Saturday, June 29, 2019

Explaining democracy to unionist politicians

It strikes me that the "reasons" offered by unionist politicians for blocking an independence referendum are becoming increasingly bizarre and hard to defend.  But as we have a mainstream media that doesn't even bother asking them for a defence, I thought it might be worth casting an eye over some of the most recent gems.

Jo Swinson says that London should attempt to block an indyref because the SNP lost ground at the last general election.  As Lesley Riddoch has pointed out, this means that if the SNP gain seats at the next general election (as opinion polls currently suggest they will), the Liberal Democrats would be morally obliged to support and facilitate an indyref.  But that rather satisfying piece of inescapable logic shouldn't distract us from the nonsensical nature of Swinson's statement.  Democracy would grind to a halt if majority parties that happened to lose seats at the most recent election were not regarded as having a mandate to act.  In both 1987 and 1992, the Conservative government won an outright majority but suffered a net loss of seats.  According to the Swinson Doctrine, then, the Thatcher/Major government should have been prevented by some mechanism from implementing its programme for ten of the eighteen years that it was in office.

Which begs the obvious question: if the majority party didn't have legitimacy to govern, who had legitimacy in its place?  Should a minority party have been able to govern instead because it had forward momentum?  In other words, should Labour's 229 seats have somehow been regarded as outcounting the Conservatives' 376 seats, because the 229 represented a net gain of 20 and the 376 represented a net loss of 21?  And if so, how on earth would you have got such a system to work in practice?  Lock up 200 Tory MPs so that Labour could outvote them?

Or, just to float the only other alternative I can think of, should nobody have been allowed to govern at all between 1987 and 1997?

And there are other questions too.  If the only decisive factor is whether a party gains or loses seats at the most recent election, shouldn't the SNP's massive stride forward at the European election only last month mean that there is now an open-and-shut case for an indyref?  If Swinson's answer to that point is "ah, but that was only a European election, not a Westminster election", how does she explain the fact that her own party in coalition government regarded the SNP as having a mandate to hold an indyref in 2014 based on its success in a Holyrood election rather than a Westminster election?  (The SNP had a mere 6 Westminster seats at the time.)  At what point did Westminster elections take over from Holyrood elections as the designated democratic event in which these matters are decided?  Were the electorate informed of this abrupt change, and indeed of the reasons for it?  Would it be unkind of me to suggest that Swinson appears to be making this stuff up as she goes on?

Jackson Carlaw says that London should attempt to block an indyref because a majority of parties (three out of five) in the Scottish Parliament are opposed to the idea.  What I'm about to say is so blindingly obvious that it shouldn't need saying, but apparently it does: the crucial point in a parliamentary democracy is who can command a majority of seats, not who can command a majority of parties.  If it worked the way Carlaw wants, his own government at Westminster would be powerless to act, because it's supported by only two parties in the House of Commons (the Tories and the DUP) and opposed by six (Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Change UK and the Greens).  Indeed, the Carlaw Doctrine would instantly make elections completely redundant - all you'd have to do is round up all the random bods who have registered a party with the Electoral Commission and ask them for a show of hands.  Carlaw could find himself outvoted by seventeen splinter communist parties.

It's also worth mentioning that the Carlaw Doctrine flatly contradicts Ruth Davidson's recent arbitrary "ruling" that a pro-independence majority at Holyrood is only valid if it's a single-party SNP majority and not if it's a multi-party majority comprising the SNP, the Greens and possibly others.  So which is it to be, guys?  Do you want broad multi-party support for a referendum, or are you insisting it has to be a go-it-alone SNP effort?  I don't see how you can have it both ways.

