Saturday, March 12, 2016

Desperate Dugdale reels in horror as apocalyptic YouGov poll prophesises the end for Scottish Labour

It seems that YouGov are once again ploughing their own furrow - today's new full-scale Scottish poll contradicts much of the narrative from recent TNS, Survation and Ipsos-Mori polls.

Constituency ballot :

SNP 49% (-1)
Conservatives 19% (-1)
Labour 19% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 43% (+1)
Conservatives 19% (-1)
Labour 17% (-3)
Greens 8% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 5% (n/c)
UKIP 4% (+1)

This is the first poll from any firm since the UK general election to show the SNP slipping below 50% on the constituency ballot, and is in sharp contrast to recent polls conducted by other firms which have shown the SNP vote going back up.  If we believe YouGov, the SNP are now performing just 4% better in the constituencies than they did in the 2011 election - when of course they required at least twelve list seats to win an overall majority.  This once again demonstrates the utter folly of assuming that the SNP are guaranteed to win a majority on constituency seats alone, and that the list vote represents some kind of 'free hit' for pro-independence voters.  It's also somewhat troubling to note that the SNP's list vote continues to be lower than the 44% achieved in 2011 - albeit only slightly.

In a sense, YouGov are in line with other pollsters in showing the Tory vote slipping a little.   But the huge difference is that they're also showing the Labour vote slumping on the list at the same time.  The Labour list vote now stands at a scarcely believable 17%, which beats the all-time record low reported by Survation a few weeks ago.  It's also the first time ever that any firm has shown the Tories ahead of Labour on the list - the famous YouGov poll a month ago had the Tories in second place in the constituencies, but only level-pegging with Labour on the list.  This is particularly grim news for Kezia Dugdale, because Labour are likely to be dependent on the list for the vast majority of seats they win.  So if they finish third in terms of list seats, it's fairly probable they'll finish third in terms of overall seats.  However, two crucial points should be borne in mind.  Firstly, polling for the list has tended to be somewhat less accurate than constituency polling over the years.  Secondly, there is now a very clear divergence between different pollsters - as things stand, all firms other than YouGov are showing Labour still fending off the Tories with a few points to spare.  So if I was gambling man, I'd still be betting with a reasonable amount of confidence on Labour finishing second and the Tories finishing third.

YouGov are also a little different from others in what they are saying about the Greens and UKIP.  Although the last Survation poll had both parties higher than we see today, we tended to discount that because the way Survation ask for regional list voting intentions seems to be more than a little suspect, and tends to flatter the smaller parties.  In any case, there was no sign of a recent boost for either the Greens or UKIP in the Survation poll, which in that sense was very much in line with what Ipsos-Mori and TNS have been showing.  YouGov, by contrast, are now putting UKIP on 4% for the first time since 2014, which puts Farage's delightful mob in contention to nick the odd list seat here or there.  The Greens are up to 8% - the first time that any firm other than Survation has had them that high since last summer.  We'll have to see whether that's the start of a trend or just a freakish one-off finding caused by sampling variation.


Constituency ballot :

SNP 53.2% (-0.2)
Labour 20.4% (n/c)
Conservatives 16.2% (-0.2)
Liberal Democrats 5.4% (n/c)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 47.6% (+0.2)
Labour 19.0% (-0.6)
Conservatives 15.6% (-0.2)
Greens 6.8% (+0.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.2% (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 - Panelbase, Survation, YouGov, TNS and Ipsos-Mori. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample.)

Explanatory note : As a fond tribute to the mainstream media's restrained take on the GERS report, Scot Goes Pop headlines will contain 50% added hysteria for an indefinite period.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Question Time : It's Tayside, Jim, but not as we know it

I may have been in a small minority on this point, but I actually thought Question Time's attitude to Scotland in general and to the SNP in particular had improved somewhat over recent months.  We seemed to have moved on from the incredulous reaction a viewer received last spring when he dared to ask why the SNP weren't represented in an edition of the programme recorded in England.  Since then, a compromise seems to have been reached whereby the SNP do regularly feature in English-based episodes, but not every single week - which is perhaps fair enough given the unprecedented situation of Westminster's third-largest party being a Scotland-only outfit.

