Tuesday, December 31, 2019

See you in the decade of independence?

Well, I was all set to write a retrospective of how Scot Goes Pop has covered the seismic events of the last decade...but I've run out of time.  Maybe tomorrow, or the day after.  In the meantime have a photo, and see you in the Probably-Not-Very-Roaring Twenties (although with a bit of luck it might be the decade in which Scotland becomes an independent country).

Sunday, December 29, 2019

SNP MPs are very poorly advised to do Westminster's work for it by using words like "illegal"

Further to my previous post, I've noticed that at least a couple of SNP MPs have come out in support of Pete Wishart's contentious article.  Now of course in one sense it's entirely understandable that they would wish to defend a colleague who has been receiving brickbats, and in fairness Mr Wishart's article isn't all bad by any means - it contains some points that almost any independence supporter would agree with.  But what troubles me deeply is any implied endorsement of Mr Wishart's characterisation of an independence referendum held without a Section 30 order as being "illegal".  That flatly contradicts what Nicola Sturgeon said repeatedly during the election campaign - she stressed that the question of whether a referendum was already within the Scottish Parliament's current powers had never been tested in court.  Presumably she was making that point for a very good reason, so it's puzzling and regrettable that SNP MPs would seek to undermine that careful messaging so soon after the election has come to a successful conclusion.

When Donald Dewar delivered devolution, he very wisely opted for a model that automatically assumes that anything not explicitly reserved to Westminster is a devolved power.  At the very least, there's a high degree of ambiguity over whether the power to hold a consultative independence referendum has been reserved, and in my naivety I'd be inclined to expect MPs who believe in Scottish autonomy and self-determination to take a maximalist interpretation of the parliament's powers, at least until a court rules otherwise.  Why on earth would we give moral support to the Westminster establishment by needlessly taking it as read that a hypothetical court ruling will go against us?  It makes no sense whatsoever, unless of course there is an underlying agenda here, such as a desire to use Westminster's obstructionism as a convenient excuse to kick an independence referendum into the long grass for a few more years.

Incidentally, even if the Supreme Court eventually decides that the Scottish Parliament would be exceeding its powers in holding an indyref without a Section 30, it would still be thoroughly inappropriate to use the word "illegal".  As David Halliday has pointed out, the UK and Spain are very different, and in this country the law reacts to an unofficial vote by ignoring it and treating it as of no effect.  It doesn't send in riot police or lock people up.  This isn't Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia, and putting a ballot paper into a ballot box is no more an "illegal" act than holding a village fĂȘte is.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

London's pre-agreement is not needed to bring about an initial mandate for independence - even Mrs Thatcher accepted that.

Reading over the comments section of this blog recently, it strikes me that we're in danger of getting two separate concepts muddled up - and, in all honesty, if the "Scotland's Right to Choose" document is to be taken literally, it's guilty of exactly the same muddle.  Certain people are reacting to suggestions of a consultative independence referendum by saying "the international community will not be impressed unless there is UK government consent".  But that's an argument against UDI, not against a consultative referendum held without a Section 30 order.  Maybe this point needs to be made more often and more forcefully, but many of us who support a consultative referendum are either opposed to the concept of UDI, or at least highly sceptical about it.

London's acquiescence would be necessary for the international community to recognise a Scottish state - of course that is true.  But the sequence of events that brings about London's acquiescence is neither here nor there as far as the international community is concerned - if it comes about due to the retrospective acceptance of a mandate from a consultative referendum that was initially not regarded as valid, that'll be absolutely fine, and international recognition will still follow.  There's nothing sacred about the Section 30 process, or even about a referendum process for that matter.  It's worth remembering that thirty years ago, the Thatcher government and the SNP were on the same page about what would constitute a mandate for independence, and it didn't involve a referendum, or any sort of Edinburgh Agreement-style pre-contract.  If the SNP had simply won a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, even on a minority of the vote, that would (if we can take Mrs Thatcher's words at face value) have been accepted by both sides as sufficient to open negotiations on an independence settlement.

So London's express agreement is required for independence, but NOT to gain the initial mandate for independence - that's the crucial distinction.  One hypothetical possibility, for example, is that there could be a Yes vote in a consultative referendum, and although the Conservatives refuse to accept its legitimacy, the Labour party might agree to recognise the result if it comes to power in the future.  Another possibility is that a Yes majority in a consultative referendum could be used as leverage to force the UK government to accept that the matter has to be resolved by a subsequent binding referendum.

If that seems optimistic in view of events in Catalonia, it's worth remembering that the political culture in Spain is different from the UK, and there's a tradition in this country of accepting that people can only be governed by consent.  If a convincing mandate for independence can be established, the dam is likely to burst at some point.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, if you'd hoped that Pete Wishart MP might be weaned off his excessive caution by having increased his own majority from 21 to 7550 on an unashamedly pro-independence manifesto, you're in for a disappointment.  He's written yet another of his "Hold!  Hold!  Hold!  Hooooold!  Hoooooooooooold!" articles, and although it's ostensibly simply a call for patience, the subtext is unmistakably that we should accept the Westminster veto until 2024 and then put all our faith in the long-shot of English voters electing a new indy-friendly government.  The article is brimming with silly straw men about how the "fragile" new Yes support will be turned off by attempts to bring about independence by "tricks", "gaming" or by "illegal" means.  The reality is, of course, that a consultative referendum would not be a trick, it would not be a game, and it would not be illegal.  It's also rather pointless worrying about losing Yes voters when you're hellbent on ensuring that no referendum actually takes place in anything like the foreseeable future.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Yes, winning independence will require a measure of patience - but there must be no drift towards accepting the Westminster veto until 2024 (or beyond)

I've been reading with interest Craig Murray's blogpost about the "Scotland's Right to Choose" document, which he regards as "schizophrenic" for its simultaneous assertions that Scotland has an inalienable right to self-determination, and that it can only exercise that right with the permission of the UK government.  He draws attention to this comment from Nicola Sturgeon -

"Of course, I anticipate that in the short term we will simply hear a restatement of the UK government’s opposition.

But they should be under no illusion that this will be an end of the matter.

We will continue to pursue the democratic case for Scotland’s right to choose.

We will do so in a reasonable and considered manner."

Craig reads "continue to pursue the democratic case" as meaning the response to a Westminster veto will be yet more SNP campaigning for yet more mandates, which might help the SNP stay in power at devolved level for a few more years but is unlikely to bring independence any closer - indeed it could push it further away.  Perhaps worryingly, this interpretation ties in perfectly with Mhairi Hunter's oft-stated view on what should happen if Westminster says no - she thinks we should just accept that response and redouble our campaigning until Westminster eventually breaks and passes a Section 30 order, no matter how long that takes.  To use the words of our old friend Kevin Baker, that strategy can be summed up as "If something isn't working, do it again, only HARDER!!!!"  It's an absolutely hopeless idea, and if by any chance that's what the SNP leadership are planning, they'll surely have to be persuaded to have a rethink sooner or later.

However, I'm not as pessimistic about the SNP's intentions as Craig is.  In fact, I'm somewhere in between the two extremes.  On the one hand, I've never thought "just trust Nicola" is good enough, because trust is a two-way process.  If we are to trust the leadership completely, it's only fair that the leadership should trust us by keeping us up to speed with their broad intentions.  I was particularly unimpressed by the suggestion a while back that the role of rank and file SNP members and Yes supporters is to campaign for independence, and that we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about "process", which is solely the leadership's domain.  Neither do I buy into the notion that it's not possible for the leadership to keep us in the loop because that would deprive them of the advantage of surprise in their dealings with the UK government.  As I pointed out a few days ago, it would be perfectly possible to say to London: "A referendum is happening in autumn 2020.  We want it to happen as part of an agreed process between the two governments, but it is happening anyway."  That's not a million miles away from what Alex Salmond did after the 2011 election, and it seemed to work out OK.  No rabbits out of hats were required, just forthrightness and resolve.

