Friday, December 22, 2017

Momentous Panelbase poll suggests Brexit could lead to majority support for independence

You've probably seen by now that Wings has a new Panelbase poll out.  It looks like this is merely the first of several questions from the poll that will be published over the coming days (making it an almost unique example of a political poll that was commissioned with the specific intention of keeping people entertained over Christmas!).

The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU in March of 2019.  If a referendum on Scottish independence was held around this time, and if a Yes vote meant that Scotland would definitely stay in the EU when the UK left, which way do you think you would vote?

I would vote for an independent Scotland in the EU: 49%
I would vote for Scotland to stay in the UK and leave the EU: 51%

For the avoidance of doubt, this can't be taken to indicate a recent increase in support for independence, because the poll asks a non-conventional and hypothetical question, and indeed offers a choice between two non-conventional and hypothetical answers.  It's not directly comparable with more standard independence polls, which over the last few months have had the Yes vote hovering between 43% and 47%.  Nevertheless, it's an extremely interesting finding because it directly contradicts a narrative that is almost beginning to be regarded in some quarters as indisputable fact - namely that the SNP leadership made a serious miscalculation in 2016 and early 2017 by assuming that Brexit could in itself bring about majority support for independence.  The theory is that the Yes side has lost as many (or perhaps more) votes as it has gained, because too many people who voted Yes in 2014 and Leave in 2016 do not regard continued membership of the EU as a price worth paying for independence, while not enough Remain voters regard independence as a price worth paying for EU membership.  This poll suggests the opposite is the case - that explicitly tying independence to EU membership actually produces a net gain in Yes support, which is precisely what the SNP leadership thought would be the case all along.

As it happens, the proportion of Remain voters in the poll who say they would vote against independence (32%) is significantly higher than the proportion of Leave voters who say they would vote in favour of independence (21%).  But because there are far more Remain voters than Leave voters in Scotland, that's still enough to produce a net boost for Yes.

Of course, some will argue that the results of the poll are meaningless because the hypothetical scenario presented by the question will never come to pass - ie. if there's an independence referendum in early 2019, voters won't have absolute 100% certainty that an independent Scotland would remain in the EU (or rejoin after a short hiatus, which amounts to the same thing).  But if EU leaders are interested in the unexpected bonus of retaining one-third of the UK's land mass after Brexit, and it's not hard to see why they might be, it's quite conceivable that they could find a way of dropping sufficiently heavy hints about how easy an independent Scotland is likely to find it to remain a member.  That might produce much the same effect on public opinion as absolute certainty would.

By the way, don't be dismayed by the fact that the No side are slightly ahead even on the hypothetical question.  This poll is the quintessential statistical tie - meaning it's not possible to know which side is really ahead due to the standard 3% margin of error.  Looking at the raw numbers in the datasets, the result appears to be fractionally closer than even the headline numbers suggest - something like Yes 49.2%, No 50.8%.

One slight reason for caution is that people minded to vote No on a standard independence question seem to have been disproportionately likely to have said "Don't Know" to the question tying independence to EU membership, and thus many are excluded from the headline figures.  But that in itself is an intriguing finding.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Catalan election dramatically reinforces mandate for independence

With almost all the votes in, this looks like being the result -

Pro-independence parties: 70 seats
Anti-independence parties: 57 seats
Neutral party: 8 seats

Pro-independence parties: 70 seats
All others combined: 65 seats


The statistic that the Spanish government and EU leaders will cling to for dear life is that the pro-independence parties didn't quite manage 50% of the popular vote, but don't be fooled by that - the pro-indy camp have a lead of around four percentage points over all of the unionist parties combined.  The neutral party's votes are the fly in the ointment, but there's no reason to doubt that they would break in both directions in the event of a binding independence referendum, making it overwhelmingly unlikely that the fabled "silent majority for Spanish unity" actually exists.  The turnout was exceptionally high, so there's no excuse there - it's not so much a silent majority as a 'vanished from the face of the earth majority'.

Obviously it would have been preferable, and would have removed the last tiny vestige of uncertainty, if the three pro-indy parties had won an absolute majority of the votes.  But let's be honest - even if that had happened, Spain would still be saying that independence is illegal, and the EU would still be sticking their heads in the sand.  An absolute majority of seats is the far more important thing from a strategic point of view, because it leaves the Spanish government in a right old pickle.  The election was called so that the Catalan parliament would no longer be a 'rebel' body, but instead that status quo ante has been reinstated - the parliament will presumably at least nominally continue to regard itself as the legislative body of an independent republic.  Will Spain now turn a blind eye to that?  Or will it call yet another election, and perhaps another one after that, and make itself look utterly ridiculous?  Or will it indefinitely suspend the Catalan democratic institutions?  All of those three options look untenable, and yet if Rajoy doesn't want to grant a binding independence referendum (or indeed to recognise the independence declaration that has already been issued) he'll have to select one of them.

