Thursday, April 18, 2019

Is Davidson PLUNGING towards CALAMITY? Second YouGov poll in as many days shows Ruth's Tories facing MELTDOWN

How the mighty have fallen.  Just two years after her 'spectacular triumph' in the general election (ie. 'only' losing to the SNP by 8%), it genuinely does now look possible that Ruth Davidson is about to lead the Scottish Tories to an all-time electoral low.  A second YouGov subsample in as many days has the Tories on just 10% of the Scottish vote for the European Parliament, which even with the help of proportional representation wouldn't be quite enough to retain the one seat they currently hold.

Britain-wide voting intentions for the European elections (YouGov):

Brexit Party 23% (-4)
Labour 22% (n/c)
Conservatives 17% (+2)
Greens 10% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 9% (n/c)
Change UK 8% (+2)
UKIP 6% (-1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 42%, Greens 13%, Labour 11%, Conservatives 10%, Brexit Party 9%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 6%, Change UK 4%

Now remember these are just subsamples, and can't be regarded as reliable estimates of Scottish public opinion.  But the pattern of low numbers for the Tories has been so consistent that it's hard to believe it doesn't reflect something real - and in any case YouGov appear to structure their Scottish subsamples more carefully than other firms do.

You know the drill by now - just regard this as "a bit of fun", but here is what the seat allocation would look like if the subsample happened to be exactly accurate...

SNP 4, Greens 1, Labour 1

The Tories would miss out altogether after being pipped for the final seat by the SNP.  For what it's worth I think it's pretty unlikely that the SNP will take four seats in the real world.  In past European elections they've tended to underperform what the opinion polls suggested, so it's easy enough to imagine them ending up in the low 30s, which hopefully would still be enough to take three of the six seats - the most they've ever had.

At Britain-wide level, the four-point drop in Brexit Party support in the space of one day looks a bit odd.  It could just be random sampling variation, but I wonder if it was caused by respondents for today's poll only being asked the Euro-election question after being asked for their Westminster preferences.  That might have put them into more of a 'Westminster mindset', which would be less favourable for Farage's mob.  If the datasets are to be believed, yesterday's poll didn't appear to ask for Westminster voting intentions.

Strangely, there's also a ComRes poll out today that has the Brexit Party lagging in third place for the Euro elections.  When I first saw it I wondered if it was a phone poll, because that would have been the most obvious explanation for such a wide disparity between two firms.  But no, it's an online poll just like YouGov's, so the true position is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

DEVASTATION for Davidson as BOMBSHELL YouGov poll suggests the Scottish Tories could be WIPED OUT in the European elections

As they say on reality TV shows, I've "been on a journey" over the last few days.  At the start of the weekend I was stating quite confidently - and I think with a fair bit of justification - that the Tories were likely to take two of the six Scottish seats in the European elections.  Now it appears the limit of their realistic ambitions is to hold the one seat they currently have, and it's far from clear they will even manage that.  The reason?  Simply that voters who would probably be solidly Tory in Westminster, Holyrood or local elections appear to be deserting the party in droves for the Euro-vote, to send a message about Brexit.

Britain-wide voting intentions for the European elections (YouGov):

Brexit Party 27% (+12)
Labour 22% (-2)
Conservatives 15% (-1)
Greens 10% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
UKIP 7% (-7)
Change UK 6% (-1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 4% (-2)

Scottish subsample: SNP 35%, Labour 16%, Greens 13%, Brexit Party 13%, Conservatives 10%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 4%, Change UK 3%

Now, of course no individual Scottish subsample can be regarded as reliable, but this is the latest of several in a row to put Ruth Davidson's party at an abysmally low level for the European elections, and well below what they routinely score in Westminster subsamples.  That's unlikely to be a coincidence, so it seems that Tory support - even in Remain-dominated Scotland - is heavily dependent on a hard Brexit vote that is now ready to punish the party for a perceived betrayal.  It's rather satisfying to see Davidson finally get some long-overdue comeuppance for her near-comical flip-flops over the Brexit issue, although in all honesty this would probably still be happening no matter what she had done.

Just for "a bit of fun", here is what the Scottish seats allocation would look like if the YouGov subsample happened to be bang-on accurate.

