Saturday, May 13, 2017

Eurovision 2017 : Prediction for Saturday's grand final

When I thought ahead to making this prediction a few weeks ago, I imagined it would be the routine task of explaining why I was going along with the conventional wisdom by backing the overwhelming favourites Italy.  So it's a tad disconcerting to reach the day of the grand final and find that Italy are no longer the overwhelming favourites - in fact for a short period yesterday and today, they were no longer favourites at all, although they've now marginally overtaken Portugal again.  I do rate the Portuguese song (in fact I voted for it in Tuesday's semi), but I'm puzzled by the amount of people who see it as an outright winner.  An unusual back-story will only take a song so far in the public vote, and in theory the juries should be totally unmoved by that sort of thing.  There's always just the slight concern that the surge in the betting may be influenced by inside knowledge of how voting went in the semi, but I'm going to discount that theory and stick with my gut feeling - that Portugal is more of a natural third or fourth place, rather than a natural winner.

If it's not going to be Portugal, it surely has to be Italy.  Apart from being possibly the best song in the contest on its own merits, it's also got no fewer than three irresistible gimmicks in the shape of the "ale!" chant, the gorilla, and the silly dance moves.  One or two irresistible gimmicks have more than sufficed for previous Eurovision winners, so I strongly suspect Italy will at least win the public vote.  If so, the million dollar question is what the juries will do - and there is a genuine warning here from the Sanremo Festival (which doubled as the Italian national selection), where the song failed to win the jury vote by quite some distance, and indeed was only barely in second place.  So it's possible Italy may have to come from behind in the second stage of voting (as Ukraine did last year), but even if that's the case, I think they'll have just about enough public support to seal the win.

I've had a sneaking suspicion for a while that the betting may be underestimating Sweden somewhat - it's possible they may even outpoll Bulgaria on the public vote, although presumably the juries will favour the worthier Bulgarian entry.  I'm still baffled by the expectations that Belgium could be in the top five - it's a great song, but it's very low-key, and I thought the live performance in the semi was distinctly ropey.

Winners : ITALY (Occidentali's Karma - Francesco Gabbani)
2nd : BULGARIA (Beautiful Mess - Kristian Kostov)
3rd : SWEDEN (I Can't Go On - Robin Bengtsson)
4th : PORTUGAL (Amar Pelos Dois - Salvador Sobral)
5th : MOLDOVA (Hey, Mamma! - Sunstroke Project)

Possible dark horses : Croatia, UK

There's been an authentic buzz about the UK in a way there hasn't been for many a year, but I think the fears of political voting are more than just paranoia, especially this year of all years.  My guess is there'll be a respectable result on the jury vote, and then a rude awakening when the public vote is revealed.

List of links to SNP crowdfunders in battleground seats

As you probably know, many individual SNP candidates are running crowdfunders for the forthcoming general election.  All of them are well worth supporting, but it's fair to say you'll get the best bang for your buck if you particularly donate to candidates in constituencies which the SNP are not guaranteed to win.  So as a public service, here is a list of links to SNP crowdfunders in constituencies which the party did not win in 2015, or where there is some sort of evidence (sometimes strong, sometimes questionable) that there may be a chance of another party winning this time around.

JOANNA CHERRY, Edinburgh South-West
CALLUM McCAIG, Aberdeen South
JOHN NICOLSON, East Dunbartonshire
STUART DONALDSON, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
RICHARD ARKLESS, Dumfries and Galloway
TONI GIUGLIANO, Edinburgh West
EILIDH WHITEFORD, Banff and Buchan
JIM EADIE, Edinburgh South
TASMINA AHMED-SHEIKH, Ochil and South Perthshire
PHIL BOSWELL, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
ROGER MULLIN, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath
BRENDAN O'HARA, Argyll and Bute
CHRIS STEPHENS, Glasgow South-West
ANGELA CRAWLEY, Lanark and Hamilton East
KIRSTEN OSWALD, East Renfrewshire
CALUM KERR, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
MIRIAM BRETT, Orkney and Shetland
MÀIRI McALLAN, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
CORRI WILSON, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Eurovision 2017 : Prediction for Thursday's second semi-final

I'm a bit short of time, so this one will have to be a bare-bones prediction.  The ten countries I think will qualify tonight are...

