Saturday, June 1, 2019

We've got to get out of this place: UK on course to elect Farage as Prime Minister, says Opinium poll

Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (Opinium):

Brexit Party 26% (+1)
Labour 22% (-4)
Conservatives 17% (-5)
Liberal Democrats 16% (+4)
Greens 11% (+7)
SNP 4% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)
Change UK 1% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-1)

It's no great surprise that it's the Brexit Party rather than the Liberal Democrats that have the lead in this poll, because the Lib Dem lead in the YouGov poll the other night was wafer-thin and was reported by a pollster that had recently been producing much more favourable numbers for the Lib Dems than other polling firms.  But what is a surprise is that the Lib Dems are languishing in fourth place, and appear to have got less of a boost from the Euro election result than the Greens.  And what may go unnoticed due to the impact of an outright Farage lead is that the Brexit Party themselves are only 1% up - a counterintuitive finding given that the Tories are 5% down.

When things are in such a state of flux, opinion poll results themselves can help to generate momentum and thus affect future polling, and from that point of view it's worth remembering that the Opinium fieldwork preceded the publication of the YouGov poll.  So perhaps there's a secondary Lib Dem boost that Opinium haven't been able to pick up yet.

In case you're consoling yourself with the thought that Brexit Party support is too evenly-spread for first-past-the-post and that Farage wouldn't be able to become Prime Minister on 26% of the vote, the seat projection from Electoral Calculus based on this poll tells a grimmer tale.  The Brexit Party would be just 20 seats short of an overall majority, and with the Tories holding on to 26 seats, there would be no realistic majority for any government other than a Farage-led government.  That said, I'm not sure what assumptions Electoral Calculus are making about the geographical distribution of support for the Brexit Party, which is, after all, a party that only received its first ever votes just over a week ago.

Nigel Farage has taken out an each-way bet with his Brexit Party adventure - he can either win directly by becoming Prime Minister, or he can win indirectly by spooking the Tories into embracing No Deal.  It's becoming increasingly hard to see how he can possibly lose.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 2 of the fundraiser, and so far £2684 has been raised.  That's 32% of the way towards the target figure of £8500.  A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far.  You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Historic YouGov poll puts the Tories and Labour in third and fourth place in Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster

I think we can safely say we've never seen an opinion poll quite like this before.  I did wonder in my previous blogpost whether the first poll after the European elections would put the Brexit Party in an outright lead - that hasn't quite happened, but it's just as dramatic a story as that.

Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov):

Liberal Democrats 24% (+6)
Brexit Party 22% (+4)
Conservatives 19% (-5)
Labour 19% (-5)
Greens 8% (+2)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 6% (+1)
Change UK 1% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 44%, Conservatives 19%, Labour 12%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Brexit Party 7%, Greens 6%, Change UK 1%, UKIP 1%

What remains to be seen is whether the Lib Dem and Brexit Party surges are the real deal, or whether they're Cleggasm-type effects that will ebb away once memories of the Euro election fade.  But if by any chance things carry on like this, the SNP could be in a with a golden opportunity of cleaning up at the next general election, because for the first time ever they won't have to deal with the perception that people need to vote for a Labour government as the only alternative to the Tories.  Instead, they'll quite reasonably be able to point out that a vote for the SNP is the only credible way in Scotland of helping to stop Farage.

The one possible fly in the ointment, as I suggested the other day, is that it looks likely that the next Lib Dem leader will be a Scot.  But even if the Scottish Lib Dems do get some sort of Swinson boost, and even if they feed off the UK bandwagon effect, they can only realistically hope to win in a relatively small minority of constituencies.  There are huge swathes of Scotland where the SNP are the only conceivable beneficiaries of a Tory and Labour collapse.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Remember that song about "when Nigel is in Number 10"...?

I was interviewed on Radio Sputnik yesterday (you can listen to the clip HERE), and I happened to hear the item that was on before me, which contained the startling suggestion that a No Deal Brexit won't come about because of pressure from the Brexit Party, but instead because the Brexit Party actually wins an election and forms a government.  Now I don't want to alarm anyone unduly, but consider the following...