SNP 3, Labour 1, Greens 1, Brexit Party 1

Yup, that's right.  Zero for the Tories.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Whisper it gently, but there's a chance that, just this once, Ruth Davidson won't be winning the Scottish Politician of the Year award.  Indeed it's very hard to imagine how her adoring fans in the media would cope with the discovery that it's actually possible for the Tories to go backwards on Ruth's watch.  For example, this would be a significantly worse performance than Annabel Goldie managed in 2009, when the Scottish Tories took 17% of the vote and one seat.  In terms of the popular vote, it would be the worst Scottish Tory performance in any Euro-election ever - not even John Major and Ian Lang managed to fall this low.

Although the Brexit Party surge has largely come at the expense of the Tories, it's also a cause of concern for the SNP in an indirect way, because it's possible that the SNP will be in a dogfight with an anti-Europe party for the final seat (as happened last time around).  It would have been far more helpful if the Brexit vote had remained split down the middle, but it looks like the BBC's lavish coverage for Farage last week has done the trick, and from now on the previous UKIP vote will move across wholesale to the Brexit Party.

There's good news and bad news for the Scottish Greens: this subsample shows them winning a seat, but as it shows the Brexit Party winning a seat as well, it directly contradicts the careful messaging that there's some sort of straight choice between a Green MEP and a far-right MEP (with the implication presumably being that supporters of other parties should 'lend' their vote to the Greens to stop Farage).  Ironically, the last YouGov subsample showed neither the Greens nor the anti-Europe parties winning a seat.  The reality is that, because of the way the voting system works, it's very difficult to tell for sure which party is best-placed to prevent the Brexit Party taking a Scottish seat - assuming it's even possible to do that at all.

Probably the media line on any Scottish Tory collapse will be that this is a freakish one-off caused by unusual circumstances, and voters will come home to the Tories for the general election.  That's true, but perhaps only up to a point - we know from past experience that Farage is capable of carrying over at least a portion of his European Parliament successes into a general election.  That may not win him any Westminster seats under a first-past-the-post system, but it's certainly possible that it could cost the Tories a lot of seats, including in Scotland.  Things might suddenly be looking up for the SNP in their former heartland of the north-east.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Equating a Westminster veto with "legality" is a dangerous game

Like most of us, I hold Michael Russell in the highest regard, but I'm rather troubled by his article over the weekend calling for "patience".  Apart from anything else, it seems to rewrite history by suggesting that the only reason the 2014 independence referendum was ever held was because David Cameron agreed to it.  What actually happened was that the Scottish government spent the initial period after the 2011 election planning for a referendum that it believed it could hold within Holyrood's existing powers, but eventually entered into negotiations with London to put the legal position beyond dispute and to ensure a direct question could be put on the ballot paper.  The Edinburgh Agreement did not constitute some sort of acknowledgement from the Scottish side that London had been right all along and that there had never been any power to hold a referendum without permission.  Given that we were never forced to concede that point at the time, it seems more than a touch odd that we'd be needlessly and voluntarily conceding it now.

Now OK, we get it, the current SNP leadership is not attracted to the idea of a consultative referendum held without a Section 30.  That much has been plain for some time.  But unless you can be absolutely sure that neither you, nor any leadership that succeeds you, will ever need to keep that option in reserve, why would you adopt unionist language by essentially saying that a referendum can only be "constitutionally" or "legally" held if it is approved by Westminster?  I suspect the leadership are so preoccupied with curbing the enthusiasm of their own side that they're forgetting that others are hearing their words and are preparing to quote them back in future, in much the same way that happened with "once in a generation opportunity".  The most important reason of all for not recklessly stating or implying that a consultative referendum would be illegal is the simple fact that it wouldn't be.  The UK is not Spain, and people do not go to jail in this country for organising democratic consultations.

Russell's argument also drives a coach and horses through the principle of self-determination.  It's rather reminiscent of the people who used to say that everyone in Britain should have a vote in the independence referendum because it was a matter for the whole UK, or the people who used to say that of course Catalonia could become independent just as soon as the whole of Spain voted in favour of it.  The ultimate counsel of despair is to say that Scotland will be independent when the SNP gains control of Westminster.

Melissa Iacone pointed out on Twitter that there's a contradiction between Russell's stated belief that Theresa May is only refusing a referendum because she thinks Yes would win, and the apparent insistence of SNP strategists that an indyref cannot be held too soon because Yes would lose.  Is Theresa May wrong to think there's a majority for independence?  If she isn't wrong, why don't we get on with holding a referendum?  And if a referendum can apparently only be brought about if there's a majority for Yes but without anyone in Westminster actually noticing, how is Russell proposing to thread that needle?  If he wants us to be patient, I'd suggest he needs to offer us a means of achieving independence that has somewhat better odds than a lottery ticket.