FYR Macedonia

Ruth rues the day as Google survey suggests a small swing back to the SNP

Although the methodology for the new breed of Google voting intention surveys is dubious, comparisons between one survey and the next may at least be of some assistance in keeping track of the trend as the election campaign progresses.  Today's survey shows a swing back to the SNP - not big enough to be statistically significant, but there's certainly no sign of a Tory surge.  The snag, though, is that I can't find the fieldwork dates - if we don't know whether the survey preceded or followed the local elections, it's difficult to make much sense of the numbers.

Google survey of Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Don't Knows NOT excluded) :

SNP 40.7% (+1.8)
Conservatives 24.4% (-0.2)
Labour 16.8% (-1.0)
Greens 7.0% (-1.4)
Liberal Democrats 5.3% (-0.9)

One of the oddities of these surveys is that, unlike almost all voting intention polls, the headline figures don't exclude Don't Knows.  However, it's easy enough to do a rough calculation to strip out the Don't Knows, which takes us to...

SNP 43.2%
Conservatives 25.9%
Labour 17.8%
Greens 7.4%
Liberal Democrats 5.6%

A 17% SNP lead is the biggest of the campaign so far - and remember, the Greens' 7.4% share is pretty meaningless given that they aren't standing in the vast majority of constituencies.  It can't be automatically assumed that most of their vote is really destined for the SNP, but a decent chunk of it certainly is, and hardly any of it is destined for the Tories.  So, if this survey can be taken seriously, the SNP's lead is somewhat bigger than 17%.

More details and analysis to follow...

Boost for SNP as post-locals YouGov subsample fails to find a Scottish Tory surge

As we've discussed many times, Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls are of only very limited use, but I always think that one time it's worth keeping a beady eye on them is immediately after a potentially 'disruptive' event, because they'll often be the first warning sign that public opinion has changed.  From that point of view, it's an enormous relief (particularly in the light of yesterday's Panelbase numbers) to find that the first YouGov subsample conducted since the local election outcome was fully digested shows an entirely familiar picture : SNP 46%, Conservatives 26%.  If anything, that's a little better for the SNP than most recent subsamples.

The potential error in an individual subsample is so enormous that this doesn't rule out the possibility of a post-locals Tory surge.  But the fact that we've got such a typical result does at least make it somewhat less likely that there's been a transformative shift.

Subsample average puts SNP on 45%

You may have heard a rumour today that Panelbase's latest Scottish subsample puts the Conservatives in the lead, but that's not actually true.  On the headline figures excluding Don't Knows, the SNP and the Tories are tied at 42% apiece. That's sobering enough, but to put things in perspective, a Survation telephone subsample yesterday put the SNP ahead of the Tories by more than 30 points.  Even if they were properly weighted (which they're not), individual subsamples have such a huge margin of error that both of those results are perfectly consistent with what we've seen in the full-scale Scottish polls during this campaign, ie. an SNP lead over the Tories of between 11% and 15%.  The slight cause for concern, though, is that Panelbase's fieldwork finished much later, and there's a theoretical possibility that it was picking up genuine momentum for the Scottish Tories brought about by the reporting (or misreporting) of the local elections.  All we can do is wait and see.  The next straw in the wind will be a YouGov subsample released in the morning.  In the meantime, here is what an average of subsamples over the last seven days looks like...


SNP 45.0% (+2.2)
Conservatives 31.5% (+2.2)
Labour 15.8% (-0.7)
Liberal Democrats 4.8% (-2.2)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Housekeeping Note

If you leave a comment on this blog, please ensure that you don't use extreme or excessive swearing.  Please also refrain from making defamatory comments (even as a joke) against any individual, regardless of their political background.

Locating and deleting offensive comments is a very time-consuming process, especially when I'm on my mobile phone, and yet I'm having to do it more and more.  Please don't force me into a situation where the only way to keep things manageable is to switch comments off completely.

Eurovision 2017 : Prediction for Tuesday's first semi-final

Well, I always hate to break a sequence, so for the tenth year in a row (gulp) here is the annual ritual of the Scot Goes Pop Eurovision prediction.  The ten countries I think will qualify from tonight's first semi-final are...


