Friday, July 5, 2019

Jeremy Hunt downgrades Scotland from an opinion poll democracy to an anecdote democracy

At the risk of tempting fate by complimenting a journalist too much, STV's Colin Mackay has often been noted for making an effort to be more even-handed than some of his peers in the Scottish broadcast media, and he proved that again today by ignoring a hostile Tory audience to put Jeremy Hunt on the spot over the utter nonsensicality of the leadership candidate's 'reasons' for saying he will attempt to block an independence referendum.  Hunt tried to make out that he was "listening to the people of Scotland" and that "in the last poll he read" three-quarters of Scots were opposed to a referendum.  That is almost certainly an intentional lie, because it seems phenomenally improbable that the very recent Panelbase poll showing a clear majority in favour of an early independence referendum wasn't at least brought to Hunt's attention, even if he didn't want to hear about it.  And even in the highly unlikely event that the Panelbase poll has somehow completely escaped his notice, his characterisation of the "last poll he read" would still be profoundly and intentionally dishonest, because no poll has ever shown anything even close to 75% opposition to an indyref.  (One possibility is that it's a reference to an Ipsos-Mori poll which showed that 22% favoured an indyref as soon as Brexit takes place...but that in total 41% wanted an indyref at some point before 2021.  To claim that a poll showing that 41% of Scots want a referendum within the next two years somehow shows that three-quarters of Scots don't want a referendum at all is pretty brazen, to put it mildly.)

I've expressed my concern before that the Conservative party, which down the ages has long rubbished opinion polls and said that "the only poll that matters is on polling day", is now trying to turn Scotland into an opinion poll democracy - in other words, a country in which you can ignore the way in which people actually vote because a YouGov poll of 2000 people is supposedly a more accurate representation of what they want.  Hunt tried exactly that line today - he said that it didn't matter that a majority of the Scottish Parliament wanted a referendum, and that it didn't matter that people had knowingly voted for the parliament to have a pro-referendum majority.  All that mattered is that a poll from God knows how many months or years ago supposedly shows that MSPs are going against the wishes of their constituents.  Mackay pointed out that the most recent poll in fact shows that a majority are in favour of a referendum - to which Hunt feebly replied "there are lots of polls, Colin".  So now it seems that Scotland isn't so much an opinion poll democracy as a "the last opinion poll that a British Prime Minister conveniently bothered to notice" democracy.

Except it gets even worse than that.  When Mackay sardonically summed up Hunt's hypocrisy with the words "so your poll counts but mine doesn't?", Hunt effectively abandoned his belief in the overriding importance of polls and started waffling about how "people I talk to in Scotland" (ie. Tories) don't want a referendum.  So in the space of two minutes, Scotland had been downgraded twice from an opinion poll democracy to a vague anecdote democracy.

As an aside, it's worth noting that Hunt's statement today that he will attempt to block an indyref even if the SNP win an absolute majority at the 2021 election flatly contradicts what he said on the subject only a couple of weeks ago.  If I was a Tory member, and even if I agreed with Hunt's revised stance, I'd be a bit worried that the 'flexibility' of his views means that he can't be trusted to keep his word on other subjects.  How can he be trusted to stick to his promises on Brexit, for example?

Monday, July 1, 2019

Calling all Wikipedia editors

Until very recently, Wikipedia's list of UK opinion polls was immaculately inclusive - it had a separate column for each party that enjoyed a non-trivial level of support.  So the Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and Change UK were all there.  I was shocked to discover last night that the SNP and Plaid have been arbitrarily removed, with their voters instead lumped together into an "others" column.  What makes this change particularly perverse is that UKIP and Change UK still have their own columns, even though they both routinely poll significantly lower than the SNP.  To put it in perspective, the SNP's support in GB-wide polls always falls in a range between 2% and 6%, and almost always falls in a range between 3% and 5%.  By contrast, Change UK have been on either 0% or 1% in all of the last ten polls, and UKIP have only been as high as 2% once in the last ten polls.  There can be no conceivable justification for taking the SNP out if Change UK and UKIP are to be left in.  And let's face it, there'd be no conceivable justification anyway.  The SNP are the third largest party in the House of Commons and the largest party by far in one of the constituent nations of the UK.  Those facts alone should put an end to any dispute.

