Saturday, July 27, 2019

Swinson Bounce? What Swinson Bounce? Despair for overrated new Lib Dem leader as three new BOMBSHELL polls show her party flatlining

On Wednesday, when the first poll came out after Boris Johnson became Tory leader, I suggested that there had been no Boris Bounce over and above what had already been factored in for weeks. I realised within just a few hours that I'd been a bit premature in saying that, because I hadn't anticipated the bloodbath reshuffle that transformed the Tory government into a vehicle for delivering No Deal.  That, rather than Johnson becoming leader, was the 'shock and awe' moment that had the potential to produce a sizeable swingback from the Brexit Party to the Tories, and so it has proved.

Deltapoll (Britain-wide):

Conservatives 30% (+10)
Labour 25% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 18% (+2)
Brexit Party 14% (-10)

Opinium (Britain-wide):

Conservatives 30% (+7)
Labour 28% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 16% (+1)
Brexit Party 15% (-7)

YouGov (Britain-wide):

Conservatives 31% (+6)
Labour 21% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 20% (-3)
Brexit Party 13% (-4)

(Note: For reasons known only to our Anglocentric pollsters and media, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are often excluded from the initial results summaries, but we'll find out the results for those parties when the datasets appear.)

Any conclusions about these trends must be provisional, because if - as seems eminently possible - the next election takes place without Brexit having been delivered, there's likely to be a huge swing in the opposite direction back to the Brexit Party.  But what may be of greater long-term significance is that the media hype about Jo Swinson isn't being replicated in hard polling numbers.  Opinium and Deltapoll show only a minimal Swinson Bounce, while YouGov are suggesting that the lift the Lib Dems got in their Wednesday poll has already been fully reversed.  There was an expectation that any votes Johnson took back from the Brexit Party would be balanced out to some extent by moderate Tories moving to the Lib Dems, but there's no obvious sign of that happening so far.

UPDATE: It's the same basic story from ComRes, although the pro-Tory swing isn't quite so big...

ComRes (Britain-wide):

Conservatives 28% (+3)
Labour 27% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 19% (+2)
Brexit Party 16% (-3)

Boris Johnson has declared war on Scottish nationhood

I was thoroughly bemused a few hours ago by the muted reaction from Nick Eardley of the BBC to the extraordinary news that Boris Johnson has appointed Robin Walker, the MP for Worcester, as Minister of State at the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland (formerly known as the Scotland Office, and in pre-devolution times as the Scottish Office).  "A snub for Scottish Tories?" asked Nick, as if the only significance is that Ruth Davidson might be mildly embarrassed.  What this decision actually does is rip up decade upon decade upon decade of precedent and tradition.  God knows when the last time was that an MP representing an English constituency was appointed to the Scotland Office or Scottish Office, but I certainly can't recall it happening within my lifetime.  The universality of Scottish appointments was what always distinguished the Scottish Office from its Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts, which were often full-on colonial outfits manned by English MPs.  In "Raj" terms, the Scottish Office was like an Indianised civil service - the appointments may have been made by a Prime Minister in London, but nevertheless individual Scots were in charge of the domestic government of Scotland.  That's why we can look back to a period long before devolution and recall iconic Scottish politicians calling the shots: Tom Johnston during the Second World War, Willie Ross in the 60s and 70s, and Donald Dewar in the late 90s.

What makes the selection of Walker even more bizarre is that the tradition of only appointing Scots was even maintained when there was only one Scottish Tory MP in Westminster.  The Scottish peer Lord Dunlop filled the breach as David Mundell's sidekick when Mundell was the entire Scottish Tory parliamentary party.  And yet now that Boris Johnson has got 12 Scottish Tory MPs to choose Alister Jack's deputy from, he's ignored them all, and he's ignored all the Scottish Tory peers.  Some people are putting this down to concern that the Scottish Tories may be wiped out at the next general election.  That's good as a taunt, but makes no sense if taken seriously: if a Minister of State were to lose their seat at the election, it would be the easiest thing in the world to just replace them.  No, this is Boris making a statement.  He's saying that London owns Scotland, and that he sees no reason why Scotland should be governed any differently from Worcestershire or Hampshire or Nottinghamshire.  The mind boggles as to what this portends for devolution if Boris has a longer tenure in office than most of us expect.

