Saturday, May 14, 2016

Eurovision 2016 : prediction for Saturday's grand final

Well, this is all getting rather uncanny - I correctly predicted all ten qualifiers from the second semi-final, after getting the first one mostly right as well.  I'm bound to come a cropper at the final hurdle, but here goes anyway.

The majority of hot favourites at the Eurovision end up winning, but some narrowly fall short, and a significant minority end up on the bottom half of the scoreboard (as happened to France in 2011, for example).  I don't think the latter fate will befall the Russian song this year, but I do think it's a relatively weak favourite by recent standards.  For all the similarities to the winner from twelve months ago, it's formulaic and derivative where its predecessor was fresh and creative.  I find it hard to believe that the juries will place it top, so the big question is whether it'll at least be in the game at the end of jury voting.  If it's in the top three at that point, there must be a very good chance that the pro-Russian bloc in the televoting will push it to victory.  In fact, here's a betting tip, if you're that way inclined - if by any chance the juries do have Russia in first place, pretty much any in-play odds on Russia to win would be worth taking, because it'll be about as close to free money as you'll ever get.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Russia may take a real pounding with the juries, in which case the song favoured by the juries would probably only need to finish second in the televoting to be guaranteed of victory.  The snag is, though, that jury voting is much harder to read in advance than televoting, and so it's hard to know for sure which song is most likely to emerge from the pack.  All I can say is that my own view after watching the semi-finals (and also some of the rehearsal footage) is that Australia have the strongest song in the contest, and they definitely have the finest singer.  So logically I have to conclude that the juries would be most likely to plump for Australia, a song which I also think could do reasonably well in the televoting.  Without an enormous amount of conviction, then, I'm predicting an Australian victory.

One obvious problem with trying to work out whether the conventional wisdom overestimates or underestimates a song's chances is that personal taste can interfere with the radar.  In this case, my instinct is that France, Ukraine and Sweden have been overestimated and that Belgium, Malta and Bulgaria have been slightly underestimated.  But I watched the whole of the Melodifestivalen final and was baffled by the winner, so it could be that I'm missing something about the Swedish song that most other people can see.  Perhaps I'll be surprised again, but I'm going to stick with my gut feeling and say that it'll be outside the top five.  I'm more confident in predicting that France will fall short of expectations - I like the song a lot, but I just don't see anything at all in it that will make it stand out.  It's the sort of entry that has finished a routine fifteenth in previous contests, so I'm not quite sure what all the fuss has been about.

My initial feeling after Thursday's semi was that Belgium might be headed for the top three, but their hopes have taken a slight hit after being placed right at the start of the running-order.  But first is better than second, and it's so different from everything that'll come afterwards that people will probably still remember it by the end of the show.  Conversely, the Maltese song won't stand out as much, but it's extremely well performed and has an enviable draw.  I expect Bulgaria to be in the mix because the juries will probably recognise its quality - I'm not so sure how it will fare with the public, though.

So this is my best guess as to how it will shake out -

Winners : Australia (Sound of Silence - Dami Im)
2nd : Russia (You Are the Only One - Sergey Lazarev)
3rd : Malta (Walk on Water - Ira Losco)
4th : Belgium (What's the Pressure - Laura Tesoro)
5th : Bulgaria (If Love Was a Crime - Poli Genova)

Possible dark horses : Israel, Netherlands, Italy

If Australia do win, in one sense it'll be great for the contest, because musical quality will have unexpectedly won out over the do-it-by-numbers approach.  But in another sense it'll be a bad outcome, because it'll draw attention to the fact that the contest's status as a European event has been hopelessly undermined over the last couple of years.  I haven't bothered to check this year's rules in relation to Australia, but I presume it's still the case that if they win, they won't be allowed to host the contest next year, and will instead have to pick a European country to 'partner' with.  That may be the UK's only hope of hosting the Eurovision in the foreseeable future, although I have a feeling Australia might want to avoid any impression of mutual Anglo-Saxon back-scratching, and would go for a more left-field choice instead.

By the way, I'll be voting for Austria.  The decision has been made for me.  I have a personal rule that I only vote for songs performed entirely in a language other in English, and Austria is literally the only one left!

Friday, May 13, 2016

James Mackenzie : "As I correctly wait..."