But as has now been well-documented, last night's show from Dundee was a monumental step backwards, and probably marked an all-time low - it was certainly even worse than the notorious Glasgow episode in 2010.  What escapes me is the mathematical formula or guiding principles that could possibly have resulted in an audience that was so comically unrepresentative of the city, region, and even the nation that the programme was being filmed in.  Were the BBC aiming for an audience that reflected the political views of the UK as a whole, and not of Dundee or Scotland?  Nope, that can't be it, otherwise a small number of SNP supporters would be bussed down to England every week to make up their 5% share of the Question Time audience - and we all know that doesn't happen.  Or perhaps the production team ignored the current state of Scottish public opinion, and simply aimed for a crude four-way split between SNP, Labour, Tory and Lib Dem supporters, with a smattering of Greens and undecideds thrown in?  That's perhaps more plausible, although it's hard to see how it can be justified, because it must have led to a roughly 65-70% anti-independence majority among the audience in a city that actually voted Yes to independence by a wide margin.  It wouldn't have been so bad if the discussion hadn't related to independence, but it clearly did to a significant extent.  And isn't it fascinating that the artificial quota for each party could seemingly only be reached by bringing in loads of people from far outwith the Dundee area, and indeed from far outwith Scotland?

It's also worth amplifying a point made by RevStu earlier - David Dimbleby's claim during the programme that everyone had known at the time of the indyref than an in/out EU referendum was on its way is a piece of utter nonsense.  Very few commentators anticipated an outright Conservative majority, which meant the odds actually seemed to be against an EU referendum - it wasn't going to happen if there was any form of Labour-led government, and whether it happened under a Tory-led government was expected to depend in large part upon the negotiating stance of the Liberal Democrats.  But even if it was true that an EU referendum had looked certain eighteen months ago, that would still miss the whole point.  The Better Together campaign claimed explicitly that only a No vote was a vote for continued EU membership - and they did that in spite of their knowledge that there was a very realistic scenario which could lead to Scotland being swiftly forced out of the EU against its will if it voted No.  In a nutshell, the No vote was won under false pretences - and the London media were complicit in that, because they failed to challenge a very obvious deception.  If the likes of Dimbleby had hounded the Tories over the contradiction of planning for an in/out EU vote at the same time they were inviting Scotland to vote No as the only way of guaranteeing EU membership, he might now have a point in saying that the Scottish people shouldn't be surprised by how things have panned out.  But he didn't, so he doesn't.

*  *  *

Without much fanfare, there was a huge moment in the EU referendum campaign earlier this week.  YouGov's recent batch of polling had seemed to indicate a significant swing towards Remain - so I was waiting with bated breath to see if the weekly ICM poll picked up the same trend.  In fact, it went in completely the opposite direction, and showed a Leave lead for only the second time.  That's unlikely to be a freak finding, because last week's poll was very similar (it was a dead heat).

If all of the online pollsters had agreed with YouGov, it might have started to look like the writing was on the on the wall for Leave - but instead the waters have been muddied further.  ICM, often regarded as the "gold standard" of UK polling companies, has simply swapped places with YouGov as the more Leave-friendly firm.  Why that has suddenly happened is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, a new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov suggests that the Remain lead north of the border has dropped sharply from 27 points to 17 points over the last month, which seems thoroughly counterintuitive given that the same firm has shown the opposite trend across Great Britain.  Support for independence is unchanged at 46% - which makes it more likely that the modest drop in the Yes vote in the last YouGov poll wasn't a fluke.  The most recent poll from Scotland's only regular telephone pollster (Ipsos-Mori) also showed slippage in the Yes vote - but still showed Yes in the lead.  So we're no closer to knowing whether there is currently a narrow pro-independence majority, or a narrow anti-independence majority - it depends on the data collection method, and perhaps on other aspects of polling methodology.


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


Remain 45.9% (+0.1)
Leave 38.6% (n/c)


Remain 40.9% (+0.2)
Leave 39.8% (n/c)


Remain 50.8% (n/c)
Leave 37.3% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls takes account of all polls that were conducted at least partly within the last month. The online average is based on twelve polls - five from YouGov, four from ICM, one from ORB, one from BMG and one from TNS. The telephone average is based on four polls - two from ComRes, one from Ipsos-Mori and one from Survation.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Another harrowing evening for the British establishment as their crackpot plans for Sunday slavery are left in tatters after noble Nat intervention

The result of the Commons vote on the anti-Sunday trading amendment...

