Friday, September 1, 2017

Murdo Most Foul

Just a quick note to let you know that, if you're a subscriber to iScot magazine, you can find an article by me on pages 40 and 41 of the September edition.  It's an appeal for greater tolerance and understanding of Murdo Fraser.  (And I mean that most sincerely, folks.)

If you're not a subscriber, a digital copy can be purchased for £2.99 HERE.  (I'm not suggesting my article is worth paying £2.99 for, but there's 114 other pages as well, with contributions from the likes of Peter A Bell, Paul Kavanagh and Derek Bateman.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Kezia Dugdale's electoral record is mostly grim

There's a tiresome article on LabourList which can basically be summarised as: "Kezia Dugdale is a woman, so if you were critical of her leadership, you're a misogynist".  It starts off with the following question, which is supposed to be rhetorical -

"She writes in her resignation letter that she leaves the party in a better state than she found it, and my goodness isn’t she right."

No, she's completely wrong, actually.  Her electoral record is mixed, but it's undoubtedly more bad than good.  Excluding the Brexit referendum, she fought three nationwide elections as Labour leader, and these were the results...

May 2016 Holyrood election: Labour suffered a net loss of 13 seats, slipping from 37 to 24.  This was by far the party's worst performance since devolution in 1999, and the first time they had slipped to third place - both in terms of seats, and the popular vote on the list ballot.

May 2017 local elections: Labour dropped roughly 11% on the popular vote, finishing with just 20%.  They lost 132 seats across Scotland, relinquished control of Glasgow City Council for the first time in decades, and slipped to third place nationwide behind the Tories.

June 2017 general election: Labour slumped to third place for the first time since 1918 in terms of seats, and for the first time since 1910 in terms of the popular vote.  Paradoxically, however, they enjoyed a small gain of 2.8% in the popular vote, and jumped from one seat to seven.

Dugdale's claim to "success", therefore, rests almost exclusively on the seat gains in June.  The recovery in the popular vote was pretty small beer, and only looked impressive in the context of the lowered expectations that the leader herself can be considered partly responsible for - Labour would initially have been expecting pretty much any successor to Jim Murphy to do a little bit better than 24%.

But even the seven seat haul looks considerably less thrilling when you bear in mind that the Lib Dems won 11 seats in 2010 with just 19% of the vote, and the SNP won six seats at the same election with 20% of the vote.  Murphy was actually pretty unlucky to win just one seat with his 24% share - it only happened because the first-placed party was unusually dominant.  The modest gains this year were thus a resumption of normal service for a party languishing in the 20s, not some kind of great leap forward.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Disbelief as Dugdale dream is dramatically discontinued

I suppose I should be claiming the prediction of the year, because I did say when the general election was called in the spring that Kezia Dugdale's days as Scottish Labour leader were probably numbered.  But I must admit I was expecting the resignation to happen after Labour's vote share went down, not after a mini-recovery.  As far as public appearances were concerned, there's been no pressure on her at all since the election.

So what does this all mean?  A Corbynite takeover?  Maybe...or maybe not.  Remember how well Owen Smith did in Scotland.  This is a Blairite party to its core, or at least it was until very recently.  We could be in for a handover to yet another dreary clone, which to be fair might even be preferable to Neil Findlay.

UPDATE : Some really heartening news for the SNP in the Scottish subsample from the new Britain-wide YouGov poll.  They're ahead of Labour by 38% to 28%, with the Tories yet again in third place on just 23%.  YouGov subsamples should probably be taken a little more seriously than subsamples from other firms, because they appear to be separately weighted (although they still have a big margin of error due to the sample size).

Not quite such good news from the new ICM subsample, although of course that one isn't correctly weighted.  Labour are very slightly ahead on 32%, with the SNP on 31% and the Tories on 27%.

Across all firms, the SNP have now had the lead in ten out of eighteen subsamples published since the election, and have been ahead of Labour in eleven out of eighteen.

It was short-sighted, it was suspicious, and it was Swinson

With thanks once again to John Motson for inspiring the title, here is a quick note to let you know I have a new article at the TalkRadio website about the mystery of the Lib Dem "invisible money" in East Dunbartonshire.  You can read it HERE.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sub-British nationalities are just a pretend thing

I spent some time at the World Badminton Championships in Glasgow last week, which was another pleasing reminder that the Commonwealth Games was not quite the one-off event that it appeared at the time.  There have been several big sporting events in Glasgow since 2014, some of which probably wouldn't have been possible without the Commonwealth Games, because we wouldn't have had a suitable venue otherwise.

There was one little moment that had me raising my eyebrows, though.  When the time came for the English announcer to introduce one of the English players, he deepened and loudened his voice, slowed his delivery, and put on a knowing tone as he said: "and NOW...his opponent...representing ENGLAND..."  The subtext was pretty unavoidable: "yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's the moment we've all been waiting for, someone from OUR home team".