You've got to hand it to the Greens' former PR man James Mackenzie, he's brazen if nothing else.  He's updated his Better Nation blog for only the second time since October (so it's probably safe to say that something is really bugging him), and his main aim seems to be to convince us all that his pre-election "predictions" about wasted SNP list votes were not in fact the cynically misleading propaganda claims that the election result demonstrated them to be, but were somehow proved accurate.  Specifically, he prays in aid this tweet about the final Ipsos-Mori poll of the campaign in late April -

"And, as with previous polls, this would see the SNP win list seats only in Highlands and Islands and South."

Which, of course, sounds uncannily accurate unless you bother to take the obvious step of checking what came before the "and"...

"The three questions for this election would be answered thus: another SNP majority, Tories beating Labour, Greens beating Lib Dems."

Ah.  I see.  So the whole basis for Mackenzie's "prediction" that the SNP would not win list seats in six out of eight regions was that they would win an overall majority on constituency seats alone.  To state the bleedin' obvious, that isn't even close to what actually happened.  In reality, the SNP fell well short of winning 65 constituency seats - but they would have been compensated for that on the list if their share of the list vote had help up.  Instead, it fell.  With 44% of the list vote in 2011, the SNP were topped up with list seats until they reached 69 seats overall.  With 42% of the list vote in 2016, they were only topped up to 63 seats - two short of a majority.  That small drop made a big difference.  And why did it happen?  Ooooh, we can only speculate, but one obvious possibility is the sustained propaganda campaign (from the Greens, RISE, Solidarity, and parts of both the mainstream and alternative media) that sought to persuade people that SNP list votes would be wasted no matter how many of them there were.

Mackenzie can huff and puff about "correctly predicting" that the SNP would fail to win list seats in six out of eight regions, but the reality is that this was an aim successfully realised, not a passive prediction.  None of us ever said that the SNP would win a barrel-load of list seats if there weren't enough SNP list votes.  The whole point we were making is that there was a path to an SNP overall majority, even without 65 constituency seats - but only if enough people voted SNP on the list.  A comparison between the 2011 and 2016 results demonstrates that point to be indisputably true.  Mackenzie and others used the false claims about the voting system to successfully reduce the SNP list vote and to strip Nicola Sturgeon of her overall majority.  No-one can doubt that he's extremely pleased about doing that, because it was in his own party's best interests, but is he proud of misleading people to get what he wanted?  I suspect he probably is, actually.  For an ideological zealot like Mackenzie (I've never come across anyone else quite like him in Scottish politics), the end often justifies the means.

Elsewhere, he completely misrepresents the concerns that have been raised about the Edinburgh Central result -

"There’s been a moderate amount of mumping and moaning from the wilder fringes of Nat-dom online about the Greens’ candidacy in Edinburgh Central. Those were our 4,644 votes, they say, and we’d have held Central if the Greens hadn’t stood the wonderful Alison Johnstone."

Sorry, but who the hell has been saying that the Greens' votes in Edinburgh Central were "ours"? The only claim I've heard anyone make is one that is, again, utterly indisputable - that if the Greens had followed exactly the same practice in Edinburgh Central that they did in virtually every other constituency in Scotland, Ruth Davidson would not have been elected a constituency MSP (thus depriving the Tories of a propaganda coup), and the SNP would have been only one seat short of a majority, not two. And as it happens, we wouldn't have been deprived of Alison Johnstone's "wonderfulness" anyway, because she would still have been elected on the list. It was perfectly legitimate for the Greens to stand a candidate wherever they liked and for whatever reason they liked, but it's a cop-out for them not to acknowledge that the decision to stand in that particular constituency has had certain consequences for the pro-independence movement. Perhaps they feel that an election is every man or woman for themselves, and every party for itself - but if they do feel that, why did they spend so much time lecturing SNP voters about putting the movement first by switching to a different party on the list? They really can't have it both ways.

Incidentally, don't even bother to alert Mackenzie to this blogpost.  He won't address the substance of what I've said - he'll just boast that he isn't going to read it, but then still attempt to delegitimise it as the ramblings of a "misogynistic Wings-loving tube/zoomer/rocket". If you've ever wondered why dyed-in-the-wool left-wingers like myself would think twice about voting Green even if the SNP didn't exist, look no further than the abusive Mr Mackenzie.

