Saturday, June 15, 2019

Richard Leonard begs for mercy as brutal YouGov subsample puts Scottish Labour on just 8% of the vote

This poll was released 24 hours ago, but it's worth flagging up, because it suggests that the Peterborough by-election has not resulted in the tide going back out on the Brexit Party.

Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov):

Brexit Party 26% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 22% (+2)
Labour 19% (-1)
Conservatives 17% (-1)
Greens 8% (-1)
SNP 4% (-1)
Plaid Cymru 1% (+1)
Change UK 1% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 38%, Liberal Democrats 19%, Conservatives 15%, Brexit Party 11%, Labour 8%, Greens 6%, Change UK 2%, Women's Equality Party 1%

But surely, you might think, the Peterborough by-election did at least disprove the idea that the Brexit Party could win a general election in practice?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  Peterborough was won by Labour's superior organisation and local knowledge, but it's a lot easier to make full use of those advantages in a by-election, when people can be brought in from across the country.  The Brexit Party will fight a general election on a somewhat more level playing field.  Nevertheless, I do expect Farage to start going backwards in the near future, simply because Boris Johnson looks almost certain to become Prime Minister, and that will bring Brexiteer votes back to the Tory fold.  I expect that process to happen in Scotland as well, so in spite of the perception that a Boris premiership will be Christmas, birthday and Hogmanay rolled into one for Nicola Sturgeon, it may well be that the Scottish Tories' chances of holding their seats in the north-east are about to improve somewhat.

The YouGov subsample suggests that the Lib Dems may also be a slightly increasing threat to the SNP.  But let's be honest: for as long as Scottish Labour are on just 8% - that's EIGHT PER CENT - there's nothing much to fear from an early general election.  Most marginal seats in Scotland are SNP-Labour marginals.

UPDATE: Literally one minute after I posted the above, an even newer YouGov poll emerged, with perhaps the first early sign of a Boris Bounce for the Tories, who are up four points and have drawn level with Labour.  The Brexit Party are still in the lead, but have dropped two points.  The Lib Dems have slipped back to fourth place.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 16 of the fundraiser, and so far £7076 has been raised. That's 83% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Support the campaign to get a Gaelic course added to Duolingo

Duolingo is the best-known and most effective free language-learning site on the internet.  I mentioned a few hours ago on Twitter how frustrating it is that it's possible to learn two fictional languages on the site (Klingon from Star Trek and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones) but it's not yet possible to learn Scottish Gaelic.  Just to rub salt into the wound, both Welsh and Irish are on the list of available languages, so once again Gaelic has ended up as the poor relation among the Celtic tongues.  Admittedly, there are plenty of other places where you can already learn some Gaelic online for free (this site is particularly good), but being added to Duolingo would really turbocharge the language's prospects.  It's like getting a prominent place in the shop window.  You would get people from Scotland, or people of Scottish descent in other countries, who would go on to Duolingo to learn French or Spanish, would see that one of the indigenous languages of their own country is also available, and would take the plunge out of curiosity.

Would they end up as fluent speakers?  Probably 99% wouldn't, but the position of Gaelic is precarious enough that the other 1% could make a hell of a lot of difference.  And the majority who would only learn a few words and phrases wouldn't be wasting their time by any means.  About fifteen years ago, I forced myself to learn some very basic Gaelic - I didn't get very far with it, but I've noticed that if I watch BBC Alba now, I can still pick out quite a number of the most common words and understand what they mean.  That's nowhere near enough to comprehend entire sentences without resorting to the subtitles, but it does mean that the language no longer sounds as alien to me as it did when I was growing up.  And one of the biggest battles that Gaelic faces is that too many people in its own country regard it as totally alien.

