Saturday, May 6, 2017

The vastly over-hyped Scottish Tory surge

Just a quick note to let you know that I have new article in The National, which takes a look at the SNP's local election victory, points out that the Tory comeback has its limitations, and asks whether the SNP may have suppressed its own turnout by focusing so relentlessly on local issues.  You can read the article HERE.

Friday, May 5, 2017

SNP soar to best ever result in local elections

As the BBC are busily misleading their viewers by claiming that the SNP have "lost seven seats since 2012", I thought it might be useful to post the real numbers.

Councillors won with changes since 2012 :

SNP 431 (+6)
Conservatives 276 (+161)
Labour 262 (-132)
Independents 172 (-28)
Liberal Democrats 67 (-4)
Greens 19 (+5)

The 2012 result was the SNP's best ever showing in a local election, so by exceeding that they have set a new record high.  Even taking into account the slight change in the overall number of seats, it's also a record high for the SNP in terms of the proportion of seats they've won.

The BBC's excuse for giving inaccurate figures is that they are using 'notional results' to provide a baseline - in other words, they are using rough estimates of what the 2012 result might have been if the new boundaries had been used.  In my view that is unsatisfactory.  The difference between a 7-seat drop and a 6-seat increase is a trivial one, but it does have a big psychological impact, and to give viewers such precise numbers based on educated guesswork seems wholly wrong.

One other obvious point I didn't hear anyone on the BBC programme making is that if Scotland had been using the English voting system (you know, the one that artificially produced the hundreds of "incredible" Conservative gains we heard so much about), we'd have been looking at an SNP landslide and much more sweeping gains.

All the same, the three unionist parties have in combination narrowly failed to win a majority of the council seats in Scotland.  It's likely that there are enough pro-union independent councillors out there to swing the balance - but it's also highly likely that those independent councillors were not elected on the basis of their constitutional views.  So the Peter Kellner propaganda line that this was some sort of vote against an independence referendum simply does not stack up.

In fairness, though, perhaps we should be raising our glasses to the propagandists in London, because the over-hyping of the Tory gains is going to send expectations of a Ruth Revolution sky-high.  If the SNP win three-quarters of the seats in June (which is still eminently possible), it's going to be hard for the media to plausibly switch narrative and argue that Nicola Sturgeon should be winning every single seat, and that anything short of that is all terribly unexpected.

Given the hoo-ha over the Tory surge, it's truly extraordinary just how close the Tories came to remaining stuck in third place in terms of seats - which would have been acutely embarrassing for them and would have enormously complicated their spin operation.  It'll take time to pick over the entrails of the results, but I'm wondering if anti-SNP lower preferences from Tory voters helped Labour win significantly more seats in SNP/Labour battleground areas than they otherwise would have done, and paradoxically almost kept Labour in overall second place.  That might also help explain why an increase in the SNP's popular vote was not replicated in the form of a significant increase in their number of councillors.

If it turns out that Labour have indeed proved a little more resilient than expected in their former heartlands on the back of Tory transfers, there may be reassurance at hand for the SNP as far as the general election is concerned.  With just one vote at every Tory supporter's disposal, it's unlikely that the zealous new converts will be lending their support back to Labour in sufficient numbers to make much of a difference.

I was mightily relieved that the SNP managed to become the largest single party in my home council of North Lanarkshire by the absolute skin of their teeth.  Labour and the Tories do still have the numbers in combination to freeze the SNP out of power, but will Labour take such an enormous gamble?  It's one thing for them to do deals with the Tories in places like Stirling, but in North Lanarkshire they would be crucified for it.

It's fascinating to see that the Tories were "only" 11% ahead of Labour on UK-wide projected vote share - much lower than the lead suggested by most recent opinion polls for the general election.  It's true that there are ample precedents to demonstrate that local election results can flatter the main opposition party, but nevertheless with Labour morale at rock bottom it wouldn't have been surprising to see carnage on a much bigger scale.  Opinion polls in Britain have very rarely overestimated the Tories, but it's an interesting possibility.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A video guide to the local election voting system - and how to use it to defeat the Tories (and other unionist parties)

It's crept on us, but tomorrow is local election day.  It'll be only the third time that the Single Transferable Vote system has been used in Scotland for nationwide elections.  Instead of marking a cross on the ballot paper, we'll be using numbers to rank the candidates in order of preference.  With the Scottish Tories seemingly on the march, it's now more important than ever that pro-indy voters use all or most of their preferences to rank every non-Tory candidate ahead of every Tory candidate - and, for that matter, to rank every non-unionist candidate ahead of every unionist candidate.  If you're still unsure about why that's the case, the following video guide may help - it's a collaboration between myself and the amazing Phantom Power, creator of the recent Journey to Yes series.  Feel free to pass it on to anyone who may find it useful.  The direct link to the video on YouTube is HERE.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Day! May Day! It's not May's Day, as Google survey reveals 57% of Scottish public prefer independence to Brexit

I'm not sure if the Record have abandoned Survation as their regular pollster, but for whatever reason they've commissioned Google to produce a Scottish political survey, which is apparently demographically representative (albeit on the basis of algorithm-derived 'inferences' rather than definite information).  However, it's not yet clear that it's been politically weighted in the way that would be standard for an online poll conducted by a BPC firm, so we should certainly be very cautious about the results.

