Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Sunday, December 29, 2019
I wish someone would explain to me what an "illegal referendum" is, because on the face of it this appears to be a monumentally silly straw man. Nobody, absolutely nobody, goes around saying "let's call an illegal referendum!"— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 29, 2019
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 fête is.
There's no easy route, and one easy route that certainly isn't open to us is using the Westminster Veto as an excuse for not holding a referendum at all, and just drifting for the next five years. If we do nothing, we get nothing.https://t.co/VzfQvf5jeU— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 28, 2019
Saturday, December 28, 2019
London's pre-agreement is not needed to bring about an initial mandate for independence - even Mrs Thatcher accepted that.
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.
Holding a democratic vote is not "gaming", it is not "trickery", and above all else it is not "illegal". But Theresa May will be touched - and perhaps a tad startled - to learn that "now is not the time" lives on in at least one corner of the SNP.https://t.co/3RtzlkFJO5— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 27, 2019
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)
"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
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
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.
Sunday, December 15, 2019
65% of Scots voted for parties that accept the right of the Scottish Parliament to hold an independence referendum
Saturday, December 14, 2019
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
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
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.
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 -
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?
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?
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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
"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."
* * *
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
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):
Liberal Democrats 11
Sinn Fein 6
Plaid Cymru 2
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.
* * *
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
Gina Miller blasts Mike Smithson's letter-writing antics for the Lib Dems as "extraordinarily scandalous"
"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".
* * *
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
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
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).
* * *
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
"The BBC Prime Ministerial Debate"— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 6, 2019
Oh go away you chancers. This is not a presidential system. It's just a cover story to justify excluding most of the major party leaders.
Nick Robinson says he will ensure that the debate is "fair". Presumably Nicola Sturgeon, Jo Swinson and Sian Berry will shortly be ushered into the room, then. #BBCDebate— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 6, 2019
Boris Johnson using the platform the BBC have given him to attack Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP in his opening statement. Doubtless the BBC will now be ensuring fairness by clearing their schedules after the debate to give Ms Sturgeon a right of reply. Or perhaps not. #BBCDebate— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 6, 2019
It's happening: full-scale YouGov poll gives SNP big lead over the Tories, and enormous lead over Labour
Scottish voting intentions (YouGov):
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.
* * *
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
"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.
* * *
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
This is absolutely, unspeakably, bloody ridiculous. Israel has occupied the territory of a neighbouring people for decades and has committed countless human rights abuses. Nobody forced Israel to do that, and criticising that is not antisemitism.https://t.co/SqC2X5DdQF— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 4, 2019
SNP members voted Denise Findlay onto the conduct committee because they wanted a change of direction in certain respects. If she can be forced out of the party in the bat of an eyelid for pursuing that change, it self-evidently undermines internal party democracy. A dark day.— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 4, 2019
I do hope we're not going to be told that expressing an opinion about what should and should not be contained in the definition of antisemitism is in itself antisemitic, because that would be real Through The Looking Glass stuff.https://t.co/CGEmAi2dZU— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 4, 2019
* * *
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.
Reading between the lines, it's obvious what happened here and I'm so glad Denise hasn't allowed herself to be bullied into resigning. The SNP belongs to *all* its members, not just to those who hold sanitised views. And we've *all* got an election to win.https://t.co/DtcKBY0r8Q— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) December 6, 2019
Mike Smithson makes a Blair-style non-apology for his propaganda letters - but he knows he's got this one badly wrong
"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!
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
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.
* * *
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
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
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.
* * *
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
* * *
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.
* * *
I have two more constituency profiles in The National - this time it's Angus and Inverclyde.