However, unlike Craig I can see plausible alternative interpretations of "continuing to pursue the democratic case".  The implied threat might well carry more punch than simply a thousand more stirring Ian Blackford speeches about how Scotland's voice must be respected.  The most obvious possibility is that the Scottish Government could react to a Westminster veto by saying "We have bent over backwards to do this by the gold standard route, and the whole world can now see that the UK government are behaving wholly unreasonably and in breach of the principle of democratic  self-determination.  We will therefore legislate for an independence referendum and defend that legislation in the Supreme Court if necessary.  We remain willing to open negotiations with the UK government at any time until the referendum campaign is underway."  If London's legal challenge to any Referendum Bill succeeds, there would then be the option of using the 2021 Holyrood election to secure an outright mandate for independence.  I know the SNP leadership have in the past ruled out the possibility of using an election in that way, but their position on other points of strategy has evolved, so I wouldn't totally dismiss the possibility that there could be a further change of heart.

So the moment of truth will come in a few weeks when we see how Nicola Sturgeon replies to the inevitable Westminster veto.  If at that point there is no sign of her doing anything other than building towards the 2021 election to win yet another referendum mandate that will be ignored, then it may be reasonable to conclude that the emperor has no clothes, and to start an internal campaign within the SNP for an urgent change of direction.  But I'm still hopeful that there will be a lot more substance to Ms Sturgeon's reply than that.  Even if the instinct of senior people within the party is to proceed as cautiously as possible, it must have occurred to the most thoughtful among them that continually going back to the electorate to ask for more mandates is likely to produce diminishing returns over time, because the electorate will wise up to the fact that the SNP are all talk and no action.  Some voters may become demoralised enough to start abstaining, while others may defect to the Greens if Patrick Harvie decides to fill the vacuum by making Yes supporters a more radical offer.  The nightmare scenario would be if SNP voters start drifting towards fringe parties that have no chance of winning seats - that could rob us of the pro-indy majority at Holyrood.  SNP strategists will surely want to prevent that happening, and that will mean being seen to have taken meaningful action against London's "no".

My own view, for what it's worth, is that the road to independence in the absence of a Section 30 order is unlikely to involve UDI and asking for international recognition.  The UK is not Spain, and I do still believe that if a credible mandate for independence is established, the pressure on the London government to negotiate will eventually bear fruit.  What would be a credible mandate?  If the 2021 election is used to double as a referendum, the pro-indy parties would need to win a majority of seats and perhaps a majority of votes on the list ballot as well to be on the safe side.  If there is a consultative referendum that is boycotted by unionists, the Yes side would probably need to exceed their 1.6 million votes from 2014 to be taken seriously.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Scottish Tories and their media allies have discovered the virtues of proportional representation - but only when it suits them

The Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie made a preposterous intervention in the Commons yesterday.  He tried to reframe the SNP's landslide victory in the general election as some kind of defeat, and prayed in aid the supposed fact that 55% of the Scottish people had cast a vote for anti-independence parties.  (Actually, the correct figure is 54%, because the Greens are pro-independence and they took 1% of the vote, but let's not quibble.)  If taken seriously, Bowie's point would have to mean one of two things - either a) that he thinks the first-past-the-post voting system should be replaced with a proportional representation system that might prevent a party winning a majority of seats on 45% of the vote, or b) that he regards any party that wins a majority on less than 50% of the vote as lacking full legitimacy, and thinks it shouldn't be able to take controversial decisions without the consent of its opponents.

And yet we know he doesn't believe either of those things.  His own party won a UK majority on just 44% of the vote - a smaller mandate than the SNP won in Scotland.  It is now pursuing a Hard Brexit in spite of the fact that around 52% of the UK popular vote went to parties that wanted to hold a second EU referendum with a Remain option on the ballot paper.  If Bowie was being consistent, he would regard the election outcome as having deprived the Johnson government of any moral authority to proceed with its Brexit plans - but instead he seems to think that it was actually a stonking mandate for a Hard Brexit.

A four-year old child could spot the contradiction in Bowie's stance.  In fact, a foetus could probably spot it.  Even a reasonably bright goldfish might not have too much difficulty.  Why, then, hasn't the mainstream media done its job and ruthlessly exposed the Tory hypocrisy?  In fairness, there's been the odd honourable exception like Bernard Ponsonby on STV's election night programme, but in general journalists have taken the legitimacy of the Tories' UK-wide mandate as read, while repeatedly calling into question the legitimacy of the SNP's superior mandate in Scotland.  That simply isn't sustainable if the likes of the BBC want to avoid being seen as blatantly biased.  Self-evidently, either both mandates are 100% watertight or they're both open to question.  Which is it to be, guys?

Incidentally, Bowie was missing the point in another way as well, because 65% of the vote in Scotland went to parties (the SNP, Greens and Labour) that support the principle that the Scottish Parliament should be able to hold an independence referendum if it so chooses.  At this stage, that's the only mandate the SNP are actually claiming - the mandate to hold a referendum.  It's a bit pointless for the Tories to now claim that a vote for Labour didn't count towards that mandate, given that they spent the entire campaign warning that a vote for Labour was a vote for an indyref to be held next year.  

*  *  *

Apologies if someone else has already made this point, but it strikes me as a bit rich that the so-called Labour moderates are making such an issue of the fact that Jeremy Corbyn won slightly fewer seats in this election than Michael Foot did in 1983.  That isn't a meaningful comparison, because Labour have lost Scotland since Foot's time, and that happened on the watch of the moderates themselves (when Ed Miliband was leader in 2015, to be specific).  Corbyn actually did a bit better south of the border than Foot did, and that's how he should probably be judged.  OK, there was nothing inevitable about Labour only winning one Scottish seat last week, but if the moderates think that some kind of New Labour-type leader could have won more than a handful of Scottish constituencies, they're deluding themselves.  

And it's all very well for the moderates to say that Labour has to be less ideological and move towards the centre ground where the voters are, but in fact Corbyn seems to have learnt that lesson in Scotland far better than they have.  He's at least taken some steps (however imperfectly) to make his peace with the Yes supporters who used to be Labour voters, while the "moderates" clearly feel that maintaining purity on Labour's hardline British nationalist line is more important than winning elections.  Ian Murray said as much himself - the Scottish Labour party destroyed itself in 2014 to save the Union, and it should destroy itself again now for the same reason.

*  *  *

I've expressed my worries over the last few days that the SNP leadership might prove too cautious to bring about an independence referendum if the Tory government refuses a Section 30 order.  But here's a more positive interpretation.  

The conventional wisdom is now that the 2024 election is unwinnable for Labour.  I'm not actually sure that's right, because electorates across the Western world have become more volatile in recent years.  (Witness the Canadian Liberals jumping from third place to an outright majority in 2015.)  But nevertheless the perception is that the Tories are in power until at least 2029, and that ought to concentrate minds in the SNP.  There's no point in them playing the waiting game for a Tory defeat in 2024 that they don't think will actually arrive.  If they know that sooner or later they're going to have to overcome Tory obstructionism on an indyref by some means, it might just as well be sooner.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

VIDEO: The SNP's six best results in Election 2019

So just before I give the now-world-famous "Random Totty From Freedom Square" her camera back (and a million thanks to her for rescuing the situation after I bought a useless camcorder), I thought I'd record one more video to complete my series about the 2019 election.  See if you can spot the "deliberate mistake" in this one.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Tories told voters that this election was "one last chance" to stop an independence referendum. That chance has now gone.

Just thought I'd take a screenshot of this tweet, in case it mysteriously disappears at some point.  Here we have the Tories telling voters last Wednesday that the election was "one last chance" to stop a second independence referendum.  Not a "once in a generation chance" or even a "once in a lifetime chance", but the "last" chance.  If that chance wasn't taken, the matter was settled forever.  And we know that when politicians say things like that, they're always talking absolutely literally and can be held to their word.

Just a reminder of the result of the "one last chance" election -

SNP: 48 seats (+13)
Conservatives: 6 seats (-7)
Liberal Democrats: 4 seats (n/c)
Labour: 1 seat (-6)

Crikey, what a moment.  No more chances for the Tories - ever.  Time to move on, and hold that referendum.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Tony Blair approach to making an independence referendum happen

By all means I think we should go through the formal process of demanding a Section 30 order and giving the defeated Tories a few days or weeks to squirm.  But I hope the one thing we'd all agree on is that when the "no" inevitably comes, we can't afford to follow Mhairi Hunter's preferred approach, ie. we can't say "thank you kindly for your gracious consideration, guvnor, we accept your decision", and then seek yet another mandate in two years' time, and then when that mandate is ignored say "thank you kindly for your gracious consideration, guvnor, we accept your decision", and so on into infinity.  There has to be a reckoning sooner or later.