*  *  *

UPDATE : In the comments section below, someone has objected to the notion that the RISE/Solidarity end of the propaganda campaign could possibly have contributed to the loss of the SNP's majority, because RISE and Solidarity "didn't actually receive any votes".  This is another myth that needs to be knocked on the head.  As poorly as they performed, those two parties in combination received 1.1% of the list vote - up from 0.6% five years ago.  The SNP's list vote only fell by 2.3%, so the vote-splitting message from the radical left can conceivably explain a fair chunk of that drop.

*  *  *

Kezia Dugdale has called upon the SNP to make a positive case for remaining in Europe, instead of complaining about the UK government making a negative case.  Today I'm calling on Kezia Dugdale to make a positive case about why the SNP are bad, rather than complaining about the SNP's complaints.

*  *  *

There's talk that the Leave campaign are deeply unhappy that Nigel Farage has been invited to put the anti-EU case in two high-profile TV debates, and that's entirely understandable.  Even when George Galloway took part in the indyref debate in the Hydro and made the fraudulent promise of "Devo Super Max" if Scotland voted No, he did so (incredibly) as the official nominated representative of Better Together.  So it does seem odd that the designated Leave campaign can't choose its own spokespeople for the most important debates.  But what I find most interesting is Farage's own motivation for taking up the invites.  It must be one of two things - either a) he doesn't care about losing the referendum as long as his own profile is boosted, or b) he genuinely doesn't have enough self-awareness to realise that Leave is less likely to win if he refuses to take a back seat.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Eurovision 2016 : Prediction for Thursday's semi-final

After my success in correctly predicting nine out of ten qualifiers in the first semi, let's see how spectacularly I can fall from grace in round two.  Here are the ten countries I think will make it through tonight...


I couldn't make up my mind between Georgia, FYR Macedonia and Norway for the final spot.  I almost plumped for FYR Macedonia on the basis that they usually get through even when their song isn't up to much, but then I realised that they don't really have many neighbours voting tonight - just Serbia and Albania (although admittedly that could still make all the difference).

Once again, I'll be looking out for a live performance strong enough to challenge Russia in the grand final.  The only one that leapt out at me as a possibility on Tuesday night was Malta (and you can guarantee Ira Losco will wangle a few bonus votes from being a) pregnant and b) the girl who was robbed in 2002).

The pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament has just increased to 69-59

The Presiding Officer doesn't have a vote in the Scottish Parliament (except in the event of a tie, when he or she is expected to vote in line with certain conventions), so the news that all five candidates for the post are MSPs from unionist parties automatically changes the arithmetic.  It now works out as...

Pro-independence parties : 69 seats
Anti-independence parties : 59 seats


SNP Government : 63 seats
Opposition parties : 65 seats


And if, as everyone now seems to expect, Labour MSP Ken Macintosh gets the job, the once-mighty Labour will be left with just under 18% of the votes in the parliament.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Come on, Ruth, make our day

Elections for the Scottish Parliament's nominee as First Minister are rarely the most riveting of affairs - they generally just rubber-stamp a decision that has already been predetermined by how the electorate voted, and/or by coalition negotiations.  (A rare exception was the 2007 contest between Alex Salmond and Jack McConnell, when the arithmetic was so tight that there were genuine concerns that McConnell might somehow get elected by accident.)  But they do tend to receive coverage from the TV networks, if only for form's sake, so I think it would be rather helpful if Ruth Davidson makes a vanity bid for the top job - just as she did eighteen months ago.  If she does stand, she'll be very visibly and heavily defeated by Nicola Sturgeon by 63 votes to 31, and that might finally hammer home the message that the actual result of last week's election didn't bear much resemblance to the media narrative - there was a very clear winner, even if the cameras were pointing elsewhere.

