Saturday, October 29, 2016

Why I held my nose and voted for Hillary Clinton

I've voted in every US presidential election since 2004.  I could have voted in the Bush v Gore election in 2000 as well, but irritatingly I didn't even realise I was eligible to vote until several years later.  I don't need to beat myself up too much over that, though, because I wouldn't have been voting in Florida, or in any other swing state for that matter.  And the latter point is what it all boils down to, really - I've voted for fringe left-wing candidates in all of the last three elections (including a revolutionary communist in 2012, who strangely enough I backed with the encouragement of Lib Dem blogger Caron Lindsay!), because there just didn't seem to be any point in doing anything else.  If my vote has no chance whatever of swinging the balance, why would I give my endorsement to centre-right Democratic candidates who take an abhorrent stance on the death penalty?

There is something intensely irritating, though, about seeing your vote for the most powerful office in the world treated as an abstention or a non-vote.  If you look back at footage of results programmes from previous presidential elections, you'll find that with very few exceptions, the vote tallies for third parties are not even mentioned or shown on screen.  Of course, that's a very good argument in favour of continuing to vote for fringe candidates - ie. to embarrass the media into changing their ways and helping to open up the system.  But throughout this year, there's been a nagging voice at the back of my head saying "wouldn't it be nice, in this election of all elections, to be able to vote for a credible non-Trump candidate, and to do so in all good conscience?"

And for long spells, it looked like that might just turn out to be possible.  Although Bernie Sanders was always the underdog in the Democratic primaries, there were times when it seemed he had a genuine chance of pulling it off.  And there were certainly times when it was hard to see how Clinton could ignore the Sanders movement in her choice for Vice-President nominee - surely, even if she couldn't bring herself to pick Sanders himself, she'd have to reach out to his voters with someone like Elizabeth Warren?  But no, it wasn't to be.  The choice of right-wing, pro-death penalty Tim Kaine seemed like an absolute kick in the teeth, and a classic example of an arrogant politician saying to her own base : "I can do whatever I like and you'll have to support me, because you have nowhere else to go".  Well, there's always somewhere else to go, and I started resigning myself to 'opting out' for a fourth time in a row, and voting for the Green candidate Jill Stein.

However, the attraction of voting for the only candidate who can actually defeat Donald "Make Our Doons Great Again" Trump just wouldn't quite let me go.  When I filled in my ballot paper a few days ago, I voted in every single down-ticket race before I could even bring myself to properly look at the presidential box - that's how ill the dilemma was making me feel.  In the end, I averted my eyes from the words "Jill Stein" and "Green", and got the dirty deed over with as quickly as possible.  This is how I justified it to myself -

1) This election, far more than most, doubles up as a proxy vote to decide control of the Supreme Court - possibly for the next two decades.  In the wacky world of US politics, the Supreme Court has effectively become a quasi-legislature with well-defined conservative and liberal caucuses.  From that point of view, voting for anyone other than Clinton or Trump genuinely is an abstention - because one or the other will be nominating the new justices.  In the dream scenario, if Clinton wins and the Democrats make significant gains in the Senate, there would be no impediment to the shaping of a liberal-dominated court that could transform America over the coming years.  It would be a decisive victory in the interminable culture wars.  (The alternative, of course, is to risk a decisive defeat under Trump.)

2) By American standards, Clinton is reasonably strong on gun control, which was the one issue on which she ran clearly to the left of Bernie Sanders.  That's not nothing.  I haven't bothered checking whether our old friends in the Kevin Baker Fan Club are generally backing Donald Trump or Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, but I think we can safely assume that a Clinton presidency is just about their worst nightmare.

3) During the primaries, Clinton was dramatically challenged by a man who had spent years on death row for a crime he didn't commit, and asked how she could possibly maintain her support for capital punishment after hearing his story.  I was quite surprised by how far she went in her response - she said she would be happy enough if the Supreme Court eliminated the death penalty in the states, leaving only a federal death penalty for the worst terrorism offences.  It goes without saying that it is disturbing and appalling that in the year 2016, a supposedly "liberal" candidate in a "liberal democracy" is still in favour of the state putting its own citizens to death.  But the depressing reality is that Clinton's words represented progress in an American context.  She may well not really have meant them, but if a Democratic congress were to pass legislation imposing new restrictions on the federal death penalty, she'll find it very hard to justify using her veto after what she's said.

4) I suggested in the spring that there was perhaps a 3% chance of a Donald Trump presidency resulting in the destruction of human civilisation.  A couple of anonymous commenters mocked me for saying that (one of them used it as an example of why I don't understand 'real' politics and should stick to polling analysis!), but I absolutely stand by it.  If you look at the sequence of events that triggered the First World War - an accidental and unnecessary war that nobody really wanted - it's clear that bombast, buffoonery and narcissism played a big part.  The mere possibility of an unstable character like Trump having his finger on the nuclear button is a crisis for the whole of humanity, and averting the danger overrides all other priorities.  What complicates that point, of course, is that Clinton herself is being deeply irresponsible in her hawkish noises-off about Russia, meaning that the risk of nuclear war under her presidency would not be zero.  But I'm confident that the risk would be dramatically lower with her than with Trump.

