Saturday, April 27, 2019

Landmark YouGov poll suggests SNP are on course for landslide victories at the next Westminster and Holyrood elections

First things first: I have another new article at The National website (yes, the second today!), this time about the implications of the sensational new YouGov poll.  You can read it HERE.

By now you've probably caught up with the other details from the poll that we didn't know about last night, but here they are for the sake of completeness...

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster:

SNP 43% (+3)
Conservatives 20% (-5)
Labour 17% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
Brexit Party 4% (n/a)
Greens 3% (n/c)
Change UK 2% (n/a)
UKIP 1% (-1)

Although those numbers differ quite a bit from the Survation poll the other day, the seats projection based on a uniform swing is absolutely identical: SNP 51 (+16), Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c), Conservatives 3 (-10), Labour 1 (-6).

We've focussed a lot on the sudden slump in Scottish Tory support, but these are also truly desperate days for Scottish Labour.  To put it in perspective, the Tories are polling lower with YouGov than they were in the Survation poll that put them in third place, but in this case it's actually enough to hold onto second place quite comfortably because Labour support has collapsed as well.

In principle, do you think there should or should not be a referendum on Scottish independence at some point in the next five years?

Should be a referendum: 42% (+2)
Should not be a referendum: 48% (-4)

An anonymous commenter on the previous thread made a sarcastic comment about Scottish Skier "trying to make 42 sound like a bigger number than 48", but the reality is that YouGov - for reasons I don't fully understand - have consistently reported less enthusiasm for a second indyref than their fellow polling firms.  A 42/48 split is considerably better than it's been in the past.  I wouldn't be surprised if a firm like Panelbase would now be showing a majority in favour of an early referendum.

It's an intriguing development, because it's only a few weeks ago that the media were breathlessly telling us about "private research" that supposedly showed opposition to a referendum "hardening".

Holyrood constituency ballot voting intentions:

SNP 46% (+5)
Conservatives 22% (-5)
Labour 16% (-6)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Brexit Party 4% (n/a)
Greens 3% (+1)
Change UK 1% (n/a)

Holyrood regional list ballot voting intentions:

SNP 37% (+5)
Conservatives 20% (-6)
Labour 15% (-6)
Greens 10% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)
Brexit Party 5% (n/a)
Change UK 2% (n/a)

The seats projection in the Times has the two pro-independence parties on a combined total of 74 seats, and the unionist parties on 55.  That would represent a sharp increase in the current pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament - quite a contrast from most recent polls which have suggested there would be no such majority at all.

Westminster shudders as the announcement of Indyref 2 is followed by dramatic YouGov poll putting support for independence at 49%

As I've learned over the years, an email notification of a midnight comment from Marcia can mean one thing, and one thing only.  Forget about Scotland in Union's fantasy polls with daft questions, here's the real deal from YouGov using the standard question on independence, and the result is nothing short of sensational.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (+4)
No 51% (-4)

Due to the standard margin of error, this is a statistical tie, ie. it's impossible to know for sure which side is actually in the lead.  In recent times, YouGov have reverted to their former status as one of the more No-friendly pollsters, with backing for Yes fluctuating in a narrow band between 43% and 45%.  Self-evidently a sudden jump to 49% looks like a major breakthrough, although there's always just a possibility that a single poll showing something new might be misleading due to an extreme case of sampling variation.  But we're not exactly short of potential reasons why support for independence might have increased over recent weeks and months, so YouGov could well be picking up something genuine.  It'll take another poll or two to be sure (this is the first credible poll on independence from any firm since the end of last year).

There are also figures for European election voting intentions, which if anything are even more astonishing - according to the Times front page, the SNP are on 40%, with the Brexit Party on 13% and the Tories on just 10%.  I haven't found the vote shares for other parties yet, but it looks like it could be touch and go as to whether the Scottish Tories would hold their only seat in the European Parliament, while the SNP would be in with a very real chance of doubling their representation from two to four.

