Saturday, May 25, 2019

Tom Gordon wants the pro-independence movement to pack up and go home. Tom Gordon is going to be very disappointed.

You've gotta love the anti-independence print media.  They go around calling the process of democratic self-determination "an insulting sham" and "absurdly naive", and then innocently wonder why the pro-independence movement are getting a bit ratty with them.  The latest provocation comes from the Herald's Tom Gordon, who clearly wants to make the independence issue disappear in a puff of smoke by persuading us that the whole thing is just completely and utterly hopeless.  He doesn't much mind whether we decide it's hopeless because our masters in London won't 'allow' us to exercise our democratic rights, or because we just think the task will be so fiendishly complicated and messy.  As long as we think it's hopeless, that's all that matters, so Tom is happy enough to chance his arm with an each-way bet.

First of all he tells us that the idea of a pre-2021 referendum is "guff", because any vote would "require" the permission of London, and no Tory Prime Minister will grant it.  Essentially Tom is inviting us to tremble and genuflect before the colonial rights of Westminster, which is an argument that should be dismissed with utter contempt whenever we encounter it.  The UK is either a democracy or it is a prison from which Scotland is not permitted to escape.  I presume no unionist journalist (sorry, "neutral" journalist) would conceive of the possibility that it's a prison, in which case it must be a democracy and we must have the right to a democratic choice on our own future.

Secondly, Tom informs us that even if an early referendum takes place (his "guff" scenario) and a Yes vote is won, it would be impossible to complete the process of becoming an independent country before the next Holyrood election, and therefore the SNP wouldn't actually risk a pre-2021 referendum in case that election produces a unionist majority that seeks to reverse the referendum result.  There's a pretty obvious gaping hole in that line of argument, which is that the SNP willingly took exactly that "risk" with the last referendum, which was held only eighteen months before the 2016 election.  Frankly, it's almost inconceivable that the SNP wouldn't poll strongly in a post-Yes election, because there would be a strong pro-independence vote that would want to see the job done - a similar impulse to the one which is driving the Brexit Party's vote now.  That doesn't necessarily mean there would be an outright pro-indy majority at Holyrood (although I suspect there would be), but it's hard to imagine any scenario in which the SNP wouldn't at least be leading the government, and that would make it murderously hard for unionist parties to undo a Yes vote - even assuming they'd want to do that, which is a very big if.

Tom obviously thinks that independence is going to unfold just like Brexit, but worse.  That's led him to emulate a number of unionist politicians by saying things that are monumentally stupid, but in a way that sounds superficially plausible if you don't dwell on the points for too long.  For example, he parrots a familiar Tory attack line by suggesting that unpicking a 300 year old union will obviously be many orders of magnitude more difficult than Britain's efforts to extricate itself from the EU after a mere 45 years.  But the reality is that any country that is integrated into a wider union is just as integrated after a few decades as it would be after a few centuries.  Are we really supposed to believe that it would be harder for Scotland to become independent from the UK than it was for Estonia to become independent from the Soviet Union, a state which it had "only" been part of for four-and-a-half decades?  Of course not.  So why pretend that it would be?  Well, we can probably guess.

Most countries that have become independent in recent times (not all, by any means, but most) have found the process a lot less traumatic than Brexit.  Many of the UK politicians who now support either Revoke or a People's Vote, such as Chuka Umunna, were initially willing to accept the outcome of the 2016 referendum and only reversed their position because the UK government made a pig's ear of the negotiations.  The Scottish independence negotiators are not predestined to be as useless as Theresa May.  The Scottish MSM commentariat plainly have no faith in their own country's competence, but we're not obliged to share that view.

