Friday, April 20, 2018

SNP vote remains rock-solid in Highland Perthshire by-election

Just for once we have a by-election outcome where the terminology of 'hold' or 'gain' isn't misleading due to the quirks of the voting system.  The Highland ward in Perth & Kinross was firmly Tory territory in the council elections last May, and the vacant seat was successfully retained by the Tories in the by-election yesterday.

Highland ward (Perth & Kinross) by-election result:

Conservatives 46.7% (+1.2)
SNP 35.9% (-0.6)
Independent - Taylor 6.9% (n/a)
Labour 5.8% (n/a)
Greens 2.5% (-1.4)
Liberal Democrats 1.9% (-1.6)
Independent - Baykal 0.3% (n/a)

For my money that's a very solid result for the SNP. Of course they were talking up their chances of winning outright, which any party with even an outside chance always has to do, but the reality is that they would have needed a hefty 4.5% swing from the Tories, which was always improbable given the greater tendency of Tory voters to turn out in lower profile contests. Essentially what we have is a no change outcome - there's been a tiny swing to the Tories, but nothing of any real consequence. That's consistent with the message of the national opinion polls, which suggests that despite all the media hoo-ha over the general election result, the SNP vote has actually held up admirably since June.

* * *

I think someone at Time magazine has a sense of humour - either that, or (and this is more probable) they're just completely clueless. The publication has named Ruth Davidson - I'm not making this up, Ruth Davidson - as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Well, let's put that seemingly improbable claim to the test, shall we? She's an MSP, so the main arena for her influence really ought to be the Scottish Parliament - but she doesn't have much there, even as the leader of the second-largest party. Yes, the SNP government is just short of an outright majority and is sometimes forced to seek arrangements with other parties to get legislation through, but for obvious reasons parties other than the Tories are the usual port of call for any deal-making. So if Davidson is frozen out of power in Scotland, the only conceivable influence she could possibly have would be indirect influence on her fellow Tories in government at Westminster. But what evidence is there that she even has that? She's made two main boasts about what 'her' bloc of MPs at Westminster would achieve over the last year - 1) that the devolution settlement would be protected with amendments made to the EU Withdrawal Bill at the Commons stage, and 2) that powers over fisheries would be repatriated to the UK immediately after Brexit. Both of those claims came to absolutely nothing, and all we've heard from Davidson is how "frustrated" she is that she can't do anything about it. As a general rule, the most influential people in the world get what they want, rather than whinge about being "frustrated" that the opposite of what they want is happening because other people are calling the shots.

I think GA Ponsonby has it nailed - the bogus narrative of 'Ruth the Powerful' is a fairy-tale dreamt up from scratch by the media, and has somehow gained so much traction that even a few people in other countries have started to believe it. This accolade for Davidson will in a few short years look as mind-bogglingly silly as Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why the Tories want the SNP to let their mandate for a referendum expire

Not for the first time, David Halliday has hit the nail on the head with this tweet -

"If not having an independence referendum before 2021 is sensible then why has Ruth Davidson been fighting so hard to make sure that that's what happens?"

If you find yourself doing (or considering doing) exactly what your opponents want you to do, it's always worth stepping into their shoes and considering why they want you to do it so badly.  From a Tory perspective, there are a number of very good reasons why an early independence referendum is something to dread -

1) The imminence of Brexit means that Project Fear would work in both directions this time.  It will be easy enough for the Yes campaign to produce a steady stream of "There were warnings tonight about the impact of Brexit on..." stories.  (How easy it will be to get the broadcasters to give those stories equal prominence is another matter, but an official campaign can help set the news agenda to some extent.)  If voters are convinced that there are credible reasons to fear the uncertainty of Brexit, the effect of fear in the campaign may be neutralised in a way that was never possible in 2014.

2) Theresa May is absolutely the worst person to be a figurehead for the No campaign.  She is tone-deaf in respect of Scotland.  She could single-handedly lose the referendum for No.

3) Jeremy Corbyn clearly has some appeal in Scotland, but an independence referendum would not be his natural terrain.  As was the case during the EU referendum, he probably wouldn't look terribly interested.  He would also say random things about "SNP austerity" that just wouldn't have much resonance for people in that particular context.

4) Given that the Tories are now Scotland's second party at almost every level of representation, it would be hard to justify sitting back and allowing Labour to be the cuddly public face of the No campaign once again.  And yet the alternative - an identifiably Tory-led No campaign - carries enormous risks.  Notwithstanding Ruth Davidson's much-vaunted "popularity", the Tories remain the most disliked of the major political parties in Scotland.  In a binary-choice referendum, there's not much use having 25% of the population solidly behind you if another 65% hate your guts.

5) The Vow may be a trick that was only ever going to work once.  On the pro-independence side, we tend to think of what could go right or wrong in a referendum purely in terms of victory or defeat, but for the Tories, giving too much ground on devolution is a fate almost as bad as defeat.  If a Yes vote looked like a realistic possibility with a few days to go, they would have to decide whether to make very painful concessions of new powers, or whether (and this is more probable) to offer absolutely nothing and just hope for the best.  Neither option looks too appetising for them in advance.