Friday, November 3, 2017

That ever-shrinking Tory minority government

After the SNP suspended Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry a couple of years ago, there were various articles in the unionist media gloating about 'the mystery of the vanishing SNP MPs'.  It might be worth noting, then, that other parties seem to have recently mastered the art of shrinking their own parliamentary representation.  This is the direction of travel since the general election in June...

Composition of the House of Commons:

Conservatives 314 (-2)
Labour 258 (-2)
SNP 35 (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 12 (n/c)
DUP 10 (n/c)
Sinn Féin 7 (n/c)
Independents 5 (+4)
Plaid Cymru 4 (n/c)
Greens 1 (n/c)

Conservatives 10 seats short of a majority

(The Speaker and Deputy Speakers are excluded from the above figures. Note also that Sinn Féin have not taken up their seats. Theoretically they can do so at any time, but in practice are highly unlikely to.)

Of course in one sense the Tory and Labour losses might be viewed as a mere technicality, because Jared O'Mara can still be expected to vote in line with the Labour whip and Charlie Elphicke can still be expected to vote in line with the Tory whip.  But I do wonder if there may eventually prove to be a distinction between an MP who still harbours realistic hopes of being readmitted to the party fold (such as Anne Marie Morris), and an MP who is accused of something of sufficient seriousness that it becomes hard to imagine any way back.  In the latter case, such a person may feel they have nothing left to lose, and the whips would have nothing left to bribe or threaten them with.

Those of you with a long memory may recall that nine Eurosceptic rebel Tory MPs had the whip withdrawn in late 1994, which technically and temporarily meant that John Major's majority was wiped out.  Robin Oakley, then the BBC's Political Editor, assured viewers that this was a masterstroke by the Tory whips, because suspended MPs typically show obsessional loyalty in an effort to be readmitted as soon as possible.  But the MP Rupert Allason, who'd had the whip withdrawn a year earlier, predicted that precisely the opposite would happen, and he was proved correct.  The whipless MPs became an informal grouping, and with safety in numbers became emboldened to vote against the Major government even more often.  They were eventually readmitted without providing any guarantees about their future conduct.   That was merely embarrassing for the Tories, but it won't even be regarded as a credible option now if the reason for an MP's suspension is suspected wrongdoing of a serious nature (unless the individual is completely cleared).

Take a bow, Anne McElvoy: the competition is stiff, but you may have just said the most ridiculous thing in the history of Question Time

OK, so let's just briefly recap.

* In 2015, the Catalan people freely elected a parliament in which the absolute majority of members were pro-independence.

* In the popular vote in the 2015 election, pro-independence parties comfortably outpolled anti-independence parties by 48% to 39%.

* The elected pro-independence government held a referendum last month to definitively determine whether the population wanted independence or not.

* The pro-independence campaign won the referendum by an overwhelming margin of 92% to 8%.

* In spite of violence, intimidation and vote theft by the Spanish authorities, 38.5% of the entire registered electorate successfully cast a vote in favour of independence, meaning that even had there been a very high overall turnout of as much as 76%, a victory for the pro-independence campaign would have been statistically certain.

* Braving a very real threat to their own personal liberty, government ministers acted to respect the will of the electorate by declaring an independent republic.

* An opinion poll published this week shows that there continues to be a majority in favour of independence (roughly 53% to 47%).

* Two very recent voting intention polls suggest that the pro-independence parties are on course to retain their overall majority in parliament in the December elections, and to win the popular vote once again.

Presumably aware of most or all of the above, Anne McElvoy of The Economist somehow felt able to indulge in the following musings on the BBC's Question Time tonight: "The facts are that there is not an overall appetite in Catalonia for independence, and sometimes the debate is conducted as if there were.  And sometimes some of the framing of news reporting seems to suggest that there is.  AND THERE IS NOT.  If you want a LEGITIMATE pro-independence movement, then go out there, campaign for it, and get people on your side. The push for independence is, I think, over for the moment."

There comes a point where it's actually quite difficult to know how to argue with stupidity like that.  What's truly inexplicable is that the host David Dimbleby didn't step in to correct (or at least challenge) such an obvious factual inaccuracy, and instead simply allowed viewers to be grossly misled.