I really fail to understand what would be so wrong with the clarity of the message that an exercise in self-determination is going to happen, we'd much rather it happened with London's agreement, but sooner or later it's going to happen anyway.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Are the European elections about to hand Ruth Davidson a major setback?

First things first - I've got an article in the Sunday National today about the voting system for the European elections.  You can read it HERE.  As you can see, one point I made at the end, which at the time of writing I thought was fairly uncontroversial, was that the Tories were likely to win two of the six Scottish seats, and that the SNP were likely to win either two or three.  I'm already going to have to downgrade my level of certainty on that prediction, because two fairly remarkable opinion polls appeared over the course of yesterday which suggest that all bets could be off.  This, for example, is YouGov's estimate of Britain-wide voting intentions for the Euro-elections...

European Parliament voting intentions (Britain-wide, YouGov):

Labour 24%
Conservatives 16%
Brexit Party 15%
UKIP 14%
Greens 8%
Liberal Democrats 8%
Change UK 7%
SNP / Plaid Cymru 6%

Scottish subsample: SNP 49%, Conservatives 12%, Labour 11%, Brexit Party 8%, Liberal Democrats 7%, UKIP 5%, Greens 3%, Change UK 3%

If that subsample were to be taken seriously, it would mean the SNP are on course to win an incredible four of the six seats, and Labour and the Tories are set to take one apiece.  Now, of course, it's only a subsample, and no individual subsample should be assumed to be reliable.  I'm particularly sceptical about the SNP's very high vote, especially bearing in mind that they've tended to underperform expectations in European elections over the last twenty years.  But what I think we do need to take seriously is the possibility that the Scottish Tories could fall well short of their performances in the local and Westminster elections of 2017, simply due to massive numbers of their pro-Brexit supporters switching to either UKIP or Nigel Farage's new party for one day only, just to send a message.  As the same trend can be seen in the Britain-wide numbers, there's no particular reason to think that the Scottish subsample is leading us astray about it.  I had assumed that the Scottish Tories might be more resistant to the Faragist menace than their colleagues south of the border, because that was the case five years ago, but it appears that things have changed.

The SNP, meanwhile, don't show any sign of leaking pro-Brexit votes, so this could be a perfect storm for Ruth Davidson - if the Tory vote share actually goes sharply down while the SNP gain in terms of both votes and seats, it would be a stunning reversal of the narrative of the last couple of years that the media have fallen head over heels in love with.  It could be the beginning of the end for the myth of Ruth and her magic powers.

It's hard to work out whether Farage's intervention in this race is counterproductive from his own point of view - the poll figures seem to suggest that all he's succeeded in doing is splitting the hardline Brexit vote, and preventing UKIP from emerging once again as the largest single party, thus squandering the chance of saying that the establishment have been punished for their "Brexit betrayal".  But it's possible that the lavish coverage he's been given by the broadcasters in recent days is just the start of a bandwagon effect that will help squeeze the UKIP vote and propel the Brexit Party into first place.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Someone in the comments section queried the seats projection from the YouGov subsample and suggested that the SNP would need to be at nearly 65% to win a fourth seat.  That's categorically untrue.  As explained in the Sunday National piece, the D'Hondt formula is effectively slanted in favour of larger parties, which means the SNP would have a chance of winning four seats even on 40% of the vote.  At 65% they'd be more likely to win five seats, although that would depend on how the remainder of the vote is split between the other parties.

To demonstrate the point, here is how the D'Hondt calculation would play out for each individual seat if the YouGov subsample is right. 

First count: SNP 49, Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win first seat

Second count: SNP 24.5 (49 ÷ 2), Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win second seat

Third count: SNP 16.3 (49 ÷ 3), Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win third seat

Fourth count: SNP 12.3 (49 ÷ 4), Conservatives 12, Labour 11, Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

SNP win fourth seat

Fifth count: Conservatives 12, Labour 11, SNP 9.8 (49 ÷ 5), Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

Conservatives win fifth seat

Sixth count: Labour 11, SNP 9.8 (49 ÷ 5), Brexit Party 8, Liberal Democrats 7, Conservatives 6 (12 ÷  2), UKIP 5, Greens 3, Change UK 3

Labour win sixth seat

Final tally: SNP 4 seats, Conservatives 1 seat, Labour 1 seat