Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ten things that Scotland should be grateful to Donald Trump for

America's leading Hitler impersonator Donald Trump reckons that Scotland should stop criticising him for Islamophobia, and should instead get on with being grateful to him for all he's done for us.  And, you know, he's got a point.  Here are the top ten ways in which he improved our country...

1.  "Stabilised the doons."  (Translation : Destroyed one of Scotland's last great wildernesses - the most extensive and scientifically important area of shifting sands in the UK.)

2.  Made the destruction worthwhile by delivering only a tiny fraction of the 6000 jobs he promised.

3.  Made the destruction even more worthwhile by delivering, as promised, the "greatest golf course in the world".  (Actually, the most authoritative list rates it as only the 65th best golf course in the world, but what's 64 places between friends?)

4.  Entertained the nation with repeated spectacular failures to prevent an offshore wind farm "spoiling the view" from the 65th greatest golf course in the world.

5.  Gave us such an easy answer whenever anyone says that SNP supporters are just automatons who mindlessly agree with everything the leadership does.  "Well, we didn't agree with them letting Trump stabilise the doons."

6.  Helped Martin Ford see the light about the Liberal Democrats.

7.  Allowed us to spend so much quality time with the delightful George Sorial, and thereby made us realise that Alastair Campbell is not (quite) the most odious spin doctor of all-time.

8.  Changed the name of Turnberry golf course, which has hosted four Open championships since 1977, to "Trump Turnberry".  Perhaps people will start taking it seriously now.

9.  Gave us a timely reminder of our recent political history, ie. that Jack McConnell was First Minister for five-and-a-half years.  (How did we forget that?)

10.  Transformed Katie Hopkins overnight into a respected columnist.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Corbyn's top priority for internal reform should be changing the nominations system for Labour leadership elections

Some of Stephen Bush's political predictions this year have proved uncannily accurate (admittedly he didn't call the general election correctly but was much closer than most), so we should probably take heed of his claim that Corbynistas are increasingly confident of being able to remain in control of the Labour party for the next decade, and that anti-Corbynistas are increasingly despondent about their chances of averting that fate.  If that's true, the first thought that occurs to me is that it makes an SDP-style split highly likely at some point between now and 2020.  The only reason that Blairites are still rubbishing the idea of a breakaway party is that they're still trying desperately to convince themselves that Corbyn is just a passing nightmare.  To use a Daisley-esque analogy, it's a bit like the Arab reaction immediately after the Six Day War - it's initially hard to believe that something that happened so quickly can possibly have such lasting consequences.  But it only took Mrs Thatcher a couple of weeks to seize control of the Conservative party from Edward Heath, and nothing was ever the same again.  The Tory "wets" eventually accepted that harsh reality, and if the Labour right start to do the same now, it's hard to see how they will reach any other logical conclusion than that their future lies in a different party.  It might take a few years to emotionally reconcile themselves to that logic, however.

The second thought that occurs to me is that Bush's belief that Corbynism is safe depends entirely on Corbyn himself not voluntarily standing down.  He'll be almost 71 by the time of the next general election, so it's hardly inconceivable that a health or stamina issue might crop up.  If he does decide to step aside for any reason, it's far from certain that whoever he anoints as his preferred successor will even get onto the ballot paper in the subsequent leadership election, because he or she would require nominations from 15% of Labour MPs, who won't feel under the same obligation to 'play fair' that they might do if it was a question of renominating Corbyn himself.  So I would have thought the left's most urgent internal reform priority should be to give themselves an insurance policy by changing the nomination system.  Perhaps the most elegant solution would be to allow nominations from constituency parties to be taken into account.

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You might be interested in Alasdair Soussi's article about the Scotland Bill on the Al Jazeera website, which includes quotes from myself, James Mitchell, Paul Cairney, and (brace yourselves) Duncan Hothersall.  You can read it HERE.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

SNP secure 8% swing in bilious Blantyre by-election brawl

Just for once, we have an STV by-election in which the party 'defending' the seat actually won the popular vote in the ward last time around. (So no need for any 'confusion' over at Liberal Democrat Voice or Stormfront Lite.)  Labour have clung on in Blantyre, but as you'd expect their 23% lead over the SNP from 2012 has been slashed.  It's interesting to see that Labour people on Twitter think that this result is "great", "AMAZING", "fantastic", "one hell of a hold", etc, etc - just how low are their expectations these days?

Blantyre by-election result (10th December) :

Labour 47.2% (-7.1)
SNP 39.6% (+9.0)
Conservatives 4.5% (+0.6)
SSP 3.9% (n/a)
Liberal Democrats 2.9% (+2.2)
UKIP 1.9% (n/a)

The SNP of course had a 1% nationwide lead in the 2012 local elections, so an 8% swing in a local by-election is considerably better than an 8% swing at the general election in May would have been.  This is the rough equivalent of a 19% or 20% swing at the general election - which admittedly is lower than the SNP actually achieved in most former Labour heartlands, but is still extremely impressive.

