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 -

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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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Long-awaited YouGov projection puts SNP on 43 seats - and suggests Jo Swinson is only 5% ahead in East Dunbartonshire

The YouGov MRP figures are finally out, and it's going to take me a while to wade through the data properly.  But like a lot of people, the first seat I checked was East Dunbartonshire, because there's been a long-running difference of opinion about whether Jo Swinson is in trouble, or will hold her seat easily.  The answer seems to be somewhere in between the two extremes.

East Dunbartonshire estimate:

Liberal Democrats 38%
SNP 33%
Conservatives 17%
Labour 8%
Greens 3%

So she's in the danger zone, but she'll probably hold on.  However, YouGov agree with the earlier Better for Britain projection in saying the SNP have the lead in the Lib Dem seat of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.  That would be a reasonably big shock.

The SNP are projected to win 43 seats overall, which would be a perfectly good result if it actually happens, but it just worries me a little because the projections in 2017 were showing much the same thing, and we all know what happened next.  If there's another late Labour surge, things could still go wrong.  But one point of encouragement: some of the seats the Tories are projected to hold look quite tight.  So things could yet go wrong for them as well, and if that happens there'll only be one beneficiary: the SNP.

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On a completely different topic, a free Scottish Gaelic course is now available on Duolingo.  That could have a transformative effect on the language's prospects - it puts it in the shop window, and anyone with the urge to begin to learn it can now do so, wherever they are in the world.  Read more HERE.

MRP analysis shows SNP on course for a net gain of nine seats

The pro-Remain group Best for Britain have published a new seats projection based on an MRP analysis of a large number of polling interviews - similar to the method YouGov used in 2017, and that proved to be more accurate than conventional polling results.  The headline figures aren't surprising at all -

Conservatives 366
Labour 199
SNP 44
Liberal Democrats 17
Plaid Cymru 4
Greens 1

But what's very surprising are the individual seat projections for Scotland, some of which are much better for the SNP than expected, and some of which are much worse. For example, Labour are shown as being slightly ahead in Glasgow North-East. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're projected to win the seat, just that it's too close to call, but if that's typical of what's happening in Glasgow it would be very concerning. On anything even approaching a uniform swing, Glasgow North-East ought to be an easy SNP gain. But on the other hand, the SNP are shown as being fractionally ahead of the Tories in Ochil & South Perthshire, and only slightly behind them in the likes of Banff & Buchan and Gordon. Those are better results than you'd expect if the Scottish Tories really are back up to the high 20s - although admittedly the data is probably skewed by the long spell covered by the fieldwork. But the dates can't explain why the SNP appear to be virtually level-pegging with Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire - that's the most striking finding of the lot.

I'm not sure whether this should cause us to reevaluate our assumptions completely, or whether it's just dud data or dud methodology. I'll be interested to see what YouGov's own analysis shows.

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

If the BBC run a 'fact check' on a BBC interview and find that only the interviewer got his facts wrong, shouldn't an apology automatically follow?

You may already have seen this, but the BBC ran a "fact check" on the Andrew Neil interview with Nicola Sturgeon on Monday night, and the results were rather amusing.  They found that each and every claim Ms Sturgeon made was accurate, but they were obviously deeply frustrated by that discovery and couldn't leave it there, so in each case they needlessly added extra text along the lines of "but what she could have additionally said was..."

For example, in respect of her claim that almost all polls show an increase in support for independence, they admit that's true, but add that: "Excluding "don't knows", the average of polls this year has been 51% for No to 49% for Yes - extremely close but still marginal support for remaining in the union".  Which is fine, but as Nicola Sturgeon didn't claim at any point that there's a pro-independence majority in the polling average, it's unclear what that gratuitous observation is doing in a purported "fact check" piece.

It gets better, though, because the article does tacitly identify one genuine inaccuracy from the interview.  The only snag is that it was Andrew Neil who was guilty of the inaccuracy, not Nicola Sturgeon.  This is what the fact check says about whether Scotland would need its own currency to qualify for EU accession -

"The EU rules for countries which want to join the EU do not explicitly say that a country has to have its own currency before it is allowed to become a member"

Which directly contradicts a claim made repeatedly by Andrew Neil in his questioning.  When Ms Sturgeon pointed out that he was misleading his viewers, he talked over her loudly and refused to even acknowledge she had challenged him on the point.  Indeed, the most bizarre part of the whole interview was when he informed a bemused Ms Sturgeon that she had "accepted" that a currency is required, even though every single viewer of the programme had just heard her vociferously say the complete opposite!

If the BBC run a fact check on a BBC interview with a leading politician, and find that only the interviewer got his facts wrong, you'd expect the article to say something like -

"This means that Mr Neil was not strictly correct in the claims he made in his questioning, and the BBC would like to extend our apologies to Ms Sturgeon and to viewers for this inadvertent error".  

As they haven't done that, and as they've essentially just ignored the blatant contradiction between statements made in the fact check and claims made by Mr Neil in his questions, what conclusions are we entitled to draw?

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

My namesake's attempt to rig the next independence referendum by giving the No side a "sabotage-by-boycott" option

When I saw that James Kelly MSP was trying to add a 50% requirement to the Referendums Bill, I assumed he had jumped the shark completely and was saying that 50% of the total registered electorate would have to vote in favour of independence to make the result valid.  To put in perspective just how ridiculous that would be, if there was a 75% turnout, and if the result was 66% Yes, 34% No, the electorate would be deemed to have voted No.  And it's not at all fanciful that unionists would seek to load the dice in such an extreme way - only a couple of months ago, an anti-independence group in the north-east (with which Professor Hugh Pennington is involved) openly called for a two-thirds majority requirement.

