Saturday, May 11, 2019

Opinium poll suggests Farage has a chance of becoming Prime Minister

It's not very often that Nicola Sturgeon tweets about a Britain-wide opinion poll, and I was initially slightly puzzled as to why she singled out ("it's time for independence, Scotland") today's new poll from Opinium.  It shows Labour with a six point lead over the Tories, with Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party one point further back in third place.  On the face of it, that's better for Labour and less good for the Brexit Party than other recent Euro election polls.  But then I took a closer look and realised it's not a Euro election poll.  It's a Westminster poll.

Britain-wide Westminster voting intentions (Opinium):

Labour 28% (-2)
Conservatives 22% (-3)
Brexit Party 21% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 11% (n/c)
Greens 6% (+1)
SNP 4% (+1)
UKIP 4% (n/c)
Change UK 4% (+2)

(Note: I've updated the above figures to include the SNP and Change UK, and also to correct the percentage changes - it turns out there was also an earlier Opinium poll that we didn't know about.)

Yes, folks, Opinium really are saying that if there was a general election tomorrow, the current governing party would be essentially tied with a hard-right populist party that was only formed a few weeks ago.  That almost certainly wouldn't translate into parity in terms of seats, because the first-past-the-post electoral system would punish the Brexit Party for support that is too evenly spread.  But the flip-side of the coin is that once a party becomes popular enough, it suddenly gets rewarded for evenly spread support - that's how the SNP ended up winning almost every seat in Scotland in 2015.  Nigel Farage is potentially only a few percentage points away from becoming Prime Minister in a snap election.

Is it credible to believe that this nightmare scenario could actually unfold in real life?  As an election approaches, voters often revert to old habits - for example, the Liberal Democrats still ended up in third place in 2010 in spite of the "Cleggasm" that temporarily propelled them into a lead in the polls.  But there could be a tipping point if Tory MPs start defecting to the Brexit Party.  It's certainly conceivable that if Britain hasn't left the European Union by the time the election is held, Nigel Farage could end up leading a sizeable group of Brexit Party MPs in the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, it must be some kind of record for any party to be leading a Westminster poll on just 28% of the vote.  It's perfectly conceivable to win a majority on that sort of vote if you have a big enough lead over the second placed party.  Would there come a point where even the Labour and Tory dinosaurs might start to conclude that the perversities of first-past-the-post are getting beyond a joke? 

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UPDATE: A Westminster poll from ComRes shows much the same picture, except that it actually has the Brexit Party in second place...

Britain-wide Westminster voting intentions (ComRes):

Labour 27% (-6)
Brexit Party 20% (+6)
Conservatives 19% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 14% (+7)
Change UK 7% (-2)
Greens 5% (+2)
SNP 3% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-2)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Hats off to Haddington as SNP give Ruth Davidson's Tories the FRIGHT OF THEIR LIVES in by-election belter

So this is more like it, after the slight disappointment of the by-election in Dundee last week. Haddington and Lammermuir isn't particularly SNP territory - the party finished third in the ward (albeit a strong third) last time around, at a time when there was a clear SNP lead nationally. In yesterday's by-election, they moved into a clear second place as the Labour vote collapsed.

Haddington and Lammermuir by-election result (9th May 2019): 

Conservatives 35.0% (+6.0)
SNP 29.5% (+3.5)
Labour 21.5% (-12.2)
Liberal Democrats 12.2% (+4.9)
UKIP 1.7% (n/a)

That's the result on first preferences, but the SNP were even closer to victory than those figures suggest. Of the hundreds of Labour voters who transferred on the decisive count, 56.2% went to the SNP and only 43.8% to the Tories - once again giving the lie to the notion that the Labour support can be regarded as part of some sort of monolithic unionist bloc. If the Tory vote drops significantly in some of the crucial north-east marginals at the next general election, Ruth Davidson shouldn't expect unionist tactical votes to save her. Labour supporters in those seats may even be rather more tempted to cast a tactical anti-Brexit vote for the SNP.

That said, Haddington and Lammermuir is obviously a solid result for the Tories as well, and defies recent opinion polls by showing no sign of any loss of support to pro-Brexit parties. (There was no Brexit Party candidate, but UKIP were there.) I suspect it's a case of horses for courses, though, and that voters will behave very differently at the Euro elections.