Even though Labour weren't far short of 50% on first preferences, the full five counts were required for their candidate Mo Razzaq to reach the quota.  That means we can see the whole picture of how the smaller parties' votes transferred, and not for the first time Labour have suffered the embarrassment of proving rather popular with Tories.  53 Conservative votes transferred to Labour on the final count, and just 13 to the SNP (107 were non-transferable).  Predictably, SSP votes broke more for the SNP, although not as overwhelmingly as you might think - 55 went to the SNP, 32 to Labour, and an eccentric 1 to the Tories!  UKIP transfers were fairly evenly spread, which will surely be something of a disappointment for the Tories, who would have hoped to capture the lion's share.

Doubtless the #LibDemFightback fantasists will be beside themselves with excitement at quadrupling their vote share and reaching the dizzying heights of 2.9%, but in all likelihood that can be explained by the lack of competition from independent candidates this time (there were two in 2012).  And there's certainly nothing very special about the Tory performance - we normally assume they benefit from differential turnout in local by-elections, so an increase of less than 1% is par for them, at best.

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Alastair Meeks (the artist formerly known as Antifrank) claimed on SL this morning that most of the divergences that the Scottish Government has made from UK government policy over the years have been 'negative' rather than 'positive', and he offered the decision not to introduce tuition fees as an example.  That of course isn't correct - the Labour government at Westminster had already introduced tuition fees on a Britain-wide basis by the time devolution started in July 1999.  The Lib-Lab Scottish Executive had to make a 'positive' decision to replace them with the graduate endowment (with the Lib Dems insulting the intelligence of a generation by insisting that the endowment wasn't a back-end tuition fee, because it "didn't pay for tuition").  The SNP government later made another 'positive' decision to scrap payments altogether.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How to tell if you're a Dalek

I'll keep this very brief because I'm in the middle of a technological apocalypse.  I suppose I always had a vague instinctive understanding that tomato sauce and computer keyboards don't really mix, but now I have the irrefutable proof.

I just wanted to make a passing comment on the notorious Loki article at Bella -

"Yes, you, the morally certain, reactionary branch of the dead Yes campaign...If Scotland is a cheap haircut you are its puritanical fringe...You intend to vote SNP twice next year because you love democracy.  You call the First Minister Nicola.  You think Braveheart is a documentary.  You have The National delivered directly to your ego and you live in a world where the next referendum is always around the corner – should the right crisis occur."

I'll have to plead guilty to at least two of those charges, although oddly enough calling the First Minister Nicola isn't one of them.  I may have done it once or twice, but in general I don't because it just feels wrong somehow.  (Although I do sometimes refer to Kezia Dugdale as "Kezia", so I'm not quite sure what the difference is.)

So, yes, I'm one of the people Loki is referring to, and did you notice how blatant his implication is that simply voting SNP on both ballots is enough to make us fanatics?  I'm not sure that actually understanding how the electoral system works, and realising that the list ballot is not a second preference vote, is something that should trouble our consciences or cause tortured soul-searching in front of the mirror at the dead of night.

You, of course, may reach a different conclusion, but my own view is that as long as you don't think Braveheart is a documentary, you're probably not a Dalek.

Kevin Williamson launched into a partial defence of Loki by claiming it is "FACT" that Nicola Sturgeon will not be proposing a second referendum in the SNP manifesto.  That's a "FACT" of the non-fact variety, because I'm aware of no evidence that there won't - at the very least - be wording in the manifesto that leaves open the possibility of a referendum in the event of Brexit.  Indeed, it would be a contradiction of everything that has been said so far if that isn't the case.

(And I know people are always itching at this point to say "Brexit won't happen", but try to restrain yourselves.  In a two-horse race it's always a good idea to consider the possibility that either horse may win, unless one of those horses is being ridden by John McTernan.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

YouGov subsample suggests Scotland is opposed to bombing Syria

When YouGov produced its dramatic poll on the eve of the Commons vote on Syria showing that support for air strikes had slumped, the fieldwork was impressively bang up to date. So it's rather frustrating that the follow-up poll is based on fieldwork that is several days out of date, and that partly preceded both the vote itself and Hilary Benn's "better than sex" intervention. However, for what it's worth, as of Wednesday and Thursday the scepticism about military action had reached record levels.

Approve or disapprove of air strikes? (Britain-wide)

Approve 44% (-4)
Disapprove 36% (+5)

Among the Scottish subsample, there was a similar swing in opinion, but as support for air strikes had been lower in the first place, that proved sufficient to push 'Disapprove' into a clear lead -

Approve or disapprove of air strikes? (Scottish subsample)

Approve 39% (-5)
Disapprove 45% (+4)

We were all slightly dubious about the political composition of the Scottish subsample in the previous poll, because it looked like there were a little too many Tory voters and far too many UKIP voters. That probably would have led to opposition to military action being underestimated. No voting intention question was asked in the new poll, so there's no way of knowing whether that problem has repeated itself.

In the case of the Iraq conflict in 2003, public opinion suddenly swung in favour of war in the immediate run-up to the Commons vote, and that support (temporarily) became overwhelming once British military action was actually underway.  The first part of that pattern has been clearly broken by this poll, but we'll need polls with later fieldwork to discover whether the second part of the pattern has been broken as well.