Carlaw also says that the Tories are "not dictating to the people of Scotland" because the people of Scotland do not actually want a referendum.  But he knows full well that the evidence on that point is mixed: the most recent poll on the subject (conducted in May by Panelbase) found that 50.2% want an early independence referendum, with 49.8% opposed.  For reasons that aren't clear, YouGov polls have tended to show a more negative picture.  When evidence on the state of public opinion is contradictory, you have two options: you can either make the decision yourself, in which case you are dictating to the people, or you can put opinion polls to one side and allow the people to resolve the ambiguity by means of an election.  And, as it happens, the people have already done that: they elected a government in 2016 that had a manifesto commitment to an indyref in the event of Brexit.  Why is Carlaw ignoring their verdict?

Rather confusingly, Carlaw spent a large chunk of his debate with Keith Brown the other night demanding that Brown should "name the day" for a referendum and commit to bringing out a White Paper - the pretty obvious subtext being that the SNP are running scared of holding the vote and the Tories want them to "bring it on".  If I may gently say so to Jackson, it's rather hard to make that line of attack stick when in the next breath you're bellowing: "THE SNP ARE HELLBENT ON CALLING AN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM, BUT WE SAY NO, NO, NEVER!!!!"

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 30 of the fundraiser, and so far £8290 has been raised. That's 97.5% 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 26, 2019

Paging Carole Malone: Sorry, Carole, but every single opinion poll this year has shown that support for independence is significantly higher than 45%

I literally can't even force myself to watch the now-notorious clip from the Jeremy Vine Show, in which Princess Diana's former butler, a former Page 3 girl and a tabloid rentagob were invited to speak about Scotland via a direct video link from the 1860s.  However, I've read the transcript provided by The National, and apart from the fact that Paul Burrell still doesn't seem to understand the difference between independence and devolution, what leapt out at me was this piece of nonsense from Carole Malone, which went uncorrected by the programme's hosts -

"Every time they do a poll it says that the figures now for staying within the union are higher than they were at the time of the referendum."

What is it about opinion polling that makes people feel entirely comfortable in making something up that they would like to think is true, go on television and present it as fact, and then have it go completely unchallenged? And yes, Fiona Bruce, I'm looking at you. In this case, Carole Malone's claim is not only untrue, it's the opposite of the truth. There have (inexplicably) been only four polls this year that have asked the standard independence question, and every single one of them has shown that support for independence is now significantly higher than the 44.7% recorded in the 2014 referendum. Here they are...

Panelbase, April 2019: Yes 47%, No 53%
YouGov, April 2019: Yes 49%, No 51%
Panelbase, May 2019: Yes 48%, No 52%
Panelbase, June 2019: Yes 49%, No 51%

If you look at the list of polls on Wikipedia, you'd get the false impression that there was also a fifth independence poll this year conducted by Survation using a "non-standard question", which supposedly showed a much bigger No lead.  In fact, that wasn't an independence poll at all - it was a propaganda poll commissioned by Scotland in Union which asked respondents about whether they wanted Scotland to "leave the UK", rather than whether they wanted Scotland to become an independent country.  "Leaving the UK" covers a wide range of possibilities of which independence is only one.  Others include becoming part of another existing state, or becoming a self-governing dependency like Jersey.  However, even if you include the Survation poll as an independence poll (and you shouldn't), it would still be the case that four out of five polls this year have shown Yes support at higher than 45%.  So Malone's claim is completely untrue no matter which way you look at it.

Incidentally, it's not even the case that Malone's claim used to be true but no longer is.  Although support for independence appears to have increased markedly over the last nine months or so, a clear majority of polls conducted over the entire period between September 2014 and now have shown Yes at 45% or higher.

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I've been meaning to mention that I was interviewed down the phone on IndyLive Radio last week.  You can listen to the show on catch-up HERE - the bit with me starts at just after the 2 hour mark.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 27 of the fundraiser, and so far £8020 has been raised. That's 95% 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.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bombshell Panelbase poll shows support for independence at a three-year high - even without Boris Johnson as PM

You've probably seen by now that there's a new Panelbase poll today suggesting that if Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister, there will be a majority of 53-47 in favour of independence.  But you always have to be just a little bit careful with poll results on hypothetical questions, even when the hypothetical scenario is highly likely to come to pass.  In this case, perhaps the biggest problem is that people might feel that the way the question is asked suggests that their response 'ought' to be different if Boris is leader.