I do try to be charitable, and it occurred to me that maybe you could explain this by the announcer thinking "well, England's a neighbouring country and there's a lot of English fans in, so let's make them feel at home".  But in actual fact, there were more Danish supporters in the arena than English supporters.  (I know that sounds unlikely, but it's true - badminton is a huge sport in Denmark and a large contingent had made the journey over.)  There was no special treatment for the Danish players.

Later on, I was asked to fill in a UK Sport questionnaire, which was strikingly similar to the one I filled in at the European Curling Championships last November.  It specifically asked whether I was proud that "the UK" was hosting the event.  In fairness it also asked if I was proud that Scotland was hosting the event, but the UK question was asked first.  I wasn't asked at any point whether I was proud that Europe was hosting the event.

As you may have seen on Twitter, I was then bemused to discover that the BBC website described the Adcocks' bronze medal as "Great Britain's first medal since 2011".  Great Britain does not compete at the World Badminton Championships and therefore does not win medals.  The Adcocks won a bronze medal for England, and yet for Saturday's order of play the BBC listed them as "Adcock and Adcock (GB)".

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the narrative shared across the BBC, UK Sport and the announcer in the arena itself seemed to be that the separate representation of Scotland, England and Wales was just an odd technicality and that we're all one big happy family really.  That was also very much the underlying premise of the BBC's coverage of the Commonwealth Games, just weeks before the first independence referendum.

On a similar note, it's no great surprise to see Sky News describe the Queensferry Crossing, which was actively frustrated by the UK government, as a "British triumph".

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tommy Sheppard is wrong : the independence referendum should be held before the May 2021 election

I've only just discovered, via Peter A Bell's blogpost, that Tommy Sheppard used his Thomas Muir memorial lecture the other day to argue that there should not be an independence referendum until after the next Holyrood election.  (This, incidentally, means the Sunday Herald were perhaps not quite so wide of the mark after all in suggesting a few weeks ago that Sheppard had 'broken ranks' and was calling for the referendum to be 'parked'.)  You won't be surprised to hear that I think he's recommending a course of action that would be an enormous strategic error.

Now, in fairness, judgements over the timing of an independence referendum are a bit like the dilemma in rugby over whether you should "take the three points" when awarded a penalty - in other words, either decision can be the 'right' or 'wrong' one depending on what happens next, which is unknowable in advance.  If Nicola Sturgeon plays the long game, if Brexit proves to be an unmitigated disaster very quickly, if Labour slip back into chaos and disunity, if the SNP reverse the recent swing against them and don't lose any seats at the 2021 election, if they still have the arithmetic to call an indyref after that election, and if a Yes vote is won, then obviously Sheppard will look like a strategic genius.  But there are an awful lot of 'ifs' there.

Here's something we do know pretty much for certain - there will be a pro-independence and pro-referendum majority in the Scottish Parliament until May 2021.  The only realistic way that won't be the case is if the Greens reverse policy, which in practice would be very hard for them to do given that so many of their current members joined as a direct result of their involvement in the Yes campaign.

We don't have a clue whether the pro-independence/pro-referendum majority will survive the 2021 election, but we do have perfectly rational reasons for worrying that it might not.  Polling evidence in the run-up to this year's general election suggested that a lot of independence supporters were 'cross-voting' (which primarily meant voting Labour), while very few opponents of independence were returning the compliment by voting SNP.  Unless that trend changes (it may do, but it may not) it's quite possible that even a strong popular majority in favour of independence in 2021 would translate into an anti-independence majority at Holyrood, thus making a referendum impossible until at least 2026.  The irresponsible rhetoric of Cat Boyd and her supporters only serves to make that scenario more likely.

Bearing in mind the relative certainty that exists until May 2021 and the complete uncertainty thereafter, it seems more than a little crazy to suggest that we should wait until just after the point at which we may no longer have a majority for a referendum.  Sheppard's answer seems to be that if we can't win a pro-independence majority at the 2021 election we wouldn't win an independence referendum anyway, but that logic is wholly misconceived.  Persuading people of the virtue of holding a referendum is an entirely different task from trying to persuade them to vote in a particular way in a referendum that is already underway.  Here's an analogy that might seem silly at first but I think is a good one - every year, I dread Christmas, and if I could vote to put it off, I would.  But when it actually comes round, I usually enjoy it and don't want it to end.  There are people who for temperamental reasons find the anticipation of a second intense referendum campaign unbearable and would always vote against holding one, but who would nevertheless vote Yes if it actually happened.  Winning a mandate for another referendum is arguably a tougher task than winning the referendum itself, and that's a truth the Parti Québécois can attest to.

We're incredibly fortunate in that we've already won a mandate to hold a referendum in this current parliament. We should use it. For the avoidance of doubt, that does not mean a referendum next week, or even necessarily before the day Britain officially withdraws from the EU. There are almost four years to go until the 2021 election, so there's still plenty of time to play a relatively long game while not throwing away the existing mandate.