A final thought: Tom thinks Nicola Sturgeon has "set a precedent" by calling for a second referendum on the EU to reverse the result of the first one.  But that precedent is only set if a People's Vote actually happens.  If Brexit occurs without a second referendum, as still appears to be the most likely outcome, the precedent will be that the result of the first referendum must be enacted.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Davidson's line of attack lies in TATTERS as Panelbase poll reveals a majority of the Scottish public want an early independence referendum

Thanks to Scottish Skier for drawing my attention to a little-noticed detail from last weekend's full-scale Scottish poll from Panelbase: there is now a majority in favour of an early independence referendum.  On the rounded numbers, the split is 50% in favour, 50% against, but a close look at the unrounded numbers reveals the majority is just about there.

Total in favour of an early independence referendum: 50.2% (+0.7)
Total opposed to an early independence referendum: 49.8% (-0.7)

Of course those percentage changes are trivial and not statistically significant, but psychologically they're very important, because the Tories have repeatedly told us that the evidence shows there is no public appetite for an independence referendum.  Well, here is evidence showing the complete opposite.

To maintain consistency with a question they've been asking for years, Panelbase always split the pro-referendum position into two separate options, and support for the more radical option has also seen an increase since the last poll...

When do you think another Scottish independence referendum should be held?

There should not be another Scottish independence referendum in the next few years: 49.8% (-0.7)
When the UK has finished negotiating to leave the EU: 27.9% (-2.2)
While the UK is negotiating to leave the EU: 22.3% (+2.9)

That wording is getting close to being past its sell-by date, because arguably the UK has already finished negotiating to leave the EU.  So it could be said that 27.9% of the public think a second indyref should take place now, and 22.3% think it should already have taken place!  It certainly seems to be the case that half of the electorate want a referendum in the very near future.

A few points to bear in mind about today's election

* Last time around, the SNP were slightly closer than the Greens to preventing UKIP from winning a Scottish seat.  An extra 32,100 votes for the SNP would have stopped UKIP, whereas the Greens would have needed an extra 32,230.  That history lesson isn't strictly relevant to today's election, because the Brexit Party appear to be stronger in Scotland than UKIP were five years ago, and are probably guaranteed at least one seat.  But I did hear last night that someone was planning to 'tactically' vote Green, specifically because of their mistaken belief that the Greens were closest to denying UKIP in 2014.  So it's probably just as well to put the record straight.

* It's essentially impossible to cast a tactical vote under this particular electoral system.  The only limited exception to that would be if you're planning to vote for a very small party (such as Change UK) that has no realistic hope of winning a seat in the Scottish electoral region.  If so, you're probably wasting your vote, and you might be better off switching to a larger party.  But apart from that, to make a sound decision to switch tactically from one party to another, you'd need to know in advance exactly how everyone else is going to vote, and that knowledge simply isn't available.  The best proof of that point is the fact that three different pro-Remain "tactical voting" websites have managed to come up with three completely different and contradictory recommendations for Scottish voters: one urges a vote for the SNP, one backs the Lib Dems, and the third plumps for the Greens.  It's just glorified guesswork.  (And in the case of the website recommending a tactical vote for the Lib Dems, there may well be an agenda behind it.)

* A low turnout will almost certainly favour the Brexit Party, so the one and only reliable way of making things harder for Farage is to persuade as many of your pro-indy family and friends as possible to actually vote.

* There is no ceiling of support above which any party won't need more votes.  Many polling subsamples have put the SNP in the high 30s, enough to win three of the six seats.  But, because of the way the D'Hondt formula works, there'd also be a chance of a fourth seat with a few extra percentage points.  Of course there's always a possibility that the polls are overstating the SNP, in which case a fourth seat would be out of reach - but, if so, the SNP would still need votes to ensure they win three seats rather than just two.  There is no scenario in which they won't need as many votes as they can possibly get.

* If you want to help generate momentum towards an independence referendum, a vote for the SNP will have a bigger impact than a vote for the Greens.  Today's election will have no direct effect on the independence campaign - it's purely psychological.  And that being the case, what matters is how the media report the result.  The London media in particular are probably only dimly aware that the Greens are a pro-indy party, which means that a Green seat will be interpreted primarily as a victory for left-wing politics and environmentalism.  By contrast, every SNP seat will be reported as a direct endorsement of an indyref.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Latest YouGov subsample suggests a GAIN for the SNP - and a WIPEOUT for Ruth Davidson's Tories

So, with the caveat that this is only a subsample from a GB poll, albeit a relatively large one that has probably been correctly structured and weighted, here is YouGov's latest estimate of Scottish voting intentions for tomorrow's European election...

