Saturday, July 1, 2017

Davidson seeks solace in titillating photos as Opinium subsample puts SNP 10% ahead

Opinium have today become only the third pollster to produce a GB-wide poll of voting intentions since the general election.  Given the hammering the SNP have taken in the media over the last few weeks, and given that the SNP probably haven't been strong enough in defending the comfortable victory they won on June 8th, the poll's Scottish subsample is hugely reassuring : SNP 38%, Labour 28%, Conservatives 27%, Liberal Democrats 3%, UKIP 2%, Greens 2%.

Yes, individual subsamples are not reliable, and these figures do not necessarily mean the SNP are actually 10% ahead.  However, we've now had four post-election subsamples, of which three have put the SNP ahead.  The other one put Labour ahead, but looked (on the basis of past vote recall) like an obviously skewed sample.  You'd have to say on the balance of the available evidence that the SNP are probably still ahead on Westminster voting intentions - and if that's true, they're weathering the storm much better than many commentators would have expected.

The headline Britain-wide figures put Labour ahead of the Tories by 45% to 39%.  Perhaps most significantly, they suggest the Tories are not only suffering from a direct swing to Labour, but also from a mini-recovery by UKIP (presumably because a hard-core of Leave voters fear the Tories may be about to sell them down the river).  The standard response to this sort of finding is "this is why there won't be an election any time soon", but in truth the Tories would probably be extremely wary of another snap election even if they had a small lead themselves - after all, they've only just managed to blow a lead of more than 20 points.  If an early election happens, it'll likely be for one of two reasons -

1) Discipline breaks down on the Tory backbenches, making the parliamentary arithmetic unmanageable.

2) Theresa May is replaced, and the new leader decides to cash in on his/her honeymoon with the voters (if such a thing occurs).

*  *  *

UPDATE : Survation have just muddied the waters with a poll that has the Conservatives moving back into the lead (albeit only just) across Britain, with no sign of a UKIP recovery, and with a Scottish subsample that has the Tories ahead of the SNP by 42% to 29%.  Does this change what I said earlier about the SNP weathering the storm?  Probably not.  As with the previous Survation subsample that had Labour ahead, you can tell that the sample is somewhat skewed by looking at past vote recall - more respondents recall voting Tory on June 8th than recall voting SNP.  The situation now is that three out of five post-election subsamples have had the SNP ahead, with the other two unable to agree on whether the SNP have been overtaken by the Tories or Labour.  Additionally, by far the largest subsample had the SNP ahead of the Tories by 4 points, and ahead of Labour by 5.  It does still look like the SNP are probably in the lead, albeit perhaps not by a huge margin.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

And this is why Indyref 2 is not going away...

As you may have seen, the House of Commons has just voted on an amendment to the Queen's Speech, tabled by Labour MP Chuka Umunna, calling on the UK to remain within both the EU single market and the customs union.  The Corbyn leadership whipped Labour MPs to abstain (yet again), leading to confident predictions among the London commentariat that there would be a huge rebellion against Corbyn.  Well, I don't know how we're supposed to define 'huge', but given that 75%+ of the PLP are known to be Corbyn-sceptic, and given that the vast majority of the PLP are also pro-European, I have to say I'm somewhat underwhelmed by just 49 of the 262 Labour MPs voting in favour of the amendment, which was defeated by more than 200 votes.  No Tory MPs at all voted in favour, meaning that less than 16% of Commons members (even after the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and tellers are excluded) backed single market membership.

We've been constantly told since election night that there is no majority in the Commons for leaving the single market, but I'm not sure what use it is having a 'silent majority' on your side if those people are not prepared to vote for what they believe in.  Unless something dramatic changes, we are still heading for a very hard Brexit, meaning in turn that the prospect of Indyref 2 is simply not going to go away.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sturgeon sticks firmly with the policy of an independence referendum at the end of the Brexit negotiations

For those that heard Nicola Sturgeon's speech, the title of this blogpost may seem like a statement of the bleedin' obvious, but I gather from a tweet written by Ipsos-Mori's Mark Diffley that some MSM outlets only took a few minutes to completely misrepresent what she had said -

"Funny seeing how this is being reported as #indyref2 being withdrawn - not what I heard at all"

As I said the other day, I was fully ready to say I thought Nicola Sturgeon had made a terrible mistake if she reversed policy on an independence referendum, but I'm delighted and relieved to say I'm not going to have to do that, because the speech ticked absolutely every box I was looking for -

* Ms Sturgeon stressed that the SNP won the general election in Scotland and that this reinforced the mandate for a referendum initially received in the Holyrood election of May 2016.

* She upheld the policy that a referendum should be held at the end of the Brexit process.

* By stressing the mandate to hold a referendum within the current Holyrood parliament, she strongly hinted the vote should take place before May 2021.

* She gave a clear timetable (autumn 2018) for making a decision on the timing of a referendum, which removes the concern that today's decision is going to later mutate into an 'indefinite postponement'.