* Even before the European elections, the Brexit Party was just one point off the outright lead in a poll of Westminster voting intentions.

* With the momentum from Sunday night's result, it's perfectly possible (and arguably highly likely) that polls will be published in the coming days showing the Brexit Party with a lead for Westminster.

* The Peterborough by-election is still to come, and looks like a shoo-in for the Brexit Party.  That'll be a sensational outcome in what should be a Labour-Tory marginal, and could be one of those iconic by-election results that decisively change the political weather (think Hamilton '67, Govan '73 or Darlington '83).

* Some snowball effects just keep rolling.  In 2015 it was unthinkable that Jeremy Corbyn was going to maintain his lead in the Labour leadership election...until it suddenly became apparent that he couldn't be caught.  In 2016 it was obvious that Donald Trump wouldn't really become the Republican nominee.  And then when he became the Republican nominee, it was equally obvious that he couldn't really defeat Hillary Clinton.  But he did.  The most improbable outcome of a presidential election in living memory actually happened, and we're all living with the consequences.

* You might think that if there was any danger at all of Farage reaching Number 10, a coalition of Remain voters and sane Leavers would turn out in droves to stop him, in much the same way that French voters backed "the crook not the fascist" when Chirac ended up in a run-off with Le Pen.  But the thing is that in a first-past-the-post election, you would actually need to know which party to coalesce around to stop the bad guy - and that call wouldn't necessarily be clear-cut.  At the moment it's not clear at all.

It's not all doom and gloom, though.  Farage as PM implementing a No Deal Brexit wouldn't just win soft Nos over to independence.  Even the hard Nos would start coming over in a torrent.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

And now we're being asked to believe that the SNP's support consists mainly of hapless unionists who didn't know they were voting for a pro-indy party

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of days.  It's been years and years since we last saw the anti-independence parties flailing about like this.  Having tried and failed to get some purchase out of the optimistic line that the highest share of the vote anywhere in western Europe wasn't really good enough for the SNP, they're now attempting to convince us that the SNP's voters are all unionists who were blissfully unaware on polling day that they were voting for a pro-independence party, and are now profoundly shocked at the discovery that Nicola Sturgeon is planning an independence referendum.

Honestly. That's what they're saying. Don't believe me?  Here's Exhibit A from the ever-reliable Alex Cole-Hamilton of the Lib Dems -

"Nicola Sturgeon will shortly betray pro-UK Remainers who lent SNP vote by presenting it as mandate for #indyref2"

(I've spared his blushes by tidying up the punctuation a bit.)

And Exhibit B from a Twitter troll called Patrick Branchfield -

"I don’t know if I’m more angry at @NicolaSturgeon for these lies or the plonkers who vote for her?

EVERY election she says a vote for them isn’t about independence, minutes after the polls close these votes are weapons for #indy2

Waken up to this woman please Scotland"

Hmmm. Not for nothing is the SNP's support for independence known as "Scotland's best kept secret". And of course Nicola Sturgeon cunningly ramped up the concealment by publicly announcing her intention to hold an independence referendum a few weeks before the election. These hapless unionist SNP voters really didn't stand a chance.

Why has the political weather transformed so completely since Sunday? Basically because the shock to the system that the SNP suffered two years ago has just been precisely reversed. In 2017, Nicola Sturgeon announced an independence referendum just before a national election was held (although of course she didn't know that election was coming) and there was a significant swing against the SNP. Interestingly, John Curtice noted on Sunday that the swing was misinterpreted, and it wasn't so much a backlash against an independence referendum as it was a rejection of the SNP's pro-Europeanism by a minority of Leave voters. But nevertheless, it was widely perceived to be the turning of the tide against independence, and the unionist parties were emboldened to believe that the more intransigent they were in their opposition to an indyref, the more voters would reward them.

That theory has just been tested to destruction. Once again, Nicola Sturgeon made a referendum announcement just before a national election, but this time there was a dramatic swing in the SNP's favour. Once again, the Tories ran a single issue "No to Indyref 2" campaign, but this time they took a hammering. On some sort of level, the unionist parties must be questioning the lessons they thought they learned two years ago. The cognitive dissonance in Labour ranks will be particularly extreme - they'll be thinking "the voters weren't supposed to react like this".