It would also helpfully demonstrate that we haven't ended up with a single-party SNP government "in spite" of the election result.  In parliamentary systems, the voters elect the parliament and the parliament chooses the government, and so you simply can't have an SNP government without the SNP winning an election.  In the Holyrood system, even individual ministers need to have their appointments ratified by the elected parliament, so the SNP's mandate to govern alone is going to be absolutely impeccable.  Just as the bluster about "no mandate to hold a referendum" has no basis in law or in constitutional convention, there is also no legal or constitutional distinction whatever between a single-party majority government and a single-party minority government, except perhaps in the fevered imaginings of Jeremy Purvis.  Both have been given a mandate to govern by the elected parliament.  Indeed, past precedents at Westminster demonstrate that strong minority governments sometimes find it easier to get their business through than weak majority governments with a rebel wing.  John Major's greatest problems came between 1992 and 1994 when he still had a majority - by the time he'd lost it in 1996-97, he was winning almost all votes with a bit to spare thanks to an informal understanding with David Trimble, who was elected Ulster Unionist leader in 1995.

Let's just make a direct comparison between Nicola Sturgeon's and David Cameron's respective mandates...

Popular vote :

UK Conservative government : 36.9%

Scottish SNP government : 46.5% (constituency ballot), 41.7% (list ballot)

Was the government elected?

UK Conservative government : NO - Prime Minister appointed by Queen, all other ministers appointed by Prime Minister without parliamentary ratification.

Scottish SNP government : YES - First Minister directly elected by parliament, all other ministerial appointments subject to parliamentary ratification.

From any logical point of view, therefore, it ought to be impossible for the Tories to challenge the Scottish Government's mandate to do anything - including to hold a second independence referendum - without everyone bursting out laughing.  If Nicola Sturgeon doesn't have a mandate to act, then David Cameron most certainly doesn't.  A couple of MPs were pointing out on Twitter last night that the SNP actually have a stronger mandate than any other lead party in government in the whole of western Europe, including the Tories and Angela Merkel's CDU.  I haven't trawled through the ocean of figures to double-check that claim, but it sounds eminently plausible, because it's very rare for a single party to get 46.5% of the vote in a proportional system (in fact it's pretty rare in a majoritarian system as well).

These points are so unanswerable that you can begin to understand why there's been such a determined effort from the unionist media to establish the narrative that the SNP somehow didn't 'really' win the election.  They're hoping that people will just accept that as a fact and view anything that happens from this point on (for example any attempt by Westminster to block an independence referendum) through that ludicrously distorted lens.  It's up to us to get the real facts out there, because no-one is going to do it for us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Eurovision 2016 : Prediction for Tuesday's semi-final

I'm very late in the day with this annual ritual, so it'll have to be a bare-bones prediction.  Here are the ten countries I think will make it through tonight...

Czech Republic

Probably Austria is the most doubtful of those ten, but I certainly hope it sneaks through for the sake of variety - it's one of only three songs tonight either wholly or partly in a language other than English.  (It's in French, strangely enough.)

It'll be interesting to see how all of the entries come across on screen, but at the moment I'm struggling to see past Russia as the overall winner of the contest.  Some people think France are in with a shout, but as much as I like that song, it reminds me of entries that have finished well outside the top ten in the past.  It's pleasant, but it doesn't jump out of the screen and demand attention.

Blushes all round for clueless Tories as it emerges that there WILL be a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament for a second independence referendum in the event of Brexit

I wouldn't actually recommend visiting Conservative Home, but what you'd see if you did is the bizarre spectacle of Tory bloggers and commentators furiously agreeing with each other that Scotland "voted against a second referendum" last Thursday.  It may seem decidedly odd that we did this by electing a second consecutive pro-independence majority, and by re-electing the SNP government for an unprecedented third consecutive term in office, but apparently we made our views known by means of a special code that only Tories can decipher.  You'll also be intrigued to learn that the most important effect of this cunningly disguised 'decision' is that the mass army of Scottish Brexiteers who have just been pretending to be Remain voters to keep our beloved United Kingdom together will now feel safe enough to follow their hearts, and the huge Remain lead in Scotland will pretty much vanish overnight.

Hmmmm.  I'm sorry to have to acquaint these people with the real world, but the Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie has now been quoted as saying that his party would vote in favour of any SNP plan for a second independence referendum in the event of Brexit.  So we can forget all the hypothesising about how the arithmetic would work out if the Greens abstain, or whatever - we now know for sure that any post-Brexit proposal for an independence referendum would be passed by the Scottish Parliament by either 69 votes to 59, or 68 votes to 60 (depending on which party supplies the Presiding Officer).  In other words, absolutely nothing has changed over the last week - we have a pro-independence parliament, and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

To coin a phrase, I wonder if the Tory commentariat have a "Plan B"?