But it turns out that Mr Kelly is playing a slightly subtler game.  His amendment would simply require that half of the registered electorate takes part in the referendum, irrespective of whether they vote Yes or No.  If they didn't, any Yes victory would be voided.  Superficially, that doesn't sound quite so unreasonable, because of course the turnout in the 2014 referendum was 85% - so surely there'd be no danger of a referendum of any real importance falling below the 50% threshold?

Well, here's the thing.  In 2014, in spite of that record-breaking turnout, and in spite of the fact that No won by a "decisive" margin (it must be true, because the BBC used that word about 70,000 times the following day), less than 47% of the registered electorate actually voted No.  If there had been a 50% turnout requirement for a No vote to be considered valid, pro-independence groups could have sabotaged the result by urging their supporters to abstain rather than vote Yes.

But of course Mr Kelly's intention is that only a Yes majority would be voided by his 50% rule.  A No majority on less than a 50% turnout would effectively be respected.  So if a future campaign was going against them, the No side would have the "sabotage-by-boycott" option open to them, but the Yes side wouldn't.

As the chap in the Question Time audience said the other night, the UK has become like Hotel California - we can check out any time we like, but we can never leave.

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I have two more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Stirling and Glenrothes.  (And these are honestly written by me, and not by the Labour list MSP for Glasgow.  We all have a cross to bear, and mine is my name...)

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If you know of any independence and/or SNP supporters who might not have registered to vote yet, make sure they know that TONIGHT is the deadline.  They can register HERE.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Are there signs that the Tory lead may be weakening slightly?

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm finding it quite hard to work out what to wish for in this campaign.  I don't want there to be a Tory government, and especially not a majority Tory government, which on the face of it means that I should want the GB-wide Tory lead to start dipping.  But that would mean a Labour recovery, and we know from what happened in 2017 that it's very difficult to keep a Labour surge "quarantined" in England and Wales - it's highly likely to spill over into Scotland, and at the end of the day it's Labour that poses the biggest threat to SNP dominance.  Not only are most SNP seats in former Labour heartlands, there's also the problem that any gain in Labour support is like a "six point swing" in football - it's bound to be partly at the SNP's expense, and therefore erodes the SNP lead much faster than any gains for the Tories.

So far the chances of that happening have looked remote, but today for the first time I'm beginning to wonder.  A new poll in Wales has shown a really significant jump in the Labour vote, way beyond anything that can be explained by random sampling variation.  Something very similar happened just before the 2017 election.

Welsh voting intentions (YouGov):

Labour 38% (+9)
Conservatives 32% (+4)
Plaid Cymru 11% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-3)
Brexit Party 8% (-7)
Greens 1% (-2)

OK, Wales is not the UK, and we haven't seen anything similar in Britain-wide polls yet. But there is a Britain-wide ICM poll today reporting a smaller swing to Labour. Whether that's just margin of error noise, or the start of something more significant, remains to be seen.

Britain-wide voting intentions (ICM):

Conservatives 41% (-1)
Labour 34% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 13% (n/c)
Brexit Party 4% (-1)

(Note: For some reason the SNP are often edited out of the results summaries for GB polls, but on past form with ICM they're probably on around 3%.)

It's just conceivable that a 7-point Tory lead might not be quite enough to win Boris Johnson an outright majority - it depends on the geographical distribution of votes, and on the extent of pro-EU tactical voting.

Would we prefer to have 45 SNP MPs plus a Tory majority government, or 35 SNP MPs with genuine influence over a Corbyn minority government?  I suppose I'd prefer the latter, but if Labour reduce the SNP's haul of seats without actually removing the Tories from office, that would be the worst of all worlds (as we discovered two years ago).

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I have two more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Dundee West and Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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If you know of any independence and/or SNP supporters who might not have registered to vote yet, make sure they know that tomorrow is the deadline.  They can register HERE.

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

First full-scale Scottish poll of the campaign suggests SNP vote has INCREASED

Well, it's only taken the best part of a month, but at last we have the first Scottish poll of the campaign - and it's a Panelbase poll in the Sunday Times.  Better still, the fieldwork took place after Tuesday, so we don't have to put a question mark over the results due to the rigged debate on ITV.  The trends are pretty much in line with what YouGov subsamples have been suggesting - ie. that the SNP vote has held up, that the Tory vote has sharply rebounded at the expense of the Brexit Party, that Labour have flatlined and that the Lib Dems have drifted downwards.

Scottish voting intentions for UK general election (Panelbase):

SNP 40% (+1)
Conservatives 28% (+7)
Labour 20% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 11% (-2)

The seats projection published in the Sunday Times suggests the SNP would take 41 seats on these figures, and that the Tories would hold 12, losing only Stirling.  Because of the media's tendency to treat the last poll they saw as gospel, we're now going to hear the mantra that "the polls" show that the Scottish Tories have completely ridden out the storm and are going to hold their seats - and that'll be somewhat misleading to say the least.  Whether the Tories hold seats depends not only on their own share of the vote but on the SNP's.  Even if the Tory vote is exactly the same as it was in 2017, there'll still be a net swing from Tory to SNP if the SNP's own vote increases.  And, indeed, Panelbase suggests the SNP's vote is up three points on 2017.  But here's the thing - Panelbase have not been the most favourable pollster for the SNP in recent times.  The last five Panelbase polls before tonight had the SNP somewhere between 37% and 39%, whereas the last three YouGov polls have had the SNP on either 42% or 43%.  If we imagine for the sake of argument that YouGov are closer to being right, that could mean there'd be a swing of as much as 4% from Tory to SNP, and that would bring considerably more than one Tory seat into play for the SNP.

And in any case, all of this is assuming a uniform national swing, which is very unlikely to happen.  As Professor Curtice himself points out in the Sunday Times piece, if Panelbase are basically right but there is a local swing that is 2% greater, another four Tory seats could fall.

