Saturday, April 14, 2018

Why I'm backing Chris McEleny for SNP depute leader

Because the candidates are perhaps a little less well-known than would usually be the case, I had planned to take my time before making a final decision about who to vote for in the SNP depute leadership race.  However, the three remaining candidates have now all expressed clear views on the timing of a second independence referendum.  Unless those views change, I think the decision to vote for Chris McEleny has effectively been taken for me. 

These are the positions of the candidates as I understand them -

Chris McEleny: There should be an independence referendum within the next eighteen months.

Julie Hepburn: We have a mandate for a referendum.  But the timing of the referendum is not what members should be thinking about right now.  We should trust Nicola Sturgeon to make the right decision.

Keith Brown: The SNP is not yet ready to fight an independence referendum, and we need to get ready before a referendum can be called.

Now, I know some people will argue that this contest should not even be about the timing of a referendum.  Julie Hepburn's exhortation to "just trust Nicola" is superficially seductive.  But here's the thing: although Nicola Sturgeon will ultimately be the person who makes the decision, she will do it after factoring in the views of other key players within the SNP.  It would be perverse if the voice of the membership is the only voice that is not heard in that decision-making process.  What "trust Nicola" really amounts to is saying that you'll be equally happy regardless of what is decided, and there can't be many of us who truly feel that way.  Even if a decision goes against you, it's a lot easier to accept the outcome if you've had a chance to express your view and to be heard.  This election is taking place at a time when the SNP is facing one of the biggest forks in the road in its history, and the idea that we should all just be ignoring that and choosing who to vote for based solely on other factors seems to me naive and unrealistic.

Some people will argue that Chris McEleny does not have a high enough profile to be depute leader.  The reality is, though, that because the SNP's big beasts are all sitting this contest out, the role of depute is going to be very different from before, regardless of who wins.  Keith Brown is the only parliamentarian standing, but even if he wins, he's plainly not going to suddenly become the second most important person within the SNP, and probably not the third or fourth most important either.  The new role of the depute could be as a bridge between the leadership and the grass-roots, and Chris McEleny is arguably best-placed to fill that role.

"Preparation and persuasion, not obsessing over timing" is another seductive argument, but my huge concern is that all the best preparation and persuasion in the world will count for absolutely nothing if the referendum never actually takes place.  That would be the risk we'd take if we flirt with allowing the mandate for a pre-2021 referendum to expire.  In fairness, Keith Brown isn't adopting the Pete Wishart/Jim Sillars stance - nothing he has said would specifically preclude a pre-2021 referendum.  However, it does seem to me that he is effectively ruling out a referendum in the spring of next year - if he's saying that the SNP is not ready now, it's hard to see how he'd be able to argue that everything had been turned around by the autumn, when the starting-gun for a vote in early 2019 would have to be fired.  I don't think that taking any option off the table is helpful at this stage.  At least Julie Hepburn appears to be genuinely neutral on timing (and her emphasis that "we have the mandate" perhaps points to the likelihood of a pre-2021 vote), so on that basis I'm currently minded to give her my second preference vote, behind Chris McEleny.  I'll continue to keep an eye on what is said, though.

Remember that even if Keith Brown wins due to name-recognition, a strong showing for Chris McEleny would still send a powerful message to the leadership about members' views on the urgency of a referendum.  So from that point of view I feel that a vote for McEleny is an each-way bet that is well worth taking.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Renew the Section 30 request, put a deadline on it - and then if needs be go ahead and legislate for a referendum anyway

Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland has helpfully moved forward the debate over indyref timing by arguing that the Scottish Government should go ahead and legislate for a second referendum without specifying a date.  I would maybe quibble over whether this proposal stands outside the dispute over timing in quite the way that Stuart thinks, because what many of the people arguing for a long delay really want is for the whole issue of a referendum to fade from public debate, whereas legislating and perhaps triggering a challenge in the Supreme Court would have the opposite effect.  Nevertheless, on paper at least, preparing the ground for a referendum without naming the day ought to be able to unite all shades of opinion on timing.

Two key points need to be added to the proposal in my view.  Firstly, the Scottish Parliament should only go ahead and pass a Referendum Bill after the request for a Section 30 order has been revived and clearly rejected.  To avoid further "now is not the time" delaying tactics, the UK government should be given a specific deadline for a definitive response to the Section 30 request, with a failure to give a clear "yes" or "no" by that date being interpreted as rejection.  It must be plainly seen by the public that the Scottish government wanted an agreed process, and only legislated unilaterally after their overtures were spurned.