SNP 40%, Brexit Party 23%, Liberal Democrats 12%, Greens 9%, Labour 7%, Conservatives 7%, UKIP 2%, Change UK 1%

The seats allocation on those numbers would be: SNP 3, Brexit Party 2, Liberal Democrats 1.

I'd suggest that would be a 'curate's egg' outcome as far as momentum for the independence campaign is concerned - the SNP would gain a seat and would record an all-time high both in terms of votes and seats, and the Ruth Davidson No More Referendums (Theresa May Sponsored Referendums Are OK) Party would be wiped out.  But you can guarantee that the unionist media would focus all their attention on the two seats for the Brexit Party, because that would supposedly show that Scotland is nowhere near as pro-European as Nicola Sturgeon portrays.  What we really need is for the Brexit Party to only win one seat, and for there to be four pro-indy seats (ideally four SNP seats, but three SNP and one Green would be the next best thing).  That's still a perfectly plausible outcome, but it depends on the Brexit Party being a tad less popular than these numbers suggest.  There's no way of engineering it through tactical voting - the only control we can have over it is to raise turnout by getting the pro-indy vote out, because it's pretty likely that the lower the turnout, the better Farage will do.

Incidentally, although the polls have been consistently saying that the SNP should win either three or four seats, I still have some concerns that they might end up with only two.  It's not just the fact that they've underperformed expectations in recent European elections - think also of their 32% showing at the local elections two years ago, which was way, way below what the opinion polls would have led us to expect.  (That even caught John Curtice out - he was still talking about 40% as a potentially disappointing outcome for the SNP well after the results started to come in.)  So there's no room at all for complacency, and we need to get every pro-indy voter we can find to the polling stations tomorrow.

*  *  *

Here's the latest in Phantom Power's acclaimed Journey to Yes series of films, this time featuring a certain Portuguese-born Yes supporter who will be familiar to a lot of us from Twitter...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Setting the record straight on the D'Hondt formula

A commenter on a previous thread has alerted me to a piece of polling analysis on Newsnet that is based on an entirely false premise.  The article claims that Best For Britain are wrong to suggest that the figures from their recent YouGov poll would translate into three SNP seats in the European Parliament, and that the correct figure should be two.  It also goes on to say: "Why Best for Britain have allocated 3 seats to the SNP when their poll results actually only give them just 2 is strange. Perhaps because of an unexplained adjustment or wider polling influence."

In fact, the Newsnet piece is wrong and Best For Britain are right.  The 38% of the vote that the SNP are given by the poll would comfortably be enough to win them three seats, and it would actually leave them not that far away from four.  This is not because of any "unexplained adjustment" or "wider polling influence" - it's simply because of how the D'Hondt formula works.  The Newsnet author wrongly believes that D'Hondt divides a party's vote by two every time it wins a seat, but that's not the case at all.  As Newsnet is a pro-indy website, this is clearly an honest mistake rather than anything malicious, but it's still important to set the record straight because it could lead to further confusion about how the voting system works.  (And Alex Cole-Hamilton would be only too delighted about that!)

The D'Hondt formula actually divides each party's original vote by the number of seats it has already won, plus one.  So this is how the calculation would play out if the Best For Britain poll happens to be accurate...

