Friday, July 27, 2018

Tonight (and every other night until the end of time) Scottish Labour are gonna whinge like it's Nine-teen-Se-ven-ty-Nine

It's always bemused me that there are two opinions about the SNP's history that seemingly nobody is allowed to express because the self-appointed experts have already long since decided that they are wrong.  Those opinions are:

1) That the SNP did the right thing by withdrawing from the Scottish Constitutional Convention after initial discussions.

2) That the SNP did the right thing by voting in favour of a motion of no confidence in the Callaghan government in 1979.

The first opinion is actually very easily defensible, and indeed in my view is probably correct.  Labour were refusing to even nominally allow independence to be considered by the Constitutional Convention as a valid possible outcome.  Therefore, by staying in the Convention, the SNP would have been endorsing an explicitly anti-independence endeavour.  That would have been a strategically foolish thing to do, because the constitutional proposals of all the main non-Tory parties would have become identical.  Why would anyone have bothered voting SNP when you could back exactly the same devolution policy by voting for a Labour government?  As it turned out, the SNP were electorally more successful in the 1990s than they were in the 1980s (their 32.6% share of the vote in the 1994 European election was at the time a new record high), which would tend to suggest that leaving the Convention and retaining their USP was extremely wise.  And of course devolution happened as quickly as it would have done if the SNP had been inside the Convention.  Indeed there's an argument that it happened more quickly, because external electoral pressure from the SNP helped keep Labour honest.

The 1979 question is more finely-balanced, because it's fair to say that neither the SNP nor Scotland gained anything by the decision to vote against Callaghan.  But here's the thing: it's not at all clear that anything would have been gained by not voting against Callaghan.  Which is probably why Tommy Sheppard said the unsayable a few days ago by noting that, even with the benefit of hindsight, he would have voted the same way if he had been an SNP MP in that position.  The Daily Record then provided a helpful reminder that they remain a completely unreformed Labour fanzine by leaping on that comment with the disgraceful headline "Senior SNP MP slammed for claims nationalists would vote for Thatcherism again".  Sheppard of course had said no such thing, because the SNP did not 'vote for Thatcherism' in 1979 or at any other time.  The vote against Callaghan was not a vote for a change of government, but was instead a vote for hastening a general election in which the British people could elect any government they liked.  The public could, for example, have significantly improved Callaghan's position by re-electing Labour with an outright majority.  If they had done so, would it have meant that the SNP had "voted for Callaghanism"?  No, it would still have meant that they voted for a slightly earlier election and for nothing else.

The subtext of Scottish Labour's decades-long whinge about the 1979 vote is that the SNP allowed the British people to overrule Scotland's wishes by installing Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.  It's hard to know where to start with hypocrisy like that.  Suffice to say that Labour believe as a matter of principle that the British people should be able to overrule Scotland's choice of government, and the SNP categorically do not.  When Labour campaigned for a No vote in the independence referendum, they were shamelessly campaigning to allow the 1979 scenario to play itself out again and again and again and again into infinity.  If we had a media worth its salt, that point would be put to Labour every time the subject is raised.

But leaving Labour's nonsense aside, did the SNP make the right call in 1979?  Look at it this way.  For years, they had used their voting power within a hung parliament to attempt to bring about an elected Scottish Assembly.  They had done so by repeatedly backing the Labour government in confidence votes on the condition that devolution legislation would go ahead.  What actually happened is that dozens of Labour MPs sabotaged the Scotland Bill by inserting the 40% rule, and Callaghan let them get away with it by indicating he was not going to respect the majority Yes vote in the 1979 referendum.  (Contrary to popular belief, the Scotland Act 1978 did not say that a failure to reach the 40% threshold would automatically lead to repeal.  The Secretary of State was required to table a repeal order, but Callaghan could then have whipped Labour MPs to vote against it, which if done successfully would have meant devolution going ahead as planned.  He chose not to do that.)  The informal agreement between Labour and the SNP had therefore been broken, and it had been broken by Labour.  Were the SNP really supposed to react to that state of affairs by saying "oh it doesn't matter, we'll reward your broken promises and continue propping up your government in return for absolutely nothing?" 