We can't say we haven't had fair warning of this - it's very much in line with what the Scottish subsamples from YouGov's GB-wide polls have been showing over the last couple of weeks.  But somehow seeing it in a full-scale poll is still quite a shock.  10% would easily be an all-time low for the Scottish Tories in European elections, but my question is whether they've been as low as that in any type of national election, ever?  We'd probably have to check the records from centuries ago to be sure of the answer to that one.

I must admit I struggled to keep a straight face when I reached the bit of the Times article that suggested the poll results were bearing out Tory fears that a lengthy Brexit extension could scupper Ruth Davidson's chances of becoming First Minister in 2021.  Now, it's quite true that a) the Tories are taking a hammering because of the extension until October, and b) if Brexit still hasn't happened by the time of the general election they could easily end up losing the majority of the seats they gained from the SNP two years ago - even though those seats, with only one or two exceptions, had looked absolutely rock-solid until this month.  But as for Davidson's chances of becoming First Minister...well, they weren't looking too hot even before this happened, were they?  I always wondered how on earth she thought it was even theoretically possible, unless of course the moon turned into green cheese and the Corbynite leadership of Scottish Labour installed her in office.

UPDATE: I've now located the full European voting intention numbers...

SNP 40%
Labour 14%
Brexit Party 13%
Conservatives 10%
Greens 7%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Change UK 6%

What stands out there is the stupidity of Change UK in putting up candidates in direct competition with the Liberal Democrats.  With a joint slate the two parties might just about have been in line for a seat - but as it is they appear to be knocking each other out.

*  *  *

REGISTER TO VOTE: This may be a timely moment to urge you, and your nearest and dearest, to register to vote in the European elections (if you're not already registered as a result of the annual household enquiry form, I mean).  The deadline is just over a week away, and you can register online HERE.  Don't miss the chance to send the clearest possible message to Westminster that Scotland is determined to have a choice on its own future.

*  *  *

I have a new article in The National, about why Scotland in Union are almost certainly deluding themselves if they think the Electoral Commission would ever approve a referendum question that asks about "remaining in the UK" or "leaving the UK".  You can read it HERE.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Shock poll shows the sun setting on the day of Davidson as the Scottish Tories return to third place, and the SNP retain their massive lead

Extremist anti-independence propaganda organisation "Scotland in Union" have released their latest Survation poll, and not for the first time it's backfired on them spectacularly by suggesting that the SNP are set to make sweeping gains from the unionist parties in any snap general election.  What's new, though, is that it also shows the Tories returning to their once-familiar third place - and given the current seepage of Tory votes to the Brexit Party and elsewhere, it would be a brave person who predicts that they won't be staying there.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Survation):

SNP 41% (+1)
Labour 24% (+1)
Conservatives 22% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (n/c)

On a uniform swing, this would see the SNP make a mammoth net gain of 16 seats, taking them to 51 - not all that far away from their 2015 high watermark of 56.  The Tories would be reduced to rubble, losing 10 of their 13 seats.  And Labour would be practically wiped out, with Ian Murray once again the last man standing in Edinburgh South (assuming he's still in the party by the time the election comes around).  The Lib Dems would break even and retain their current 4 seats.

As with any "Scotland in Union" poll, the independence figures can be safely ignored because a non-standard question was used to get the desired result (although of course that won't stop the unionist media breathlessly reporting them as if they actually mean something).  We've known for many years that asking poll respondents whether they want to "remain in the United Kingdom" produces more favourable results for the anti-independence cause than the standard question.  Why that would be the case is anyone's guess - I sometimes wonder if there's a degree of confusion about what the 'United Kingdom' actually is, and if some respondents might wrongly assume they're being asked whether they want to retain the monarchy.  But it's not worth worrying about, because we know from the experience of the 2014 referendum that standard independence polling is more accurate than these 'alternative' polls.  The most recent standard polling continued to show Yes in the mid-40s or higher.

(And as I always point out, any poll that asks about 'leaving the UK' should not technically be considered an independence poll at all, because it's perfectly possible to leave the UK without becoming independent.  We could leave the UK to become a crown dependency, or a freely associated state, or we could become part of another country.)