I can only repeat the question I've been asking for four years. Given that Labour's disaster in 2015 was caused pretty much exclusively by the loss of Yes voters who were appalled by the party's behaviour during the indyref, how do they think they're going to reverse that result by doubling down on British nationalism? OK, I understand that they've also lost unionist support to the Tories since 2015 and they're having to fight a rearguard action to deal with that, but ultimately they're never going to regain their previous dominance of Scottish politics unless they start making their peace with Yes voters.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Why an early general election is now more likely

I've heard suggestions in some quarters today that the implosion of both main London parties in the European election means that a general election has got further away, because our political masters will want to avoid the verdict of voters like the plague.  I can see how seductive that logic is, but I've actually reached the opposite conclusion.

First of all, Labour will still want an election to take place.  In a perverse way the timing is actually quite good for them, because the Tory vote has plummeted even further than the Labour vote, and that could lead to some kind of Labour victory by default in a first-past-the-post election.

Secondly, the usual reason for thinking that MPs from the governing party will not vote against their own side on a confidence motion may no longer apply.  It would normally be career suicide, because the whip would be withdrawn and the MPs would not be able to stand as Conservatives in the next general election.  But there is now a perfectly plausible scenario in which MPs could retain their seats even after losing the whip.

Let's suppose, against current expectations, a compromise candidate emerges as Tory leader.  Someone who will refuse to take Britain out of the EU without a deal.  The ERG would be up in arms and they would now have somewhere else to go.  For any hardline Brexiteer who happens to represent a constituency that voted Leave, there is the option of defecting to the Brexit Party, and in the current climate they would have an excellent chance of retaining their seat under new colours.  They could therefore bring down the government without paying a personal price.

Or let's suppose the opposite happens - Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab becomes PM and goes all-out for No Deal.  In that event it would be the Tory Remainers who would be looking for an alternative - and they would have one as well.  As long as they represent a constituency that voted Remain, they could defect to the Lib Dems, carry across any personal vote they may have built up, and have a decent chance of remaining an MP after bringing down the government.  One thing is for sure - the Lib Dems' own reluctance to support a no confidence motion will evaporate after last night.

It may yet be that once the memories of the European election fade, the main parties will reestablish themselves and both the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems will slip down in the polls.  But for as long as a major political realignment at the next election looks likely, there is a clear and plausible route by which we might be heading back to the polling stations sooner rather than later.

It's big, it's decisive: the SNP have won the European elections in Scotland by a landslide

So, as I quite often do in the immediate aftermath of an election, here are a few random thoughts in no particular order...

* Yesterday I posted a list of benchmarks for SNP success, and the party has sailed past all of them - including the one I was most dubious about, ie. the 36.9% share of the vote achieved in the 2017 general election.

* The most important thing from the point of view of both the SNP and the wider independence movement is that the 2017 result is no longer a problem.  It should never have been a problem in the first place, because it was a landslide for the SNP of 1987 Thatcher style proportions.  It saw them win 60% of the seats and almost as big a share of the vote as they won tonight.  There was only ever an issue because of the ludicrous media spin on the result - but that spin is now at an end.  In terms of political momentum, the swing in the SNP's favour tonight supercedes the swing against them two years ago, meaning that we'll hear no more about Ruth Davidson's supposed fightback against an independence referendum - or at least not until and unless she reverses tonight's result in a subsequent election, which looks a very remote prospect.  For now the SNP are indisputably the ascendant party, and to the extent that any party can claim to speak for this country, the SNP have earned the right to make that claim.

* That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that the 2017 tribute act in the Tory leaflets may have been the crucial factor in saving Ruth Davidson's sole Scottish seat.  It would seem plausible that the tired old "no more referendums" pitch may have won back just enough of the hardline unionist voters who would otherwise have been tempted by the Brexit Party.  If so, we should raise a glass to Ms Davidson's lack of imagination, because the Tories' success in clinging on to their seat contributed to the Brexit Party's failure to take a second seat.  If the final result had been SNP 3, Brexit Party 2, Lib Dems 1, the perception would have been that the SNP win wasn't quite so clear-cut.  As it is, no-one can really doubt the SNP's dominance.