Four decades on, Labour's answer to that question, and indeed the Labour-supporting media's answer to that question, is "yes".  I would suggest that's not remotely a realistic answer. 

*  *  *

Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Latest figures suggest Scot Goes Pop is Scotland's fifth most-read alternative media site

Apologies for another self-indulgent stats post (in fairness I think the last one was in March!), but like other bloggers I do sometimes have to fight to make sure Scot Goes Pop gets the full recognition it's due.  Indyref2 have today published a ranking of Scottish alternative media websites based on monthly traffic estimates from the appropriately titled Traffic Estimate site.  Scot Goes Pop is on the list in sixth place with 44,400 visitors, but that's an underestimate because for some reason Traffic Estimate are now splitting the blog's traffic between two domains - (44,400 visitors) and (16,800 visitors).  Given that we're talking about unique visitors, can those two figures be treated cumulatively?  Not necessarily - there may be a little overlap, although I strongly suspect that most people who visit the blog multiple times in a month do so on the same domain every time.  So the correct figure is probably much closer to 61,200 than to 44,400.

When I first discovered Traffic Estimate a few months ago, the .com domain was showing zero visitors and the domain was showing anything between 60,000 and 80,000 visitors.  Why the flipover?  I don't really know, although one possible explanation is that Facebook links to Blogger now seem to be automatically directing to the .com domain, no matter which address is manually added.

I've also noticed that John Robertson's and Jason Michael's sites are missing from Indyref2's ranking list.  Assuming there are no other omissions, and assuming that other sites aren't suffering from the same multiple domain problem, here is the correct top nine.  I've put an asterisk next to Scot Goes Pop's traffic to take account of the slight uncertainty over how to treat the cumulative figure.

Wings Over Scotland 211,400
CommonSpace 88,800
Wee Ginger Dug 80,000
Bella Caledonia 79,800
Scot Goes Pop 61,200*
Talking Up Scotland 59,000
Indyref2 48,600
Random Public Journal 42,200
The Ferret 42,100

Obviously these are very broad ballpark estimates, but if Scot Goes Pop really does receive in the region of 60,000 unique visitors every 30 days, what would that mean?  It would suggest that getting on for 1% of this country's entire population drops by every month.  Not too shabby for a one-man operation.  That being the case, it may be a good moment (ahem, cough, violent sneeze) to mention the ongoing fundraiser.  I've been using last year's fundraiser for the sake of convenience, although that may prove to be a mistake because a specific target figure can often be a motivating factor for donations.  Basically you have to subtract £7800 from the figure on the page to calculate how much has been raised so far.  That means just over £2000 has been donated in the current fundraising period, and a million thanks to everyone who has contributed.  I have £7000 in mind as a very rough target, so that will be reached when the page says £14,800.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The exclusion of the SNP from the summaries of poll results is arbitrary, Anglocentric and indefensible

As I've spent a fair bit of the last 48 hours having exchanges (sometimes downright surreal exchanges) about this subject on Twitter, I thought I might as well make the point here as well.  It's a very simple one.  Here is how the Britain Elects account reported the results of the new YouGov poll a couple of days ago...

I'm not having a go at Britain Elects specifically, because the above is absolutely typical of how most news/political outlets summarise such polls - ie. with no sign of the SNP (or indeed of Plaid Cymru).

How do you think any reasonable person would be most likely to interpret the absence of the SNP?  I'd suggest they'd reach one of two conclusions.  Either: a) respondents in the poll were not given the option of expressing a voting intention for the SNP, or b) the SNP were on less than the 2% of the vote enjoyed by the Greens, the lowest-placed of the five parties that were deemed worthy of a mention in the summary.  But both of those conclusions would be completely incorrect, meaning that by either accident or design people are being very seriously misled.  In reality, the SNP and Plaid Cymru received 5% of the vote in this poll, putting them in a clear fifth place ahead of the Greens, and only just behind UKIP in fourth place.  (Because YouGov lump the SNP and Plaid together as a single option for GB-wide polls, it's impossible to separate out the support for each of the two parties, but given what we know about their respective levels of support it's inconceivable that the SNP would have received less than 4% if offered as an option in their own right, and would still have been well clear of the Greens.)  Why, then, is the sixth most popular party reported as if it was the fifth most popular?  Why is the fifth most popular not even mentioned at all?

