Friday, November 2, 2018

If a so-called People's Vote actually happened, what would be the consequences for independence?

After the events of a few months ago, it's refreshing to be able to get back to actually agreeing with Pete Wishart about something, and I do agree with him that there are dangers attached to the SNP's recent change of heart about a so-called "People's Vote". In fact I think what troubled me the most was Nicola Sturgeon's enthusiastic embrace of the dubious term "People's Vote", because in spite of her caveat that she would be seeking assurances that Scotland's voice would be respected in a second referendum, she also made clear that her support for a referendum was unconditional. It's obvious that the desired assurances will not be forthcoming and that any second referendum that could possibly command a majority in the House of Commons would be a straightforward UK-wide vote, exactly like the one that was held in June 2016. If it went ahead, what sort of hostage to fortune would we have just given? How could we denounce a second vote that overturned Scotland's wishes as a democratic outrage if the First Minister had warmly described the process in advance as a "People's Vote"?

There's also the problem of a precedent being set for Scottish independence: if the Leave vote of 2016 doesn't actually lead to Britain leaving the European Union because it's overturned by a second referendum before the result is implemented, why couldn't unionists attempt the same stunt after a future Yes vote in Scotland? However, as I pointed out to Labour MP Paul Sweeney recently, the precedent can't be set simply by SNP support for a referendum - it can only be set if a referendum is actually held, and it probably won't be, partly because of Labour's own stance. And there's the rub: the logic of the SNP's new strategy surely hinges entirely on the assumption that they are supporting something that will never come to pass. Which is fine, and probably justified, but it's a bit of a high-wire act all the same.

Peter Curran asked on Twitter recently what would happen to the plans for an indyref if the SNP's best efforts succeeded, and Britain remained in the EU, or there was an extremely soft Brexit. And the answer can only be that an indyref would be off the table at that point, because there would be no chance of success - Remain supporters in Scotland would breathe the biggest sigh of relief on record, look back on the chaos of the last two years, and refuse to countenance any constitutional upheaval (such as independence) for many, many years to come. But if a Hard Brexit actually happens, the opposite applies - independence in Europe will start to look like the antidote to the chaos.

During the 2016 EU referendum, the SNP leadership were often accused of secretly wanting a Leave vote to further the cause of independence. That was almost certainly an unjust charge - my impression is that they genuinely wanted the peace and quiet of a Remain vote, and would afterwards have looked to build towards an indyref at some point in the 2021-26 parliament. But once the Leave vote happened, it's probably fair to say that any potential overturning of that result started to look inconsistent with keeping the flame of independence burning bright. So, on paper, the SNP are now campaigning for something that is the polar opposite of being in their own best interests.

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There is no such thing as...

What you are about to read are all genuine comments that have been posted on Twitter over the last 48 hours or so. You might be shocked at the contempt they display towards one particular gender, and I suspect you'll find the last three tweets bitterly ironic in the circumstances.

"Lord save us from female indy bloggers and their fan base. They are a constant reminder of the dangers of women with little insight believing it’s their duty to share their daft ramblings with the rest of us."

"I for one am grateful that another female Indy blogger has written a blog about a female Indy blogger who is *innocent* of all charges despite all evidence to the contrary. So that's all sorted. We are truly blessed with female bloggers. #femalebloggersunite"

"Recent Scottish politics has involved an awful lot of white women stating that they have never thought about an issue before but feel entirely qualified to talk about it with no research or insight on their huge platforms."

"Those particular women have a tendency to announce that they don't know anything about an issue but they're going to tell you what they think anyway."

"It doesn't mean that white women don't get to have opinions, but...they should at the very least attempt to research their topics..."

"I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask middle aged white women to shut up."

"I’ve always felt quote tweeting in the middle of a debate was a form of virtue signalling for attention for people who need validation from their followers...particularly employed by fragile female egos."

"Also: misogyny is not a thing."

"It’s extremely disrespectful to accuse confident men of ‘misogyny’."

"Misogyny is a made up idea."

So, yes, all of the above are genuine tweets. Except for a very few small details. When someone used the word "man" or "men", I replaced it with "woman" or "women". And when someone used the word "male", I replaced it with "female". And when someone used the word "misandry", I replaced it with "misogyny".

If the above tweets had been displaying contempt towards women rather than men, I can well understand the disbelief with which people would have encountered the fatuous claims that misogyny does not exist.

But as it happens the contempt was directed towards men. And yet "there is no such thing as misandry", apparently.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

You don't stamp out anti-semitism by stamping all over the innocent

The SNP's suspension of Grouse Beater is of special interest to me, because like him I'm a pro-independence blogger who also happens to be an ordinary member of the SNP.  Bloggers are self-evidently at far greater risk than the average person of having a statement cynically misconstrued, or even of being caught out making an honest slip, and it would be nice to think that a fair and transparent process would at least apply before the SNP takes drastic disciplinary action in such circumstances.  If that's not the case there's a danger that we would all begin to self-censor to avoid finding ourselves suspended.  It would obviously be unhealthy if membership of a political party became incompatible with freedom of speech.