First count: SNP 38, Brexit Party 19.8, Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

SNP win first seat

Second count: Brexit Party 19.8, SNP 19 (38 ÷ 2), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

Brexit Party win second seat

Third count: SNP 19 (38 ÷ 2), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

SNP win third seat

Fourth count: SNP 12.7 (38 ÷ 3), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

SNP win fourth seat

Fifth count: Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), SNP 9.5 (38 ÷ 4), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

Greens win fifth seat

Sixth count: Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), SNP 9.5 (38 ÷ 4), Liberal Democrats 7, Greens 5.5 (11 ÷ 2), UKIP 2, Change UK 2

Labour win sixth seat

Final seat allocation: SNP 3, Brexit Party 1, Greens 1, Labour 1

Theresa trembles as phenomenal Panelbase poll puts support for independence at 48% - a three-year high

I'm not sure if this information was published at the weekend and I just wasn't aware of it because I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, but anyway, it turns out that the new Panelbase poll also asked the independence question, and the results confirm what appeared to be the case from two polls a few weeks ago - that Yes support is riding higher than it has been for years.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48% (+1)
No 52% (-1)

To put this in perspective, Panelbase have recently been one of the most No-friendly polling firms, and for eighteen months between the early summer of 2017 and the autumn of 2018, they consistently had Yes on either 43% or 44%.  The last two Panelbase polls showed Yes had jumped to 47%, and now 48% is a three-year high.  It's very unlikely that such a sustained pattern is illusory - it does look like support for independence has increased significantly over recent months.  YouGov, of course, have shown the same trend.

Here's the proof that the 'Remain Voter' website can't be trusted

So just to recap: yesterday I expressed my suspicions that the 'Remain Voter' website might have some sort of agenda, because the explanation for their advice that pro-EU voters in Scotland should cast a tactical vote for the Liberal Democrats appeared to be absolute gibberish.  They stated that switching to the Lib Dems on Thursday could somehow help the SNP win a fourth seat - which is arithmetically impossible.

Today someone on Twitter wrongly stated that Remain Voter were claiming that people should vote for the Lib Dems because the SNP don't even have a chance of a fourth seat, and that any extra SNP votes would therefore be wasted.  This was my reply -

"They actually don't say that. Their advice is much more nutty than that. They say that the SNP *can* win a fourth seat, and that voting Lib Dem will help them do it. Mysteriously (or perhaps I should say understandably), they don't explain how that is arithmetically possible."

That attracted the attention of 'Remain Voter' themselves, who foolishly tried to cover their embarrassment with a grossly misleading response -

"No we don't say that. We say: "Recent polling shows SNP confidently gaining 3 seats with undecided Labour voters blocking a 4th. Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat..""

And my reply -

"You little fibber. You've hurriedly edited your page - you know perfectly well that the previous wording was exactly what I said. It was as follows: "Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat while helping the SNP win the 4th seat.""

In case you want to see the proof with your own eyes, click HERE to see what their website looked like two days ago.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you want to contract out your voting choices to an Anglocentric website that has proved itself to be so slippery and deceitful.

And this might also be a suitable moment to give another plug to the new Phantom Power film I was involved in.  I make the point in it that the SNP do indeed have a realistic chance of winning a fourth seat on Thursday - but only if they receive 40%+ of the vote.  Switching your vote to a unionist party like the Lib Dems sure as hell isn't going to help.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Your four-minute guide to how Thursday's European election could be a giant leap towards an independence referendum

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Bannockburn with the legendary pro-indy film-maker Phantom Power to record a short piece about the forthcoming European elections.  You can watch it below, and I think you'll agree that it ends on a suitably rousing note!

If anyone tells you that "tactical voting" is possible on Thursday, they're either misleading you or they don't know what they're talking about

Over the last few weeks I've made the point a number of times that it's not possible to "vote tactically" in the European elections, regardless of whether the intended effect is to increase the chances of Scottish independence or to increase the chances of Britain remaining in the European Union.  We all just have one vote for one party, and seats in the European Parliament will be allocated in proportion to the share of the vote received by each party.  It's hard to think of a voting system less conducive to tactical voting than that.  And yet in recent days there have been two determined attempts to convince the public that pro-Remain tactical voting is both feasible and desirable.  First of all Gina Miller gave a suspiciously hazy summary of research based on "machine learning" that claimed, among other things, that Remain supporters in Scotland should tactically switch to the SNP on Thursday.  Then a website called 'Remain Voter' gave an even sketchier explanation for their advice that Scottish voters should switch tactically to the Liberal Democrats.