You can tell that "Scotland in Union" are a bit disappointed with the results of the question on when and if the next independence referendum should be held, because their spin is that not holding a referendum at all emerged as "the most popular option with 34% support".  What that rather conveniently doesn't mention is that all the other options involved holding a referendum at some point, and the combined support for those pro-referendum options was 57% - which, I think you'll agree, is a rather larger number than 34%.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Nicola Sturgeon's statement of intent on a pre-2021 independence referendum is a positive step forward

Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland reacted impatiently to Nicola Sturgeon's statement this afternoon, pointing out that it failed to explain how the Scottish Government propose to actually overcome London's obstructionism on a Section 30 order.  And I agree that in an ideal world, she would have said "we want a referendum to take place with a Section 30 order, but it will take place anyway" or " if a Section 30 order is not granted, we will use the Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence".  But given how negative some of the mood music has been, I think it's fair to say that Ms Sturgeon went about as far as we could have realistically hoped for today, and if I'm being honest she went a bit further than I expected.  It's worth contrasting what she could have said if the narrative of certain journalists had been proved right, and what she actually did say.

* She could have simply said that because of the Brexit extension, she was waiting until at least October to make any decisions at all.  Instead, she announced some substantive decisions today.

* She could have said that because of the uncertainty over Brexit, and "in the national interest", she was going to let the current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum expire and seek a fresh mandate at the next Holyrood election.  She instead did the polar opposite of that, and declared her intention to hold a referendum before the 2021 election.

* She could have set out an aspiration for a pre-2021 referendum, but let the momentum fizzle out by taking no concrete steps to move us closer to that referendum being held.  Instead, she announced legislation that will prepare the ground for a referendum even before a Section 30 order is sought.

* She could have done what Joyce McMillan suggested a few months ago, and declared that it would be wrong to seek an independence referendum for as long as we know the Tory government will refuse a Section 30 order.  Instead, she left no room for doubt that a Section 30 order will be formally requested well before the 2021 election.

* She could have stated absolutely and unequivocally that Westminster permission is required for an independence referendum.  If you read some journalists' paraphrasing of her statement, you'd be forgiven for thinking that's exactly what she did say.  But she didn't.  She instead used words to the effect that a Section 30 order would be needed to put the legal position beyond doubt, thus leaving the door slightly ajar - on paper at least - for action to be taken in the absence of a Section 30 order.  It's blindingly obvious that she isn't remotely attracted to the idea of a consultative referendum, but at least she didn't needlessly rule it out.

So, all in all, I'm reasonably happy with the statement, and I think it leaves us in a better position today than we were in yesterday.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

No, Mark Ruskell, it's not possible to vote "tactically" in the Euro elections to stop UKIP or the Brexit Party

In my naivety, I had thought that the difference between the Holyrood and European Parliament voting systems would mean that I wouldn't have to spend any time over the next few weeks debunking the familiar claims that everything would be right with the world if only SNP supporters would "vote tactically" for the Greens or other radical left parties.  I assumed that a simple system in which every elector just casts a single vote for a single party, and in which seats are allocated in proportion to the share of the vote each party receives, would encourage the Greens to just concentrate on making the positive case for a Green MEP to be elected.  But nope, it seems they just can't help themselves.  Here is what Green parliamentarian Mark Ruskell had to say on Twitter a few hours ago -

"Having a chat with a couple of SNP voters today, had to remind them of the disastrous ‘get Tasmina as our third MEP’ campaign was at the last Euros, just let UKIP in through the backdoor. Polling shows Greens are front runners to take the seat off UKIP and keep Farage out."

That tweet is so spectacularly dishonest on multiple counts that it's difficult to know where to start.  First of all, it's true that the Greens made an extremely contrived pitch in 2014 that there would be a better chance of preventing UKIP taking a seat if SNP supporters switched tactically to the Greens.  The idea was that the SNP were 'guaranteed' to win two seats, and that thereafter the D'Hondt calculation would divide the SNP vote by three, meaning that excess votes would be wasted on the SNP, leaving the Greens as the only progressive party that could stop UKIP grabbing the final seat.  But the snag for Mr Ruskell is that this claim was not, as he implies, borne out by the eventual result.  Quite the reverse, in fact.  The D'Hondt calculation for the final seat was as follows...