Of the main favourites, the one I've left out is Belgium.  That'll probably come back to haunt me (it usually does when I leave out a favourite), but I've been slightly baffled from the start as to why it's so strongly tipped.  It's a decent song, but it's very low-key, and it looks like the rehearsals haven't been a rip-roaring success.

If you're looking for a small bet, you could do worse than Montenegro - not because I think it's likely to qualify, but simply because the odds are crazy.  It probably has around a 20-25% chance, not the 10% chance the odds would imply.  So it ought to be a value bet.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Popular vote totals revealed : the over-hyped Scottish Tories took just a QUARTER of the vote

So, three days later than we might have hoped, we finally have the popular vote figures for the Scottish local elections.  Both of the predictions I made a few hours ago were slightly off - the Tories were in the mid-20s rather than the low-20s, and the SNP's vote was unchanged since 2012 rather than slightly up.  (Although of course the latter point also means that John Rentoul has egg on his face after telling anyone who would listen on Saturday that it was an established fact that the SNP's vote share had fallen.)

Scottish local election results :

SNP 32.3% (n/c)
Conservatives 25.3% (+12.0)
Labour 20.2% (-11.2)
Liberal Democrats 6.8% (+0.2)
Greens 4.1% (+1.8)

It should be noted that the comparison with 2012 isn't totally exact because this time a handful of councillors were elected unopposed.  So strictly speaking this wasn't a completely nationwide election, although the difference that makes is only trivial.

Both the SNP and the Tories underperformed in comparison to their recent showing in opinion polls, but the divergence is much greater in the case of the SNP.  That could mean the polls have been overstating the SNP all along, but personally I think this result has got 'differential turnout' written all over it.  The Tories, and to a lesser extent Labour and the Lib Dems, worked their supporters up to fever-pitch over the issue of an independence referendum, while the SNP remained in a different universe fighting a very traditional, 'worthy' local election campaign that was never likely to excite their core support in the same way.  It appears as a result unionist voters were significantly more likely than pro-independence voters to make the trek to the polls - which is a problem that can be successfully addressed over the coming weeks.

That's not to say there's no danger at all of this result recurring in June.  The SNP had an in-built disadvantage last week (albeit one that was partly of their own making), but it goes without saying that they also face an in-built disadvantage in any Westminster election because of the skew towards media coverage of the London parties.  They are fortunate in the sense that Labour aren't regarded as a credible government-in-waiting, so on this occasion the SNP are less likely than usual to be crowded out by a binary Tory v Labour choice.  Nevertheless, the challenges ahead are considerable, and another safety-first campaign may not be a great idea.

One interesting aspect of the result is that both the SNP and Labour ended up with a proportion of seats that slightly exceeded their vote share, while for the Tories the reverse was true.  That may have just happened by complete chance because of the way votes were distributed, but it also may be that the Tories remain a toxic party and are significantly less likely than others to pick up lower preferences.  I'm sure someone will trawl through the results to shed some light on that question.

The untold story of this contest is Labour's relative resilience - they've done somewhat better than their consistent sub-20 showings in recent opinion polls, and ran the SNP closer than expected in several councils.  Aside from differential turnout, I'm wondering if that may simply be because of their historic strength in local government, and the large number of familiar names they were able to put on the ballot paper.  Even after everything that's happened over the last few years, the act of voting Labour is still a bit like slipping on an old coat for some people.

Take a bow, SNP voters of Irvine Valley - you voted till you boaked, and stopped the Tories

I know that some people are looking for reassurance that the "vote till you boak" message didn't go totally unheeded on Thursday.  So allow me to present to you Exhibit A - the Irvine Valley ward in East Ayrshire, which has become famous for its new 'Rubbish Party' councillor, but which should really be better known for its shrewd use of lower preferences to prevent a Tory from being elected.  This was the result on first preferences -

SNP 1128
Conservatives 920
Rubbish 784
Labour 775
SNP 551
Others 468

You wouldn't have been terribly optimistic about the chances of stopping the candidate in second place from being elected in a three-seat ward, but that's exactly what happened.  The decisive moment was the elimination of the less popular SNP candidate after five counts.  With the top-placed SNP candidate having already reached the quota and been declared elected, there were now only three candidates left in contention for the two remaining seats, and so whoever found themselves in third place on the sixth count was going to draw the short straw.  The Tory looked safe-ish, with a lead of 75 votes over the Rubbish Party, and 84 over Labour.  But then 112 of the votes from the eliminated SNP candidate transferred to Labour, 147 transferred to the Rubbish Party, and only 25 went to the Tory.  That meant the Tory was brutally leapfrogged by the other two candidates simultaneously - but only just.