I'm reminded of Tony Blair's approach to another intractable problem twenty years ago.  Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 1997, he tried to resuscitate the Northern Ireland peace process by making a speech in which he addressed Sinn Fein directly.  "The talks train is leaving the station.  I want you on that train, but it is leaving anyway."  Perhaps surprisingly, he was praised for his forthrightness of language by the UUP leader David Trimble, who had hitherto been very reluctant to accept any Sinn Fein involvement, and less than a year later the miracle happened and the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

So I'd like to hear Nicola Sturgeon eventually say: "An independence referendum is taking place in the autumn of 2020.  We want it to take place with the agreement of both governments, but it is taking place anyway.  If you want to stop it, we'll see you in court, and remember there'll be TV cameras there to record your lawyer's explanation that the UK is a prison from which Scotland is not permitted to escape by any democratic means."

If that isn't the plan, I hope there's an equally good one.  But I just have this slight nagging worry that people close to the SNP leadership may think it's 1987 all over again, and that all they have to do to make independence the settled will of the Scottish people is hang around for ten years, just as devolution became the settled will of the Scottish people over the period between 1987 and 1997 after the arrogance of Tory rejectionism weaved its magic.  The trouble with waiting patiently for history to repeat itself is that it has an unerring habit of darting off in a different direction entirely.  In any case, Brexit is an emergency situation and we can't afford to wait a decade this time.

65% of Scots voted for parties that accept the right of the Scottish Parliament to hold an independence referendum

Having fought the election on an anti-indyref tack and slumped to a humiliating landslide defeat, the Scottish Tories' fallback position seems to be that it's OK to ignore the decision of the electorate because the SNP "only" received 45% of the popular vote.  That's a hopeless stance to defend, because Boris Johnson only received 44% of the UK vote, and seems to have no problem claiming a mandate on that basis.

But the Tories' problem goes further.  They spent the entire election campaign telling the electorate that a vote for Labour was a vote for an independence referendum next year.  Labour's actual position was a bit convoluted, but they certainly accepted the principle that the Scottish Parliament could vote to hold an indyref - albeit not, for some unspecified reason, until 2021 or later.

Labour received 19% of the Scottish vote on Thursday.  In combination with the 45% who voted SNP and the 1% who voted Green, that means a grand total of 65% of Scots voted for parties who accept that a referendum can be held if there is a mandate for it at Holyrood level.  Only 35% voted for hardline unionist parties opposed to a referendum under all circumstances.

Incidentally, the SNP won 81% of Scottish seats on Thursday.  No other party in living memory has ever matched that (apart, of course, from the SNP themselves in 2015).  The closest was Labour in the Blair landslides of 1997 and 2001, when they took 78% of Scottish seats.  

And the SNP's 45% share of the Scottish vote has only been exceeded twice since 1970 - once by the SNP themselves in 2015, and once by Labour in 1997 (when they took 45.6%).

It's a shame when someone opts out, but the rest of us have got our country's freedom to win

There are lots of things you can do.  You can scheme your schemes and dream your dreams of personal political advancement.  You can resort to sophistry about how the Holyrood voting system works.  You can be as abusive as you like on social media and pass it all off as salt-of-the-earth working class honesty.  You can spend your days obsessing about an issue that is not a priority for the vast majority of the population.  You can sue Labour politicians to your heart's content (and you might even have a point about that).  But if you're remotely serious about helping to bring about independence, there are two things you never, ever do -

1) You don't try to sabotage a successful SNP election campaign by idiotically calling upon the charismatic party leader to resign just two or three weeks before polling day.

2) You don't try to undermine a thumping, newly-won SNP mandate with absurd unionist-style propaganda about the result being a "failure" and "nothing to do with independence".

I actually doubt if Mr Campbell's extraordinary behaviour during the campaign had too much of a direct effect on the SNP vote.  Wings readers were unlikely to think to themselves "Stuart is putting the boot in, so I'd better vote Labour".  At worst it might have led to some unnecessary abstentions among independence supporters.   But there's no way we can rule out the possibility that it had a detrimental indirect effect by sapping the morale of people who would otherwise have been pounding the streets for the SNP.

As for the SNP landslide having nothing to do with independence, he knows that's rubbish.  He'll have seen the same TV debates that the rest of us did, and will know that Nicola Sturgeon didn't shy away from making the case for independence, or from insisting that a second independence referendum must take place next year.  He'll have seen how central independence was in the SNP's manifesto.  He'll have heard reports of doorstep campaigners up and down the country emphasising to voters that independence was one of the three major SNP priorities in this election.  And yet he pretends to believe that all of the above is somehow negated by a single campaign video made by a single SNP candidate in a difficult-to-win Tory-held seat.  Why?

These are not the actions of a genuine independence supporter.  They can't be, because he's intelligent enough to realise that if anyone actually bothers to pay any heed to what he's been doing, the cause of independence can only be harmed.  Somebody who wants to bring the date of independence forward as much as possible would in fact have done the complete opposite.  They'd have been willing Nicola Sturgeon on throughout the campaign, and would have eagerly emphasised that the SNP's massive victory further strengthens the existing mandate for an indyref.

It no longer makes any sense to refer to Mr Campbell as a pro-independence blogger.  He's an anti-SNP activist whose first love is the trans issue.  If you forced him to choose between independence and the overthrow of the "woke" SNP leadership, he would undoubtedly pick the latter.  How it came to this I have no idea, because his passion for independence seemed genuine five years ago.  But something has clearly changed inside his head.  

Luckily the Yes movement seems to have recognised that he's opted out, and is moving on from him.  The SNP are doing just fine - a hell of a lot more than fine, actually - without his support.  It would be great to have him back on board at some point, but in the meantime we've got our country's freedom to win.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Miscellaneous election stuff

So a few miscellaneous things.  I have an article in The National about what the polls got right and wrong in Scotland over the last few weeks.  You can read it HERE.

I was interviewed yesterday about the election for an article on the Al Jazeera website by Alasdair Soussi, entitled 'SNP victory puts Scottish independence back in the spotlight'.  You can read it HERE.

I was also interviewed on Radio Sputnik yesterday, and I was asked about Jo Swinson's claim in her concession speech that "nationalism" is on the march on both sides of the border.  That gave me a rather enjoyable opportunity to call the Liberal Democrats "the quintessential nationalists" of this campaign, who "out-Toried the Tories" and are "obsessed with the British state". I haven't found a catch-up link for the interview, but if one appears I'll post it here later.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Video: Reaction to Jo Swinson's defeat

Yes, I know I forgot to turn the lights on, but I'm much too tired to record the video again!

UPDATE: The final result of the general election in Scotland -

SNP 48 (+13)
Conservatives 6 (-7)
Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c)
Labour 1 (-6)

Of course the SNP will immediately reduce themselves to 47 by depriving Neale Hanvey of the whip, but hopefully common sense will prevail and that state of affairs won't last for too long.  If the people of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath think that Mr Hanvey is a fit and proper person to be their MP, it would be rather bizarre if the SNP conclude that he isn't even fit to be a party member.

There was a frustrating run of narrow defeats towards the end of the night that just barely spared the waters of Loch Ness from a frightening ordeal, but really, it was incredible how close the SNP came to gaining seats like West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine and Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross - those weren't even on my radar a few weeks ago.  The failure to gain Moray and Banff & Buchan shouldn't have been a surprise, because the Leave vote was stronger in those two seats and the outcome tonight is linked to the trend in Leave areas south of the border.

The fact that the Liberal Democrats delivered the goods in four of the five seats they were competing for makes Jo Swinson's defeat look like a very personal one.  If you lose your seat for the specific reason that your own constituents dislike you as a person, it's safe to assume you don't have much of a future as party leader.  I would guess it's only a matter of hours before she formally resigns.  The Lib Dems must wish that Vince Cable had stayed on for a few more months.  Ironically, if he had, Jo Swinson herself might still be an MP.

That said, it's blindingly obvious that the Lib Dems owe their narrow gain in North-East Fife to a massive anti-SNP tactical vote by Tory supporters.  There was a very clear correlation between the drop in the Tory vote and the increase in the Lib Dem vote.