An all-out independence push would have been better, but 'Stop Brexit' is still a far more inspiring message than 'Stronger for Scotland' was

There were two obvious possibilities for the SNP's pitch in the European elections - they could either make it all about independence and seek a 'quadruple lock mandate' for an independence referendum, or they could urge Remain voters to use the SNP as a vehicle to stop Brexit.  It's clear from the campaign launch that they've plumped full-bloodedly for the latter option.  There's a paradox here, because that may well prove to be a strategically sound decision from the SNP's own party interests - it does seem intuitively likely that favourable showings in recent opinion polls can be partly attributed to the clarity of the 'stop Brexit' message, and after all the Remain constituency in Scotland is somewhat bigger than the Yes constituency.  But ultimately the SNP exist to bring about independence, and any strategy that maximises the party's support while squandering an opportunity to win an independence-specific mandate may be counterproductive in the long-run.

It's important to stress, however, that this doesn't mean that the SNP have entirely failed to learn the lesson of the 2017 general election.  One reason why refusing to campaign hard on independence in 2017 was such a mistake was because there was no alternative message that was going to inspire people to go to the polling stations - all we had was the vague "Stronger for Scotland", which couldn't even begin to compete with the directness of the Tories' "No to Indyref 2" as a get-out-the-vote device.  This time, the alternative to a straightforward independence pitch does have every chance of capturing people's imaginations.  And because it's only a couple of weeks since Nicola Sturgeon restated her intention to hold a pre-2021 independence referendum, a good result for the SNP is bound to be seen as some kind of endorsement of an indyref, regardless of the exact campaign message.  So although I would have preferred this election to be used for an in-your-face push towards independence, it's fair to say I can live with the decision that's been made.

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Somebody posted the Euro ballot paper on Twitter, and what leapt out at me is that Nigel Farage appears to have missed a trick by registering his party name as "The Brexit Party" rather than "Brexit Party", which means he misses out on being top of the ballot on alphabetical order.  (I had actually been assuming for months that one of the main reasons he chose the name was precisely because it started with a 'B'.)  Instead, pride of place goes to Change UK, whose presence on the ballot as an independent force may spell trouble for the Liberal Democrats.  I wouldn't by any means dismiss the Lib Dems' chances of nicking a seat in Scotland - although their success in the English local elections was wildly exaggerated, they'll still have gained momentum from the way in which it was reported.  But they're fishing in the same pond as Change UK - both parties appeal to hardline Remain voters who oppose independence, and if that vote is split, it could make it much harder for the Lib Dems to reach the de facto threshold for a Scottish seat, which in turn could create an opening for other parties (including the SNP).

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Last call to register to vote in the European elections

It's 7pm as I write this, so you now have only a few hours left to register to vote in the European elections (that is, if you aren't already registered as a result of responding to the household enquiry form a few months ago).  I realise that the majority of people reading a politics blog will already be safely registered, but what's more likely is that you know someone who isn't - maybe a young person, someone who has recently moved house, or an EU citizen.  If so, and particularly if they're pro-independence, cajole them, bribe them, do whatever it takes, but make sure they're registered by midnight.  The link to the registration page is HERE.

Remember that EU citizens also have to fill in an additional form (I believe it's some sort of declaration that they won't be voting twice in the European election in two different countries).

Monday, May 6, 2019

On the subject of "monetising the Yes movement"...

You're probably aware by now that the ostensibly pro-indy journalist Neil Mackay has been at it again.  Not content with his proposal a few days ago that would essentially make it impossible for Yes to win any future referendum by introducing a 1979-style "60% rule", he's now penned a dismal "exclusive" that continues his war against much of the Yes movement, and which prays in aid quotes by a number of senior SNP people who probably should have known better.  I'm inclined to agree with this response from Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity fame -

"I've often thought the SNP leadership actually would rather be without a movement. Of course they like the membership fees and having somebody who will deliver their leaflets, but they'd rather people didn't speak or act in public if they're not paid by the party to do so."