Secondly, it's important to get the message across that any hypothetical rejection of a Referendum Bill by the Supreme Court will not lead to us all packing up and going home.  Of course we would obey the law, and of course we would not hold a "wildcat referendum".  Instead, we should make clear that if all other options are exhausted, the next Holyrood election will be used to seek an outright mandate for independence.  A negative outcome in the Supreme Court would actually be helpful in the pursuit of that mandate, because it would provide clarity - Yes supporters would be under no doubt that the only way to achieve independence will be by turning out in huge numbers in a Holyrood vote.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Twitter poll confirms overwhelming demand within the Yes movement for a pre-2021 referendum

The Western Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil has been holding a Twitter poll over the last 24 hours on the timing of an independence referendum.  The results are dramatic, with a combined total of 88% of the thousands of people who took part saying that the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum should be used.  Just 12% think the mandate should be allowed to expire.

Now of course I'm not going to pretend that a self-selecting Twitter poll is a scientifically rigorous exercise.  Nevertheless I do think it's of some interest.  Public opinion polls tell us about the views of the public, whereas a poll like this captures the views of the demographic that follows SNP parliamentarians on social media - ie. people who are the foot-soldiers of both the Yes movement and of the SNP.  Their opinions do count for something.  And at just over 5000, the sample size is impressive.  Remember that Twitter only allows one vote per account, so it's unlikely that the result was distorted by widespread multiple voting.  People's votes are also anonymous, so if they had wanted to quietly express a preference for letting the mandate expire, they could have done so without any fears.  There just doesn't seem to be much appetite for that option within the movement.

Jim Sillars is now, to all intents and purposes, opposed to an independent Scotland

I think that's fair comment.  It's rather like Gordon Brown's famous "five economic tests" for joining the euro - they were intentionally designed never to be met, because for whatever reason Brown had decided in advance that Britain should retain the pound, but he knew he had to go through the motions of looking open-minded about it.  Jim Sillars is not a fool, and he knows that the threshold he has just suggested for holding a second independence referendum (a 60% Yes vote in the polls for a sustained period of six months) is not likely to be anywhere close to being met at any time in the next twenty years, let alone in the next five.  He also knows that independence is essentially impossible if a referendum is not held, so it's reasonable to conclude that kicking independence into the long grass is now his conscious objective.  It's significant that even Pete Wishart felt it necessary to distance himself from Sillars' impossible threshold.  (Although of course that does beg the question of what Wishart's own threshold would be.  Don't hold your breath for an answer.)

So why would Sillars of all people want Scotland to remain subject to London rule?  Quite simply he got a pleasant surprise when Britain voted to leave the European Union, and he's now emotionally tethered to the idea of Scotland leaving European institutions when the rest of Britain does.  What's about to happen is a dream come true for a Eurosceptic, and he can't bear the thought of independence getting in the way of it.  That has led him to take what is a perverse position for any Scottish nationalist by denying the legitimacy of Scotland's own democratic decision to remain in the European Union. Essentially he agrees with the grotesque Richard Leonard doctrine that by voting No in 2014, Scotland empowered a neighbouring country to take a decision on European membership on our behalf, and that we are now honour-bound to abide by the decision made for us even though we disagree with it.

For anyone who actually prioritises independence over Brexit, it would be an extremely good idea not to follow Sillars down this latest rabbit hole.

*  *  *

As you know, I was extremely hurt the other day to discover that Pete Wishart had blocked me for refusing to agree with him that the hard-won mandate for an independence referendum should be allowed to expire.  I hadn't said anything that could be construed as abusive or insulting towards him, so it seemed clear enough that the blocking was simply because he couldn't tolerate any dissent.  However, I've now had an explanation of sorts for his decision, and it is nothing short of extraordinary.

What that means in plain language is that he blocked me because of just one tweet.  This is the one....