The overall Scottish outcome will hopefully kill forever the idea that the SNP cannot confront the electorate with the issue of independence if they want to win elections.  They shied away from making the case in 2017, but went in all guns blazing in 2019, and the contrast between the two results tells us all we need to know.  Safety-first and blandness don't inspire anyone.

Nicola Sturgeon has really got to use the tremendous moral mandate she now has to push relentlessly for an independence referendum to actually take place - a Westminster veto simply can't be accepted, even tacitly.  In the long run it's not defeats you rue - it's squandered opportunities at moments of triumph, and we can't afford to let this opportunity slip through our fingers.

With three results to go, it looks arithmetically certain that the SNP's share of the popular vote in Scotland (45%) is going to slightly exceed the Tories' share of the UK vote (currently 43.6%).  I'm sure that point will be made repeatedly, because if Johnson is claiming a mandate to deliver Brexit on his terms, it's very hard to see how the SNP don't have a watertight mandate to hold an independence referendum.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Exit Poll Sensation: It could be 2015 all over again as SNP projected to win 55 seats

Exit Poll:

Conservatives 368
Labour 191
SNP 55
Liberal Democrats 13

Thoughts on the upcoming exit poll

Based on experience in the last few elections, we can say a few things about the upcoming exit poll, which will be theatrically announced by the broadcasters at the stroke of 10pm.  It's likely to be highly accurate, it's likely to contain some sort of surprise, and there's a 50% chance we won't like that surprise.  If the worst comes to the worst and the projected number of seats for the SNP is a lot lower than we're expecting, the only slight consolation is that the margin of error may effectively be higher in Scotland due to the large number of ultra-marginal seats.  Even an exceptionally accurate exit poll can't be expected to correctly call races that are within 1% or 2%.

While we're waiting for the moment of torture, just a quick punt for my last three constituency previews in The National - Perth and North Perthshire, Glasgow South-West and Glasgow North-West.  I've now covered all 59 constituencies - it's been an epic undertaking, so I hope you've found them interesting and useful.  But actually, come to think of it, rather than reading the last batch I'd prefer you to ring round your family and friends and make sure they've all voted SNP, or will do by 10pm.  Let's not allow this one to slip through our fingers.

VIDEO: Anti-Brexit tactical voting guide for Scotland

Do you have a pro-European voter in your life who lives in either a Scottish Tory seat or a Scottish Tory target seat?  Are they not especially party political but very keen on doing whatever they can to stop Brexit?  If so, I've made this video just for them, so please feel free to pass it on.  It's a guide to anti-Brexit tactical voting in Scotland.

Unfortunately the figures for the Survation poll I tentatively reported in my previous post did turn out to be too good to be true, although it's still a very good poll for the SNP - significantly better than the Panelbase polls, for example.  Here are the correct numbers -

SNP 43%
Conservatives 28%
Labour 20%
Liberal Democrats 7%

Seats projection: SNP 47, Conservatives 8, Liberal Democrats 3, Labour 1

Labour will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning, but the Lib Dems must be horrified - if Survation are right they're back to the share of the vote they started with in 2017.

There's also some very good news on the independence question...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49%
No 51%

This is sensational if true: Survation's full-scale Scottish poll appears to give SNP a mammoth 19% lead. Now only one question remains: CAN WE ACTUALLY GET THE VOTE OUT?

Survation, who used to regularly conduct Scottish polls but haven't done so for quite a while, have released their final GB-wide poll of the campaign.  They announced that the Scottish sample was going to be a full 1000-strong and would be conducted as a full-scale, properly-weighted Scottish poll before being integrated into the GB poll as a subsample.  We were supposed to see the full-scale Scottish numbers at some point tonight - so far that hasn't happened, but the subsample percentages have appeared in the datasets of the GB-wide poll.  Unless I'm missing something, these figures will be identical to the Scottish poll, because I can't see why there would be any point in reweighting them.  If I'm wrong I apologise in advance for getting people's hopes up, because the numbers are nothing short of incredible for an eve-of-election poll.

Scottish voting intentions for the general election (Survation, 10th-11th December):

SNP 46% (+5)
Conservatives 27% (+3)
Labour 15% (-7)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)

Seats projection (Electoral Calculus model): SNP 47 (+12), Conservatives 6 (-7), Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c), Labour 2 (-5)

The percentage changes are measured from the last full-scale Survation poll in April, so are only of limited use in judging the effect of the campaign.  For example, April was before the Lib Dem surge really got underway.  But Labour don't have any obvious alibi for these figures - Survation have been a particularly favourable pollster for them in the recent past.  It's really surprising to see them performing 5% worse than in the YouGov MRP (particularly as the MRP suggested they had been gaining ground over the campaign).

I'm far, far more sceptical about what this poll is suggesting in respect of the SNP-Tory contest, because there's such a long history of polls overestimating the SNP's position in relation to the Tories.  And by long history I mean even back into my childhood - in the 1992 election, every poll suggested that the SNP would finish second and the Tories third, but every poll was wrong.  In 2017, Survation did a better job of picking up the late anti-SNP swing than any other pollster, but their final poll still overestimated the SNP's lead over the Tories by a couple of points.

The main thing that went wrong in 2017 is that people who would have voted SNP simply didn't make it to the polling stations, while Tory voters did.  We've got to move heaven and earth tomorrow to make sure that doesn't happen again, no matter how cold or wet the weather is.  No stone left unturned.  Come on, let's do this.  In 19 hours from now it'll be too late.

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UPDATE: In my excitement, I missed a very obvious point here - this poll was conducted by telephone rather than the more common online method, so that might explain why the figures seem so surprising. Of course in the old days we would have automatically assumed that telephone polls are more accurate, but that question has been less clear-cut since 2016, because online polls actually performed better in the EU referendum.

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UPDATE II: Unfortunately the Survation numbers reported above did prove to be inaccurate, although it's still a very good poll for the SNP.  You can find the correct numbers in a fresh blogpost HERE.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On the subject of postal votes...

I've been receiving quite a few emails from readers over the course of the campaign, so apologies if there are one or two I haven't replied to yet, because I've been up to my neck with various things. As postal votes are in the news today, I thought this might be a good moment to show you an email from a week or so ago about that subject, and let you make up your own mind. I agree with most of this, apart from the suggestion that the problems "at source" are only minor - I do think the system has been abused more often than we'd like to believe. Part of me thinks we'd be better off going back to the old system where you needed to have a good reason to apply for a postal vote.

"Feels like I've been a subscriber since SGP first started, and as always you come into your own during election campaigns.

But one thing is missing, and it's something that gives the Tories a serious head start at every campaign - their hard core postal vote.

That has to change if we are going to remove the likes of Mundell and Carlaw from Westminster and Holyrood, and the likes of Carruthers, Drysedale, and Nairn (just three of the Tory Councillors in D&G) who rely primarily on postal votes to get elected.

The percentage of voters using PVs in rural areas is around 21%, and my own estimates (based on the 2017 local and GE results) give Tory candidates 80% of that 21%.
For example, Ian Carruthers - a Tory councillor in my own ward - received just over 1,600 first choice votes and reached quota at the first round. 600+ of those votes were postals.
The figures were even higher in a neighbouring ward.

It's the soul destroying part of any count down here. We may look like we're almost there …. then they bring in the postals.

After 2014 I made a point of looking closely at the conspiracy theories surrounding voting at the referendum.
It took me around 30 minutes to comprehensively debunk every piece of outrageous nonsense I found on FB, YouTube, and other platforms.

But by then it was too late - the damage had been done, and it's still being done today.

I keep asking folk if they've ever wondered why so many Unionist media outlets gave so much coverage to those claims of 'massive' electoral fraud - invariably committed by MI5, every postie in Scotland, and the 45% of staff working at counts all over Scotland who claimed to be Yes supporters/SNP members, but were actually Illuminati sleeper agents.
They haven't, but occasionally a wee light goes on when they realise what I'm suggesting.

I've been to every count down here since 2011.
I've attended the last 3 postal vote verification sessions - talked to the staff, had the system explained to me in great detail, and been told repeatedly that many of our own get more than a bit angry when an ignorant zoomer claims they're all working for MI5 or 'Westminster'.
Basically, the PV system is 100% foolproof - with the exception of 'at source' - places like care homes.
But that exception can only affect a tiny number of votes - and what kind of loon is going to risk a very good, very secure job for a few more Tory votes ?