Sixth count (votes rounded to nearest whole number) :

Rubbish 1036
Labour 992
Conservatives 989

Councillors elected : 1 SNP, 1 Rubbish, 1 Labour

So the equation here was really simple and stark - if all SNP voters had only ranked the two SNP candidates, they would have ended up with a Tory councillor.  But because a significant number of them used their lower preferences, they got a Labour councillor instead.  Maybe not something to dance in the streets about, but I think most of us would regard a Labour councillor as the lesser of two evils in the current circumstances.  The flip-side of the coin, though, is that the majority of SNP voters did not use enough of their lower preferences, which made the Labour-Tory battle for the final seat much closer (3 votes!) than it needed to be.

*  *  *

We still don't have the nationwide popular vote totals, but a lot of the gaps have been filled over the last 24 hours.  In most councils that I've been able to find figures for, the SNP vote share was up.  That's been offset by sharp declines in a limited number of SNP/Tory battleground areas (such as Moray and Angus), but given that those are not the most populous councils, I'm struggling to see how the national SNP vote share isn't going to be up at least slightly.  I may end up eating my words, but that's how it looks at the moment.

I'm more confident in saying that the Tories' vote is only going to be in the low 20s.  The increase in their vote in some councils looks reasonably impressive until you recall that it's being measured from a pathetic 13% national vote at the last local elections in 2012.  When the exact percentage figure is finally revealed, there are going to be some red faces among the media organisations who indulged in wishful thinking over a Tory performance that in reality is almost certainly well short of the high 20s/low 30s recorded in recent opinion polls.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Setback for Tyrannical Theresa as shock YouGov poll reveals the extent of tactical voting against the Scottish Tories

With all the excitement surrounding the local elections, it appears I overlooked more results from a Scottish-only poll conducted by YouGov towards the end of April.  Two results stand out.  A total of 36% of respondents say they would at least prefer to vote for a pro-independence party at the general election, and a total of 42% say they would at least prefer to vote for an anti-independence party - which, intriguingly, is a slightly narrower gap than on the headline question about independence.

Even more importantly, the poll suggests that anti-Tory tactical voting could be practically as big a phenomenon in June as anti-SNP tactical voting.  14% of respondents say they will switch tactically to the candidate best-placed to beat the Tories if their own preferred party cannot win in their constituency, while 17% say they will switch to the candidate best-placed to beat the SNP.  The difference between those two numbers is within the margin of error.

The snag for the unionist camp is that the Tories are the main challengers in most seats where the SNP are thought to be vulnerable, so it could well be that the two types of tactical voting will more or less cancel each other out in those seats.  The much-heralded unionist Brucie Bonus may not materialise at all.  Logically, it will be a different story if Labour or the Lib Dems are the main challengers in a constituency, but that's where local election results like the one in East Renfrewshire become a bit problematical...

East Renfrewshire local election result :

Conservatives 38.3% (+8.6) : 15,588 votes
SNP 24.3% (+4.5) : 9,886 votes 
Labour 17.4% (-13.7) : 7,073 votes
Liberal Democrats 2.2% (-1.2) : 907 votes
Greens 1.4% (+0.6) : 571 votes

Total valid votes : 40,699

For the next month, Blair McDougall will be traipsing around East Renfrewshire telling anyone who will listen : "Only I can beat the SNP.  Unite behind my Labour campaign to defeat the SNP."  But if enough people have spotted that Labour are actually on course for third place, a fair few may start replying : "Sorry, Big McD, I normally vote Labour, but this time I'm going to vote for the sitting SNP MP Kirsten Oswald to keep the Tories out."

The final and most important piece of the jigsaw : what was the popular vote on Thursday?