Ayes (against extended Sunday trading) : 317 
Noes (in favour of extended Sunday trading) : 286

Although the SNP have effectively forced several U-turns on flagship Tory policies since last year's general election, this is the first time the SNP and Labour have successfully combined to inflict a major defeat on the government on the floor of the House of Commons.  It's bound to cause a bit of a re-evaluation of the idea that the Tories' narrow majority win in the general election headed off the unspeakable horrors of the SNP having some influence over English affairs in this glorious "United" Kingdom of ours.

Explanatory note : As a fond tribute to the mainstream media's restrained take on the GERS report, Scot Goes Pop headlines will contain 50% added hysteria for an indefinite period.

"Virtually no chance..."

Speaking as a Bernie Sanders voter (and not wanting to pull rank on anyone, but I've now voted for him four times in various elections), I'm obviously delighted that America's only socialist senator managed to pull off a win against all the odds in Michigan.  The most important thing is that it keeps him in with some kind of slim chance of winning the Democratic nomination, but there's another aspect of the story that we shouldn't lose sight of.  Have a look at the verdict FiveThirtyEight were offering just a few hours ago...

"According to our final polls-plus forecast, Hillary Clinton has a greater than 99% chance of winning the Michigan primary."

Even more embarrassingly, the site's live-blog was still talking about how boring the evening was and how Clinton was cruising to victory when over a third of precincts were already reporting and she was trailing by thousands of votes.  Just what does it take for the alarm bells to start ringing?

It might be worth bearing this latest howler in mind the next time that Nate Silver or one of his fellow 'mystics' blunder into another country's referendum campaign, and ludicrously declare with over a year still to go that there is "virtually no chance" that one side or another is going to win.  Once they can get their predictions right on home soil with just hours to go, perhaps they can branch out into the much trickier long-term foreign stuff, but they're clearly not there yet.  OK, Silver can claim that he wasn't technically proved wrong about Scotland, but given what we know about how the indyref campaign panned out in the closing weeks and months, it's very difficult to see how he can credibly justify such an extreme statement with the benefit of hindsight.

Uncertainty may be scary to a stats guy, but that's the world we live in.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How will the Greens' inclusion in the TV debates affect the other parties?

Although inclusive leaders' debates are undoubtedly the fairest outcome, I can't help feeling that the broadcasters have copped out somewhat. Past precedents and the logic that previously justified those precedents should have led us to three-cornered (and indeed all-female) debates this year between Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson. Willie Rennie should have been excluded because the Liberal Democrats have fewer MSPs than the Greens did going into the 2007 election, when Robin Harper didn't receive an invitation to the debates. The Liberal Democrats also received a lower percentage of the list vote in 2011 than the Greens did in 2003. Rennie can't even pray in aid his party's results in recent non-Holyrood elections, because they were reduced to fringe party status in the 2012 local elections and the 2015 UK general election, and were completely wiped out in the 2014 European Parliament elections. Nor is it the case that one solitary Westminster MP is some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card - if it was, George Galloway would have been involved in the UK debates last year.

Consciously or unconsciously, I would guess what's happened here is that the broadcasters couldn't even conceive of excluding the Lib Dems, so they've brought the Greens in to give themselves cover for what would otherwise be the unjustifiable presence of Rennie. If the Lib Dems' support hadn't collapsed, we'd be looking at the traditional four-way debates and Patrick Harvie wouldn't have had any hope of a look-in. You might think that what we've ended up with is the right outcome and it doesn't really matter how we got here, but I'd say it does - there has to be some kind of objective criteria for inclusion and exclusion. The starting-point can't be "party X has to be included, no matter how little support they have, so we'll shape the rules to justify that outcome". Nor can it be (as it was in 2010) : "party X has to be excluded, no matter how popular they are". If the Greens have earned a place as of right in the 2016 debates, they must have more than earned a place in the 2007 debates - so where were they? If, on the other hand, the Greens fell short of the threshold in 2007, then both the Lib Dems and the Greens must have fallen even further short of the threshold this time - so what are Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie doing there?