In a nutshell, the folk who believe the nonsense have no idea how the PV system operates, and they've certainly never worked as Count or Polling Agents.
Nor have they spent a few days in the middle of a PV verification where we actually take part in the process !!
In fact I'll bet the zoomers don't even know we have people at every count watching the entire thing happen, and can stop the count if we suspect something's wrong.
I've stopped a count before, and I was right to do so.
I was thanked by an Electoral Commission (Scot) observer afterwards as he'd also missed what I'd spotted.

Perhaps, once the current election is done and dusted, you can start looking at postal votes - the numbers, where they are highest, how they can create a built-in Tory majority, and how there's not a single shred of credible evidence supporting the nonsense stories that cost us dearly at every election?

The only way we can counter the situation is by getting as many of our supporters to apply and use PVs.

I did the data transfer from the Marked Register a couple of years ago and was shocked by what I saw. Our vote didn't turn out. It was raining. Folk were tired after work. There was something unmissable on TV etc etc.

The reasons don't matter, but the result down here meant Mundell had effectively been elected before the Polling Stations opened.

And it's all down to the ignorant zoomers who found it easier to blame electoral fraud rather than the real reasons we lost (media, the 'Vow', currency, and allowing the opposition to dictate the debate).

We need to change minds before the next referendum."

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I have three more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Ochil & South Perthshire, Airdrie & Shotts and Kilmarnock & Loudoun.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

SNP projected to win 41 seats in new YouGov MRP data

YouGov MRP seats projection:

Conservatives 339 (-20) 
Labour 231 (+20) 
SNP 41 (-2) 
Liberal Democrats 15 (+2) 
Plaid Cymru 4 (n/c) 
Greens 1 (n/c)

Obviously the change figures in brackets are measured from the last update, not from the last election.  The SNP's 41 seats would actually be a gain of six.

One of the SNP's two net 'losses' since the last update can be accounted for very simply by the self-inflicted wound in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, where Labour are estimated to now be eight points ahead.

The Tories are estimated to have moved very slightly ahead in Lanark and Hamilton East, which would explain their excitement about that constituency.  But it's essentially a dead heat and doesn't look like the foregone conclusion that some people have been trying to portray.

YouGov agree with Focaldata in suggesting that the SNP have moved very slightly ahead in Angus, which contradicts the narrative in certain quarters that the north-east is a lost cause for the party.

Unfortunately the slight lead for the SNP in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross in the last update has been reversed, and the Lib Dems now have a bit of a cushion.  But Focaldata still has that seat pencilled in as an SNP gain.

Unlike Focaldata, the YouGov projection has the SNP gaining Glasgow North-East, but it does look very tight, which might explain the noises about Labour becoming "increasingly confident" about holding seats of that sort.  (With the propaganda stripped out, that might be code for "we're back in with a chance".)

Jo Swinson's chances in East Dunbartonshire appear to have strengthened, but only very slightly - she's now estimated to be 7% ahead.  (Focaldata have her only 1% ahead.)

Moray is shown as a tie, incredibly.  Aberdeen South and Banff & Buchan are also essentially coin tosses, albeit with the Tories fractionally ahead.  The SNP are slightly ahead in Gordon and East Renfrewshire.

Philippa Whitford's seat of Central Ayrshire is too close to call, but she is estimated to still have a modest lead over the Tories.

The seats that the SNP were hoping to take from Labour all look very tight, and in some cases Labour have moved into the lead (or stayed in the lead).  So that will increase fears of a 2017-style result due to a mini-recovery from Labour, and would explain the SNP's apparent tactical shift of moving resources to a defensive operation in current SNP seats.  This certainly represents a change of mood, because the feedback I was hearing until very recently was that canvass returns for the SNP were exceptionally good.  But the crucial point about this YouGov projection is that the SNP are implied to be offsetting any failures against Labour with a more competitive performance in Tory-held seats than has been widely billed of late.  Let's hope that's right, otherwise there's a danger of a 2017-style result (or worse).  YouGov's MRP did overestimate the SNP last time, but with a bit of luck they'll have changed their methodology to correct for that.  Winning back seats like Angus and Moray would be an incredible boost.  Too good to be true?  Feel free to share your canvassing experiences in the comments section below.

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UPDATE: From a rough average it looks like the SNP are on around 41% of the national vote, which would be the same as the last update.  Obviously an average might be misleading because two constituencies are much smaller than the others, but the SNP are strong in one of those two and weak in the other, so they should even themselves out.  I haven't worked out averages for the other parties yet - I don't know if anyone wants to take the task on!

UPDATE II:  The seat numbers for Scotland are..

SNP 41
Conservatives 9
Labour 5
Liberal Democrats 4

It's Tuesday, so it must be MRP day

If memory serves me right, YouGov's projection model was updated every day during the 2017 general election campaign, but this time we've only seen one set of figures so far and the next update will be at 10pm tonight.  It'll be a nerve-wracking moment, because the most recent full-scale Scottish poll was completed on Friday, and four days is an eternity at the end of a campaign.  Who knows what might have changed.  Remember that the rigged BBC debate took place on Friday evening.

In the meantime, we already have the updated MRP figures from Remain United, although I'm not sure how credible their projection is for Scotland, because they seem to have based their calculations on a single GB-wide ComRes poll and a few Deltapoll constituency polls in England.  On the face of it, that means the Scottish projection is derived purely from a subsample (albeit a larger than usual one), and thus shouldn't be regarded as reliable.  However, for what little it's worth, the numbers are favourable for the SNP...

Seats projection (Remain United):

Conservatives 340
Labour 233
SNP 45
Liberal Democrats 11
DUP 10
Sinn Fein 6
Plaid Cymru 2
Greens 1

There are also three seats (Aberdeen South, Angus and  Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock) where the SNP are estimated to be just behind the Conservatives and could win with the help of a small amount of tactical voting.

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I have three new constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Edinburgh South, Motherwell & Wishaw and Midlothian.

Monday, December 9, 2019

More information about the YouGov independence poll

So the mystery of the YouGov independence poll has been solved - it wasn't the same poll that gave the SNP a 44% to 28% lead over the Tories.  It was, as Britain Elects said, a later poll that was conducted between the 3rd and 6th of this month.  The headline voting intention numbers have been blanked out in the datasets, but the unweighted numbers are there, and don't look radically different from the earlier poll in respect of the SNP v Tory battle. 347 unweighted respondents back the SNP in the new poll, compared to 359 in the earlier one.  The number of unweighted respondents backing the Tories has only increased to 215 to 228.  So if I was going to hazard a guess, it would be that the weighted numbers will show the SNP lead has fallen by somewhere between two and four percentage points, which would still leave them with a decent enough lead of 12-14%.  However, there may have been a significant Labour recovery - the number of unweighted respondents backing Labour has jumped from 107 to 159.

Gina Miller blasts Mike Smithson's letter-writing antics for the Lib Dems as "extraordinarily scandalous"

More details have been coming to light of the downright lies that the Liberal Democrats have been telling Scottish voters in highly deceptive "letters" that were supposedly written by self-styled "polling and elections expert" Mike Smithson (in reality a former Lib Dem county councillor and a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate).  Here are some of the gems -

"The election in Edinburgh South is between the SNP and the Liberal Democrats."

REALLY?  Edinburgh South is held by Labour, and is the safest seat in the whole of Scotland.  The SNP were in second place last time, the Tories were third, and the Lib Dems were in a distant fourth with a miserable 3% of the vote.  The YouGov projection model suggests that the Lib Dems will finish fourth again this time.  Even if Smithson thinks YouGov have got it wrong, his claim that Labour won't even be in the running looks risible.

"The majority of voters in Scotland want the UK to remain in Europe and want Scotland to remain in the UK."

No, they don't.  It doesn't work that way for the simple reason that Remain voters are disproportionately likely to be pro-independence, and Leave voters are disproportionately likely to be anti-independence.  Only a minority of voters take a dual pro-Europe, anti-independence position - a significant minority, admittedly, but a minority nonetheless.

"Support for Labour and the Conservatives has nosedived in Scotland."

Labour, yes, but support for the Conservatives appears to be roughly where it was two years ago - at most there has been a drop of three percentage points, which is scarcely a nosedive.