*  *  *

Just as an aside, this means that neither of the men now running the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland actually has a recognisably Scottish accent.  Alister Jack appears from his biography to be 100% Scottish born and bred, but presumably owes his plummy accent to his education at Glenalmond.  This may be a good way to appeal to traditional Scottish Tory voters, but I'm not sure it's going to do much for the working-class unionist voters that Ruth Davidson has been courting over recent years (ie. the "Rangers vote").

*  *  *

I'm hoping we might get an independence poll in the next few days, just to see if the No Deal revolution at Westminster over the last 72 hours has shifted the dial.  You might remember that there was a Yes surge in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, and that it quickly faded.  We'd never even have known it had happened if opinion polls hadn't been commissioned at the correct moment.  I hope the history books won't be left in the dark about Scotland's instant reaction to the events of the last week.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Are we heading for an October election?

I'm actually quite ambivalent about the prospect of an election this autumn.  At the moment it looks like the SNP would clean up big time, but conditions also looked exceptionally favourable for them in 2017 and we all know what happened next.  We should always remember that Westminster elections are 'away fixtures' for the SNP and that things can spiral out of control very quickly.  Imagine, for example, if the broadcasters try to stitch up the SNP with three-way Johnson-Corbyn-Swinson debates, or even four-way Johnson-Corbyn-Swinson-Farage debates.  That would be impossible to justify given the SNP's total dominance of politics in one of the four constituent nations of the UK, but just suppose they were brazen enough to actually do it.  The election campaign would become a London-centred conversation in which it would be very hard for the SNP to be heard.  That's exactly what happened in 2010 - three-way debates between Brown, Cameron and Clegg produced the Cleggasm, which changed the trajectory of the campaign in Scotland as much as anywhere else.  It wasn't Alex Salmond's fault that he didn't do what Nick Clegg did, because he simply wasn't given the opportunity.  The playing field was not remotely level, and I'm afraid it's a fact that the BBC, ITV and Sky were to blame for the undermining of the democratic process.  Elections in the UK may be free, but they're not always scrupulously fair.

However, I think we're past the point of trying to work out whether we want an election to happen, because it now looks highly likely that it's going to happen whether we want it or not.  Boris Johnson has set an unmistakable course for No Deal, and we have a parliament with an anti-No Deal majority.  That means, I would suggest, that one of two things is going to happen...

1) MPs will conclude that a vote of no confidence is the only way to prevent No Deal, and will bring the government down in time for an October election.


2) MPs will find an alternative means to prevent No Deal, which Boris Johnson will have no option but to preempt by calling an election himself.  (If he doesn't, he'd instantly become a lame duck leader.)  I doubt if the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would prove any more of an obstacle for him than it did for Theresa May two years ago.

In case anyone still thinks it's not even plausible that a vote of no confidence could be passed, it's worth refreshing our memories about what the parliamentary arithmetic actually looks like...

Conservatives + DUP: 322 seats

All other MPs: 320 seats

Even with the DUP's help, the government have a majority of only two seats, which may be reduced to one next week if the Liberal Democrats win the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.  On paper, it would require only one Tory MP to vote with the opposition for the majority to be wiped out.  In practice it's not quite as simple as that, because Charlie Elphicke will continue voting with the government even though he's technically no longer a Tory MP, and the odious independent MP Ian Austin (formerly of Labour) may have been bought off with his new job as a trade envoy to Israel.  But it certainly wouldn't take many Tory rebels to bring the government down.  The Lib Dems are now gung-ho for an early election, only a few months after saying that would be "irresponsible" (amazing what a difference an opinion poll surge can make).  I'm not sure what Change UK's current position is, but they must know it would be a PR catastrophe for them to be the only opposition party to prop up a No Deal government.