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Meow of Middle Scotland

As we've discussed a number of times now, the main reason the SNP fell just short of a second overall majority is that their vote went up on the constituency ballot, but down on the list ballot - and ultimately it's the list that decides the overall composition of parliament.  But the SNP weren't the only party to suffer disproportionately on the list .  It shouldn't be forgotten that Labour actually narrowly defeated the Tories in the popular vote on the constituency ballot, before taking a big hit on the list.

Constituency ballot :

Labour 22.6%
Conservatives 22.0%

Regional list ballot :

Labour 19.1%
Conservatives 22.9%

In past elections, we might have assumed that Labour's 3.5% drop from one ballot to the other could be explained by voters drifting off to other left-of-centre parties on the list.  But that doesn't fully make sense in this case, because support for the two radical socialist parties was negligible, and the Green vote was only up by 2.2% - much of which can presumably already be accounted for by the drop in the SNP's list support.

On the face of it, the most logical alternative explanation is that a significant number of Labour constituency voters switched to the Tories on the list.  That would certainly help to explain why the Tories' list support was 1% higher on the list than on the constituency ballot - a counterintuitive outcome when you consider that they must have lost some votes on the list to UKIP, and other assorted fringe right-wing nutjob outfits.  This doesn't necessarily mean that Labour constituency voters misunderstood the system and gave their more important vote to their second preference party - it could be that these were people who preferred the Tories anyway, but were giving a tactical constituency vote to Labour in the vast swathes of Scotland where the Tories and Lib Dems are also-rans.

The huge Labour-to-Tory swings in many SNP/Labour battleground seats may superficially appear to disprove that theory, but that's not really the case - some of the tactical voting for Labour may have been going on under the radar, meaning that the swing would have been even bigger without it.

Incidentally, we've heard quite a bit in recent days about "the roar of Middle Scotland".  Assuming that the representatives of "Middle Scotland" are the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, it should be noted that those three parties in combination won 60 seats - which is just three more than the 57 they won five years ago.  Nobody would deny that represents a modest recovery from an all-time low, but a "roar"?  Hmmm.  Maybe more of a meow.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The tactical voting lobby were proved comprehensively wrong on almost every point on Thursday night - and yet they're still in denial

Apologies for returning to the topic of the "tactical voting on the list" fiasco yet again, but I am absolutely flabbergasted at the rubbish that is still being written about it.  Almost all of the things that we warned could go wrong with the grand scheme did go wrong on Thursday night, and yet still the tactical voting lobby brazen it out, insisting that "wasted SNP list votes" were somehow the real problem in this election.  (Exactly how fewer SNP votes could have solved the problem of the SNP falling short of a majority is a bit of a mystery, but don't hold your breath for an explanation.)

It really is both the ultimate circular argument, and the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.  First they tell prospective SNP list voters that their votes are going to be "wasted" and they should vote for a different party instead.  Some people heed that advice, and as a result the SNP list vote drops, and the party doesn't have enough votes for a list seat in six out of eight regions (compared to just one out of eight in the 2011 election).  Then they say : "You see?  We told you SNP list votes would be wasted!"  Shameless, or what?

I mean, do they think the sixteen list seats that carried the SNP to an overall majority in 2011 were magicked out of thin air by pixies?  Seriously, guys, the SNP won those seats because more people voted for them on the list in 2011.  This isn't rocket science.

Here's what STV's online election reporter Dan Vevers (who openly admits that he is glad the SNP failed to win a majority) had to say on Twitter earlier today -

"If 7% of SNP voters had gone Green, the Greens would have been five seats behind Tories on 14...With this swing, Greens would have had 74% of the Tory number of seats with only 60% of its regional vote...If someone really wanted to light a match in a powderkeg, one might even say both votes SNP ensured the Conservative surge...Where pro-union folk voted smartly to maximise Unionist voices in Parliament, the evidence suggests pro-indy people did the opposite."