I suggested on Twitter that one of the most cost-effective ways in which the Scottish Government could promote Gaelic is by offering a grant to Duolingo to develop a Gaelic course.  A few people replied to point out that there is currently a spirited campaign on social media to get Gaelic included, and that I could maybe give it a small boost by mentioning it on this blog.  You can follow the campaign on Twitter HERE, and there's also a thread on the Duolingo forums where hundreds of people have expressed an interest in learning the language.  But from what I can gather, what is really needed to get some traction is for fluent Gaelic speakers to volunteer to actually build the course.  I'm sure there must be at least a few Scot Goes Pop readers who speak Gaelic fluently, so if you'd like to do something truly wonderful and game-changing for Scotland and its linguistic heritage, you can register your interest by filling in this form.  (Gaelic isn't one of the options in the drop-down menu, but if you scroll down to the bottom, you can select "Enter Other".  Might be best to say "Scottish Gaelic" in case they wrongly assume you're talking about Irish.)

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 16 of the fundraiser, and so far £6846 has been raised. That's 81% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Welcome to Ruth Davidson's 674th position on the circumstances in which an independence referendum might be "allowed"

In a BBC Scotland interview yesterday, Glenn Campbell asked Ruth Davidson whether she was saying "no, never" to an independence referendum.  Scotland really does appear to be the only country in the 'democratic world' (sic) in which it even occurs to the state broadcaster to invite the defeated Leader of the Opposition to 'make an announcement' about what the elected leader of the government will be 'allowed' to do, or in which the said Leader of the Opposition presumes to make such an announcement.  Whether she does so with the blessing of her London overlords is less clear - if so, they are guilty of undermining devolution by blurring the distinction between the role of Tory opposition leader at devolved level and Tory Secretary of State for Scotland at UK level.  If not, our Ruth is a fantasist.  It could be a bit of both, of course.

What we have learned, though, and it's largely of academic interest only, is that Ruth has changed the 'rules' yet again, because the position she set out in response to Campbell's question flatly contradicted every previous pronouncement she's made on the subject, which themselves flatly contradicted each other.  For example, in the run-up to the 2011 election, she declared that the SNP wouldn't get a referendum "for free" and would have to "earn it", and went on to clearly state that the way they could earn it was by a combination of pro-independence parties winning an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament - exactly what happened in the end, albeit that probably came as something of a shock to her.  (She was absolutely explicit that the majority could be a joint SNP-Green majority, and didn't have to be the SNP alone, although it just so happened the SNP won a solo majority.)  In the period immediately after the EU referendum of 2016, when it wasn't yet clear whether Nicola Sturgeon intended to use her mandate for a second indyref, Ruth said it would be constitutionally wrong for the UK government to attempt to block a referendum if the elected SNP-Green majority in the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of one.  But after the Scottish Parliament duly passed such a vote, she did a 180 degree turn and insisted that Westminster should block a referendum under all circumstances.  Now she's rowed back on that extremist stance somewhat, but she hasn't reverted to her original position, because her new line is that there has to be another single-party SNP majority before the mandate can be respected - the opposite of her statement in 2011 that the required threshold was a combined SNP-Green outright majority.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, a number of us issued warnings about the misguided belief that it was possible to "vote tactically on the list".  We pointed out that if the SNP lost their overall majority because their own supporters switched to another pro-independence party on the list, the Tories and the media would seize on that, and claim there isn't really a mandate for an independence referendum.  But I don't think anyone who went down that road should be beating themselves up too much, because the reality is that election results don't matter a damn to Ruth.  If the SNP had won an overall majority, there would have been some other excuse.  The threshold would magically have become an outright SNP majority on the popular vote.  If there had been such a majority, then we'd have been told that Holyrood elections aren't actually important, and that if the SNP win a majority of the popular vote at Westminster, then maybe we can talk.

Democracy is a rules-based system.  Countries in which the powers-that-be change the 'rules' retrospectively after losing an election are generally held to be sham democracies.  We can only ponder why a mainstream media that claims to pride itself on "fearlessly holding power to account" never seems remotely interested in pinning Ruth down on her endless and frantic shifting of the goalposts on an independence referendum, and the implications of that farcical process for the state of UK "democracy".

