Friday, October 13, 2017

SNP vote increases by 6% in Inverurie by-election

Just for once we have an STV by-election result where the classification of "hold" is not misleading - the Tories were defending the Inverurie seat, and also comfortably won the popular vote in the ward in May.

Inverurie & District by-election result (12th October):

Conservatives 48.5% (+12.6)
SNP 33.3% (+5.7)
Liberal Democrats 8.6% (-3.2)
Labour 8.0% (+3.7)
Greens 1.6% (n/a)

What does make interpretation of the result difficult is that the independent candidate Judy Whyte received more than 20% of the votes in May, which were all up for grabs this time.  If those voters were predominantly unionist or small 'c' conservative in character, it may not be any great surprise that the Tories have grabbed the lion's share of them.  Certainly there was nothing inevitable about the substantial increase in the SNP's own vote (Labour's vote didn't go up by as much and the Lib Dems actually contrived to go backwards), so we're entitled to take heart from that.  And, as always, we have to remember that Tory supporters are traditionally more likely to make it to the polls in a low turnout local by-election than supporters of other parties.

Incidentally, since my last update there have been three new Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls, and all of them have shown an SNP lead (albeit a wafer-thin one in the case of today's YouGov poll).  The SNP were also ahead in a BMG subsample from September which was published belatedly.  That means there have now been thirteen subsamples in a row putting the SNP in front, underscoring the apparent change in the political weather since the summer.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unethical constitutions deserve no respect

A guest post by Al Skinner

Spain’s vicious authoritarian response to the referendum in Catalonia got me thinking about constitutions. The constant refrain from Madrid is that the plebiscite was in violation of the Spanish constitution, with former vice-president of the Spanish government Alfonso Guerra going so far as to declare that there can be no negotiating with the Catalan golpistas (“coupists”).

It is, in fact, essentially undeniable that the referendum was “illegal” and in violation of the Spanish constitution.

But here’s the rub: the constitution of Spain is itself illegitimate. But allow me to back up for a moment.

In light of Germany’s central role in the EU, I kept wondering how German politicians and media would respond to the situation in Catalonia. Surely, I thought, they would condemn Spain’s brutal actions even if there was no chance of the German government doing anything substantial. At least, I naively assumed, both state and press would rhetorically uphold certain core values. How wrong I was. Instead they’ve largely been supportive of Madrid, construing recent events as an internal Spanish matter.

The title of a recent article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper absurdly declares that "Self-Determination is an Invitation to Dictatorship", another in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explains "Why Spain is Doing the Right Thing", while yet another in the former publication baldly states that “There is No Unlimited Right to Secession".

The last article is an interview with one Christoph Vedder, who is described as an expert in international law. He explains that while the right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, this does not mean Catalonia has the right to an independence referendum. As I read the article my curiosity grew. How on earth was he going to square that particular circle?

Then came the sleight of hand. Vedder invents a qualification to the right to self-determination. It applies, he explains, only in cases of severe repression. So Kosovo’s independence from Serbia was OK. But Catalonia, being part of a democratic state under the rule of law, does not enjoy that right. For this expert, the Catalans’ right to self-determination is “exhausted” within the Spanish state. If this ideological contortion seems warped and ridiculous to you, then good – it is.

But why are these highly educated and no doubt in many ways liberal-minded Germans twisting common sense into such grotesque shapes?

I don’t think we have to look too far for an answer. This is essentially about power and authority. Existing states are averse to, if not terrified of, the implications of the right to self-determination. They don’t want to lose territory, population and resources. They don’t want a "diminished status in the world". And this brings us to the nub of the matter – the sheer infantilism of most contemporary governments. They care only about perpetuating their own states. The idea that this is about solemn commitment to constitutions is laughable. This is about the state and its ego. This infantilism, of course, leads to terrible ethics. Which is just what we're seeing in Madrid at the moment.

Vedder mentions in the interview that Germany too recognizes no right of its constituent parts to become independent states. But this is like saying, look, women are oppressed everywhere, so what are you complaining about? The fact that the German constitution, like its Spanish counterpart, flagrantly violates the right to self-determination is nothing to be proud of. It should be a source of deep shame. The German commentators alluded to here are being good little servants of the constitution, in a twisted, deeply conservative sort of way.

How different it could and should all be. Imagine a world that truly honoured the right to self-determination. Now, I’m the first to agree that not every bit of the planet should enjoy that right. I recognize no right of Renfrewshire or Hampshire to self-determination. This is the self-determination of peoples we’re talking about. But to deny that right to Catalonia is to strip it of all meaning. Of course the Catalans (by which I mean the citizens of Catalonia) are a people. Of course they must enjoy that fundamental right. There’s no ultimate reason why existing states could not approach the possibility of some of their territory morphing into separate states with calmness and great ethics. There’s no ultimate reason why they couldn’t facilitate the emergence of new independent states. So does the UK government’s approach to the Scottish independence referendum serve as a template here?