There's also an independence question in the Panelbase poll, and it shows Yes support continuing to hold firm at an elevated level.  49% support for independence is several points higher than the average in Panelbase polls last year, and the one-point drop since the last poll is statistically insignificant.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (-1)
No 51% (+1)

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Seat projection suggests SNP landslide and Lib Dem meltdown

Are we going to get through yet another Saturday night without a full-scale Scottish poll?  Well, the night is young, maybe something will appear at midnight.  What we do have is a UK-wide seat projection based upon 270,000 YouGov interviews, of which presumably around 20,000 will have been in Scotland.  So although the model is untested (it's not the official YouGov projection model that proved reasonably accurate in 2017), it deserves to be taken seriously, and it offers good news for the SNP.

Conservatives 349 
Labour 213 
SNP 49
Liberal Democrats 14
Plaid Cymru 5 
Greens 1

If that turned out to be the final result, it would be an absolute catastrophe for the Liberal Democrats - they'd be six down on their pre-election tally, and only two up on their 2017 showing.  I would guess that around 4 of their 14 seats would be in Scotland, but if they're really underperforming badly, perhaps I shouldn't even make that assumption.  But let's say four Scottish Lib Dems for the sake of argument, and Ian Murray holding Edinburgh South for Labour.  That would only leave space for five Scottish Tory seats, a drop of eight.  In psychological terms that would be a really dramatic step forward for the pro-independence movement.

It's striking that the Tories are only projected to have a middling overall majority of 48, in spite of their double-digit GB-wide lead.  That suggests they could possibly be denied a majority if their lead is cut to six or seven percentage points - but time is running out for that to happen.  A large number of postal votes will be cast in the near future.

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UPDATE: We may get more information soon on an exact forecast for Scotland, because details for individual seats are being mentioned.  For example, this tweet from Tim Shipman -

"Some good news for the LibDems, Datapraxis model has Jo Swinson holding a 4 point lead over the SNP and likely to benefit from any pro unionist tactical voting"

I'm not sure on what planet the Lib Dems only being 4 points ahead in their leader's seat is supposed to be good news for them - I would have expected it to be far higher than that.  That's a drop of 6 points on her lead in 2017.  Perhaps it's 4 points before tactical voting is taken into account, that would make more sense. 

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I have two more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Lanark & Hamilton East and East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow.

Friday, November 22, 2019

How could you, Keith? You're Cullen my dreams...

Apologies for the uncharacteristically negative headline, but I couldn't resist. It was perhaps inevitable that with five Scottish by-elections taking place in the space of a week, one would prove to be less wonderful for the SNP than the other four. However, this isn't as bad a result as it looks, for reasons I shall explain in a moment.

Keith & Cullen by-election result (Moray Council):

Conservatives 41.5% (+8.8)
SNP 38.1% (-1.6)
Independent - Rob Barsby 12.7% (+3.1)
Liberal Democrats 7.7% (n/a)

The sizeable increase in the Tory vote should be taken with a pinch of salt, because the overall vote for independent candidates dropped sharply from around 28% to 13%.  Moray is one of the parts of Scotland where the independent vote is often pretty much interchangeable with the Tory vote, so in theory that could explain the entire Tory increase.  However, there's no equivalent alibi for the slight fall in SNP support, and this is obviously a sub-optimal result given that Moray is one of the Tory seats that the SNP are targeting in the general election.

On the other hand, it's dangerous to extrapolate from a low-turnout (34%) local by-election result to a general election - it may be that SNP supporters in Moray will be far more motivated to turn out for the latter.  It should also be remembered that Moray is one of the most Brexit-friendly constituencies in the whole of Scotland, so even if the Tories do cling on to it, that doesn't necessarily mean the SNP won't gain other Tory seats where the conditions are far more favourable.  For example, East Renfrewshire and Stirling both had very high Remain votes in 2016.

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I have two more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Falkirk and Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk.

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

Aberdonian agony for luckless Leonard as super SNP sail serenely on

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm waiting with bated breath for the first polls with post-Tuesday fieldwork to see if the rigged ITV debate has had any impact on the SNP's showing.  Nothing so far, but what we do have are real votes cast in real ballot boxes yesterday in two Scottish local by-elections.  Only one declaration is in so far, but the numbers are extremely encouraging.

Torry/Ferryhill by-election result (Aberdeen City Council):

SNP 43.2% (+11.8) 
Conservatives 26.0% (+2.1) 
Labour 10.6% (-12.8) 
Liberal Democrats 8.4% (+3.3) 
Greens 8.1% (+3.3) 
Independent 2.3% 
UKIP 1.4% (+0.5)

The percentage changes are uncannily similar to last week's three by-elections - the SNP are up, the Tories are up but not by as much, and Labour are down.  It looks like voters are highly motivated to turn out for the SNP, which hopefully makes it less likely that the opinion polls will overestimate the SNP's general election support this time.  I don't think we should jump to the conclusion that the Tories' vote is likely to increase from 2017 - they tend to benefit from differential turnout in local by-elections, and a drop in the Independent vote may also have been a factor.

Bear in mind that not all of the votes in Torry/Ferryhill were cast after the rigged debate - most postal votes will have been completed before then.  But it's a highly reassuring result all the same.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The new West Lothian Question is how badly Labour are going to do in West Lothian

So a few miscellaneous things.  Firstly, I have two new constituency previews in The National, this time about constituencies either wholly or partly in West Lothian - Livingston and Linlithgow & East Falkirk.

Secondly, I was asked to comment about Alex Salmond for an article on the Al Jazeera website by Alasdair Soussi.  I did my best to put the situation in its correct perspective.  You can read it HERE.

Finally, and on the same topic, could I please ask again that people in the comments section of this blog avoid any discussion of the details of the Alex Salmond trial.  Obviously I'm not a legal expert, but as I understand it, all speculation about the facts of the case is strictly forbidden.  So I'm having to be ruthless and delete comments of that sort when I see them. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Can the SNP prevent a nuclear holocaust by beating Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire?