I had a brief chat a few hours ago with Craig Murray, who feels that it's very strange that the BBC haven't published the nationwide popular vote for the Scottish local elections yet.  I said to him that it wasn't all that unusual based on past experience, and that in 2012 we had to wait ages - but as soon as I put the phone down I started to question what I had just said.  I think I may have been getting mixed up with what happened in 2003 and 2007, when the council elections took place on the same day as the Holyrood poll, and thus attracted much less media interest.  In 2012 I think we actually got the numbers a fair bit quicker.

Incredible though it may seem, I suppose it's possible that the reason the BBC haven't spilled the beans yet is that they genuinely don't know what the full numbers are.  It's conceivable that in the first instance they just keep track of who has been elected in each ward, and then wait for the councils themselves to publish the full results.  As far as I can see, not every council has done so yet (I can't find anything from the Western Isles, for example).

This matters enormously, because Fake Nooz is springing up all over the place in the absence of hard information.  Most disgracefully, the journalist John Rentoul repeatedly claimed it was an established fact that the SNP vote share had fallen - before finally admitting that he hadn't seen the vote totals and was just guessing.  His excuse was that STV is a proportional representation system, and on the basis of the BBC's notorious claim that the SNP had "notionally" lost seven seats, it was possible for him to conclude that the SNP's vote must also have fallen.  I can honestly say that is the most fatuous claim I have heard made about these elections so far (and the competition is stiff), for the following three reasons -

1) "Notional" election results are, by their very nature, only estimates.  Small errors are therefore almost inevitable, even if the methodology is basically sound (and there are often question marks over whether it is).  A 7-seat "notional" drop in the SNP's seat total is far, far too small for anyone - even the BBC - to be able to say with confidence that there definitely would have been a drop if the 2012 and 2017 elections had both taken place on the new boundaries.

2) STV is a proportional system, but it is not even intended to produce a result that is proportional to how people voted on first preferences alone.  Lower preferences are also taken into account if candidates are eliminated, or elected with surplus votes.  The allocation of seats in each ward will therefore often differ significantly from what the "popular vote" (ie. first preference votes) would lead you to expect.

3) Even leaving aside the issue of lower preferences, STV in the form we use in Scotland isn't all that proportional anyway.  There are too few councillors per ward to produce true proportionality across a local authority, let alone across the whole country.

Because of all those factors, it is perfectly possible that the SNP vote share has risen from the 32% achieved in 2012, in spite of the party's failure to secure a big increase in seats.  My reading of what Professor John Curtice said on the BBC results programme is that this is exactly what has happened.  While we're waiting for confirmation of that, I thought I'd try to tally up the popular vote from some individual councils, to at least give ourselves part of the picture.  I'll start with the really easy one - Glasgow, which is already available in full on Wikipedia.

Glasgow local election result :

SNP 41.0% (+8.4) : 70,239 votes
Labour 30.2% (-16.5) : 51,778 votes
Conservatives 14.6% (+8.7) : 25,018 votes
Greens 8.7% (+3.2) : 14,925 votes
Liberal Democrats 2.9% (n/c) : 5,013 votes 

*  *  *

Renfrewshire local election result :

SNP 37.6% (+2.3) : 23,467 votes
Labour 28.2% (-19.4) : 17,599 votes
Conservatives 21.0% (+11.9) : 13,124 votes
Liberal Democrats 4.1% (-0.3) : 2,580 votes
Greens 3.3% (n/a) : 2,030 votes

Total valid votes : 62,365

*  *  *

West Dunbartonshire local election result :

SNP 40.1% (+9.8)
Labour 33.6% (-13.0)
Conservatives 12.5% (+8.2)
Liberal Democrats 0.4% (n/a)
Greens 0.3% (n/a)

(Note : A minor party and independent candidates outpolled both the Lib Dems and Greens in West Dunbartonshire, but I'm just concentrating on the five main parties.)

*  *  *

My favourite tweet of the year so far, from Andy-SNP...

"Tory Facts:

1st man on moon - Buzz Aldrin
Winner 1966 World Cup - W Germany
Winner Tortoise & Hare - Hare
Scottish local elections - Tories"

And my second-favourite tweet of the year so far, from David Halliday...

"The 23% have spoken: no more referendums."