"Support for the Liberal Democrats is growing in Scotland."

No, it isn't.  Polls show their support has slipped over the course of the campaign.

"Only the Liberal Democrats can gain seats from the SNP in Scotland."

"Seats"?  Seats plural?  We know that North East Fife is a possibility, but what other seats are they going to gain?

"In constituencies right across Scotland the only way to stop the SNP winning is for Conservative and Labour voters to vote tactically for the Scottish Liberal Democrats to stop the SNP."

Rubbish.  Of the 59 Scottish constituencies, there are five, or perhaps six at the most, where the Lib Dems are likely to be the SNP's main opponents.  If the Lib Dems want to encourage unionist voters to throw their votes away in the other 53 or 54 seats, we should probably just let them get on with it.  But the snag is that they're sending very similar letters to pro-European voters in Tory-Labour battleground seats, making the bogus claim that the local battle is between the Tories and the Lib Dems.  That's a classic case of putting party before country, because splitting the Remain vote in those crucial seats could help Boris Johnson be re-elected with a thumping majority.  It's no exaggeration to say that Smithson, ostensibly a lifelong Europhile, could end up being responsible for a Hard Brexit if he succeeds in deceiving people.  It's little wonder that Remain activist Gina Miller blasted his letter-writing antics as "extraordinarily scandalous and misleading to the public".

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I have three new constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Moray, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, and Rutherglen & Hamilton West.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Video: SNP on course for major gains in Scotland

Here's the third in my series of short pre-election videos, this time focusing on the two newest full-scale Scottish polls from YouGov and Panelbase.  I can neither confirm nor deny rumours that the improvement in picture quality is due to the person known in certain quarters as the "Random Totty From Freedom Square" very kindly lending me her camera for a few days.

Up-to-date Panelbase poll suggests the SNP are still on course for significant gains

I wondered after the new independence figures from YouGov whether we'd see a corresponding drop in support for the SNP, and now we're some way towards answering that question.  A new Panelbase poll has been released with fieldwork dates that are identical to the ones that Britain Elects claimed for the YouGov poll (although I'm wondering if that might have been a mix-up) and show only statistically insignificant changes within the margin of error.

Scottish voting intentions (Panelbase):

SNP 39% (-1)
Conservatives 29% (+1)
Labour 21% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 10% (-1)

Seats projection: SNP 40 (+5), Conservatives 12 (-1), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1), Labour 2 (-5)

I know people's reactions to this will differ, and some will think it looks too close to the 2017 result for comfort.  But it's really important to remember that Panelbase are typically the least SNP-friendly pollster, and that YouGov tend to report SNP vote shares that are a few percentage points higher.  Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that Panelbase are wrong or that YouGov are right, but we can't possibly know the answer to that until election night.  Until then what matters is the trend, and we're entitled to a sigh of relief that there's no clear trend against the SNP in this bang-up-to-date poll.  Even if Panelbase are absolutely correct, the SNP would gain Stirling from the Tories and win most of Labour's seats.  The Lib Dems must also be alarmed to see their vote gradually drift closer to the 7% they received last time.

Panelbase agree with YouGov that there's been a drop in support for Yes, but the change is much more modest in the Panelbase poll.  That leads me to wonder if YouGov have slightly exaggerated the trend due to the margin of error or some other factor.  We'll have to wait for future polls to know for sure.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (-2)
No 53% (+2)

In fact this means that Panelbase are saying that the recent Yes surge has not been fully reversed - if it had been, the Yes vote would be back to somewhere in the region of 43-45%.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

YouGov independence polling

You may have seen that there are polling numbers from YouGov that purport to show a sudden and statistically significant drop in support for independence - down from 49% to 44%. Now, the first thing to say (and any serious analyst of any political complexion will tell you the same) is that we need to exercise a touch of scepticism about a single poll that shows a big and unexpected change. All polls have a margin of error, but statistically it's inevitable that a small proportion of polls will fall outside the margin of error - ie. they'll be rogue polls. It's possible that's what's happened here. Another possibility is that there may have been a genuine drop in support but that YouGov are overstating it due to the normal margin of error - a reported Yes vote of 44% could mean that the true figure is as high as 46% or 47%.

But of course a third possibility is that the poll is accurate. If so, it's surprising, because two previous Scottish polls during this campaign showed support for independence holding steady at a historically high level. The Ipsos-Mori poll conducted between the 19th and 25th of November showed a 50-50 Yes-No split, so if something has changed it's happened very rapidly. But that's not totally inconceivable, and there are precedents for this sort of thing happening in previous UK-wide campaigns. Remember that the media coverage of general elections compels voters to view political issues through a Britain-wide lens - they're bombarded with political parties making pie in the sky promises to transform Britain for the better. If and when Boris Johnson is returned with a working majority and gets on with delivering a Hard Brexit, that effect is likely to wear off pretty rapidly.

The other factor is that, during general election campaigns, media discussion of independence is heavily slanted in favour of unionist spokespeople. Scottish coverage generally sees the SNP outnumbered 3-1, and at UK level the ratio is probably more like 8-1 or higher - indeed it's not unusual for independence to be discussed without any pro-independence voice being present at all, as happened in last night's rigged BBC leaders' debate. It's the polar opposite of what happens in a referendum campaign, where there has to be parity between both sides. So if the (relative) balance of an indyref campaign causes Yes support to rise, as it did in 2014, it's not unreasonable to suppose that the hopeless imbalance of a general election campaign might cause Yes support to fall, and that any such fall may be only temporary.

Bear in mind that even if this is a genuine drop, it's not as if the floor has caved in - it just takes us back to where we were a year or so ago, before the big Yes surge. Until recently YouGov's normal range for Yes was 43-45%, so 44% is bang in the middle of that. I'm not too concerned about it unless there's a corresponding drop in SNP support.  There's contradictory information about what the fieldwork dates for this poll were - one article seems to suggest it's the same poll that showed the SNP with a huge 16-point lead over the Tories, and if that's true there'd be nothing much to worry about.  However, Britain Elects are saying the fieldwork dates were the 3rd to the 6th of this month, which would mean that it's a different and newer poll, and there might still be a risk of an SNP decline.  We may find out more tonight, because there's usually a flurry of polls on the final Saturday night of a campaign (although whether any of them will be Scottish polls remains to be seen).

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I have three new constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Edinburgh North & Leith, Dunfermline & West Fife and West Dunbartonshire

Friday, December 6, 2019

The BBC's reputation in Scotland will never recover from this latest unforgivable betrayal - they made this choice freely, and they can have no complaint about the consequences

It's happening: full-scale YouGov poll gives SNP big lead over the Tories, and enormous lead over Labour

Incredibly, we'd only had two full-scale Scottish polls in this campaign prior to tonight.  Ipsos-Mori had reported a huge SNP lead over the Tories, while Panelbase had reported a lead that wasn't all that much higher than in 2017.  Although Panelbase have become known in recent times as one of the least SNP-friendly pollsters, there was a reasonable concern that Ipsos-Mori may only have found such a big lead because of their telephone methodology, and that further online polls might be more in line with Panelbase.  The new poll from YouGov lays that worry to rest.  In complete contrast to what happened in 2017, it looks as if the SNP may actually have gained a little support over the course of the campaign - quite an achievement in the 'away fixture' of a Westminster election.

Scottish voting intentions (YouGov):

SNP 44% (+2) 
Conservatives 28% (+6) 
Labour 15% (+3) 
Liberal Democrats 12% (-1) 
Greens 1% (-3) 

Seats projection: SNP 44 (+9), Conservatives 9 (-4), Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c), Labour 2 (-5)

The 6% increase for the Tories shouldn't be regarded as any kind of shock - the change is measured from the most recent YouGov poll in October, and there's been plenty of evidence since then that the Tories have reaped the benefits of a total collapse in Brexit Party support.  I know some people will be concerned to see the Tories virtually back to the 29% vote they had in 2017, but remember that under first-past-the-post what matters more than anything is the gap between the first-placed party and the second-placed party - and that gap appears to have doubled over the last two years from 8% to 16%.  For proof that a decent share of the vote doesn't necessarily translate into a decent haul of seats, remember that Labour took only one seat in 2015 despite having 24% of the vote.