* In every other sense apart from the fact that they won a seat, it was a truly awful result for the Scottish Tories - they hit an all-time low in the popular vote.  Only proportional representation saved their bacon.  We've all seen the map - if this had been a first-past-the-post Westminster election, the Tories would have been completely wiped out and the SNP would have won almost every single seat.  The trend was no different in the north-east seats that the Tories gained two years ago and that had looked absolutely rock-solid for them until a few short weeks ago.  This is happening partly because of the resurgence in SNP support, and partly because the natural Tory vote is split down the middle between two parties.  So the SNP's chances of winning back their former north-east heartlands in a snap general election depend to some extent on whether the Brexit Party vote holds up in the coming months, and indeed on whether the Brexit Party decide to contest every Westminster seat.  (I suspect they'll feel obliged to, because any party that wants to present itself as seeking to win an election can't give its opponents a free pass in selected seats.)

* Although the SNP's 38% share of the vote tonight looks similar to the 37% achieved in 2017, pound-for-pound it was a much better result, simply because this was a proportional representation election and there was more competition to beat.  The Brexit Party are the most obvious example of that, but the Greens also took 8% of the vote, in complete contrast to the general election in which they barely put up any candidates.  Ian Blackford made a telling point on the BBC results programme - the SNP's winning share of the vote in Scotland was larger than the share achieved by the first-placed party in England.  That wasn't the case in 2017.

* As far as the interminable discussions about tactical voting are concerned, the SNP could only have gained a fourth seat if a very large number of Green and Lib Dem voters had switched to them, and the Greens could only have won a seat if a very large number of SNP and Lib Dem voters had switched.  The reality is that the whole idea that any party just needed a modest number of tactical votes to tip them over the edge was proved to be bogus.  Anyone who followed the advice of the Remain Voter website to "tactically vote Lib Dem" in Scotland must be feeling a bit foolish, because the Lib Dems would have comfortably won a seat anyway, and they were nowhere near to winning a second seat.

* If there's a cloud on the horizon for the SNP, it might be Jo Swinson.  I know some people will scoff at that idea, and I entirely share the view that she's going to be an uninspiring leader and that the Lib Dems' Britain-wide interests would be best served by choosing someone else.  But history does show that British party leaders with a Scottish accent tend to be worth a few extra percentage points to their party in Scotland (for example the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy unexpectedly outpolled the SNP in 2005).  The problem may have been exacerbated by the fact that Swinson will not, as we assumed until recently, be leading a party that no-one is paying any attention to, but rather one that suddenly seems to have captured the zeitgeist south of the border.  But the impact of that might be counterintuitive - if she primarily takes Scottish votes from Labour and the Tories, that could split the unionist vote in such a way that would make it easier for the SNP to win certain Westminster seats.  We'll just have to see how it all plays out.

* Does the Scottish Labour wipeout mean that the game's up?  Maybe, although some people made the same assumption after 2015, only for Labour to show some signs of life in the 2017 local and general elections.  This may not be the final twist in the tale, but Richard Leonard's party are certainly in a highly vulnerable position, and a few more results like tonight could mean that they eventually cease to exist as a credible electoral force.

* Although the UK result was a complex one, the London media and political establishment love winners and losers, so I suspect that the Brexit Party's twelve-point lead over the second placed Lib Dems will be more than enough to ensure that the No Deal Brexiteers in the Tory party will remain emboldened during the forthcoming leadership election.

* It's to the credit of the new BBC Scotland channel that it ran its own results programme, but having dipped in and out of it I did think it was odd that it didn't seem to cover the Scottish results as they came in, which you would have thought was the main point of such a programme.  Viewers found out about the results almost indirectly - a presenter would say something like "oh, by the way, a few more local authorities have declared since we last spoke..."