Just by coincidence, one of my two constituency previews in today's edition of The National is Jo Swinson's seat of East Dunbartonshire. So can the SNP save the world from nuclear annihilation by getting the leader of the "Liberal Democrats" out of parliament? Find out HERE. The other profile is Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, currently held by Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird - you can read that one HERE.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Brazen, indefensible": The night ITV lost the trust of Scottish viewers forever

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

Latest YouGov average suggests the SNP are on course for twelve seat gains

It's truly astonishing - we're three weeks into this campaign and we still haven't had a full-scale Scottish poll (apart from an out-of-date one from YouGov).  Until that changes, I'm going to keep posting averages from the five most recent Scottish subsamples conducted by YouGov, because that's the best available substitute.  Unlike Scottish subsamples from other firms, YouGov's appear to be correctly structured and weighted - which means the only problem with them is the large margin of error caused by the small sample size.

YouGov subsample average:

SNP 43.2%
Conservatives 25.6%
Labour 12.6%
Liberal Democrats 11.2%
Brexit Party 3.8%
Greens 3.4%

The most discernible trend over the course of the campaign has been a Tory recovery, but that's been at the expense of the Brexit Party and possibly the Liberal Democrats, rather than the SNP.  It's actually quite impressive how well the SNP vote is holding up at a time when their main opponent is gaining ground.  But the big concern is that the rigged TV debates could lead to a repeat of the 2017 scenario where the Tory surge didn't seem to be the end of the world until the SNP suddenly had to fight on a second front due to the late Labour comeback.

Note that the Tory recovery isn't completely factored in to the average yet, because two of the five subsamples were conducted before Farage decided not to contest Tory seats.  In today's subsample, the Tories are on 28% of the vote, which almost takes them back to where they were in 2017.  But because the SNP vote is higher than it was two years ago, a uniform swing would still result in the Tories losing seats to the SNP.  The seats projection from the average, based on the Electoral Calculus model, is -

SNP 47 (+12), Conservatives 7 (-6), Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c), Labour 1 (-6)

Incidentally, today's YouGov poll bucks the recent trend across the polling industry by showing Labour eating into the GB-wide Tory lead a little.  But that may be just a reversion to the mean, because the last poll was particularly favourable for the Tories, putting them on 45% - which would be the highest share of the vote for any party in a UK general election since the 1970s.

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

Don't forget, folks, it's Scotland v Kazakhstan at 7.45 tonight...

...and the half-time analysis looks set to be particularly gripping.

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I have another two constituency previews in The National today - this time it's Paisley & Renfrewshire North and Paisley & Renfrewshire South.

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Click here for a handy list of SNP election crowdfunders.

Monday, November 18, 2019

UK "democracy" proved to be a sham as London court backs ITV bid to rig the general election

I'm not surprised that the SNP and Liberal Democrats have lost their challenge to ITV's rigged leaders' debate tomorrow night, but this is a dark day for what purports to be "British democracy", and make no mistake - this will distort the outcome of the election.  The only question remaining is how severe that impact will be.  I'm not sure the SNP's position will be dramatically worsened in relation to the Tories, because people thinking of voting Tory to "stop Indyref 2" are unlikely to be SNP-Tory floating voters anyway.  The much bigger danger to the SNP is in seats where Labour are their main opponents.  Traditionally there has been considerable overlap between the SNP and Labour support, with a large number of voters open-minded about voting for either party.  If ITV succeed in presenting Jeremy Corbyn as the only alternative to a Tory government, Labour could start to come back from the dead in a number of Scottish constituencies, most obviously the six marginals they currently hold.

Subject to legal advice, I hope the SNP are at least still considering their options about challenging the BBC and Sky debates.  On the face of it, they ought to have a better case against Sky, who are planning to exclude the third-largest party but include the fourth-largest party.  But as far as ITV are concerned, we'll just have to get our prayer mats out and hope that this shameful attempt to stitch up the general election has a relatively limited effect.

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Lib Dem ransom demand may ensure the SNP take the BBC to court

The Liberal Democrats have become noticeably less frosty today about the SNP joining them in challenging ITV's rigged leaders' debate in court.  It's unlikely that they're being friendlier out of the sheer kindness of their hearts, so I can think of two possible explanations: a) their lawyers have told them there's a better chance of success if the case doesn't seem to be motivated by narrow self-interest, or b) their double-standards in saying that the SNP should be excluded has led to negative responses in focus groups or internal polling.

The courts tend to be conservative with a small 'c', so I think we have to presume that the balance of probability is that today's challenge will fail.  But let's suppose for the purposes of speculation that the court thinks the arguments on each side are finely-balanced.  If so, it could be that we've been very unlucky that the ITV format has had to be challenged first, because it seems to me that ITV's defence of what they're doing is slightly less weak than the BBC's or Sky's.  They've got an interview-based programme scheduled for after the debate on Tuesday night, featuring leaders of the excluded parties but not Labour or the Tories.  That was clearly a wheeze dreamed up with the specific aim of making the debate court-proof, and it might just work.  But as far as I'm aware, the BBC and Sky have no such programme planned, so even if the ITV debate is upheld, it's still possible that the BBC and Sky debates might be shown the red card if the SNP launch further legal challenges later on.  Would they, though?  Or would they be demoralised by a first defeat and think there is little point in taking the matter further?

What might tip the balance in favour of them fighting to the end is an extraordinary letter the Liberal Democrats have sent to the BBC, which almost reads like a ransom demand -

"In light of all of the above you are now required to confirm, by 5pm on Wednesday November 20, 2019, that Jo Swinson will be invited to take part in any ‘leaders’ debate’ to be broadcast by BBC during the current General Election campaign."

If the Lib Dems are determined to take the BBC to court, come what may, I would guess the SNP will feel they have to be there as well to protect their own interests.  Because the one thing that would be even worse than a two-way debate excluding the SNP is a three-way debate excluding the SNP.