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The two little surprises in this morning's Tory leadership ballot were the scale of Boris Johnson's lead, and the fact that Rory Stewart scraped into Round 2.  The most popular slice of wisdom about these contests is that the early frontrunner hardly ever wins (with the only recent exception being Michael Howard), but on this occasion I suspect we're all waiting for a twist in the tale that isn't going to arrive.  I don't see how Boris can be stopped, unless there's a new Gove-style revelation about his past (which admittedly is always a real possibility given the nature of the man).  But I do hope and pray that Tory MPs will at least preserve our sanity on Tuesday by sending Rory Stewart back to the Middleland tae think again.

Conservative Party leadership election (first ballot):

Boris Johnson 114
Jeremy Hunt 43
Michael Gove 37
Dominic Raab 27
Sajid Javid 23
Matt Hancock 20
Rory Stewart 19
Andrea Leadsom 11
Mark Harper 10
Esther McVey 9

Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper and Esther McVey eliminated after failing to reach the 17-vote minimum threshold.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 14 of the fundraiser, and so far £6731 has been raised. That's 79% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Historians will puzzle over how it came to this, but the stars seem to be aligning for Boris and a No Deal Brexit

There's a strong case to be made that Have I Got News For You is indirectly responsible for Brexit.  If they hadn't helped Boris Johnson build up his image as a loveable buffoon, he'd never have become Mayor of London and wouldn't have had the political capital with which to make a decisive intervention in the EU referendum.  Now that butterfly effect seems set to take Johnson all the way to Downing Street, where perhaps (particularly in the light of today's failed Commons vote) he'll be able to push through a No Deal Brexit.

The fact that he was 'created' by a comedy TV show is one thing that would make a Johnson win unusual, but it's not the only thing.  This would also be the first time in living memory that a governing party has installed a backbencher as Prime Minister.  I'm actually struggling to work out when such a thing last happened.  Theresa May was Home Secretary when she took over from David Cameron.  Gordon Brown was Chancellor when he took over from Tony Blair.  John Major was Chancellor when he took over from Margaret Thatcher.  James Callaghan was Foreign Secretary when he took over from Harold Wilson.  Sir Alec Douglas-Home was Foreign Secretary when he took over from Harold Macmillan, who in turn was Chancellor when he took over from Sir Anthony Eden, who in turn was Foreign Secretary when he took over from Sir Winston Churchill.  You might assume that Churchill himself must have been a backbencher when he became PM due to his famed spell in the wilderness, but in fact he'd been First Lord of the Admiralty in Chamberlain's short-lived War Cabinet.  So a Johnson premiership would be a very rare example of non-continuity for a government in mid-term.  He resigned from Theresa May's administration for a reason, and it can be assumed that he'd oversee a change of direction more akin to an outright change of government.

What would it mean for us?  I've heard some people say that Boris Johnson doesn't really believe in anything but his own ambition, so there's no way of knowing for sure whether he'll keep his promises to the ERG headbangers until he's actually in office.  But for my money it's his ambition that'll ensure he does stick to his word, because he'll know his place in history will be guaranteed if he delivers on a No Deal Brexit.  Even if it unleashes economic calamity, it's unlikely to be reversed for a very long time, and so the political status quo would become synonymous with Boris in much the same way that the post-war consensus was synonymous with Attlee.

Which leaves the question of whether parliament would be able to stop No Deal if Johnson is hellbent on bringing it about.  Today's vote makes that less likely, but doesn't close off the possibility entirely.  But one thing is for sure: a parliament that thwarts the main objective of the government is making an early general election inevitable.  Polling suggests that Johnson is the only one of the ten Tory leadership candidates who would recover a significant number of the votes lost to the Brexit Party in time for an election this autumn, so it could be that, paradoxically, he would help save Ruth Davidson's bacon in her north-east seats in Scotland.  The SNP might instead have to look towards gains from Labour to keep up the momentum towards a second independence referendum.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 13 of the fundraiser, and so far £6500 has been raised. That's 76% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.