So, as ever, what really matters is the result on the standard independence question.  But, never fear, that result is sensational enough - Yes have practically drawn level.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (+1)
No 51% (-1)

To put this in perspective, over the last few years Panelbase have been (along with YouGov) one of the most No-friendly polling firms.  For eighteen months between the early summer of 2017 and the autumn of 2018, every poll they published showed Yes on either 43% or 44% - a slightly lower level of support than recorded in the 2014 referendum.  Over the last few months, Yes has been creeping up and up in Panelbase polls - and today's 49% is the highest figure the firm has reported since the temporary surge in the aftermath of the EU referendum three years ago.  In conjunction with the (relatively) recent YouGov poll that had Yes jumping to 49%, this leaves little room for doubt that Brexit is belatedly helping the independence campaign to gain some traction.

The poll was commissioned by the Sunday Times, and I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, so I'm having to rely on What Scotland Thinks for the Westminster voting intention figures, and unfortunately there seems to be a small discrepancy between the figures on their website and on their Twitter account.  But what does appear clear is that, notwithstanding what I said earlier about exaggerated effects on hypothetical questions, there is actually very little difference between the standard voting intentions and hypothetical voting intentions if Boris becomes PM.  That's an absolute hammerblow for the Tories.  I've been saying for days that a Johnson premiership would be a double-edged sword for the SNP, because although it would help Yes to win an independence referendum, it might also in the shorter term help the Tories hold off the SNP's challenge in the north-seat constituencies, due to Tory voters coming home from the Brexit Party.  But the latter doesn't seem to be the case to any appreciable degree.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster:

SNP 38% or 39% (n/c or +1)
Conservatives 18% (n/c)
Labour 17% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 13% (+3)
Brexit Party 9% (n/c)

Hypothetical Scottish voting intentions for Westminster if Boris Johnson becomes Conservative leader:

SNP 39%
Conservatives 18%
Labour 18%
Liberal Democrats 14%
Brexit Party 7%

The Brexit Party vote does drop 2% on the assumption that Boris is leader, so it could be that those votes are going to the Tories.  But there are two problems: a) the Tories would have expected the swing to be a lot bigger than that, and b) it's not actually doing them any good, because presumably (although we'll need to see the datasets to be sure) Johnson is causing existing Tory votes to be lost in the other direction to Labour, the Lib Dems and maybe even the SNP.  With or without Johnson as leader, the Tories are on 18%, about twenty or so points behind the SNP, who could expect to win around 50 of the 59 Scottish seats, and leave the Tories with something in the region of 3 (down 10 from the current position).

Incidentally, the finding that there won't be much of a Boris bounce was supported at Britain-wide level by a Survation poll yesterday, which suggested that the Tories would enjoy a net gain of only two points with Johnson as leader, and that the Brexit Party would only slip back four points.  The Tories and Labour would be tied for the lead in that scenario.

Panelbase also have Holyrood voting intention numbers...

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot): 

SNP 42% (+1)
Conservatives 20% (n/c)
Labour 16% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 11% (+3)

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (regional list ballot):

SNP 39% (+2)
Conservatives 20% (+1)
Labour 16% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)
Greens 7% (n/c)

The SNP's 42% on the constituency ballot is their highest vote share in any Panelbase poll since 2017.  In a way it's strange that the Tories are doing a little better in the Holyrood vote than in the Westminster vote, although that may simply be because some voters don't think there's much point in switching to Farage's mob in a Scottish Parliament election.

There would be a very clear pro-independence majority in Holyrood on those numbers, and the SNP wouldn't be far away from an outright majority of their own.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 24 of the fundraiser, and so far £7925 has been raised. That's 93% 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.