* She undertook to step up campaigning for independence even before a referendum is called - the complete reverse of assumptions that the topic is going to be "parked".

* Although she acknowledged that the Tories losing their majority reopened the possibility of a soft Brexit (which presumably would remove the need for a referendum altogether), she didn't pretend that this was a remotely likely outcome - I think her exact words were "however slim".

* Most importantly, she didn't renounce the decision on a referendum taken by the elected Scottish Parliament a few weeks ago, and she didn't revoke the request made for a Section 30 order on the basis of that vote.  (She did note that the resolution of the request has become less urgent, but it remains active.)

As far as I can see, the one and only change in the SNP position is that the referendum bill will not be brought forward in the immediate future, but instead a decision about its exact timing will be taken next year.  That is a change of process, not a substantive change of policy, and I have no great problem with it.  (Although it's heartening to see Patrick Harvie and the Greens acting as a counterbalance against the unionist parties and media by keeping the pressure up for the speediest possible progress.)

G A Ponsonby said the other day that he had no concerns at all about what Nicola Sturgeon was going to say, but he had great concerns about what the media were going to pretend she had said.  I now see his point entirely.  The media and unionist parties have a problem, though - they clearly want to say Nicola Sturgeon has performed a "humiliating U-turn" on an independence referendum, but they also want to say that Nicola Sturgeon has "ignored the wishes of the people of Scotland" by "doubling down" on an independence referendum.  I have a feeling some people out there are intelligent enough to spot that those two claims are not actually consistent with each other.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Boost for SNP in massive Panelbase poll

My concern for the SNP over the last couple of weeks has been the risk they might slip to second place in Westminster voting intentions - not behind the Tories, who have probably come pretty close to hitting their natural ceiling of support in Scotland, but behind Labour, who now have considerable momentum behind them.

There have only been a tiny handful of voting intention polls since the general election - probably because most polling firms called the election wrong, and there's little point in commissioning a poll from those that did until they've reviewed their methodology.  However, that hasn't applied to Survation, who famously got the election right (in defiance of Andrew Neil's clueless sneering in this extraordinary clip which has been charitably described as his "Michael Fish moment").  The Scottish subsamples of the two post-election Survation polls show a contradictory picture - the online poll had the SNP still in the lead with Labour in second place, but the phone poll had Labour ahead with the SNP in second.  The good news is that the phone subsample seemed to be very obviously skewed - Labour also had a significant lead on how people in Scotland recalled voting in the general election, when they should actually have been in third place on that measure.  So as of yet there's no convincing evidence from Survation that Labour have edged ahead of the SNP.

On Saturday night, word came through of an enormous GB-wide Panelbase poll which had Labour on 46% and the Tories on 41%.  A combined total of 87% for those two parties is unusually high, giving rise to the obvious concern that the SNP were being squeezed out in Scotland.  However, now the datasets have been released, it appears that isn't the case at all.  Irritatingly, there are no Scottish subsample figures, but there's enough information to make some educated guesswork.  The most important fact is that, unlike the Liberal Democrats, the SNP have retained the support of well over 90% of the people who voted for them earlier this month.  As you'd expect, the small minority of votes they've lost have essentially gone as a bloc to Labour, but that direct swing would be nowhere near enough on its own to push Labour into the lead.  Some of the SNP losses have been offset by new support from elsewhere, and a very rough calculation suggests that the SNP's share of the vote has probably only slipped from 37% to something in the region of 35% or 36%.  An extra 2% for Labour wouldn't even take them to 30%, so unless there has been very substantial movement from the Tories to Labour, it's hard to see how the SNP can possibly have been overtaken in this poll's Scottish subsample (which, it must be stressed, is an unusually large subsample of several hundred people).

After the relentless 'shock and awe' media propaganda campaign of the last couple of weeks which has attempted to finish off both the SNP and the Yes movement for good, I'd suggest it's hugely heartening if the SNP still have some sort of lead in Westminster voting intentions, even if that lead is fairly modest.

[Update : Either Panelbase have updated their datasets over the last couple of hours or I somehow missed the relevant part earlier, but the Scottish subsample is now available.  The figures are pretty close to the assumptions I made above : SNP 34%, Conservatives 30%, Labour 29%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 1%.]

Bear in mind that the favourable wind behind Jeremy Corbyn isn't going to last forever, and Scottish Labour's chances of seizing the moment have been dealt a severe blow today by the nauseating Tory-DUP agreement, which on the face of it leaves Theresa May in a fairly healthy arithmetical position in parliament...

Conservatives + DUP : 328
All other parties (excluding Sinn Féin) : 315

That's a majority of 13, which means that it would take 7 by-election defeats or defections to put the government in an untenable position.  By-elections have become rarer in recent years, perhaps simply because general life expectancy has risen.  There were only three by-elections in Conservative-held seats in the entire 2015-17 parliament, and all three were caused by resignations rather than by deaths.  I'd suggest that at the very least it would take three years to wipe out the Tory/DUP majority, unless there is a sudden spate of defections from the Tories to either UKIP or the Lib Dems (or both).