*  *  *

As regular readers may be aware, I'm blocked on Twitter by the Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter, because - and I quote - "I don't want to be mentioned on his blog".  (That's working out well for her, then.)  However, I gather that she was once again banging the drum yesterday for the idea that there is no route to a vote on independence that doesn't require permission from Westminster.  So what do we do if Westminster says no?  "We campaign some more for an independence referendum" says Mhairi.  And what do we do if Westminster still says no after that?  "We campaign some more for an independence referendum" says Mhairi.

This reminds me of the early 1980s Doctor Who story Full Circle, in which a group of people from the planet Terradon have been stranded for many generations in a crashed spaceship on Alzarius.  They devote their lives to repairing the ship, with the promise from their leaders that if they work hard enough, it will be possible to return home in a few more decades or centuries.  "Towards the embarkation!" is their mantra.  But it turns out at the end of the story that the ship has been in perfect working order for a long time, but that nobody knows how to fly it.  The leaders were just using the pointless 'repairs' to keep the common people busy and to prevent any awkward questions being asked.

It's not 'populism' to say there needs to be a Plan B if Westminster's obstructionism continues.  It's simple, hard-headed pragmatism.  "Campaign even harder for an independence referendum!" is only an honest exhortation if a credible plan exists to bring a vote on independence about.  I made a point along those lines when I was interviewed for Sputnik yesterday - you can listen to the interview HERE.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Apparently it's possible for individual SNP members to express support for discussion at conference of the McEleny/MacNeil amendment (calling for an election to be used to seek an outright mandate for independence if a Section 30 order is refused) by emailing the National Secretary of the party.  I'm not sure what the procedure is - presumably you'd just give your name and possibly your membership number and explain why you're writing?  The email address is:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

First straw in the wind from YouGov suggests SNP have carried their commanding lead into the era of Johnson and Swinson

The first opinion poll in the aftermath of Boris Johnson becoming Tory leader and Jo Swinson becoming Lib Dem leader was always going to be a moment of truth, because there was a reasonable expectation that there would be a honeymoon effect for Johnson, as has been the case for previous new Prime Ministers.  The fact that doesn't seem to be happening may effectively seal the Tories' fate in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election next week.

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov):

Conservatives 25% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 23% (+3)
Labour 19% (-2)
Brexit Party 17% (-2)
Greens 9% (+1)
SNP 4% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)
UKIP 1% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 42%, Liberal Democrats 18%, Brexit Party 13%, Labour 11%, Conservatives 10%, Greens 5%

It's odd that Jo Swinson does appear to have boosted the Lib Dem vote given that she had far less airtime on Monday than Johnson had yesterday, but probably what's happened is that a small Boris Bounce has been factored in for a few weeks, because everyone was aware that he was going to become leader.  If that's right, the boost has been extremely modest - only a few percentage points.  Swinson is more of a novelty for people, which would explain why the Lib Dem bounce has happened at the actual moment of the leadership announcement.

Although YouGov's Scottish subsamples can be regarded as more meaningful than those of other firms (because they're properly structured and weighted), it would still be a mistake to take changes from one subsample to the next too seriously, because the small sample size means that any increase or drop in support for a party is more likely to be an illusion caused by normal sampling variation.  However, on the face of it, the Lib Dem vote has increased in Scotland at the expense of unionist parties and not the SNP - which would be the dream scenario.  If that pattern holds, we could see the Lib Dems splitting the unionist vote in a way that actually helps the SNP gain seats from the Tories.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Is the end NIGH for Our Precious Union? EARTH-SHAKING poll of LABOUR MEMBERS shows huge support for independence

It may seem odd to be talking about a poll of Labour members on the day that Boris Johnson became leader of the Conservative party, but it's a bit difficult to get too excited about an event that has been predetermined for weeks.  (Even the BBC seemed more animated about the end of "the Anne Milton era" than about the new Prime Minister.)  And this is a pretty sensational poll by any standards.  Who would have believed that the UK-wide membership of one of the main anti-independence parties would be split down the middle on independence?  Not on the question of whether Scotland should be allowed to choose its own future, not on the question of whether they should reluctantly "allow" Scotland to "go" if it insists, but on the very principle of whether independence would be a good thing?