*  *  *

I touch on the subject of Catalonia in my article for this month's iScot magazine, which is now available.  A preview of the article has been posted HERE, and you can purchase a digital copy of the magazine HERE.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Opinion poll confirms what we already knew: Catalonia wants to be an independent state

I don't often wade through polling datasets in the Catalan language for this blog, but it may be worth doing it in this particular case.  As I've noted a couple of times over the last few weeks, the result of the Catalan referendum makes it phenomenally improbable that the anti-independence side would have won if they hadn't boycotted the vote.  You'd have to believe in an ultra-high turnout and that practically all of the extra voters would have voted No - which stretches credibility beyond breaking-point, given that we know large numbers of Yes supporters were prevented from voting by the police.  The only other possibility to cling to is that there was widespread falsification of results - essentially the mirror image of the wild conspiracy theories about the Scottish indyref result that unionists here love to scoff at.  Judging from the reports of observers, there in fact seems to be compelling evidence that the vote was extremely well and fairly conducted under the circumstances.  And yet, in spite of the compelling mandate for independence staring them in the face, the BBC website has taken to innocently finishing articles about Catalonia with a variant on the following: "Catalans are split on independence.  An opinion poll earlier this year showed 41% in favour, 49% against."  The pretty obvious subtext being that outdated opinion polls are more authoritative than actual referendum results.

Even if you believe that the BBC's favourite poll was bang-on accurate at the moment it was conducted, is it really so implausible that public opinion has changed since then, allowing us to reconcile the poll result with the referendum result?  Of course it's not.  Scottish public opinion proved extremely volatile over the final few weeks of indyref campaigning, and we didn't have the provocation of state authorities telling us it was illegal to vote and attacking us with truncheons and rubber bullets if we attempted to reach a polling station.  The new Catalan poll today confirms that there has been a significant swing in favour of independence since the pre-referendum period, sufficient to give Yes a majority.

I, més concretament, vol que Catalunya esdevingui un Estat independent? (And, more specifically, do you want Catalonia to become an independent State?)

Yes 48.7% (+7.6)
No 43.6% (-5.8)

The fieldwork dates were 16th-29th October, and with Don't Knows excluded the results are roughly: Yes 53%, No 47%.  Percentage changes are from the same polling organisation's figures in June.

The 'less specific' question asked by the poll is a multi-option question on various constitutional options - a bit like Scottish polls that chuck in a 'Devo Max' option.  Outright independence is the most popular single option with 40.2% support.  It's true that if you combine support for all of the options that involve Catalonia remaining within the Spanish state, you reach an overall majority - but, crucially, one of those options is Catalonia becoming a state in its own right within a federal Spain, which is clearly not on offer in the real world.  That explains why there is a pro-independence majority on the binary Yes/No question.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Spanish democracy : doubleplusgood

I wanted to vote but Big Brother told me it was illegal.

I went to the polling station, and Big Brother's police smashed me in the face with a truncheon.

They did it to save democracy and protect my human rights.

I checked with Big Brother's European allies to make sure he hadn't malfunctioned in some way, but they said "no, this is all perfectly normal".

The votes were counted and the result was announced, but Big Brother explained there hadn't been an election at all.  It had just been my imagination.

Some people attempted to implement the result of the imaginary election, but Big Brother's judges tried to arrest them and they had to flee to another country.

Then Big Brother decided to hold an election of his own.  It would be much better than the imaginary election because it wouldn't be imaginary, and because everyone would be able to take part. 

I tried to vote for my favourite candidates in Big Brother's election, but found I couldn't because they were in jail for organising the imaginary election. 

So I tried to vote for my second favourite candidates, but found I couldn't because Big Brother had banned their party for campaigning in the imaginary election.

I did manage to vote for my third favourite candidates.  And they won.   Hurrah!

But then Big Brother annulled the election results because it was undemocratic for the winners to win.

I went on a demonstration because I didn't think this was fair.  Big Brother's police smashed me in the face with a truncheon again and I suddenly remembered it was all totally fair.

Freedom is Slavery.

Dictatorship is Democracy.

I love Big Brother.