I first became concerned about this problem many, many years ago when Jeff Breslin of SNP Tactical Voting (at the time the most popular SNP-supporting blog) revealed inside information about postal vote returns, not realising that he was technically breaking the law.  It was a totally honest mistake, and he very nobly resigned his SNP membership to avoid any damage to the party.  I was a bit shocked and depressed that SNP spokespeople were all too quick to distance themselves from Jeff and to portray him as an embarrassing wrongdoer who was no longer associated with the party.  In my opinion it would have been far more appropriate to pay tribute to the honourable actions of someone who (at least at the time) had done a lot of good for the party, albeit in an unofficial role.  But we were left in no doubt that, when push comes to shove, SNP bloggers are utterly expendable.

We've seen the same sad process play out over the last day or two, with a tweet from Humza Yousaf that very strongly implies that Grouse Beater is guilty of anti-semitism, and that action has been taken against him to "stamp out" anti-semitism within the SNP.  The actual position is that it remains to seen whether his blogpost will be deemed to be anti-semitic, and that for now he has merely been suspended pending an investigation.  It's troubling that this crucial point is being regarded in some quarters as a meaningless technicality, and that the suspension is perceived as a "punishment" for guilt that is already presumed.  It was precisely that mindset that led to Michelle Thomson's political career being unjustly ruined.

I must say that the version of Grouse Beater's blogpost that is currently online is manifestly not anti-semitic.  It can't possibly be, because it specifically praises Rhea Wolfson for her stance against anti-semitism.  I gather that may not be the original version of the post, and if the screenshot I've seen is accurate, the original wording is more ambiguous.  Some people have asked: "Well, if he didn't mean that, what could he have possibly meant?" To which there are several possible answers.  Assuming the worst possible interpretation doesn't seem to be consistent with the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'.  It's also been asked: "What is the reference to Hitler doing there, then?  Are you saying it's totally random?  Hmmm?  Hmmm?"  The problem with that argument is that there are other seemingly random and elliptical references in the blogpost as well, such as to the film On The Waterfront.  But it seems that randomness and ambiguity don't need to be explained away if the worst possible motivation can't be ascribed to them.

What should happen from here is that the investigation should proceed, it should be fair and not have a predetermined outcome, and Grouse Beater's explanation of his intent in writing the controversial paragraph should be listened to and considered with the seriousness it warrants.  In the meantime, he should be given the respect he deserves by the SNP leadership, and not subjected to a premature kicking, no matter how politically expedient that would be.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Are online polls superior to telephone polls?

You may have seen that Professor John Robertson has a blogpost about Saturday's Survation poll, which he regards as less reliable than a recent YouGov Scottish subsample, because he thinks "landline telephone" sampling is inferior to online sampling.  The post is actually based on a false premise, because Survation have confirmed today that their poll was conducted online - and it goes without saying that a full-scale online poll should be taken more seriously than an online subsample.  The confusion probably came about because of an ambiguously-worded tweet from Survation on Saturday evening.

Even if the Survation poll had been a phone poll, though, there would still have been a number of problems with John's argument.  First of all, although YouGov subsamples can probably be regarded as more credible than subsamples from other firms (because they appear to be correctly structured and weighted), they obviously have a bigger margin of error than full-scale polls because of the smaller sample size.  So to get a meaningful picture you have to look at the pattern over a number of YouGov subsamples, and it's pretty obvious that the SNP's 47% showing in the subsample John is talking about is an outlier.  High 30s is much more typical - in other words pretty similar to what the Survation poll found.

Secondly, it's highly unlikely that Survation would conduct a landline-only phone poll, so the concern John raises about certain demographic groups being less contactable by landline doesn't really apply.  It may be that response rates to phone polls are unacceptably low because people these days are unlikely to answer an unexpected phone call, regardless of whether they're on a mobile or landline.  But that's a somewhat different point.

Thirdly, there's the standard Mandy Rice-Davies objection to the quote John provides from YouGov about the supposed greater accuracy of online polling.  YouGov are, and always have been, an online-only pollster, so "they would say that, wouldn't they?"

Fourthly, John points to the fact that online polls were much more Yes-friendly during the indyref.  But in fact there was a dramatic convergence between the online and phone polls as the campaign drew to a close, and by polling day they were more or less showing the same thing - a very, very slender No lead.  So it's impossible to know for sure who was getting it right earlier on.  Anecdotally, a lot of campaigners did detect a large swing to Yes in the closing weeks, which would lend more support to the theory that the telephone polls were more accurate.  (YouGov were the only online firm to report a big swing, and they only did so because of their notoriously convoluted "Kellner Correction".)

Lastly, John mentions a ScotPulse online poll showing a handsome Yes vote.  Unfortunately ScotPulse polls can't be taken seriously because they're not properly weighted.  The (allegedly) best data collection method doesn't really help much if the other basics aren't being done correctly.

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