A mistake?

An oversight?

Nope, it's the intentional withholding of information, and it's done as a matter of routine.  Over the last two days, apologists for this downright weird practice have put forward a number of speculative justifications for it, and not one of them makes any sense.  I'll go through them individually.

"Not editing out the SNP's vote would give a misleading impression of the trend in Scotland, because trivial changes that might barely register at Britain-wide level would be enough to make a big difference in terms of seats."  This doesn't stack up, because essentially the same is true of both the Greens and UKIP - any seats that they might win depend on very localised contests, meaning that their national share of the vote is hardly even relevant.  In 2015, UKIP took 13% of the vote but won just a single seat.  If the media can 'take the risk' of revealing information about the popularity of the Greens and UKIP that has little or no relevance in terms of seats, it's murderously hard to understand why the public must be 'protected' from similar information about the SNP.  The bottom line is that in a first-past-the-post election, the number of seats won by each party is only very weakly correlated to the share of the vote.  The winner of the popular vote may or may not be the largest party in terms of seats.  A third party with 17% of the vote may win more than twice as many seats as it did a decade earlier with 23%.  The purpose of polls is not first and foremost to predict the number of seats for each party, but rather to estimate each party's absolute popularity in terms of votes.  In that respect, the fact that the SNP is on 5% of the vote in this YouGov poll is no more or less important than the fact that the Greens are on 2% or that UKIP are on 6%.

"The estimated vote for the SNP is less reliable than the vote for Britain-wide parties, because it is drawn from a tiny subsample, not the full-scale GB sample."  Not true.  YouGov allow respondents across Britain to select the SNP/Plaid as a voting intention option, as can be seen from the fact that the two parties between them have 1% support in London in this particular poll.

"Nevertheless, in practice the vast bulk of support for the SNP and Plaid comes from Scotland and Wales, so effectively is based on a subsample that is too small to be statistically reliable."  That's really an argument for not taking individual subsamples too seriously, which indeed they shouldn't be.  But the SNP's GB-wide vote is not a subsample figure - it's rounded to the nearest percentage point and therefore normally falls in a range between 3% and 5%.  If anything, the SNP's reported vote is more stable than the reported vote for the Britain-wide parties and isn't subject to random variations outside the standard margin of error - which is what you'd expect if the charge of an unusual level of statistical unreliability had any truth to it.

"The SNP's support is not only effectively drawn from a small Scottish subsample, but one that might be incorrectly structured - for example, it might have far too many pensioners, or too many women."  Not so.  YouGov indicated a couple of years ago that they had decided to start structuring and weighting their Scottish subsamples separately to improve the accuracy of their polls.  It seems highly unlikely that they reversed that decision at any point, because their subsample figures have become (relatively) more stable since then.

"The SNP should be edited out of poll results because not everyone in Britain can vote for them."  That's a British nationalist argument rather than a statistical one, but it doesn't even make sense on its own terms, because not everyone in Britain can vote for UKIP or the Greens either.  In the 2017 general election, the Greens stood in only 467 of the 650 constituencies, and UKIP stood in only 378 of 650.  Both figures were sharply down on the candidates for each party in the 2015 election.  Nobody has a clue how many candidates UKIP and the Greens will put up at the next election, which means that in all probability many respondents will have told YouGov in good faith that they plan to vote for one party or another even though they will not be able to do so.  If reporting the SNP's Britain-wide vote "lacks context", reporting the Green or UKIP vote must inevitably lack a great deal more context.  And yet nobody would dream of withholding that information (unless of course the numbers fell to a statistically insignificant level).

There is no possible logic to the exclusion of the SNP from poll summaries.  It's an arbitrary decision rooted in Anglocentricity.

*  *  *

Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page.  The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up.  I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.