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I have another couple of constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Edinburgh East and Argyll & Bute.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Lib Dems enter the danger zone

There's no consistent trend in the GB-wide polls as far as the Tory v Labour battle is concerned - some have the Tories stretching away to a point where a large overall majority for Boris Johnson looks very hard to avoid, but others have the gap narrowing and leave open the possibility of a hung parliament.  But one trend that does seem relatively consistent is that the Lib Dems have dropped back since the start of the campaign.  Jo Swinson is entering a danger zone over the next couple of days - voters in England already seem to be concluding of their own accord that this is a traditional two-horse race, and if Tuesday night's rigged Johnson v Corbyn debate on ITV is given the go-ahead by the courts, that conclusion could be further reinforced.  Remain voters in England (except in seats that are clearly Lib Dem targets) may start to feel that Labour are the only game in town, and the Lib Dem vote could end up being severely squeezed.

On the face of it, that could be good news for the SNP in the five seats where the Lib Dems are their main opponents - but unfortunately the dynamics are a bit different in Scotland.  A lot of Jo Swinson's voters in East Dunbartonshire last time around were basically Tory supporters who weren't much bothered about her party label - they just voted for her because they were persuaded by nefarious means that she was the only candidate who could beat the SNP.  Maybe some of those people will be more discriminating this time due to Brexit - but I suspect the Lib Dems will retain a sizeable Tory tactical vote in those key constituencies.

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I've written another couple of constituency previews for today's edition of The National - this time it's Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Ross, Skye & Lochaber

Friday, November 15, 2019

SNP win election dress rehearsal in Fife

There were three Scottish local by-elections yesterday, and we've had the results of two so far.  The SNP won both - one was technically a hold, the other was technically a gain from the Conservatives, although both were wards in which the SNP topped the popular vote last time.  Unfortunately the percentage changes you may have seen in one or two places on social media (including on Britain Elects) are completely inaccurate - it's amazing how often that happens.  The incorrect figures exaggerated the swing to the SNP, but the real figures are decent enough anyway.

Dunfermline Central by-election result:

SNP 33.2% (+3.4) 
Conservatives 24.8% (+0.7)
Liberal Democrats 22.8% (+15.9) 
Labour 13.5% (-13.1) 
Greens 5.1% (+1.9) 
Libertarians 0.6% (n/a)

Rosyth by-election result:

SNP 42.8% (+6.3) 
Conservatives 24.4% (+2.1) 
Labour 15.2% (-3.1) 
Liberal Democrats 7.9% (+0.5) 
Independent 5.0% 
Greens 4.2% (+1.3) 
Libertarians 0.5% (n/a)

So a small swing from the Tories to the SNP, and a bigger swing (especially in Dunfermline) from Labour to the SNP.  Scarily, the Lib Dems came within two votes of beating the SNP in Dunfermline after lower preferences were redistributed - it's unusual for a party to come so close to overturning a large first preference deficit.  That may tell us something about how hard it's going to be for the SNP to win any of the five seats at the general election where the Lib Dems are their main opponent - ie. the Lib Dems may be able to successfully squeeze the Tory vote.

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I have two more constituency previews in The National - this time Orkney & Shetland and Glasgow North-East.  

Thursday, November 14, 2019

SNP enjoy 21-point lead over the Tories in latest YouGov subsample average

I'm beginning to wonder if a full-scale Scottish poll is ever going to be conducted in this campaign, but in the meantime, here's the next best thing - an average of the last five Scottish subsamples from GB-wide YouGov polls.  YouGov's subsamples differ from those of other firms because they appear to be correctly structured and weighted.  The combined fieldwork for these five took place entirely after the most recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, which was conducted in late October.

SNP 44.2%
Conservatives 23.0%
Labour 12.6%
Liberal Democrats 11.8%
Brexit Party 4.6%
Greens 3.4%

So the SNP appear to have come through the early skirmishes of the campaign unscathed, although the real danger points (ie. the rigged leaders' debates) are yet to come.  I would guess the above figures slightly underestimate the Tories, because four of the five subsamples preceded the methodological change to take account of the Brexit Party standing aside in Tory-held seats.

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I have another two constituency previews in The National today - this time it's Dundee East and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey.  You can read them HERE and HERE.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

SNP take on the broadcasters in court over the rigged leaders' debates

So I was encouraged to receive an email from the SNP a few minutes ago revealing that they've decided to take the plunge and challenge the broadcasters in court over the rigged leaders' debates.  I must admit there was a little while when I was worried that they might let this pass without even putting up a fight, but I should never have doubted them.  There's also a fundraiser to cover the cost of the action, which you can find HERE.  (It appears to be for SNP members only.)

Of course the dilemma with this sort of thing is always that if the court case is lost, you're left in exactly the same place that you started, apart from the fact that you've got less money than before.  But that's the nature of the beast - you can't win a raffle if you don't buy a ticket, and the potential benefits if the case is won (or perhaps I should say the potential avoidance of harm) is so great that it seems to me it's well worth the risk.  It's also important to lay down a marker and emphasise that people haven't just been going through the motions by objecting to these rigged debates - the proposed format really is outrageous.  There's been an attempt to gaslight us by portraying two-way leaders' debates as "traditional", but in fact they've never taken place in UK general elections before.  Not even once.  There were no leaders' debates at all prior to 2010.  There were three-way debates in 2010, and multi-party debates (including the SNP) in both 2015 and 2017.