Those who were quoted on-the-record by Mr Mackay were careful in how they chose their words (although I did roll my eyes to the heavens at Alyn Smith's conspiracy theory stuff about "false flag" Yes accounts, which if taken too far could easily lead us down a Leask-style rabbit hole where we'd all start accusing each other of being Russian agents).  But there were a couple of rather more provocative comments which, unsurprisingly, no-one was brave enough to put their name to.  For example:

"Much of this [Cybernat trolling] is about who can monetise the Yes movement. It’s about who is getting the most clicks, donations and subscriptions."

I have a shrewd idea about which SNP parliamentarian may have said that, although I won't name any names in case I'm wide of the mark.  But what I would say is that the individual in question almost certainly draws a salary well in excess of the income that anyone could realistically draw from a DIY fundraiser, so I'd suggest he or she ought to be rather more circumspect about accusing others of "monetising the Yes movement".  Just like anyone else making a living (either in whole or in part) out of their support for independence, he or she can only really justify that in the long run by producing results.

I don't particularly feel my ears burning at the mention of monetisation, because although I'm one of the relatively small number of Yes people who have fundraised over the years, I don't think anyone could (credibly) accuse me of using abusive tactics to advertise this blog.   But then again, if it's not someone like me, who are these mysterious people that are supposedly using abuse to generate an income?  Presumably the dig is partly directed at Stuart Campbell, simply because he's a bit sweary sometimes, but who else is there?  Let's be honest here: being a troll on social media is not a particularly effective money-making strategy.  If you look at the genuine trolls and ask yourself how much they're making out of it, the answer is pretty obvious: absolutely nothing.

I suspect the parliamentarian who made the accusation knows full well that there is no link between "Cybernat abuse" and "monetisation".  So why knowingly say something that isn't true?  I would guess it goes back to Thomas' insight: this is an attempt to pathologise any 'non-authorised' Yes activity.  It doesn't really matter whether you're coaxed into believing that 'unofficial' initiatives are motivated by money, or by support for Vladimir Putin.  Just so long as you end up believing they're all thoroughly illegitimate, that'll do fine.

UPDATE: I've seen one or two people claim that the widespread anger about Neil Mackay's article is misplaced because the criticisms within it are only directed at a tiny minority of the Yes movement.  But that excuse is deeply disingenuous.  Look at this quote from Stewart McDonald MP, for instance...

"just f**king chill out a bit, and you can quote me directly on that ... some of the anger is over the most absurd things...on the face of it you might feel that it’s a bit annoying that X wasn’t top of Reporting Scotland or this headline was particularly unfortunate – fine we all get p****d off with something like that but just chill out a bit and think about things in the grand scheme of things. I think sometimes they wind themselves up so much."

If Stewart thinks that people getting annoyed about the running order on Reporting Scotland is somehow part of a Cybernat online abuse problem, then he's the one that is losing the plot.  Stewart has a long-standing personal view that there's no great problem with the mainstream media, and he's perfectly entitled to that view, but I'm afraid that if his call for respectful debate is to have any meaning, that principle also has to apply within the Yes movement.  He can't just go around pathologising legitimate views that he happens to personally disagree with.  Forcefully making the point that the BBC buried their coverage of the Westminster power-grab last year does not make you a Cybernat troll.

Remember when Stewart complained to the Speaker about Dennis Skinner being appallingly rude to him?  I wonder how he'd have reacted if others in the Yes movement, instead of showing solidarity, had told him to "stop winding himself up so much" and to "f***ing chill out a bit" and to "think about things in the grand scheme of things"?  I suspect he might have had something to say about that.

UPDATE II: I've just caught up with the fact that Mhairi Hunter, the Glasgow councillor, expressed her sympathy with the article's agenda by saying "some Yessers are trash and we do need to disassociate ourselves from them because they are trash".  It goes without saying that this is appalling, dehumanising language that wouldn't be appropriate from anyone, let alone from an elected councillor.  It never ceases to amaze me how often the people who set themselves up as the civility police end up embodying the very thing they demonise others for.  Several hours after grudgingly accepting that she shouldn't have used the word "trash", Ms Hunter still hasn't deleted her comment.  I trust that those who have been most vociferous about online abuse will call her out for it, rather than nod along with it.