As there is a direct contradiction between the two recommendations (Miller and 'Remain Voter' also contradict each other in Wales and some of the English regions), it hopefully won't be too controversial if I say that both can be safely ignored.  But what's going on here?  I suspect Miller's initiative is well-intentioned but misguided - she's probably seen the dramatic effect of tactical voting in first-past-the-post elections (it cost the Tories a lot of seats in 1997, for example) and imagines that the same can be achieved in any election, regardless of the voting system.  She's used opinion polling to estimate the state of current voting intentions and then commissioned experts to judge which tactical movements between one Remain party and another would maximise the total number of seats won by Remain parties.  But that's where she hits the age-old problem: the results you get out are only as good as the data you put in.  She's betting the house on her poll results being exceptionally accurate, and if they're not, her recommendations will have no sound basis.  Yes, she's using the most advanced polling methods, but the extreme level of accuracy required for the exercise is simply beyond what is actually possible.  I would guess her experts must understand that perfectly well, but if you're being paid handsomely it's easy enough to turn a blind eye to that sort of fundamental snag.

I'm rather less charitable about the motivations of the 'Remain Voter' website, because their stated logic for the Lib Dem recommendation in Scotland is so mind-bogglingly perverse that it's hard to believe there isn't some sort of agenda behind the whole thing.  Here it is in all its glory -

"Scotland is interesting! Recent polling shows SNP confidently gaining 3 seats with undecided Labour voters blocking a 4th.

Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat while helping the SNP win the 4th seat.

Smart voting can win a seat from a pro-Brexit party while capitalising on Labour's lack of commitment to their majority Remain membership."

Yes, folks, they really are saying that "tactically voting for the Lib Dems" can somehow "help the SNP to win a fourth seat".  Which is arithmetically impossible.  The lack of explanation for how they think the laws of mathematics can be bent on this occasion is rather deafening.  Someone suggested to me on Twitter that if a very large number of Labour voters were to switch to the Lib Dems, that could achieve the claimed effect, with the Lib Dems taking one seat and the SNP taking four.  But that's not "tactical voting" - that's voters switching sides from a Leave party to a Remain party.  The whole thing is absolute gibberish.

The only limited sense in which there's a grain of truth in the claims about tactical voting is that if you vote for a pro-Remain party that has no realistic chance of winning a seat in your electoral region (that would apply to Change UK in Scotland and in most other electoral regions), you're wasting your vote and you'd be better off voting for a more popular Remain party (ie. the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens or the Liberal Democrats).  But beyond that very narrow point, the system really can't be gamed, and you should just vote for whichever party you like best and agree with most.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The dream dies for Davidson as sensational Panelbase poll suggests the Scottish Tories face TOTAL WIPEOUT at Westminster, with the SNP poised to take almost every Scottish seat

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Panelbase):

SNP 38% (n/c)
Labour 19% (-2)
Conservatives 18% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+4)
Brexit Party 9% (+4)
Greens 3% (+1)
Change UK 2% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-1)

Panelbase have consistently reported a lower SNP share than other firms, so I would guess a new poll from YouGov or Survation might show the SNP in the low 40s.  But even if Panelbase are correct, what's happening is that Labour and the Tories are taking a hammering from the polarisation of politics along Remain v Leave lines, while the SNP are holding steady at roughly where they were at the last general election.  And when the voting system is first-past-the-post, that's all they need to do.  On the Electoral Calculus projection, they'd win almost every seat in Scotland, with the Tories being completely wiped out and Labour reduced to just Ian Murray's seat once again.  In practice, that's unlikely to be how it unfolds - I suspect David Mundell and John Lamont might hold on for the Tories, along with maybe one or two others.  But the bulk of the seats the Tories took in the north-east two years ago would probably tumble.  That's remarkable, because those seats looked absolutely rock-solid until a few short weeks ago.