Would you support or oppose Scotland becoming an independent country?  (YouGov poll of UK Labour members)

Support 39%
Oppose 41% 

With Don't Knows excluded, that works out as roughly 49% in favour, and 51% against - in other words a statistical tie.  Ironically, there's a greater level of opposition to independence in the subsample of Scottish members, but there are two points to bear in mind about that: a) the subsample is so tiny that it can't be considered statistically robust, and b) the result is exactly what you'd expect anyway, because in Scotland all the sensible progressives have long since decamped to the SNP, leaving behind unionist diehards for the most part.  According to YouGov's weighting scheme, just 2% of the current Labour membership live in Scotland.  (It ought to be a little over 8% if it was in line with population share.)

All of this begs the obvious question: if the Labour leadership aren't acting on behalf of their own members when they seek to to turn the UK into a prison from which Scotland is permitted no escape, who are they acting for?  The London establishment?  Who is pulling the strings, and why is it being allowed to happen?

Elsewhere in the poll, an astonishing 83% of Labour members would be in favour of a deal with the SNP if their own party falls short of a majority - another point on which the Labour leadership is hopelessly out of line with its members' wishes.  Even the Scottish subsample is in favour of working with the SNP, albeit by a predictably narrower margin.

*  *  *

I've made this point before, but something highly unusual will happen tomorrow.  I can't think of another example since the war when a mid-term change of Prime Minister effectively amounted to a change of government, because the programme for government of the new Prime Minister is so different from that of the outgoing Prime Minister.  The only partial exception is John Major, who ditched Margaret Thatcher's flagship policy of the poll tax, but even Major basically persevered with Thatcherism in all other respects.

The crucial point is that a new government will take office tomorrow with hardly any moral or democratic authority at all.  The people didn't elect it, and it barely enjoys a majority in parliament - even if you include the DUP in the government ranks and exclude Sinn Féin from the opposition tally, the majority is just two, and will fall to one if the Liberal Democrats get their expected win in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election next week.  I'd suggest that, irrespective of tactical considerations, such a government shouldn't be allowed to take office without facing a motion of no confidence within the first 24 hours.  Basic principles of democracy demand that a mandate should be established, or that there should be an election if the mandate turns out not to be there.

Monday, July 22, 2019

She wants "Scotland in the Yookye, and the Yookye in the Eeyowe": now that the female Fraser Nelson is Lib Dem leader, what's next for Scottish politics?

So, as I feared, East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson has been elected leader of the Liberal Democrats at federal level (but rest assured that Willie Rennie of "Winning With Willie" fame is still very much leader of the Scottish branch).  The reason I say "as I feared" is partly because I'm not Swinson's greatest fan, and we'll now be subjected to her dripping-with-insincerity musings even more frequently, but it's also partly because there's some evidence from past history that having a Scottish leader can help the fortunes of a London party in this part of the world.  For example...

* In the only general election Gordon Brown fought as leader in 2010, Labour took a hammering south of the border, but in Scotland held all its seats and actually increased its share of the vote.

* The 1974 Liberal surge under Jeremy Thorpe wasn't fully replicated in Scotland, but the Alliance surge in 1983 was, and by that point the Liberals were led by a Scot (David Steel).  In 1992, the first election after Steel stepped down, the drop in the Lib Dem vote was greater in Scotland than it was elsewhere.

* In 2005, the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy unexpectedly overtook the SNP to finish second in the Scottish popular vote.

The Kennedy example is interesting, though, because he was also leader during the 2001 election, when the Scottish Lib Dem vote increased but there wasn't the same scale of breakthrough.  He was also federal leader during the 2003 Holyrood election, when the Lib Dem vote more or less flatlined.  So that suggests any Swinson effect might be limited to Westminster elections, and might also depend to some extent on the platform she's given by the media.  The reason that Kennedy did better in 2005 than in 2001 is that in the intervening period he had emerged as the leading voice in opposition to the Iraq War.  If Jo Swinson similarly comes to be seen as the leader of the anti-Brexit resistance, that could be mildly worrying for the SNP.  The good news is that she's running out of time to reap that potential benefit - what does she do if Britain leaves the EU before the next election?  She may be able to get away for the moment with "wanting Scotland in the Yookye, and the Yookye in the Eeyowe", but unless she's going to argue for the Yookye to rejoin the Eeyowe (which nobody would believe anyway), she'll run out of road with that line after October.  Pro-Eeyowe Scots will have to start looking towards independence as the only realistic way forward.