5) If there's a Brexit-style, small-to-moderate systemic error in the polls, it's still perfectly possible Trump could win the national popular vote.  That obviously matters less than the outcome of the electoral college (which only voters in swing states can meaningfully affect), but if, say, Clinton were to win the presidency and Trump were to win the popular vote, it would be much easier for Trump to cast himself as the 'rightful king across the water', and keep his 'movement' alive to fight another day.  It's probably a good idea to try to prevent that happening.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Support for independence stands at 47% in new Poll of Polls

An otherwise surprisingly fair piece in the Economist about the prospects for Scottish independence is slightly tarnished at the start with a statement about the current polling situation which is flatly untrue - in fact, it's basically the polar opposite of the truth.  We're told that "opinion polls now put support for a 'Scoxit' from the United Kingdom at or below the 45% achieved when the question was formally put in 2014".  Rubbish.  Every single opinion poll that has asked about independence since the EU referendum has put the Yes vote above 45%.  The lowest figure has been 46% (albeit admittedly the most common figure is only a little higher, at 47%).  Even if you include the dodgy BMG poll, which was misrepresented in much of the media as an "independence poll" when it clearly wasn't, the lowest figure would be 45%.  It is literally impossible to find a poll that can even be misrepresented as showing that Yes support has fallen since September 2014.  Even at a stretch, then, the most that the Economist are entitled to say is that "opinion polls now put support for 'Scoxit' from the UK at or above the 45% achieved in 2014".

So how did the word "below" get into the article in the first place? The most likely - and disturbing - answer is that the author didn't even bother to check the numbers, and just assumed that the narrative being pushed by the right-wing London press must have some vague basis in reality.  Always a schoolboy error, that.  Perhaps the time has come to challenge the misinformation with an update of this blog's Poll of Polls.


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47.0% (-3.8)
No 53.0% (+3.8)

The reason for the drop in the Yes vote is that the last update was way back in late July, and all but one of the four polls taken into account at that point had been conducted in the days immediately after the EU referendum, when there appeared to be a sharp pro-Yes swing which later receded.  But as you can see, Yes support remains 2.3% higher than its September 2014 level.   Given that most firms now weight by recalled indyref vote, we can be pretty confident that's a genuine increase in support.

The methodology for the Poll of Polls remains exactly the same as before - only the most recent poll from each firm is included, and if a firm hasn't reported for more than three months, they are left out altogether.  Therefore, the five polls taken into account on this occasion are YouGov from late August (Yes 46%, No 54%), TNS from August/early September (Yes 47%, No 53%), Survation from early September (Yes 47%, No 53%), Ipsos-Mori from early September (Yes 48%, No 52%) and Panelbase from mid-September (Yes 47%, No 53%).

Needless to say, the dodgy poll from BMG has been excluded, because contrary to the bogus claims that were made about it (including disgracefully by the firm themselves), it simply didn't ask a question about independence.  It instead asked whether Scotland should "remain a member (sic) of the United Kingdom" or "leave the United Kingdom".  For the avoidance of doubt, "leaving the United Kingdom" can in no sense be regarded as a proxy form of words for "independence".  There are several potential outcomes to leaving the UK, of which independence is only one.  Here are some others -

1) Becoming a self-governing dependency of the UK.  (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are all in this position - they are all outside the UK, and indeed outside the EU.)

2) Entering into a free association agreement with the UK.   (This is a form of 'sovereign non-independence'.  The best-known example is perhaps the Cook Islands' relationship with New Zealand.   When the Cook Islands were formally decolonised, they freely agreed to allow New Zealand to continue to make decisions for them on foreign affairs and defence.)

3) Becoming part of another existing sovereign state.  (An example of this is the decision of northern Schleswig, by referendum in 1920, to leave Germany and become part of Denmark.)

Without specifying what Scotland would be leaving the UK to do, the BMG question was utterly meaningless.  I hope we're not going to see any more of that kind of nonsense - and if by any chance we do, I certainly hope that reputable sites like What Scotland Thinks will stop joining in with the pretence that we are somehow dealing with genuine polls on independence.

*  *  *

NOTE : I've had to make a small adjustment to the numbers originally mentioned in this post.  Ironically that's because, for quick reference, I had used the What Scotland Thinks list of polls, which I've since realised contains a little error.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Throw Scotland out! Take your blasted oil away! And give us our nukes back so we can stick them on the Thames - where they belong!

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article on the TalkRadio website, about the epic pleasures of the #ThrowScotlandOut hashtag, and the petition that inspired it.  You can read the article HERE.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A question for Theresa May

"The UK must speak with one voice on Brexit."

"In all of its public statements, the Scottish Government must loyally support the single UK negotiating position.  If they do not, they will be undermining us."

"The Scottish Government does not have a veto on the UK negotiating position. We will tell them what it is, and then they must support it to the hilt."

Isn't that called colonialism, Theresa? It sure as hell isn't called the respect agenda.