Saturday, September 3, 2016

Humiliation for "electable" Owen Smith as bombshell YouGov poll reveals the Scottish electorate prefer Jeremy Corbyn as leader

Let's start with a detail from yesterday's new full-scale Scottish YouGov poll that may not be the most important, but is certainly the most amusing.  As we all know, pretty much the sole selling-point of Owen Smith's campaign to become Labour leader is that he is supposedly much more "electable" than the incumbent Jeremy Corbyn.  Well, this poll begs to differ -

If you had a vote in the Labour leadership election, who would you vote for?

Jeremy Corbyn 27%
Owen Smith 25%

Those figures are for the whole electorate.  Ironically, among the rump Labour vote, Smith does a little better (he's tied with Corbyn at 35% apiece), which gives the lie to the idea that he's better-placed than Corbyn to grow Labour's support.  At least in Scotland, Smith is very much the 'comfort zone' candidate for Labour, whereas Corbyn is the more attractive candidate for people currently minded to vote SNP.  42% of SNP voters (who of course make up roughly half the electorate) would back Corbyn if they had a vote in the leadership election, and just 20% would vote for Smith.  It's true that Corbyn has so far failed to make good on his suggestion last year that he could actually coax those SNP voters back to the Labour fold, but based on these numbers, the idea that Smith would have a better chance of doing so is risible in the extreme.

Turning now to the meat of the poll...

Journalists always (and rightly) get a good roasting when they make misleading claims about opinion polls for the sake of a good headline, or to push some political agenda.  It's therefore only fair that YouGov themselves should get a similar roasting when they do exactly the same thing.  Matthew Smith's article on the YouGov website about this poll makes two extremely dodgy claims -

1. "Scots don't support a second independence referendum...With the SNP set to relaunch their campaign for independence, 50% of Scots oppose a second referendum."

In fact, the poll didn't ask about the general idea of a second referendum.  Respondents were instead asked whether they support a referendum before the UK leaves the EU, which could of course be in the very near future.  There will be people who answered 'no' to that question because they don't favour a referendum until 2021 or whenever, but who have been wrongly categorised by YouGov as opposing a second referendum, full stop.  If YouGov want to make such sweeping claims without being criticised, they shouldn't ask such narrow questions.

2. "Should [the SNP government] be successful in forcing another vote, the results would be almost identical to last time, with 54% of Scots voting against independence and 46% in favour."

The question on independence specifically asks how people would vote if there was a referendum "tomorrow".  The chances of the SNP getting the requisite legislation through by teatime today do seem rather remote.  It's disappointing to see YouGov fuelling the lazy journalistic myth that polls are predictions, rather than snapshots of public opinion at a given moment in time (and indeed snapshots which may not be entirely accurate).

On their Twitter account, YouGov also make a third claim -

"Ruth Davidson is now more popular among Scottish voters than Nicola Sturgeon"

To be fair, that's a fractionally less outrageous statement, because there is a convention of headlining the 'net satisfaction' figures for political leaders, ie. subtracting the percentage of voters who have a negative view of the leader from the percentage who have a positive view. If you do that, Ruth Davidson's satisfaction rating is indeed 1% better than Sturgeon's (a trivial difference which is of course well within the margin of error). But the fact remains that Sturgeon is significantly more popular than Davidson in absolute terms - 53% think Sturgeon is doing a good job, compared to 46% for Davidson. It's the negative ratings that swing the balance, and given that Sturgeon is actually in government making decisions, it's hardly surprising that she arouses stronger feelings than Davidson does among those who don't like her. But bearing in mind that the target figure for an absolute majority under our electoral system is the mid-to-high 40s, the question has to be asked : if 53% of voters like you, does it really matter that much if 33% of voters don't?

On all measures, Sturgeon is considerably more popular than Theresa May, in spite of the fact that May is still enjoying her honeymoon as Prime Minister. Just 35% of the electorate think that May is doing a good job - 18% lower than the figure for Sturgeon. And May's net satisfaction rating is 7% lower than the First Minister's.

Alas, I'm not done with dodgy claims about the poll yet.  Step forward the maestro : Mr George Eaton of the New Statesman -

"Scottish independence support falls again: No side ahead by 54-46"

What?  I mean, what?!  There have been five credible polls on independence since the EU referendum : an online Panelbase poll showing a significant increase in support for independence, telephone and online polls from Survation which both showed a significant increase in support for independence, an online YouGov poll showing a modest 1% increase in support for independence, and then yesterday's online YouGov poll showing that the 1% increase had been reversed, returning us to the position in the poll before last.  On what planet does that sequence of results justify the statement "Scottish independence support falls again"?  Answers on a postcard, folks.  Eaton is either cynically intending to mislead, or just doesn't have a clue what he's talking about - I'm struggling to see a third option.

Can YouGov's figures of Yes 46%, No 54% be regarded as reliable?  As I alluded to in my TalkRadio article yesterday, every pollster has its own 'house effect', and there's no guarantee that other firms will report the same basic trend, let alone the same headline numbers.  One point about YouGov's methodology that has become increasingly controversial is their failure to include 16 and 17 year olds in the polling sample.  You could call this institutional inertia, but really it boils down to Anglocentricity.  If the Westminster parliament had reduced the voting age to 16, it's unthinkable that YouGov would still be conducting Westminster voting intention polls without interviewing 16 and 17 year olds.  It's unlikely in most cases that this deficiency will lead to the Yes vote being underestimated by more than 1%, but when the contest is so evenly balanced, even that can make a big psychological difference.  By definition, the Yes vote being 1% too low means that the No vote is 1% too high, so it's perfectly possible that the No lead is being overestimated by a full 2% in the new poll - even assuming the methodology is otherwise correct.  YouGov might shrug their shoulders and say that this is a relatively minor flaw, but if they're not polling the correct electorate and some of their competitors are, we're entitled to point out that their results should be regarded as comparatively unreliable.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The art of conversation

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about the launch of the new national conversation on independence. It also touches a little on today's new full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov. You can read the article HERE.