UKIP 140,534
SNP 129,834
Labour 116,073
Conservatives 115,665
Greens 108,305
Liberal Democrats 95,319

Now, of course, the Greens would argue that the fact they were in fifth place for the final seat is somewhat misleading, because the numbers for the parties above them were (with the exception of UKIP) affected by D'Hondt, and that what you therefore need to do is look at the absolute number of extra votes each party would have needed to pip UKIP for the last seat.  But even if you look at it that way, the SNP would have needed 32,100 extra votes, and the Greens would have needed 32,230.  So the SNP were undoubtedly closer on any measure, and if we were being cheeky we could even claim that this proves Green supporters were to blame for letting in David Coburn because they failed to tactically vote SNP.  In reality, that would be very silly, because under this voting system it's almost impossible to know which way to vote if you want to cast a tactical, negative vote against a particular party.  The only way in which it might be possible would be if you knew in advance, and in precise detail, how everyone else is going to vote - and you can't know that, because opinion polls simply don't offer that extreme level of accuracy.  (Some would argue that they don't even offer a basic level of accuracy.)

There's also a rather amusing contradiction between the logic of the Greens' pitch for tactical votes in the European election, and the logic of their pitch for tactical votes in Holyrood elections.  As you might recall, I've always conceded the point that the Greens are technically correct that it would be possible to reliably "hack" the Holyrood system and get extra pro-independence MSPs, but only if the tactical voting on the list is extraordinarily widespread.  Much more likely is that it would be small in scale, and at that sort of level it would be much more likely to backfire, and could even up reducing the number of pro-indy MSPs.  The response I usually hear to that reality-check is: "You're thinking too small, James!  With the power of the Yes movement ANYTHING is possible!"  And yet implicit in the call for tactical votes in the Euro elections is that you don't actually need to worry about anything more than a very small number of your fellow SNP supporters doing it.  If you did need to worry about that, you wouldn't be remotely tempted, because you'd know that if the tactical voting drive was too 'successful' and if every SNP supporter 'lent' their 'excess' vote to the Greens, there wouldn't be two guaranteed seats for the SNP.  There would in fact be zero seats for the SNP.  In Euro elections, you can't use one vote for your favourite party and then use another vote tactically.  We all just have one vote, and if the SNP don't get enough of those, they won't win any seats at all.  Simple as that.

To turn to Mr Ruskell's claim that "polling shows Greens are front runners to take the seat off UKIP and keep Farage out", there is no truth in that whatsoever.  Thus far there haven't even been any full-scale Scottish polls for the Euro elections.  All we have are a few Scottish subsamples from GB polls, and they simply don't offer any comfort to the notion that the Greens will be involved in a direct fight with either UKIP or the Brexit Party for the final seat.  For example, of the three YouGov subsamples to date, one has suggested that both the Greens and the anti-Europe parties will miss out on a Scottish seat, one has suggested that both the Greens and the Brexit Party will take a seat, and only one has suggested that the Greens will take a seat and the anti-Europe parties will fall short.  Even in the latter example, the Greens were not projected to be the ones responsible for Farage's failure - in fact, the final seat was effectively a scrap between the SNP and the Tories, with the SNP marginally coming out on top.  So maybe the clarion call should be "Green supporters must vote tactically for the SNP to stop the Tories!"

A broader point is that there may be circumstances in which it's not arithmetically possible for any party to stop Farage.  In a proportional representation system, if the Brexit Party get a big enough share of the vote, they'll be awarded a seat, no matter how the votes are shared out between the other parties.  That being the case, it's much wiser to focus on which party you want to win a seat, and not which party you want to fail.

So the answer to the question "which party should independence supporters vote for in the European election?" is SNP if you prefer the SNP, and Green if you prefer the Greens.  If you're not that bothered between the two parties, my own personal opinion is that you'd make a bigger statement about independence by voting SNP.  Votes for the Greens will probably be interpreted in London media and political circles as environmentalist and left-wing votes, and not primarily as votes for independence.