Now, before anyone trots out the standard response of "anyone can edit Wikipedia, so don't complain, just put it right yourself", it isn't quite as simple as that.  Someone has already attempted to reverse the edit, but within literally one minute the SNP and Plaid were removed again, with the following 'explanation' appended to the edit history -

"Please see the discussion on talk - strong consensus for removal of at least some columns, namely SNP/Plaid among most" 

So I checked the Talk page, and as I suspected, this "strong consensus" turned out to consist of an in-group of only about six or seven people, all enthusiastically agreeing with each other based on their shared Anglocentric trance that it somehow makes perfect sense to remove the SNP but to retain parties that have far less support than the SNP.  Before you look at the discussion, I should probably put a health warning on it, because it dismisses the SNP and Plaid as "regional" parties who should only ever be mentioned in the context of their own "areas" and who are "irrelevant" to the "national" picture.  Someone quite reasonably points out that similar pages for other countries manage without any great fuss to include separate columns for ten or more parties, so there's no actual need for the UK page to be artificially edited down to seven.  But that argument was shouted down on the basis that other countries have proportional representation and we don't, meaning that parties with relatively low percentage support can't hope to win seats.  Which is a bit of a circular argument, because if the requirement for inclusion is the ability to win seats, how can you possibly exclude a party whose support is so geographically concentrated that it currently holds 35 seats under first-past-the-post and looks set to win considerably more in the next general election?

The only way of getting this ridiculous decision overturned is to change the "consensus" on the Talk page.  I've made my point there already, but I'm only one voice.  So if you're a Wikipedia editor and if you feel as strongly about this as I do, I would recommend that you leave a comment there and help to break the Anglo groupthink.  If you're not familiar with commenting on Wikipedia Talk pages, you need to hit the edit button in the top right hand corner as if you were editing an article, and then simply add in your own comment in the appropriate place.  You then 'sign' your comment by adding four tildes (~~~~) at the end of it.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Boris Johnson's hapless attempt to blackmail Scotland over Brexit

As we all know, a potentially decisive factor in the outcome of the first independence referendum was the message from the No campaign that "a Yes vote puts Scotland's EU membership at risk, while a No vote guarantees EU membership".  I wonder how the voters who were swayed by that cynical deception would have reacted if they'd been given a glimpse into the future and realised that, five years down the line, the prospective Prime Minister of the UK would be boasting about how he was going to take Scotland out of the EU against its will and make it so difficult for Scotland to rejoin that nobody would regard independence as a solution.  Basically, Boris Johnson is claiming that the prospect of adopting the Euro, joining the Schengen passport-free zone, and giving up "Scottish control of fisheries" means that Scottish voters will have little choice but to stick with the dubious delights of Brexit Britain, rather than trying to get back into the EU via independence.  There are, of course, just a few enormous snags with that line of argument...

An independent Scotland would not be forced to join the euro.  The Channel 4 "Fact Check" (sic) notoriously claimed a few weeks ago that it would be, which led to the comical spectacle of other Fact Check services demonstrating conclusively that the Channel 4 "Fact Check" was riddled with factual inaccuracies.  The theoretical requirement for new EU states to move to adopt the Euro in the long-term is a legal fiction and everyone in Brussels knows it.  No state can be forced to take the steps that would be necessary to switch currencies, as Sweden has been helpfully demonstrating in the sixteen years since it rejected Eurozone membership in a referendum.

An independent Scotland would not be required to join the Schengen Zone.  The UK and the Republic of Ireland are both current EU member states, but neither are members of Schengen and instead have their own Common Travel Area.  Whether or not there is a hard border after Brexit, Ireland is highly unlikely to be joining Schengen, and it's blindingly obvious that the EU would agree that any arrangement that is appropriate for Ireland as an EU state would also be appropriate for Scotland as an EU state.

Scotland will not "control fisheries" after Brexit.  Fisheries was one of the key devolved powers that was subject to the Westminster power-grab last year, so control will in fact lie in London or more likely in Brussels - because we know that Scottish fishing communities have always been regarded by London as expendable in any horse-trading with the EU.  Although it's true that many Scottish independence supporters do regard the Common Fisheries Policy as the worst thing about the EU, the reality is that we won't be "taking back control" of fisheries under Brexit, and that we'd therefore be sacrificing little by rejoining the EU as an independent state.

You see, that's the thing, Boris - if you want to blackmail a nation into submission, the threat actually has to be credible.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 31 of the fundraiser, and so far £8370 has been raised. That's 98% 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.

52% of Scots demand an early independence referendum in landmark Panelbase poll, as Tory myth dies

You might have noticed that for weeks now, when a journalist or Tory politician has erroneously claimed that "there is still no appetite in Scotland for an independence referendum", I've been pointing out to them that the most recent poll on the subject actually found that 50.2% of the public are in favour of an early independence referendum and only 49.8% are opposed.  Admittedly one thing that made it slightly hard to get that point across is that, after rounding, the published figures were 50% in favour and 50% opposed.

Well, that's no longer a problem, because the Sunday Times have today published more details of their sensational Panelbase poll from last weekend, and it turns out there is now a clear pro-indyref majority even after rounding.  52% are in favour of holding an early independence referendum (up 2 points on the last poll), and 48% are opposed (down 2).

You're in severe danger of running out of excuses, Ruth.