You might also be interested in an article by Alasdair Soussi on the Al Jazeera website, which weighs up David Cameron's legacy as Prime Minister, and includes quotes from myself, Paul Goodman of ConHome, and Professor Tim Bale. It can be read HERE.

I've been having a truly manic day, but I'll hopefully find time to write more about the YouGov poll later on!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Conventional Wisdom 1, Don Brind 0 : YouGov poll suggests Corbyn is on course to crush the coup

For some time now, Stormfront Lite's resident Labour 'moderate' Don Brind (he seems a decent enough chap in spite of the dodgy politics, so I won't call him a 'Blairite') has been trying to convince both the world and himself that the conventional wisdom is wrong, and that Owen Smith could be heading for victory in the Labour leadership election.  He's repeatedly prayed in aid highly dubious propaganda claims from "Saving Labour", and yesterday excelled himself by reading epic significance into the "fascinating" thought processes of an individual voter called Laura or Loz, who unexpectedly plumped for Smith because of something to do with her boyfriend.

That all looked like pretty risible stuff (Corbyn could still win handily even if there are 5000 Smith voters called Loz), but in truth there was no way of being completely sure - there had been so little polling done during the leadership campaign that it was just conceivable that Don Brind was right and everyone else was wrong.  The last credible poll had been conducted way back when Angela Eagle was still a candidate and Owen Smith was a complete unknown, so it was theoretically possible that the Labour selectorate had indeed been won over by a man saying "that's not leeeee-dership, Jeremy" a hundred billion times.

But it appears not.  A new YouGov poll has been released -

Jeremy Corbyn 62%
Owen Smith 38%

YouGov themselves are putting all sorts of health warnings on those numbers, but the reality is that Corbyn is well ahead among all three segments of the selectorate with voting already underway.  The polling methodology would have to be catastrophically wrong for there to be any genuine chance of Smith pulling off an upset.

Among many other potentially huge consequences, this means that the breach between London Labour and the Scottish branch office isn't going to be healed any time soon.  Kezia Dugdale's display of rebelliousness (culminating in the grotesque appointment of the ex-political editor of the Scottish Daily Mail to her backroom staff) was probably initially intended as a gesture of fealty to what she assumed would shortly be the incoming London regime.  Instead she seems to have crossed the Rubicon with an accidental declaration of independence.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Athens of the North, no more?

Because of the disruption on the trains from Queen Street, I spent much less time than usual in Edinburgh over the first half of the year.  But I've been there quite a bit during the festival, and I've found myself becoming increasingly transfixed (and not in a good way) by the large construction site between Calton Hill and the Royal Mile.  My first reaction was that the powers-that-be are not complete idiots, and that they must have something very tasteful and carefully considered in mind for such a sensitive area.  So I consulted the internet for some reassurance, and naturally discovered that every expert in the field has blasted the plans as barking mad, and that the city council had only narrowly given approval on the grounds that the buildings were not quite "hideous enough" to reject.  That's the kind of logic that I'd expect to hear in relation to Cumbernauld town centre, not the UN-designated World Heritage site at the heart of our capital city. I really must stop kidding myself that the internet is ever going to provide me with reassurance about anything.

I at least drew some small comfort from learning that the height of the buildings had been reduced after the initial objections.  But even over the course of the last few weeks, the shape of the large hotel has become suddenly apparent, and 'unobtrusive' is not the first word that springs to mind.  It's already tarnishing the view from Calton Hill.  The completed Costa and Premier Inn buildings aren't so noticeable, but that's mainly because they're obscured by the equally hideous council building which has presumably been there for decades.  I wandered down to Market Street today, and when you're actually in between the council building and the Premier Inn, the whole concept of being within the Old Town ceases to have any meaning.

Not being a resident of Edinburgh, I can't get a clear image in my head of what that area used to look like, and maybe if I could I'd realise that less is being lost than it appears.  I also appreciate that the whole of modern history has been punctuated by a war between conservation and opportunistic "development", and that you have to be philosophical and recognise that the forces of conservation aren't going to win every single battle.  But you'd think local councillors might just be intelligent enough to recognise that it's counterproductive to attempt to economically exploit the heritage of a city in a way that fundamentally taints that heritage.

Last year, I spent about ten days in the Balkans, and went to the Old Towns of both Mostar and Dubrovnik, which are also World Heritage sites.  In contrast to Edinburgh, the Old Town of Dubrovnik is pristine and almost perfectly preserved.  The famous bridge in Mostar was destroyed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, but was swiftly and lovingly reconstructed, even using the original stones where possible.  You kind of feel that if Edinburgh city council had been in charge, they'd have said "ah well, it's gone now, we may as well stick a Starbucks and a car park there instead".

Apparently one of the biggest criticisms of "New Waverley" is the plan for a public square, which is alien to the architectural traditions of the Old Town.  But quite honestly, I hope the square fills up as much of the space as possible - that's the only part of the whole thing that won't be an eyesore.

I'll reserve judgement on whether New Waverley will turn out to be an even worse idea than allowing Donald Bloody Trump of all people to "stabilise the doons".  (Which the SNP have to accept a share of the blame for, although it has to be said that every political party apart from the Greens seemed to be wildly enthusiastic about it for some unfathomable reason.)

*  *  * 

I'm writing this on the train back to Glasgow, and I'm sitting opposite two Canadians who have been sneering about the Quebec sovereignty movement to anyone who will listen.  "That'll never happen!  They'd never survive!"  Just those same words over and over again.  Calm, Mr Kelly, calm calm calm...