Friday, December 29, 2017

Jo Swinson CBE - is this some sort of joke?

More than a few eyebrows were raised when the news leaked out that Nick Clegg was to be knighted in the New Year's Honours list.  He is, after all, the man who inherited a party that won a post-war record of 62 seats under Charles Kennedy in 2005, and somehow managed to reduce that to just 8 by the time he stepped down in 2015.  There was also a touch of scepticism as to whether Britain's fourth party collectively deserved the bumper number of knighthoods they have received of late.  But at least you can make a semi-plausible case for Clegg getting some sort of recognition from the honours system - he was party leader for seven-and-a-half years, Deputy Prime Minister for five years, and he was also the first Liberal or Liberal Democrat to lead his party into government at Westminster level since the wartime coalition of the 1940s.

No such excuse can be made for Jo Swinson, who I've just seen has been given a CBE.  Does anyone have the faintest idea what she's supposed to have done to deserve that?  She hasn't yet been party leader, she's only been deputy leader for a few months, and in the coalition government she never made it beyond junior ministerial rank.  Perhaps more to the point, she's only 37 years old, which in all likelihood means the meat of her political career is still ahead of her.  Honouring her at this stage is an unfathomable decision, and one that surely brings the system into further disrepute.  The obvious suspicion is that the Lib Dems, who pose as radicals but are establishment to their bones, have given up on collecting votes and are getting their kicks by collecting undeserved gongs instead.

Ironically, this development coincides with an article in the Guardian the other day which suggested that senior Lib Dems are increasingly looking towards Layla Moran as their party's future.  Swinson's name wasn't even mentioned.  That's an astonishing turnaround from a few short months ago when it looked like Swinson would only need to wait a couple of years for Vince Cable to step down, and then enjoy a coronation.  She may have miscalculated very badly by sitting out this year's leadership contest.  And that could well be a stroke of luck from our point of view, given that home-grown leaders tend to produce at least a modest vote boost in Scotland.

Not that I'd want to take sides in a matter that doesn't concern me, of course, so here's my totally unrelated Eurovision video of the day.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Was the SNP's victory in June 2017 the last time Scotland will participate in a UK general election?

You might remember that a few months ago Alastair Meeks royally entertained us by claiming, in all apparent seriousness, that the SNP could never even hope to 'recover' from the terrible setback of comfortably winning the general election in Scotland unless it ditched Nicola Sturgeon as leader.  Quite honestly, even if the narrative of 'SNP crisis' hadn't been so obviously bogus, Alastair's advice would still have been pretty dreadful because the alternatives to Nicola Sturgeon would all - at least for the moment - be a step backwards.  Humza Yousaf is presumably the long-term heir apparent, but he's still a bit too young and inexperienced if a vacancy were to occur any time soon.  Angus Robertson would be the best available replacement for now, but he doesn't currently have a seat in the Scottish Parliament and trying to engineer one for him via a constituency by-election would be fraught with danger.  That would probably leave us with John Swinney as a safe pair of hands - but we know from his own track record as leader between 2000 and 2004 that he'd be unlikely to prove more of an electoral asset than Nicola Sturgeon.  In a nutshell, regardless of your interpretation of the election result in June, the SNP would be completely nuts to change leader.

Alastair still seems to be banging the same drum today, albeit with a tad more circumspection: "The SNP meanwhile...[lost] seats to both Labour and the Conservatives in a unionist pincer movement. The risk of this being extended at a future election is obvious to all. The SNP need a strategy for dealing with this, and fast." That's fair comment as far as it goes, but it is, of course, only one side of the coin.  The SNP now hold a number of ultra-marginal seats that could be lost on a tiny swing, but exactly the same is true of the two main unionist parties, and especially of Labour, who could find themselves once again facing a near-wipeout if they suffer the kind of modest swing to the SNP that was being suggested by a couple of opinion polls in the early autumn.  Presumably Labour need a strategy for dealing with that risk - and fast - every bit as much as the SNP do.  For some strange reason we don't hear as much about Labour's extreme vulnerability, though.

As far as the SNP's electoral strategy is concerned, it's surely pretty obvious that they made a tactical error in May and June by downplaying their own USP.  People who voted Tory believed they were voting "against Indyref 2", and people who voted Labour reckoned they were voting for a real Labour government of the type that hadn't been seen since at least the 1970s, if not earlier.  The SNP weren't offering anything that could compete with the clarity of those pitches - which is ironic, given that the party's whole raison d'etre is as radical and inspiring as you can possibly get.  They did make a half-hearted attempt to mobilise the pro-independence vote by suggesting that if they won a majority of Scottish seats, that would constitute a triple-lock mandate for a second independence referendum - but then mystifyingly gave the impression of backtracking a little on that pledge for the first few days after the majority was duly achieved, which will have sent the dangerous message to some indy supporters that their vote for the SNP was not the vote for a referendum that they were explicitly told it was.  What is needed is the rectification of those tactical mistakes - not a change of leader.

However, all of the above assumes that the SNP will actually have to face another national election prior to independence, and it's by no means clear that they will.  The only one that is sort-of-scheduled to take place before May 2021 is the European election of 2019, which will not go ahead in the UK if Brexit happens on the planned date (although to be honest I don't have a clue if it'll go ahead if Brexit is delayed by a few months).  There is no better strategy for avoiding any risks attached to the next UK general election than making sure that Scotland is an independent country by the time it is held.  As I've noted many times, the SNP will have no option but to do their best to help bring about an early general election if the opportunity arises - but at the moment no such opportunity is on the horizon, and if that continues to be the case, a Yes vote in a 2019 indyref would ensure that the last ever Scottish contribution to a UK general election was the handsome SNP victory of June 2017.  Now, there's a thought to conjure with.

*  *  *

Five new Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls have been published since my last update...

BMG: SNP 36%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 22%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 7%, UKIP 2%

ICM (a): SNP 34%, Conservatives 29%, Labour 23%, Greens 6%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 3%

YouGov: Conservatives 37%, SNP 34%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 4%, UKIP 2%, Women's Equality 1%

Opinium: SNP 37%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 25%, Greens 5%, UKIP 2%, Liberal Democrats 2%

ICM (b): SNP 41%, Conservatives 27%, Labour 26%, Greens 2%, Liberal Democrats 2%, UKIP 1%

No cause for alarm in any of that.  The YouGov results are a bit of an oddity, because since the election YouGov subsamples have more or less consistently put the Tories in third place, and yet this time the Tories are suddenly in the lead - but that just demonstrates what a large margin of error any individual subsample has, even when it's correctly weighted (as YouGov subsamples apparently are).

Across all firms, thirty-one of the last thirty-four subsamples have put the SNP ahead.