On the other hand, the current situation has revived the old concept of a 'working majority', meaning a few seats over and above the total required for an overall majority.  Unless relations between the Tories and the Lib Dems warm up considerably, there is no real 'buffer' for the government outwith their own ranks and the DUP ranks.  The only opposition MP that would probably vote for them on a confidence vote is the independent Northern Ireland unionist Lady Hermon, on the basis that she wouldn't be able to accept Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister (although even she has very well-known anti-Tory leanings).  If the government lost as few as four or five by-elections, they would arguably have lost their 'working majority' because they wouldn't be able to get their business through the House reliably, and a general election would perhaps become inevitable at that point.  But even that would take quite a while.

So, for better or worse, it looks like the SNP will have plenty of time to steady the ship before facing the electorate again - which is another good reason why they shouldn't panic and needlessly reverse their policy on an independence referendum.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

We must fervently hope there is no truth in the Sunday Mail's "U-turn exclusive"

Did I speak too soon last night in saying that any worries about the SNP making the historic error of reversing their referendum policy had receded?  Today's Sunday Mail splashed with an "exclusive" claiming an indyref "U-turn", and suggesting that the plans for a vote "by 2019" are about to be scrapped.  The reaction of independence supporters on social media has been interesting - most take the view that the Sunday Mail are playing games by misreporting a restatement of the original policy as a U-turn, but on the other extreme Ben Wray has taken the story at face value and accused Nicola Sturgeon of giving up Scotland's only leverage over Brexit.

It goes without saying that the Record and Sunday Mail must be regarded as hostile, cynical, and utterly unscrupulous actors in all this.  It's perfectly possible that they've deliberately misrepresented the information they've received in pursuit of their anti-independence agenda.  Apart from more mischief-making from Alex Neil (a former fundamentalist who has now practically reinvented himself as the one-man indy-sceptic wing of the SNP), the only fresh quotes in the article are from an anonymous source using very ambiguous language, which could be seen as vaguely consistent with the Sunday Mail's claims, but could just as easily be seen as merely pointing to a modest change of detail and emphasis as the existing referendum policy is essentially upheld.

If it's the latter, there's no problem.  No-one is going to die in a ditch to keep open the theoretical possibility of a referendum in autumn 2018, as long as a date not too long after that remains firmly on the cards.  By the same token, no-one is going to object if Nicola Sturgeon points out that the loss of the Tory majority has changed the dynamic on Brexit, and that we won't be 100% sure that a referendum is actually necessary until the possibility of maintaining membership of the single market is definitively excluded from the negotiations.  (Incidentally, that change in circumstances would be an indisputable fact regardless of whether the SNP had won zero seats, fifty-nine, or absolutely any number in between.)

But if there is the slightest truth in the notion that Nicola Sturgeon will announce that a referendum has been 'called off for the time being' as a consequence of the general election result in Scotland, that would be a catastrophic error of judgement and an abandonment of the most basic democratic principles.  It would mean repudiating a decision taken not by the SNP, but by the democratically-elected Scottish Parliament only a matter of weeks ago.  It would not be done because the SNP had lost a subsequent election, but because their victory in that election had not been by a margin deemed acceptable by the unionist commentariat.  Because Conservative votes in a minority of constituencies apparently carry more weight than SNP votes in the majority of constituencies.  Capitulating to that grotesque logic would be a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of people who helped the SNP win the election, and who did so in good faith on the basis that a majority of seats would complete a 'triple-lock' mandate for an independence referendum.

Here's what I don't understand : even looking at it from a hard-headed pragmatic point of view, what would be the point of waving the white flag now?  If you think Indyref 2 cost the SNP votes in Aberdeenshire, that's all very well and good, but where's the time machine that's going to change what happened?  The election is over, the hit has already been taken, and it probably isn't about to be undone.  It's perfectly conceivable there won't be another election of any type until the Holyrood contest in May 2021 - very nearly four years away.  Why wouldn't you get on with celebrating and defending the mandate you've just won in very difficult circumstances, rather than voluntarily surrendering that mandate as part of some 'grand bargain' with voters in the hope of winning a phantom election by an even bigger margin than you've just won the real election?  I do fear that the hysteria of the last couple of weeks has led to a few people in the SNP losing their compass.

Peter A Bell said today that he would support any decision that Nicola Sturgeon takes, because it would be bound to be taken in the best interests of Scotland.  I must say I take a somewhat different view - if I think a terrible mistake has been made, I'll say so.  However, I await the actual announcement with interest, and I remain hopeful that the Sunday Mail are just spinning us a line, and that there will be no "U-turn" or "cancelling" of the referendum.