What are the chances of success in court?  Heaven only knows, but it should be remembered that it's not unheard of for judges to rule against the broadcasters in cases of this type.  In 1995, Labour and the Liberal Democrats successfully persuaded a Scottish court to block the broadcast of a Panorama special featuring an extended interview with the then Tory Prime Minister John Major in the middle of a Scottish local election campaign.  The killer question posed by the judge was whether such a programme would ever have been scheduled during an English local election campaign, and the BBC were unable to answer.  They were allowed to go ahead with the broadcast in the rest of the UK, but not in parts of Northern Ireland and northern England where there was a danger of transmission carrying into Scotland.  Then a few years later, a court gave retrospective relief after ITV broadcast an "Ask the Prime Minister" special featuring Tony Blair in the middle of a Scottish parliamentary by-election campaign.  STV were ordered to broadcast a similar programme giving time to the other party leaders.

On the other hand, the SNP's challenge to the 2010 general election debates featuring only Brown, Cameron and Clegg did fail entirely.  But two things have changed since then - a) the SNP are now the third largest party in the UK Parliament, and b) there is a clear precedent for the SNP being included in UK debates on an equal basis.  If it was appropriate for the SNP to be included in 2015, when they were going into the election with just six seats, it's very hard to understand why it's appropriate to exclude them now, when they're going into an election with thirty-five seats.

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I have constituency previews for Edinburgh West and Edinburgh South-West in The National today - you can read them HERE and HERE.  And you can also take a sneak peek at my monthly column in iScot magazine HERE.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

First Scottish subsample under YouGov's new methodology is still favourable for the SNP

YouGov have changed their polling methodology for the remainder of the campaign to ensure that respondents are only asked about parties they can actually voted for in their local constituencies.  In spite of the way the first poll using the new method is being reported, the Brexit Party's decision to stand aside in Tory-held seats does not appear to be making a huge difference to the gap between the Tories and Labour.  The Tory lead would have been 13 points under the old methodology and it's 14 points under the new.  However, the Liberal Democrats will be alarmed that their vote drops under the new methodology while both the Tory and Labour vote increases.  This is looking increasingly like a conventional two-horse race south of the border between two anti-Remain parties, and the rigged ITV and BBC leaders' debates (if they go ahead) will only reinforce that.

Just for a moment, I was slightly concerned about what the new methodology would show in Scotland, because the SNP's share of the GB-wide vote is slightly lower than usual at 3%.  However, it looks like that's just a statistical quirk, because the SNP's vote in the Scottish subsample is very much within their normal range -

SNP 42%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 14%, Liberal Democrats 14%, Brexit Party 2%, Greens 2%

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I've had a look at the SNP's prospects in two key Scottish Tory-held constituencies (East Renfrewshire and Banff & Buchan) for The National - you can read the article HERE.

Monday, November 11, 2019

What effect will Farage's big decision have on the election in Scotland?

Nigel Farage's decision today not to stand candidates in the seats won by the Tories in 2017 doesn't entirely remove the Brexit Party-shaped obstacle to Boris Johnson winning a majority, because of course the Tories would need to gain seats to win a majority, not just hold what they have.  This looks to me like a man who doesn't want to be seen after the election to have perversely thwarted Brexit, rather than a man who wants to remove all risk of actually doing that.

Unfortunately, though, this U-turn is going to be disproportionately harmful to the SNP, because by relative historic standards the Tories did particularly well in Scotland in 2017, meaning there are more seats here where the Tories will be getting a free pass from the Brexit Party than there otherwise would be.  There's no getting away from it - this is going to make it somewhat harder for the SNP to win back the twelve seats they lost to the Tories two years ago.  Not impossible by any means, but a bit harder.

I know some people (OK, Ian Smart) will now glibly add the Brexit Party share of the vote to the Tory share and argue that gives a better indication of the state of play in Tory-held seats.  If we do that for the most recent full-scale Scottish YouGov poll, it would put the Tories on 28% of the vote and the SNP on 42% - and that still represents a 3% swing to the SNP, enough to see three Tory seats tumble.  But it doesn't work like that anyway, because not all Brexit Party supporters will vote Tory in the absence of a Brexit Party candidate. From YouGov's datasets, it looks like less than half of people planning to vote for the Brexit Party in Scotland actually voted for the Tories in 2017.

If you're looking for other silver linings, here are a few...

* If Farage is true to his word this time, he'll still put up candidates in 46 of the 59 Scottish constituencies, which should make it slightly easier for the SNP to hold a handful of constituencies where the Tories are in a close second place.

* We know that a minority of Brexit Party voters would otherwise be in the SNP column (one such voter left a comment on this blog a couple of weeks ago), so the absence of Brexit Party candidates in a substantial minority of seats could end up slightly boosting the SNP's share of the national popular vote.  That's obviously less important than any failure to gain seats, but the popular vote share will certainly be mentioned after the election and will affect perceptions of how strong the SNP's overall mandate is.

* This shouldn't affect the SNP's chances of gaining seats from Labour.  Even if the SNP fail to gain a single Tory seat, and even if they lose North-East Fife to the Lib Dems, holding their other 34 seats and gaining the six marginal Labour seats would still be enough to take them to the psychologically-important figure of 40.

* I would guess UKIP might see an opportunity here to take votes that otherwise would have gone to Farage.  We'll have to see if they now put up candidates in a few Tory-held seats.

* A de facto Johnson-Farage electoral pact may scare the living daylights out of some Remain voters and convince them that they shouldn't muck around with their vote at this election.  If so, that ought to benefit the SNP, who are the strongest Remain party in the vast majority of Scottish constituencies.

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

A question for the BBC and Sky

It's a very simple question: what will happen if, as seems highly likely, one of the "candidates" (sic) in your "Prime Ministerial Debates" (sic) uses the platform you have given them to make an attack on Nicola Sturgeon's plan for a second independence referendum?  Because of the rigged nature of the debates, Ms Sturgeon will have no right of reply within the programme, and unlike ITV you don't appear to have any plans for an interview-based programme afterwards to give excluded parties a chance to respond.  So what will you do?  Will you immediately tell Boris Johnson to stop speaking or to change the subject?  Will you hurriedly clear your schedules afterwards to give Ms Sturgeon the appropriate number of minutes to reply?