What stands out is a question asking whether people would prefer independence within the EU, or to remain in the UK under a Tory government after Brexit.  The result is startlingly decisive -

Independence within EU : 56.7%
Brexit under the Tories : 43.3%

It's important to stress that this is not a "Yes lead", any more than yesterday's widely misreported Panelbase poll was.  There are undoubtedly people out there who would answer "no" to the straight question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" because of misplaced doubts over whether an independent Scotland could really remain in the EU, or over whether staying in the UK really means Tory rule for the foreseeable future.  But that's not to say that these findings are meaningless - they chart a course to how a Yes vote could conceivably be won, if the choice is framed correctly.

There are also voting intention numbers for the general election, which are initially quite hard to make sense of, because (in contrast to the practice in standard polls) the Don't Knows haven't been stripped out.

Westminster voting intentions :

SNP 38.9%
Conservatives 24.6%
Labour 17.8%
Greens 8.4%
Liberal Democrats 6.2%

A rough calculation suggests that the SNP would be on around 40.6% of the vote if Don't Knows were removed - essentially identical to their 41% showing in the recent YouGov poll.  However, the Tories would be on only 25.7% - making this their worst showing of the general election campaign so far.  The SNP's 15% lead over the Tories also equals the record in the Survation poll as the biggest lead of the campaign (compared to 13% with YouGov and 11% with Panelbase).  Far more important, though, is the implausibly high vote for the Greens.  If it can be assumed that a decent chunk of that vote is actually destined for the SNP, this poll is effectively implying a very, very healthy SNP lead.

All of this does of course depend on whether we can trust Google's methodology, and given that it's so untested, I'm not at all convinced that we can.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tyrannical Theresa takes a timely tumble in the weekend polls

As the late, great Professor Anthony King would have said in his inimitable Canadian accent, "it's another terrrr-ible night for the Conservatives".  When a GB-wide YouGov poll a couple of days ago saw the Tory lead fall sharply from 23% to 16%, there was always just a chance it was a meaningless blip caused by random sampling variation, but that possibility has been snuffed out tonight by a new YouGov poll showing a further fall.  The lead now stands at just 13% - meaning it has been almost halved over the course of just a week.

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 44% (-1)
Labour 31% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 11% (+1)
UKIP 6% (-1)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 4% (-1)

It's possible (perhaps likely) that there will be some kind of reversion to the mean in the next YouGov poll, but there can be no real doubt that at least some of the narrowing of the gap is genuine.  Other pollsters confirm it, with both ORB and Opinium agreeing that Labour have now broken back through the 30% barrier.

Britain-wide voting intentions (ORB) :

Conservatives 42% (-2)
Labour 31% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)
UKIP 8% (-2)
SNP 4% (-1)

Britain-wide voting intentions (Opinium) :

Conservatives 47% (+2)
Labour 30% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-3)
UKIP 7% (-2)
SNP 5% (+1)

Of course the support Labour have been clawing back is merely the low-hanging fruit - in other words, core voters who were perhaps never likely to desert the fold after considered reflection, but who temporarily got caught up in the hoo-ha over the calling of the snap election.  It's interesting to speculate what the receding of the Tory surge is going to mean for Scottish voting intentions, because the surge we saw here seemed directly tied to the Britain-wide one.  The obvious hope is that the new British trend will also be replicated north of the border, ideally with some Brexit/No supporters moving directly back to the SNP after flirting with Theresa May's "strength and stability" (ahem).  Less ideally, we'll see Tory flirters switching to Labour - but thanks to the vagaries of first-past-the-post, that would actually work in the SNP's favour more than Labour's.  By far the most important objective for the SNP is to increase the gap between themselves and the second-placed Tories - a healthy raw percentage share of the vote would just be the icing on the cake.

For what it's worth, the Scottish subsamples of both the ORB and Opinium polls give the SNP a very solid 20% advantage over the Tories.  The YouGov datasets haven't yet been published at time of writing.

If (and it is still a very big if) we find that the Scottish Tory surge has now passed its peak, we may have dodged a bullet as far as Thursday's local elections are concerned.  Most people who cast a postal vote do so as soon as they receive their ballot paper, which means that many will have voted prior to Easter - and of course the Tory surge wasn't triggered until the Tuesday after Easter, when Theresa May dropped her bombshell about a snap general election.  So if postal voters largely voted before the surge, and everyone else votes after the surge has receded, we could end up with a pretty decent result.

*  *  *

When the Sunday Times commission full-scale Scottish polls from Panelbase, they have an odd habit of holding back some of the supplementary results for a full week.  Accordingly, we now have some more details from last week's poll, and they're pretty encouraging from a pro-independence point of view.  Although (as we already knew) the headline independence question produced figures of Yes 45.2%, No 54.8%, it turns out that Panelbase also asked the question in a different way, with three possible options - independence within the EU, independence outside the EU, or remaining within the UK after it leaves the EU.  There is a small combined majority in favour of the two pro-independence options, with 41% favouring independence within the EU, and a further 10% wanting independence outside the EU.  The snag is that taking advantage of this natural majority would, on the face of it, require a kind of Schrodinger's Indy - ie. the prospect of somehow being inside and outside the EU simultaneously.  But it's not impossible that there may be a way of squaring that circle in the heat of an independence referendum.

The chances of that referendum taking place have been boosted by Panelbase's finding that a majority of respondents (52%) think that the SNP would have the right to hold a vote if they win a majority of Scottish seats at the general election.  That outcome is, of course, already pretty much a nailed-on certainty, regardless of whether the Tory surge recedes.  It would only require the SNP to win 30 seats - and yet the unionist media want us to believe that 45 seats (a 75% super-majority) would somehow be a disastrous result for Nicola Sturgeon!