In my forthcoming article for next month's iScot, I'll also be making the point that even if there's a Lib Dem surge in a pre-Brexit election, that could actually benefit the SNP if it falls short of a certain threshold.  For example, if pro-EU unionist voters in a seat like Gordon abandon the Tories and return to the Lib Dem fold, but not in sufficient numbers to actually take the seat, the obvious beneficiary would be the SNP. 

That said, I'd suggest the SNP should keep a close lookout for any indication that the broadcasters are going to stitch them up by running three-way Johnson-Corbyn-Swinson debates during the election campaign.  That would be almost impossible to defend, both on the basis of past precedent and the current state of the parties in the Commons, but you can guarantee that they'd try it if they thought they could get away with it.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Are the Conservatives heading for a pre-election split?

No-one could ever accuse the editor of Stormfront Lite of troubling his readers with too much variety.  He has a 'rota system' that serves up the following posts on a continuous loop -

"I remain unconvinced about Bernie Sanders because he is so OLD."

"I remain unconvinced about Joe Biden because he is so OLD."

"Jeremy Corbyn is OLD and a BED-BLOCKER and he didn't go to ETON.  Gawd."

"The Fixed Term Parliaments Act makes an early election impossible and I'm definitely right this time even though I was wrong when I said exactly the same thing in 2016 and 2017."

And last but not least, the fan favourite...

"Theresa May is simply magnificent and here's a portrait of her by my daughter-in-law."

Credit where credit's due: at least he eventually removed "Kitty Ussher is the next PM, you heard it here first" from the rota.

In fairness, though, the longer reads at the weekend by other authors do break up the monotony just slightly.  David Herdson made an intriguing point yesterday that hadn't occurred to me before: that if Tory MPs do take the nuclear option of bringing down the government in a no confidence vote, it would be more logical for them to install a new anti-No Deal government immediately than to waste time with a general election in an emergency situation.  And that new government could only be led by Jeremy Corbyn, because the Labour leadership wouldn't permit its MPs to back any other type of caretaker government.

I can see the logic, but I do still think it's pretty obvious that the Tory Remainer rebels would prefer an election to a Corbyn-led government.  As I understand it, there would be just about enough time for an election before Brexit Day, as long as a no confidence motion is passed quickly after the Commons returns from its summer recess.  But that leaves the rebels with another dilemma: how do they prevent No Deal by standing for election as candidates for a party led by Boris Johnson?  They can't.  So do they retire from parliament en masse?  Do they stand as anti-Brexit independents, and ask the Lib Dems and Greens to give them a free run?  Do they set up a new party?  Do they defect to the Lib Dems?  Do they attempt to reanimate the corpse of Change UK?  (Hilariously, the original eleven defectors to Change UK are now split four different ways.  Five of them are persevering with the project, four have set up yet another new group called "The Independents", Chuka Umunna has joined the Lib Dems, and Sarah Wollaston is ploughing her own furrow as a genuine independent.)

These are just some of the many imponderables that make the result of any snap election so difficult to predict.

*  *  *

The good news for the SNP continues in YouGov's latest Scottish subsample...

SNP 42%, Labour 15%, Conservatives 13%, Brexit Party 10%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Greens 7%

*  *  *

There's an utterly ludicrous article in the Scotsman claiming that the SNP are planning to "break a Westminster convention" by refusing to applaud Theresa May on her final day in office.  The convention is of course the polar opposite of that: MPs aren't supposed to applaud in the Commons under any circumstances.  When the SNP's intake in 2015 broke that rule, John Bercow told them in no uncertain terms that they must stop clapping and make weird grunting noises instead.  It's true that Tony Blair and David Cameron both received ovations when they left office, but that was a blatant breach of the convention.  So if the SNP don't clap on Wednesday, the traditionalists should actually give them credit for being the only ones maintaining the proper decorum.