Only very partially. Ultimately, the right to self-determination cannot be constrained by the decision of central governments. So the need for a Section 30 order is itself an infringement of this right. Furthermore, the shocking tsunami of propaganda unleashed by the UK government and its unionist coreligionists in the press destroyed any prospect of a sound decision in 2014. I belong to the school of thought that believes there would have been a Yes vote in the absence of this ideological warfare. A handsome victory, I suspect.

As we watch Madrid’s sickening descent into authoritarianism, we should remember that constitutions are not sacred texts. It is vital to challenge the dreadful ethics they often embody. The Spanish constitution is in violation of international law. This is one of the key prisms through which I think we should view current events in Catalonia.

Monday, October 9, 2017

New Scottish poll is "unmitigated disaster" for Ruth Davidson as Tories slip seventeen points behind SNP on WESTMINSTER voting intentions

It's a hat-trick, folks - and in more ways than one.  YouGov's new poll is the third full-scale Scottish poll since the general election, and all three have shown that the SNP's support in Westminster voting intentions has gone back up - a genuinely astonishing consensus that defies all of the expectations during the summer, and indeed the propaganda that was being pumped out by commentators as recently as yesterday.

Scottish voting intentions for next Westminster general election (YouGov) :

SNP 40% (+3)
Labour 30% (+3)
Conservatives 23% (-6)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)

(This is YouGov's first Scottish voting intention poll since the general election, so percentage changes are measured from the actual election result.)

The equally remarkable thing that the three polls have in common with each other is that the anti-independence media outlet that commissioned them buried all mention of the Westminster results - presumably because they'd rather people didn't know the SNP are doing so well.  The Daily Mail didn't report Survation's Westminster numbers at all, the Sunday Times held back Panelbase's Westminster results for a week and then made only passing reference to them, and although I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, I get the distinct impression from those who do that the Times didn't say anything about YouGov's Westminster results in their coverage of the new poll on Saturday.  If there was any mention at all, it can't have been very prominent, because the numbers didn't make their way onto social media.  I eventually found them in the datasets published on YouGov's own website today.

On all three occasions, the unionist newspaper in question has preferred to focus all of our attention on the Scottish Parliament voting intention figures instead - which are spinnable as being a mild setback for Nicola Sturgeon, because although the SNP have an enormous lead on that measure as well, it's down a little from the extraordinary high recorded at the Holyrood election in May 2016.

For the avoidance of doubt, there is no innocent explanation for this selective reporting of the polls.  We've only just been through a Westminster general election, and there is a non-trivial chance of another one being held next year.  By contrast, the next Scottish Parliament election is almost four years away.  Of course Westminster voting intentions are the more interesting of the two sets of numbers at present - so why on earth are London-based newspapers behaving as if Holyrood is the only game in town, and as if Westminster is just some trivial detail?  It makes no sense unless they're in the propaganda business, and are determined that a decrease in the SNP's Holyrood lead should be widely known about, but that a deeply inconvenient increase in the SNP's Westminster lead should be kept a total secret.  It's a cynical game, but to some extent it's working - you may have seen Rachael Swindon (a well-known Corbynite on Twitter) express genuine shock and bewilderment yesterday upon being told that all of the Westminster polls since the election have shown the SNP's vote increasing.  She was utterly convinced that all of the polls she had seen had shown the polar opposite.

If I could blow my own trumpet for just a moment, the YouGov poll bears out what I've been saying for months about the likelihood that an aggregate of subsamples will at least be vaguely in line with the results of full-scale Scottish polls.  Unlike other firms, YouGov's subsamples have been consistently showing the Scottish Tories in third place, so it makes perfect sense that YouGov's full-scale poll has parted company with both Panelbase and Survation by showing Labour in a clear second place and the Tories in a dismal third.  Ruth Davidson must be absolutely horrified by these numbers (and on this occasion that's not hyperbole).  It's even more startling when you bear in mind that Labour and the Tories are essentially tied in the same poll's Holyrood figures.

The SNP would plainly be well-placed to make several gains from the Tories in any early general election if YouGov are correct.  The poll implies a 4.5% swing from Tory to SNP, which in respect of the 'box office' contests means that Alex Salmond would comfortably take back Gordon if he chooses to stand again, and that Angus Robertson would have a 50/50 chance of taking back Moray.

There's another interesting nugget from the YouGov datasets on the Holyrood numbers - the SSP are on 3% of the list vote.  That's not enough to win them any seats, but it does mean that support for pro-independence parties on the list is significantly higher than we first thought.