For better or worse, though, Harvie has secured his place, and that could have an impact on the prospects of the other parties. Here's how I think it could work out...

SNP : Bad news. Nicola Sturgeon could well need list seats to retain her overall majority, and she'll be fishing in the same pond as the Greens for some of her list votes.

Labour : Bad news. Labour are going to be mostly (perhaps even totally) dependent on list seats for their representation, so even if they lose fewer left-wing votes to the Greens than the SNP do, it could actually cost them a greater number of seats.

Conservatives : Unclear, but possibly good news. There are only so many list seats available, so a good Green showing could in theory harm the Tories. But it could also help them relative to Labour's performance, which may be all they really care about at this stage.

Liberal Democrats : Bad news. It's completely irrational, because the Lib Dems and Greens don't have a huge amount in common, but the same type of voter often seems to be attracted to both parties. The Lib Dems' status as the fourth-largest party could therefore be seriously threatened by Patrick Harvie being seen to be on an equal footing with Willie Rennie.

RISE and Solidarity : Unmitigated disaster. Harvie's inclusion will make the Greens look like the only credible radical left option on the list.

Having said all that, there's no guarantee that the Greens will actually make a telling breakthrough on the back of this. It's hard to see that Natalie Bennett's inclusion in the UK debates last year helped the Greens all that much. This is a golden opportunity for Patrick Harvie, but no more than that for now - it remains to be seen whether he will take full advantage of it.

* * *

Is our old friend Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson the least self-aware political commentator in Britain? He returned to a familiar theme today -

"The Corbynistas are more than ready to use the term “Red Tories” to describe those in their party who oppose them. This is bull***t. The real Red Tories are those whose actions will lead to another Conservative majority and they are, of course the followers of Corbyn and McDonnell."

Smithson, of course, is the man who penned a rare editorial in May 2010 begging his party (the Lib Dems) to go into coalition with the Tories, in order to avoid the terrible "mistake" of keeping Labour in power. Well, they successfully avoided that "mistake", and were rewarded with near-extinction five years later. Yeah, Mike, with a track record like that, good luck with your efforts to brand Labour's most left-wing leadership in history as "the real Red Tories".

Would it be terribly unkind of me to point out that it was the Labour right that lost the last two elections to the Tories, not the Labour left? And if the heirs to Blair and Brown couldn't even "be arsed" (to use Smithson's favourite phrase) to put up a remotely credible candidate for leader after last year's defeat, that's ultimately their own responsibility, not Jeremy Corbyn's. It's occurred to me more than once that Bernie Sanders' biggest problem at the moment is that he isn't running against Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Will Europe make a "big and generous offer" to Scotland in the event of Brexit?

It's been a long time since I last braved the unparallelled horrors of the comments section at Stormfront Lite, but for some reason I decided to do so today.  I happened to stumble across this comment from "Charles", which I thought might be worth bringing to the attention of a wider audience...

"Just had a very amusing conversation with my man in France.

The French are spitting with how Cameron f**ked up the negotiations. They wanted him to propose something sensible that worked for everyone - on immigration, on benefits and everything else. They would have then ganged up on Germany and delivered it.

But Cameron went for the "I'm alright, Jack, approach" and tried to wing the whole thing. Result - in their view - is there is a real chance that Brexit may happen. (But he confirmed that they will make a big and generous offer to Scotland.)"

SL has always had more than its fair share of out-and-out fantasists, so I've no idea if this chap really does have "a man" in the upper reaches of the French government or civil service. But his account certainly has the ring of truth to it. Keeping the lesser-populated northern third of the island of Great Britain within the EU would clearly only be a consolation prize, but I suspect it's one that European governments (with the obvious exception of Spain) might well be interested in chasing if all else fails. It would arguably steady the ship slightly at a moment of maximum danger for the European project. Could an independent Scotland be offered a fast-track to membership, and perhaps even the chance of inheriting the UK's opt-outs?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

New podcast

Just a quick note to let you know that myself and Carolyn Scott are the guests on this week's edition of the Newsnet Scotland podcast, presented by Derek Bateman.  Topics discussed include council tax reform, the EU referendum, the Scottish Tories' rapidly fading hopes of replacing Labour as the largest opposition party, and the future of the Liberal Democrats.  You can listen to the podcast HERE.