Friday, August 19, 2016

In vain I have struggled. It will not do.

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website, which allows me to fulfill a lifetime ambition by mentioning Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in a piece about a progressive alliance between Labour and the SNP.  (We're Elizabeth, obviously.)  You can read it HERE.

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Fundraiser update : Thank you for your amazing support since I started promoting last year's fundraiser again, which remains open for donations because it's in the 'In Demand' phase.  Around £1600 has been raised since Monday.  I'm relieved to say the problem with Paypal has been resolved much more quickly than I feared, so it's now possible to contribute by either Paypal or credit/debit card.  You can visit the fundraiser page HERE.  To make a donation during 'In Demand', simply click on one of the 'perk' options - if the exact amount you want to donate isn't listed, select the £10 perk and the next page will allow you to customise the donation.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The best time to hold a second independence referendum is while there is still a pro-independence majority at Holyrood to make it possible

Iain Macwhirter had a piece in the Sunday Herald yesterday arguing that Nicola Sturgeon won't and shouldn't hold a second independence referendum for several years (2021 at the absolute earliest), because there needs to be much greater clarity about what Brexit will actually look like before pulling the trigger.  Now, as you know, I'm inclined to favour a much earlier vote (not necessarily next week, but perhaps some time between next year and 2019), and that's mainly because I worry about the momentum we built up in 2014 gradually evaporating.  I certainly don't subscribe to the 'demographic inevitability' theory - if we sit around twiddling our thumbs, waiting for a glacial shift in public opinion towards Yes, I suspect we'll get a nasty shock and see a less-than-glacial shift towards No.  But whenever you think the right time is, it's worth bearing in mind that this is a discussion about fantasy politics unless you can be sure that there will actually be a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament at the relevant moment.  Without that, there will never be a referendum.  The biggest difference between arguing for a referendum in 2019 and arguing for a referendum in 2022 is that we know with reasonable confidence that the parliamentary arithmetic will be there in 2019.  All bets are off as far as 2022 is concerned.

This is a point that worried me even before the EU referendum.  There seems to be a complacent attitude in some quarters that the SNP ascendancy at Holyrood is going to remain in place indefinitely, and that Nicola Sturgeon can just gaze down at the polls from an Olympian height and choose the absolutely ideal moment.  The reality is that the 2021 election could be a very tough one indeed, and by that point we may have much more to worry about than passive-aggressive "tactical voting" campaigns run by a certain RISE-supporting website.  The SNP will have been in power for fourteen years by 2021 - that's one year longer than the Blair/Brown government lasted, and it's only four years short of the record set by the Thatcher/Major government.  No party is immune to the changing of the seasons (as even the ANC are starting to find out).  It's true that the Tories overtaking Labour as the largest opposition party makes a fourth successive SNP victory somewhat more probable, because Scotland scarcely seems likely to elect a Tory-led government any time soon.  But unfortunately there's a very obvious middle possibility - the SNP could be re-elected with a significantly weaker mandate, and without a pro-independence majority even after the Greens are taken into account.  If that happens, the 'patient' plans for a second indyref in the early 2020s will look a bit bloody silly in retrospect.

Both Iain Macwhirter and David "and on the third day He reactivated His Twitter account" Torrance point to supposed polling evidence that there hasn't been much of a boost for Yes in the aftermath of June 23rd.  I strongly suspect that they're both mainly talking about a single YouGov poll showing only a 1% increase for Yes, and assuming that's going to prove typical.  Well, it might do, but there again it might not do.  Drawing too many conclusions from an individual poll is a dangerous game for any commentator, and we'll just have to see whether they've jumped the gun.  It's particularly worth remembering that even before the EU referendum, telephone polls had Yes in the lead.  There has only been one telephone poll since the referendum, and again, it had Yes in the lead.  Anyone who claims to know for certain that there is a currently an anti-independence majority is either being dishonest or doesn't know what they're talking about.

As for Torrance's claim that the SNP got carried away with their rhetoric on a second indyref because they bought into their own "hype" about the effect of Brexit on public opinion, that strikes me as being silliness on stilts.  Nicola Sturgeon and the people around her are not idiots - they'll have seen the pre-referendum polls suggesting that Brexit might only increase support for independence by a modest amount, and yet they went ahead with the early statement that an indyref was "highly likely" without waiting to see what the post-referendum polls would show.  They would never have done that unless it was a carefully-thought-through strategy that was not dependent on short-term polling trends.