As you can see, there is no insult in that tweet.  I just accurately described what we can all see with our own eyes - that Scotland in Union had used him as a poster-boy.  If he's so thin-skinned that he can't bear someone to state a fact when it's a wee bit embarrassing for him, then I suppose I just have to say "fair enough" - it seems a bit bloody silly, but people can make decisions about who to banish from their own social media space for the silliest of reasons, and that's up to him.  The problem is, though, that the blocking wasn't the end of it - not even close.  You've probably seen the gleeful articles in unionist newspapers such as the Daily Record that pick up on his complaints about abusive comments from his own side (ie. the pro-independence side).  You've probably also noticed that one of the two main examples he offered of this "abuse" was the fact that he had been referred to as a unionist "poster boy".  Incredibly, then, it appears to be the case that my totally innocuous tweet above is being cited by him as an example of vile Cybernat abuse.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a stunt.  His pride has been hurt by the reaction to the poster, and he's getting revenge by deliberately conflating genuine abuse with a comment that he knows perfectly well is completely non-abusive.  This is the second cynical stunt I've been on the receiving end from him over the last week or so (ie. after his so-called "right of reply" to me that was not a reply at all, and that just used me as a pretext to essentially regurgitate his original "let the mandate expire" article and get a second round of free publicity for it).  As someone who has received a large amount of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic online abuse over the years, I find it an absolutely sick joke to see an innocent comment of mine being ridiculously cited as an example of the worst abuse.  It trivialises genuine bullying and intimidation.  I must say that once I wised up to the game Pete was playing, I stopped feeling hurt that he had blocked me, and realised that it would be entirely appropriate for me to block him.

I'd also just like to note in passing the slightly sinister 'thought-police' aspect of Pete's suggestion that it is somehow 'unacceptable' to retweet certain ideological undesirables or to state certain facts.  Thank heavens he wasn't a TV censor during the original run of Catchphrase.  Roy Walker's famous exhortation of "say what you see!" would have had to be replaced with "say what you see unless it's a poster featuring Pete Wishart, in which case give us a pretty lie instead".

One thing I do agree with Pete about is that we should be taking Scotland in Union on.  But what I don't understand is how voluntarily adopting huge swathes of their programme and rhetoric is supposed to help us do that.  Yes, they were being mischievous by using Pete's image on their poster, but there was a sort of inescapable logic to it as well.  For example I'm struggling to see a huge difference between Ruth Davidson's stated reasons for opposing a referendum, and Pete's own views about Scotland supposedly being "weary of big constitutional decisions".

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Landmark Panelbase poll finds 42% of Scottish public want a very early independence referendum

Today brings word of a full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase, and not for the first time it illustrates beautifully the yawning chasm between the actual state of public opinion, and the fictional version of public opinion that the unionist media would rather we heard about.  Ludicrously, the Times (who commissioned the poll) claim there is "little support" for a pre-2021 independence referendum, even though the poll actually shows that a whopping 42% of the electorate - the sort of percentage that governments are elected on - want a referendum within around twelve months, let alone within three years.  17% want it to be held while Brexit is still being negotiated, meaning within less than one year, and an additional 25% want it at the end of Brexit negotiations, meaning in about a year's time.

As I've noted in the past, the format of Panelbase's question on referendum timing isn't ideal.  There is no obvious option provided for people who want a referendum in two or three years' time - anyone in that position is effectively forced to be more negative about a referendum than they really feel (by choosing the third option of "no referendum in the next few years") or to be more bullish about timing than they really feel.  Which way such people are jumping in the poll can only be a matter of speculation.  What I would point out, though, is that the relatively even split of 58% against a very early referendum, 42% in favour, has occurred in spite of a prolonged spell in which the SNP have not been openly making the case for a vote.  If they had been, it seems at least conceivable that the numbers would be even more favourable.

Just as was the case in the Ipsos-Mori poll a few weeks ago, there is no sign whatever of Pete Wishart's so-called "indy-gap" - a claimed phenomenon of support for an early referendum running significantly below support for independence itself.  In reality, support for an early referendum (42%) is once again essentially identical to support for independence (43%). 

The Yes vote continues the trend of recent months by remaining static.  Some pollsters have shown Yes essentially static in the mid-40s, some (like Panelbase) in the low 40s, and some in the high 40s.  These are simply 'house differences' between the various firms, and it's impossible to know who is closest to the truth.  It's a remarkable turnaround from the long indyref campaign that Panelbase online polling is now on the No-friendly end of the spectrum, and that Ipsos-Mori telephone polling is on the Yes-friendly end.

There are also Westminster voting intention numbers -

SNP 36% (-5)
Conservatives 28% (+1)
Labour 27% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)

The drop in the SNP vote may look alarming, but the 41% recorded in the previous Panelbase poll was the highest in any poll from any firm since the general election, so it may have been an inflated number caused by the margin of error.  This is only the second post-election poll (out of nine) to put the SNP below the 37% recorded on election day, but there has been no reduction in the eight-point election gap between SNP and Tory, and only a statistically insignificant one-point reduction in the gap between SNP and Labour.  So even if this poll was accurate, it's not clear that the SNP would be losing seats in an early election.

More details and analysis to follow...