This is a question well worth asking, because many years ago ITV were successfully challenged in the Scottish courts after they broadcast an "Ask The Prime Minister" programme featuring Tony Blair in the midst of a Scottish parliamentary by-election.  The judge ruled that parts of the programme had been legitimate because they related to Mr Blair's role as Prime Minister, but that other parts were clearly party political and that other parties had been denied a right of reply of equivalent length and prominence.  STV were therefore required to broadcast a programme before the by-election giving remedial time to other parties.  If memory serves me right, it was presented by Bernard Ponsonby and featured the likes of Charles Kennedy and John Swinney.  So if the SNP are left with no option but to go to the courts, it might be worth placing particular emphasis on the likelihood of Scottish issues being mentioned during the rigged debates.

Oh, and a small hint for the broadcasters: no, the SNP's participation in separate Scottish debates does not provide the necessary balance, because the Conservatives and Labour will also be included in those Scottish debates.  The only thing that can possibly balance out a programme excluding the SNP is an equally prominent programme excluding the Tories and Labour (and also the Liberal Democrats in the case of Sky).

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Do you ever get the feeling you're being gaslighted?  The Guardian claimed yesterday that the BBC were planning to "host a traditional head-to-head debate between the prime minister and Labour leader on 6 December".  How can it be "traditional" when it has never happened before?  There has never been a two-way leaders' debate in the history of British general elections.  Never.  There were three-way debates in 2010, and multi-party debates in 2015 and 2017 (albeit Theresa May refused to participate in the latter).

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

Red faces for the Lib Dems as Panelbase poll finds Nicola Sturgeon is more popular than Jo Swinson ACROSS BRITAIN

Just a quick one, because I was amused by a little detail from the latest Britain-wide Panelbase poll, which is bang up to date because it was conducted between Wednesday and yesterday.  Respondents were asked to give their views on the leaders of the five largest parties (Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and Brexit Party).  As you'd expect given the diet of bile about the SNP that the right-wing press routinely serve up for their southern readers, Nicola Sturgeon's ratings are nothing to write home about.  24% think she's doing well, and 39% think she's doing badly, giving her a net approval rating of -15.  But that's still enough to slightly outperform Jo Swinson, who 22% think is doing well, and 39% think is doing badly, giving a net approval rating of -17.

If Ms Swinson is less popular even than a filthy Jock separatist, maybe she isn't quite the Messiah her party have been taking her for.

It goes without saying that Ms Sturgeon is also more popular throughout Britain than Jeremy Corbyn (who has a net approval rating of -39) and Nigel Farage (who has a net approval rating of -28).

Friday, November 8, 2019

It's official: the BBC have done a shameful deal with Boris Johnson - they get the ratings, he gets his rigged election

Watching Question Time from Glasgow last night, I thought it was striking that there was no question about the attempts by ITV and Sky to rig the leaders' election debates by excluding the SNP (and also the Liberal Democrats in ITV's case).  It's inconceivable that a Scottish audience wouldn't have submitted questions about such an urgent threat to the democratic process in this country, so the producers presumably didn't want the topic to be debated.  And now we can understand why.  The BBC have done exactly the same deal with Boris Johnson that ITV did, and given in to his demands that all major parties should be excluded apart from his own and Labour.  You can easily see what it's in it for both sides - Boris gets his rigged election, the BBC gets bumper ratings.  So now we can look forward to three rigged debates from all three broadcasters.

If you'd like to complain to the BBC, and I have a feeling you might, here's where to go.

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The first full-scale Scottish poll to be published since the start of the election campaign has arrived - but it's not what it appears, because the fieldwork is two weeks out of date.  But for what it's worth, here is what YouGov are saying the state of play was in late October...

SNP 42% (-1)
Conservatives 22% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 13% (+1)
Labour 12% (-3)
Brexit Party 6% (n/c)
Greens 4% (n/c)

ITV dig their own grave even deeper with a comically Anglocentric justification for their rigged leaders' debate

A few hours ago, a reader of this blog alerted me to the standard reply ITV have been sending out in response to the avalanche of complaints they've been receiving about their proposal for a rigged leaders' debate featuring only two of the parties in this multi-party democracy.  Pretty much everything in the reply seems calculated as a legalistic justification that they hope will prevent Ofcom and the courts ruling against them.  By far the weakest point they make is that the two parties represented in the debate are the only parties that have supplied Prime Ministers since the Second World War.  Frankly, I'm not sure the result of the 1951 general election should be considered terribly relevant in determining the line-up for a leaders' debate in 2019.

But this is the bit that really caught my eye -

"the two parties that were by far and away the two largest in the last Parliament...Parliament's official website gives the current state of parliamentary representation as; Conservatives 298, Labour 243, Liberal Democrats 20 (SNP 35)"

On what planet do you try to justify the exclusion of the third-largest party by reference to seat numbers, and then present those numbers in a format that implies that the fourth-largest party's 20 seats are somehow more important than the third-largest party's 35?  I mean, just how seriously can we take ITV's commitment to the cold hard logic of arithmetic if they think 20 is a bigger number than 35 when it suits them?  "Oh, those are only Jock seats, they don't really count!  Just put them in brackets as an afterthought."  If our country's future wasn't at stake, this would be hysterically funny - the broadcasters are so hopelessly caught in their Anglocentric trance that they honestly can't see how ridiculous they're making themselves look.

*  *  *

Actually, there's been precious little comedy value in this election campaign so far, so thank heavens for Ian Smart's latest intervention.  He's written a characteristically barking mad blogpost about Scottish Tory election chances that has somehow managed to receive no fewer than two glowing media endorsements - one from Katy Balls in the Spectator, and the other from Henry Hill in ConHome.  Ian is of course chiefly known for a couple of things - a) being temporarily suspended from Labour for using racist language on social media, and b) his long-running and bats**t crazy conspiracy theory about Kezia Dugdale being planted inside the Scottish Labour party by the SNP as a long-term sleeper agent.  Normally conspiracy theorists who use racist language find themselves cast out to the margins of society, but for some reason nothing that Ian says or does ever seems to tarnish the media's faith in him as a credible pundit and insightful thinker.