The biggest threat to SNP dominance in this campaign is any late Labour surge, and this poll does pick up tentative signs of a Labour recovery - but it could well be too little, too late.  Labour would need to be well into the 20s before they'd do any real damage, and they're fast running out of time.  Their last opportunity to make a big stride forward could be the rigged BBC "Prime Ministerial" (sic) Debate that includes Corbyn but excludes most other major party leaders.  But the equivalent ITV debate a few weeks ago failed to noticeably shift the dial.

If YouGov's numbers are close to the final result, the SNP can be quietly confident of making gains from the Tories, and supremely confident of making gains from Labour.  Which makes it all the more frustrating that they may have thrown away their chance in one of the six seats they realistically hoped to take from Labour.  However, if the SNP really do have a 29% national lead over Labour, Neale Hanvey will hope to ride on the coat-tails of his former party's success due to having the SNP name and logo next to his own name on the ballot paper.  He may still have an outside chance.

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I have two more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's North Ayrshire & Arran and Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

BBC doubles down with arrogant reply to complaint about Andrew Neil's factual inaccuracies

I've just been taking a look at the screenshot on Twitter of the reply David Hooks received from the BBC after his complaint about Andrew Neil's interview with Nicola Sturgeon. I presume the complaint related to the factual inaccuracies in Neil's line of questioning, which were so blatant that in one case the BBC's own Fact Check tacitly acknowledged the mistake. Even by the BBC's standards, the reply is dripping with arrogance and corporate propaganda. It follows the familiar trick of ignoring the actual complaint and responding to an imaginary one instead - ie. "how dare Andrew Neil interrupt people". This is the bit that leaps out -

"As a consequence, it is true that Andrew Neil often interrupts politicians, but he only does so when he does not feel he is getting a precise and direct answer to the question he has posed. He does so courteously but firmly."

Now, we all know that's not true.  Andrew Neil often crosses the line from being an interviewer to being a participant in a debate in which he puts forward his own opinions, and the purpose of his interruptions is often to loudly drown out a point he disapproves of and doesn't want viewers to hear.  One obvious example was a couple of years ago when he challenged RT presenter Afshin Rattansi about the complaints against RT upheld by Ofcom, which he suggested were proof that Putin was pulling the strings.  Rattansi countered by quite reasonably pointing out that the BBC Trust had upheld a similar complaint against the BBC's own Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg.  Neil immediately cut him off and angrily denounced him for suggesting that Kuenssberg and her employers were anything other than saintly figures who hadn't received their due in prestigious industry awards yet.

Not all of Neil's interruptions of Nicola Sturgeon were in that mould, but a good few of them were.  Specifically she was refusing to accept the premise of his questions relating to the supposed requirement for a country to have its own currency before joining the EU (a requirement that the BBC Fact Check later admitted does not exist).  He did his utmost to talk over her to the extent that viewers wouldn't even notice that she was disputing him on that point of fact - frankly he failed, but that was his intent.  At one point he even bizarrely suggested that Ms Sturgeon had accepted his claim, and when she pointed out that she hadn't done any such thing, he hurriedly changed the subject.

Antics of that sort are not an attempt to furnish viewers with greater illumination.  They're an attempt to deceive viewers.  There's simply no excuse for it, and it's little wonder that the BBC proved unable to address that point directly.

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I have two more constituency profiles in today's edition of The National - this time it's North-East Fife and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Solidarity with Denise Findlay

I see that Stuart Campbell has predictably taken advantage of the ill-treatment of Neale Hanvey and Denise Findlay by calling for Nicola Sturgeon to resign as SNP leader.  That's a crazy thing for any independence supporter to do in the middle of an election campaign in which Ms Sturgeon is unquestionably our greatest asset, and in fact it's such a crazy thing to do that I'm forced to conclude that it's being driven by Mr Campbell's own political ambitions.  No leader is perfect, and undoubtedly two very poor and counterproductive decisions on internal party discipline have been made on Ms Sturgeon's watch during this campaign.  But it's possible to agitate for change within the SNP while still recognising that we won the political lottery by ending up with one of the UK's best communicators as our leader, and that we'd be much worse off without her.

For what it's worth, here are my own views on the utterly indefensible decision to force Denise Findlay out of the party -

* * *

UPDATE: I'm relieved to hear that Denise has reversed her decision to resign from the SNP, and will now fight what appear to be spurious allegations of antisemitism through the party's disciplinary procedures.

Mike Smithson makes a Blair-style non-apology for his propaganda letters - but he knows he's got this one badly wrong

Tony Blair was always the master of the non-apology.  After the disaster of the Iraq War, he tried to get himself off the hook with this tortuous formulation -

"I can apologise for the information being wrong but I can never apologise, sincerely at least, for removing Saddam."

So he wasn't apologising for something that no-one had asked him to apologise for, and while he 'could' apologise for the Dodgy Dossier, it was by no means clear that he was actually doing so.  The cynicism of that statement popped into my head again yesterday when I saw Mike Smithson's non-apology for his propaganda letters to voters, because it was very much in the same mould.

"As is widely known I have been a member of the Lib Dems since its foundation and make no apologies for seeking to help the party during elections."

That's absolutely fine, but according to Wikipedia the Liberal Democrats currently have 120,845 members.  The other 120,844 somehow manage to "help the party during elections" without conning voters into thinking they are an "impartial election expert" offering objective advice about tactical voting options.  That's what people think Smithson should apologise for, not for doing a bit of honest canvassing.

But once the decoy non-apology was out of the way, we then got a fascinating clue as to what has really been going on.

"I should explain that while I approved the text of the letters I did not have a prior view of the list of constituencies they were going to. This was unlike GE2017 when a similar exercise was carried out with me approving every single seat on the constituency list...The party has given me assurances about the future."

In other words, he did not write the letters himself, and although he "approved" the text, he allowed the Lib Dems to choose which seats the advice would be used in.  That makes the whole "election expert" thing a nonsense, because unless advice to "tactically vote Lib Dem to stop Labour" is carefully matched to correct constituencies by the "expert" on the basis of voting and polling trends, it might as well just be random noise - or, more accurately, propaganda.

And he's right about one thing - the character of the letters is very different from 2017, when they were making specific claims about specific constituencies, and when the claims did at least have some basis in fact, even if they were being stretched to the limit.  For example, the idea that the Lib Dems were best-placed to defeat the SNP in East Dunbartonshire, which could be justified on the basis of the previous general election result, albeit not on the basis of the local elections held just a few weeks before polling day.  Compare that specificity to the vagueness of this letter that has apparently been randomly sent out to Scottish voters this time -

I don't believe Smithson wrote a single word of that, and if he approved it he deserves every single bit of criticism that comes his way, because the claims in the letter are not ones that any genuine election expert would ever put his name to in a million years.  In the vast majority of Scottish seats, there is no conceivable way that "tactically voting Liberal Democrat" can possibly help to stop Brexit.  In every single Conservative-held seat, the SNP are the only credible challenger, and voting Lib Dem would just help the Brexit-supporting Tories to hold on.  To the extent that Labour can be considered a pro-Brexit party, the same is true in Labour seats - the SNP are in second place in all of those.  In spite of Smithson's blind spots, he's intelligent enough to know all of that, so if he approved that text, he knowingly approved something that is not only untrue, but the opposite of the truth.

And as for the notion that independence isn't "needed", that's self-evidently a political opinion, not something that can possibly be established by polling or election trends.  But it's richly ironic that the Lib Dems would choose to put those words in the mouth of Smithson of all people, because he's on the record as saying that he would vote for independence if he lived here!

VIDEO: Are the Liberal Democrats in trouble in Scotland?

For the second in my series of short pre-election videos, I've taken a look at one of the oddest patterns from the YouGov projection model.  The Lib Dem vote appears to be well up on two years ago across Scotland, but in the five seats they actually have a chance of winning, they're seemingly either flatlining or going backwards.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Latest YouGov subsample paints picture of SNP dominance

Despite the feeling that there's a bit of momentum behind Labour at GB level, they haven't made any further progress since Saturday according to the latest YouGov poll, and part of the reason is that their showing in the Scottish subsample is utterly abysmal.