There was a minor surprise in the battle between the two main pro-independence parties, with Carles Puigdemont's centre-right grouping Junts per Catalunya just pipping the left-wing ERC, despite having trailed in the pre-election polls.  However, once the small CUP party is taken into account, the pro-indy camp has a slight left-wing majority, making it a very different beast from the Catalan nationalist movement of old.  On the unionist side, Rajoy was utterly annihilated - his ironically-named Partido Popular seems to have finished seventh in the popular vote, and probably seventh in terms of seats as well.  (And you thought the Scottish Tories paid a heavy price for opposing devolution in the 1990s?)  His natural support seems to have defected en masse to the supposedly 'liberal and centrist' (but in reality right-of-centre and conservative) Ciutadans party, perhaps because that's more of a home-grown unionist outfit.

A modest and sincerely-intended suggestion for the EU: if they don't want to look ludicrously one-sided and anti-democratic, they ought as a minimum to call on Spain to grant Puigdemont an amnesty and allow him to resume his role as president without any further risk of imprisonment.  He is, after all, a newly re-elected head of government, and not a serial killer.

UPDATE: I see that the Madrid-based El Pais newspaper is not grouping the parties into the three camps of 'pro-independence', 'anti-independence' and 'neutral', but instead lumping the anti-independence and neutral parties together in order to claim that the 'No Independentistas' defeated the 'Independentistas' in the popular vote.  I suppose you have to admire their creativity if nothing else.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fresh blow for Leask as "Kremlin-backed alt-Nat TV show" conquers the ratings

You might be interested to know that the Alex Salmond Show have issued a press release that deals robustly with a couple of taunts that have been directed against the programme - firstly that it hasn't been a ratings success, and secondly that it's struggled to attract prominent guests because of the reputation of RT.  On the latter point, it's stressed that over the first few weeks the show has already interviewed two heads of state (President Michel Aoun of Lebanon and President Carles Puigdemont of the new Republic of Catalonia), two knights of the realm, a former member of the Scottish Cabinet, four Westminster MPs, and also Alastair Campbell, who has recently reinvented himself as one of the leading anti-Brexit commentators.  I'm not totally convinced that the BBC's Andrew Marr or Sky's Sophy Ridge could claim to have beaten that line-up over an equivalent time-frame.

As far as the ratings are concerned, they've actually increased significantly since the triumphant headlines about "Alex Salmond's Kremlin TV show getting the same number of viewers as a Taggart repeat" (which on the face of it struck me as an accolade rather than a mark of failure).  The 6.30pm showing on 7th December attracted 19,000 viewers, up around 20% since the first episode in November.  If anything, the improvement is a surprise, because a programme launched in a blitz of publicity will often lose viewers after the initial novelty wears off.  Presumably it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of the show's UK audience live in Scotland, which means roughly 1 in 300 of the entire Scottish population were watching at just one moment in time - pretty healthy for a minority TV channel that not everyone has heard of, and that some don't have access to.  But more to the point, the 19,000 figure doesn't even include viewers for the other two broadcasts on the same day, or those who saw some or all of the programme on YouTube - which in reality is most people's point of contact with RT.

By the way, if like me you have a TV package like Virgin Media that doesn't include RT, the channel is live-streamed for free on the website HERE.  The next Alex Salmond Show is tomorrow at 7.30am, 6.30pm, and 11.30pm.

*  *  *

It looks like the Catalan election tomorrow is going to be a frighteningly close-run thing.  Barring widespread voting irregularities (which admittedly can't be ruled out), there's not much risk that the anti-independence parties will win a majority between them - but of course this is not really a fair contest, because the pro-independence parties effectively need to clear a tougher hurdle than their opponents do.  It's not enough simply to be the bigger of the two camps - only an absolute majority of seats will be interpreted as reinforcing the mandate for independence.  The estimates of seats in most recent opinion polls suggest that the majority is on a knife-edge, with potentially just one or two seats tipping the balance in either direction.

There's also an intriguing battle within the pro-indy camp - both the left-wing ERC and Puigdemont's centre-right Junts per Catalunya are vying the be the largest single grouping.  Puigdemont has made up ground recently, but still hasn't quite drawn level with the ERC.  It's possible (perhaps even probable) that the split in the pro-indy camp will allow the virulently anti-independence Ciutadans to come through the middle and claim 'victory' - although that won't really matter as long as Junts per Catalunya, the ERC and the smaller CUP have a combined majority between them.