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Some benchmarks for the SNP's performance tonight

It's almost terrifying to consider the impact that the results of the low-turnout election we'll see tonight could have on our future.  Think of the transformative effect of the English local elections earlier this month - by historical standards the Liberal Democrats didn't actually do all that well, but because they were the only one of the main London parties that made gains, the momentum generated was all for them and the political weather was decisively altered.  In one fell swoop, Change UK was effectively taken out of the game.  In the early 80s, the late and disgraced Liberal MP Cyril Smith argued that his party shouldn't be seeking to cooperate with the SDP, but rather to "strangle them at birth".  A few decades on, it looks like the Lib Dems have heeded that advice in a strikingly similar situation.

The biggest impact of a surprise result tonight could be on the prospects for a no deal Brexit.  The main reason that no deal has suddenly become acceptable language for Tory leadership candidates to use in polite company is the surge for the Brexit Party in the polls.  But if the Brexit Party underperform expectations tonight, and particularly if the Lib Dems do well, the internal mood within the Tories could swing back in the opposite direction.  We already know that turnout has risen more in English local authority areas that voted Remain, so that's not an entirely implausible scenario.  European elections have a history of throwing up major shocks, perhaps because there's so much scope for differential turnout to come into play.  The 1999 outcome, with a clear Conservative victory and several seats each for UKIP and the Greens, stands out as a result that was way outside the parameters of what most commentators thought was possible.  I wouldn't be totally amazed if we see a very close run thing in the popular vote between the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems tonight.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting slightly jittery about the Scottish result.  It was a bit troubling to hear the estimates that the overall turnout in Scotland, along with the increase in the turnout, was lower than in England.  Turnout was never going to be super-high, but a tolerably high figure would probably have suited the SNP better.  And you might think that the English pattern of turnout going up more in strongly Remain areas would also apply here, but I'm not so sure.  The voting patterns in the EU referendum were so different in Scotland, with socio-economic groups that went heavily to Leave just over the border in north-east England going the opposite way here, partly because pro-Europeanism is so closely associated with support for an independent Scotland.  One possibility is that there may be a difference in turnout between leafy, affluent Remain strongholds and the more working-class areas that voted strongly Remain, and if so, that could favour the Lib Dems more than the SNP.  The good news, though, is that the D'Hondt formula favours larger parties, and it may be possible for the SNP to take a third seat even if the polls have overstated their support (although they'd still need to exceed the 29% of the vote they took last time).

Here are a few benchmarks to look out for...

2 seats: This would keep the SNP on the same number of seats they've had continuously since 1994, and would technically equal their all-time high.

3 seats: This would beat the SNP's all-time high, and would also be the highest proportion of Scottish seats that any party has won since proportional representation was introduced twenty years ago.  (Labour took three seats in 1999, but there were eight Scottish seats back then rather than six.)

29.0% of the vote: This would equal the SNP's performance of five years ago.

29.1% of the vote: This would equal the all-time high for the SNP (and for any other party in Scotland) since proportional representation was introduced.

32.6% of the vote: This would equal the all-time high for the SNP in all European elections.  But it's arguably an unfair comparison, because that figure was recorded in 1994 under first-past-the-post, which is a system that incentivises voters to back larger parties.

36.9% of the vote: This would equal the SNP's performance at the last Westminster general election.  It's a real 'apples and oranges' comparison, but you can guarantee the media will still attempt it.

I'll also be keeping an eye out for any sign of the ex-YouGov propagandist Peter Kellner on the BBC's results coverage.  I've told this story a number of times, but at the last European elections (held just a few months before the indyref) Kellner wrongly announced to viewers that Labour had emerged victorious in Scotland, at a stage in the evening when it was already pretty obvious from the average swing that the SNP were going to hold on for the win.  He never corrected that rather convenient error or apologised for it, and it was quite some time before Alex Salmond was able to point out that the SNP were in fact on top in the popular vote.

There has been some talk (mainly from Iain Dale and Daniel Hannan) that the Tories might be wiped out completely across the UK, but I can't see that happening.  Even if they have a spectacularly bad night, they should hold on to the odd seat in larger regions.