Britain-wide YouGov poll:

Conservatives 42% (-1)
Labour 33% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 12% (-1)
SNP 5% (+1)
Brexit Party 4% (+2)
Greens 4% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 52%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 11%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Greens 4%

In fairness, Labour were on an unusually high 21% in the previous subsample, so this is probably just sampling variation at play and the truth may be somewhere in between the two extremes.  But it certainly offers some reassurance against the idea that Labour might be starting to creep back up to the sort of level of support in Scotland where they could become a problem for the SNP.

The 9-point Tory lead will have to drop to around 6 or 7 points over the next nine days if a hung parliament is to become a serious possibility.  Such a small shift is obviously achievable - but what concerns me is that the polls may be overestimating Labour this time.  The numbers are weighted to how people voted in 2017, when there was unusually high turnout of Labour voters.   If that isn't replicated, Corbyn could be in an even weaker position than we currently think.

The good news, though, is that the opposite is true for the SNP - they didn't turn out their voters in sufficient numbers two years ago, which means 2017 weighting could be slightly underestimating their potential support.

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Since my last post I've had four more constituency previews in The National - Gordon, Glasgow East, Glasgow North and Central Ayrshire.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Video: Is the Tory lead narrowing?

A few weeks ago when I was on holiday and daydreaming, I realised a general election probably wasn't far off, and I had the bright idea (ahem) that I might mix things up a bit during the campaign by posting some short videos to keep you updated on the polling state of play.  So I finally got around to investing in a camera a few days ago...and discovered to my embarrassment that the picture and sound quality was marginally worse than the camera on my phone.  However, I was geared up to go ahead, so I decided to just do it with my phone.  Do I care about looking amateurish?  Pah, who cares about looking amateurish.  But future episodes might be in the form of a podcast, because a) making this video was far more time-consuming than expected, and b) I've got a proper microphone, so maybe I should work with what I've actually got.

Anyway, see what you think.  Tonight I'm discussing the batch of GB-wide polls in the Sunday papers, which paint a mixed picture, but on the whole suggest there may have been a narrowing of the gap.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Britain's favourite impartial Liberal Democrat election expert Mike Smithson is BACK - and he's writing letters again

Thanks to Tris of Munguin's Republic for alerting me to this.

It's truly inspiring that an impartial "polling and elections expert" would take the time to write letters to ordinary voters up and down the country, with no particular motive other than a simple urge to share his expertise with those less insightful than himself.  He would never dream of telling you how to vote, in spite of the fact that he's a current Liberal Democrat party member, a former Liberal Democrat county councillor, and a former Liberal Democrat candidate for parliament.  It's just pure coincidence that the "information" he provides is invariably that some disaster would befall the voter if they do anything other than vote Liberal Democrat.  And nobody should be cynical about the fact that the microscopically small print at the bottom reveals that the letter was in fact published and promoted on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.  They're simply providing an invaluable public service without the slightest thought for their own advantage.

The wording is very similar to the letter Smithson put his name to in the 2017 election, but I notice it's less constituency-specific - it just uses language like "in this area", whereas last time it was spelling out "voters who want to stop the SNP in East Dunbartonshire should vote for Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats".  In one sense that's lazier, but it's also probably a sign that he's just agreed to let the party use a general template anywhere they want - in other words his advice to voters is whatever the Liberal Democrats want it to be.

Smithson never had that much credibility as an "expert" to begin with - he's made a series of near-comical howlers over the years, including confident predictions that Kitty Ussher would become leader of the Labour party ("remember you read it here first!"), that the Liberal Democrats would hold the Gordon constituency in 2015 (they lost to the SNP by almost 9000 votes), that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act made early elections nigh-on impossible (that's been proved wrong twice in the space of two short years), and worst of all that the Lib Dems would be making a historic error if they did anything other than go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.  But to the extent he's got any reputation left to defend, he seems happy enough to squander it completely by being seen to once again pump out industrial-scale propaganda for his own political party, and indeed by allowing that party to put words in his mouth.

You can tell from the framing of the letter that it's matched to the profile of the individual voter - if they're a natural Tory they'll be told that "the data" shows they have to vote Lib Dem to stop Corbyn, and if they're a natural Labour supporter they'll be told "the data" shows they have to vote Lib Dem to stop Johnson and a Hard Brexit.  Essentially if you don't vote Liberal Democrat in this election, you're anti-science.

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I have two more constituency profiles in today's edition of The National - this time it's Dumfries & Galloway and Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Options for pro-independence voters in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

I almost banged my head against the wall in frustration when I discovered that the SNP are not even going to be campaigning in a key target seat.  There are a very limited number of constituencies that the SNP have a high probability of gaining, most of them Labour-held, and I don't think they can afford to be giving Labour a bye in even one of them.  Candidates should be vetted properly before the deadline for nominations, and after that point they should be able to expect that the party will stand by them, unless they turn out to be serial killers or something.  I've been told that the SNP don't have the manpower to check every single social media post going back years, but if we're talking about something so obscure and old that it wasn't found during vetting, that might be a pretty good sign that "political death by ancient social media history" wasn't actually appropriate in this case.

The problem goes deeper than the fact that Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is in all likelihood going to be needlessly held by Labour.  There are only 59 constituencies in Scotland, which means that each one (apart from the two smallest ones) have just under 2% of the national population.  This is going to negatively affect both the SNP's national vote share and the overall national vote share for pro-independence parties.  Before today, I would have criticised the Greens' foolishness for standing in a very tight Labour-SNP marginal like this, but it's just as well they've done so, because at least it gives independence supporters in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath an additional option if they feel they can't back Neale Hanvey.  In all honesty, if I was in that constituency, I'd still vote for Hanvey, because it'll count towards the overall SNP vote tally, and he's probably not going to win anyway.

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UPDATE: I've slightly altered the wording of this blogpost, because I noticed there was quite a bit of confusion in the comments section about what has happened and what the implications are.  To be clear: although the SNP have withdrawn support from Neale Hanvey, he remains on the ballot paper as the SNP candidate, and any votes cast for him will be fully counted by the media as SNP votes.  Therefore, if you want to maximise the SNP's national vote share, the best option is to vote for him.  Additionally, it's almost certain that he'll receive more votes in the constituency than the Green candidate (simply because he'll have "SNP" by his name), so if you want to vote tactically for the pro-independence candidate most likely to win, Hanvey is the correct choice.  Defeating Labour is probably a long shot now, but he's the only person who can conceivably do it.  Interestingly, on the betting markets, Labour are only marginal favourites to win the seat at the moment, so who knows.

In the event that Hanvey is elected, he would in the first instance become a pro-indy independent MP, because he would automatically be deprived of the SNP whip.  However, it's theoretically possible that he could become an official SNP MP after a few weeks or months if his suspension is eventually lifted.

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I have two more constituency profiles in The National - this time it's Angus and Inverclyde.

Bombshell telephone poll gives SNP mammoth 18% lead over the Tories - and puts support for independence at 50%

Scottish voting intentions for general election (Ipsos-Mori):

SNP 44% 
Conservatives 26% 
Labour 16% 
Liberal Democrats 11%
Greens 2%

Seat projection: SNP 48 (+13), Conservatives 6 (-7), Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c), Labour 1 (-6)

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 50%
No 50%

The seat projection is obviously markedly better for the SNP, and worse for the Tories, than we saw from the YouGov model last night.  So which is likely to be closer to the truth?  The YouGov projection is more sophisticated, because it takes account of different trends in different areas - for example that there may be more of a swing against the Tories in Remain-friendly East Renfrewshire than in Leave-friendly Banff & Buchan.  By contrast, the projection from the Ipsos-Mori poll is very crude and based on assumptions of a uniform swing.  But the fundamental reason why the SNP would get more seats if Ipsos-Mori are right is that the poll shows the party with a higher share of the vote than YouGov detected.  If it was possible to run a subtler projection model based on Ipsos-Mori's figures, you'd probably still see the SNP gaining more Tory seats than YouGov predicted.

So it really just boils down to whether you think Ipsos-Mori or YouGov are estimating the vote shares of each party more accurately.  There was a time when we'd have assumed that Ipsos-Mori's data collection method by telephone was bound to produce more accurate results than YouGov's online approach, but what happened in the EU referendum raised a few question marks over that.

Incidentally, the fieldwork dates don't explain the difference - the Ipsos-Mori poll was conducted over roughly the same period as the fieldwork for the YouGov model.

More to follow...

I have four more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's East Lothian, Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill, Glasgow South and Glasgow Central.