Just HOW many times does the bleedin' obvious have to be pointed out to people - that tactical voting is often relatively easy, risk-free and effective in single-member constituency elections, but is virtually impossible on the list.  This was exactly the problem that the SNP and the broader pro-independence movement faced in this election - that attempts at unionist tactical voting were going to take place almost exclusively on the constituency ballot, where it was potentially going to prove highly effective, and that attempts at pro-indy tactical voting were going to take place almost exclusively on the list ballot, where it had every chance of backfiring.  Ironically, one of the major reasons for the risk of it backfiring is precisely that people were failing to take into account the potential for successful anti-SNP tactical voting in the constituencies.  I'm in no way being wise after the event on this point - I said it a number of times during my debate with Tommy Sheridan in February, for example.

To cast an effective tactical vote in a single-member constituency election, you only need to know one thing in advance with a high level of confidence - and that's who the top two candidates in the constituency will be.  In some cases, it's not possible to know that, either because there was a virtual tie for second-place last time around, or because public opinion has shifted dramatically since the last election.  But in many, many constituencies on Thursday, it was the easiest thing in the world for unionist voters to identify that the top two parties in their constituency would be the SNP and a specific unionist party.  So all that Tories in North-East Fife or Edinburgh Western had to do was vote Liberal Democrat, and they knew that one of two things would happen - either a) the SNP would lose and the objective would be accomplished, or b) the SNP would win and the unionist position would be no worse than it otherwise would have been.  In other words, tactical voting in constituencies generally either works or has no effect - but it very rarely backfires.

In contrast, think about the sheer number of things an SNP supporter in Glasgow would have had to know for sure in advance before he or she could have cast a risk-free and effective tactical vote on the list -

* That the SNP were definitely going to win all nine constituency seats.  (And yeah, yeah, "everyone knew" that they were going to manage that, but then everyone knew the SNP were going to win Dumbarton - until they didn't.)

* That the effective target for the SNP to win a list seat after winning all of the constituencies would be as high as 59.5% of the vote.  (It could easily have been significantly lower than that, depending on how the list votes divided between the other parties.)

* That the SNP had no chance of getting close to 59.5% of the list vote.  (And really the tactical voting lobby can't have it both ways on this point - if their whole argument rested upon the SNP being so all-conquering in Glasgow that there was no risk of the party failing to take a clean sweep of constituencies, it's not immediately apparent why a 50%+ list vote should have been considered such an impossible target.)

* That Solidarity were going to fall well short of the threshold for a list seat.  (Without knowing this, there would have been no way of knowing that a tactical vote for Solidarity would be completely wasted and that the Greens might be a better bet.)

* That the Greens didn't have enough support for a second list seat without the assistance of tactical voters.  (The point here is that if the Greens already had enough support anyway, tactical votes for them would have been completely wasted, because the d'Hondt formula would already have divided their vote by three and they would have had no realistic prospect of a third seat.)

Tell me, Dan, how the hell was anyone supposed to know all of that?  This has got nothing to do with unionist voters being "smarter" than us, it's simply about the fact that none of us actually possess psychic powers.

Meanwhile, Juliet Swann, once of the Electoral Reform Society, made my jaw drop to the floor with these tweets -

"a few thousand votes switched from Greens to SNP OR VICE VERSA could have influenced seats... BUT so could any other combo of any other party's votes. The fact is we have multiple parties & people voted 4 them...cannae vote tactically in AMS ;-)"

Juliet, who I met last year and is a very nice person, has by all accounts been going around over the last few months with her trusty set of graphs, giving talks to pro-indy groups with the aim of persuading them that SNP list votes would be "wasted" and that they should vote for a smaller party instead. When you've been doing that sort of thing quite openly, it does seem incredibly disingenuous to turn around after the event and innocently say "there was a choice of parties and people made their own choice, tactical voting is impossible, so nothing to do with me, guv". If you've made an intervention and changed people's votes, for heaven's sake take ownership of that intervention, and either apologise for it or stand by it.

Oh, and as for Kevin Williamson's claim that he should be forgiven for saying that the SNP were absolutely certain to win a majority on constituency seats alone because he couldn't possibly have known that Nicola Sturgeon would pose with a copy of the Sun and lose some of her voters...give me a break.  If you want to say fatuous things like that, no-one can stop you, but just don't expect to be taken seriously on this topic when you have another bash in five years' time.