Basically what he's saying this time is that the conventional wisdom about the election in Scotland is wrong, and that the Tories will gain seats from the SNP, rather than the other way around.  Now, actually, I wouldn't dismiss that idea out of hand.  If the rigged TV leaders' debates go ahead as planned, the SNP will not be fighting the Tories on a level-playing field, and it's therefore not impossible that the current state of play could be turned on its head over the next few weeks.  The equation is really pretty simple - the SNP had a national lead over the Tories of eight percentage points on polling day in 2017, and so if the Tories can turn things around sufficiently to leave themselves less then eight points behind, they're likely to gain seats rather than lose them.

But that isn't really the point that Ian is making - he thinks the polls are wrong and that the SNP were never in a position to make gains in the first place.  His reasoning, if we can call it that, is based on a string of factual inaccuracies and magical thinking.  First of all he claims that the Brexit Party's voters should really be considered Tory voters, because the Brexit Party won't be standing in "most places".  Surely he can't have slept through Nigel Farage's announcement that candidates will he put up across the board?

Then he suggests that the only four seats that the Tories stand to lose once the Brexit Party's votes are reallocated will mostly be rescued due to unionist tactical voting.  In spite of the wide-scale tactical voting last time around, Ian still thinks unionist voters were "confused" in those seats about which party was best placed to beat the SNP, but that they won't be this time.  Which means, for example, that he's saying the resurgent Liberal Democrats will somehow lose even more votes in their former heartland seat of Gordon, in spite of the fact that they only took 11.6% of the vote in 2017 - a massive 21.1% drop on two years earlier.  As Sir Humphrey Appleby might have put it, that's a rather courageous prediction.

But Ian doesn't end there - he adds that, because the SNP are facing a Tory challenge in five of their own marginal seats where the majority is less than the Tory majority in Gordon, he can "see no reason" why the Tories won't gain most of those seats.  Well, OK, but can he see any particular reason why they will gain them?  If he can, he's not bothering to share it with us.  If tactical voting is his magic bullet once again, I have to tell him that if I was a budding unionist tactical voter in Lanark & Hamilton East, I wouldn't have a clue whether to plump for Labour or the Tories.  That constituency is an incredibly tight three-way marginal with just 0.7% separating the SNP in first place from Labour in third.  Yes, OK, technically the Tories are starting from second, but polls suggest the Tory vote will drop back, and it's Labour who have all the tradition in the seat.  Good luck sorting that one out.

Ian does have some good news for us - he fancies the SNP's chances of holding off the Lib Dems in Ross, Cromarty and Skye.  Just one snag - there is no such constituency, and there hasn't been since 1997.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A handy list of SNP election crowdfunders

One thing that has become painfully obvious over the last few days is that the London establishment, including ITV, Sky News and quite possibly the BBC as well, are hellbent on crushing the SNP at this election, and aren't much bothered about being seen to do so by illegitimate means.  And I'm afraid some SNP supporters are being a tad naive in telling themselves that high-profile TV debates excluding the party will have little impact on voting intentions or somehow might even work in the SNP's favour.  The evidence from 2010 tells a very different story - the three-way Brown-Cameron-Clegg debates effectively became the whole campaign, and the SNP could only look on helplessly as the Cleggasm changed the trajectory of the campaign in Scotland as much as in the rest of the UK.  It's also naive to believe that intensive local campaigning can somehow offset the negative effect of a debate exclusion.  If the broadcasters refuse to do the right thing, the SNP really ought to consider legal action, because it's no exaggeration to say that it might just be the only way of rescuing their election chances.

That said, local campaigning is obviously very important as well, and the SNP are not on a level playing-field as far as funding is concerned - the Tories in particular can bring in riches from south of the border in a way that the SNP can't.  So, as I've done in previous general elections, I've put together a list of links to local SNP election fundraisers.  It's probably not exhaustive - feel free to point me in the direction of any I've missed.

GORDON - Richard Thomson
NORTH-EAST FIFE - Stephen Gethins
EAST LOTHIAN - Kenny MacAskill
MORAY - Laura Mitchell
DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY - Richard Arkless
ANGUS - Dave Doogan
ABERDEEN SOUTH - Stephen Flynn
STIRLING - Alyn Smith
MIDLOTHIAN - Owen Thompson
ARGYLL & BUTE - Brendan O'Hara
ROSS, SKYE & LOCHABER - Ian Blackford
GLASGOW EAST - David Linden
GLASGOW NORTH - Patrick Grady
ABERDEEN NORTH - Kirsty Blackman
GLASGOW CENTRAL - Alison Thewliss
CENTRAL AYRSHIRE - Philippa Whitford
EDINBURGH EAST - Tommy Sheppard
NORTH AYRSHIRE & ARRAN - Patricia Gibson
GLASGOW SOUTH - Stewart McDonald
MOTHERWELL & WISHAW - Marion Fellows

There are a couple I haven't included on the list because they seem to be closed after reaching their target - Catriona MacDonald in Edinburgh South and Paul Robertson in Banff & Buchan.

There's also the option of donating to the SNP centrally HERE.

Of course, another vitally important thing that everyone can do apart from donating money is badger any potential SNP and/or independence supporter they know to register to vote at this link by the deadline of 26th November, if they're not already registered.  Young people and those who have recently moved house are particularly worth chasing up.  And remember also that citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in the UK, and citizens of all Commonwealth countries who are resident in the UK, are eligible to vote in general elections - but may not be aware of that fact.  New Zealanders may be newly-receptive to the arguments for Scottish independence given what happened to the All Blacks a couple of weeks ago!