let's also assume that the Lib Dems will vote with the Tories (which inexplicably they seem to be moving towards), and that there will be around 10 Conservative rebels.  That leaves us with -

Voting for air strikes :

Conservatives 319
Labour 40
Liberal Democrats 8
Independent 1

TOTAL : 379

Voting against air strikes or abstaining :

Labour 189
SNP 54
Conservatives 10
Plaid Cymru 3
Independents (suspended from SNP) 2
Greens 1

TOTAL : 262

I'm making some other guesses there, because the last I heard Douglas Carswell of UKIP and the independent Northern Ireland unionist Sylvia Hermon were both claiming to be genuinely undecided.  But given their political orientation I find it hard to believe they won't come down in favour of British military action in the end.

As you can see, there's no realistic way Cameron can lose this vote.  The most that can be hoped for is that as few as possible Labour MPs cop out by abstaining.  If something close to 262 MPs actually vote against air strikes, that would at least severely undermine the claim that there is any sort of broad consensus.  It looks like 57 out of 59 Scottish MPs will be voting against, so it certainly can't be claimed that the UK as a whole is united behind military action.

Housekeeping note

To save anyone else having to look at the train-wreck of a comments section on the previous post, could I just make a few points -

1) The frequency of extreme swearing is becoming ridiculous.  I don't mind swearing as long as it's used sparingly (Mick Pork is the master of using it for comic effect), but there were parts of the last thread where almost every post had an extreme swear-word in it.  I issued several polite warnings, and predictably that just led to people pushing against me with even more extreme swearing.  I eventually had to delete two comments containing the 'C' word.  This really cannot go on, and I'll delete more comments if I have to.  I'd rather not have to.

2) Please don't keep asking me to "ban" Glasgow Working Class (or anyone else).  As I've explained umpteen times, it is not possible to "ban" individuals on this platform.  It is only possible to delete individual comments.

3) I am not going to introduce pre-moderation.  That would be far, far, far too time-consuming, and more importantly it would kill any possibility of a flowing debate.

4) I am not going to switch to an expensive alternative comments platform simply to ban Glasgow Working Class.  Every platform has its drawbacks, and I've heard too many horror stories about people who have made the switch and lived to regret it.

5) Glasgow Working Class is not "killing the blog", and no matter how many times people make that melodramatic claim, it won't become any the more true.  There was a predictable drop from the all-time peak of 40,000 unique readers in the month leading up to the general election, but the numbers have been stable since June.

My advice is simply to scroll past GWC's comments.  I have the dubious pleasure of receiving every single one of them through to my inbox, and for the most part they've just become meaningless noise.  I've actually found some of Aldo's comments (for example on the victims of the Hiroshima bombing) much more offensive, because they were clearly said in deadly earnest.

Monday, November 30, 2015

For as long as unionism has 50% support, the main opposition to the SNP is bound to be a unionist party

There's a new article at Bella Caledonia by Jonathon Shafi of RISE, which is - at least in part - yet another attempt to bang the drum for the bogus idea that "tactical voting on the list" is viable.

"The SNP’s electoral supremacy is so complete that all recent polls show a consistent pattern: the party can almost certainly win the Scottish election on the constituency seats alone."

That strikes me as a very slippery choice of words. Most people would concede on the basis of the current polling evidence that it is possible the SNP may win at least 65 out of the 73 constituency seats, which is what they would need to do to retain their outright majority in the unlikely event that their supporters are foolish enough to abandon them in large numbers on the list ballot. So yes, the SNP "can" do that, but what do the words "almost certainly" add? It's hard not to conclude that Jonathon is trying to convey the impression that the SNP "will" almost certainly win on constituency seats alone, but without making that claim directly. He's wise to avoid such an enormous hostage to fortune, because the most recent Ipsos-Mori and YouGov polls have the SNP on 50% and 51% of the constituency vote. That means if they slip only a few percentage points over the next five months (or indeed if the polls are overstating their support slightly), they will require a large number of list seats to win an overall majority - just as they did in 2011.

"Once we embrace this fact, the Scottish elections could suddenly become very interesting. For independence supporters, voting SNP twice becomes counter-productive to maximising independence MSPs."

When RISE issued their notorious "tactical voting" press release the other week, they prayed in aid a TNS poll that showed the SNP were on course to win "only" six list seats. Simple question : how is it counter-productive to prefer to hold onto those six pro-independence seats, rather than wasting list votes on a party that at the moment has almost literally zero support in the polls, and no credible prospect of taking any seats at all?

I was contacted by a reader a couple of hours ago, who asked this -

"How reasonable are [Jonathon Shafi's] claims?

I know you have written about this more than once, but the myths in this narrative refuse to die. Why?

Jonathon makes a broader appeal to support RISE as part of a new opposition to the SNP, one that replaces Labour and is independence-minded. This, for many independence-minded progressives, has great appeal and is, I suspect, one reason why the myths refuse to die.

Many of us would like to see Labour replaced by a progressive independence-favouring opposition that will hold the SNP to account.

To kill these myths, that if I understand you properly are more likely to undermine rather than enhance the chances of independence-minded parties being in a majority, it may be worthwhile exploring what the realistic possibility of a pro-independence opposition is and, critically, how it might realistically come about.

My guess is that Jonathon forgets there remains significant support for Unionist parties in Scotland and that, whilst we might applaud his ambition, his prescription is flawed."

The last sentence gets to the nub of it. Unionism has roughly 50% support in Scotland. For as long as that is the case, it's almost inevitable that the main opposition to the SNP will be a unionist party - and in spite of the current horror show, it's highly likely to be Labour. Jonathon Shafi is of course implying that it's possible to exploit a "bug" in the electoral system and get an overwhelmingly pro-independence parliament without actually doing the hard work of increasing support for independence. For reasons we've discussed many times on this blog, that's either a delusion or a con.

I'm trying to imagine what a viable pro-independence opposition to the SNP would look like, and I struggle to see it looking much like RISE or even the Greens. Where there is considerable scope for growth in support for independence is on the centre-right, so in theory there's a gap in the market for a popular pro-independence party with a very different outlook to the SNP - but I don't think that's the kind of alternative opposition that the "tactical voting" brigade are looking for.

There's also a very small chance that Labour might eventually attempt to triangulate themselves out of the pickle they're in by embracing independence, in which case we might end up with a pro-independence opposition automatically, as long as the die-hard "cultural" Labour voters keep the faith.  Highly unlikely, I admit, but still more likely than Colin Fox as Leader of the Opposition.