Saturday, August 3, 2019

Remaining open-minded about a Remain alliance in Scotland

I have a new article in The National about the Brecon and Radnorshire result, entitled 'Could by-election-winning Remain alliance work in Scotland?'  You can read it HERE.

I see that the reference to a Remain alliance has already attracted one or two hostile comments on social media.  In fact, that point is only a small part of the article, but to avoid any misunderstanding about what I'm suggesting (and more importantly what I'm not suggesting), I'll expand on it here.

In my view, offering a Remain alliance to the Liberal Democrats in any pre-Brexit snap election would be a good each-way bet for the SNP,  because...

1) There's a 95% chance that the Lib Dems would say no.  That would allow the SNP to fight the election exactly as planned, while claiming the moral high ground and demonstrating that the Lib Dems are not serious about stopping Brexit at all costs or about working with others to stop Brexit at all costs.  Why would the Lib Dems say no?  For a number of reasons.  A pact would destroy their long-term strategy in Scotland, which is based on dogmatic, unyielding British nationalism and the securing of tactical votes from natural Tory supporters in selective seats.  It would also be humbling for a self-styled "national UK" party to have to stand aside in more than 90% of Scottish  constituencies, which is bound to be the condition of any pact.  (The Lib Dems are only the strongest Remain party in the four Scottish constituencies they currently hold.)

2) Even in the highly unlikely event that the Lib Dems say yes, the pact would actually work in the SNP's favour.  The four seats they would be standing aside in are among the small handful of seats they'd be highly unlikely to win anyway, while Lib Dem support for SNP candidates on an "emergency stop Brexit" basis could be a game-changer in Tory-held seats.  There's a Remain majority even in Moray.

3) As you know, I'm a strong supporter of the McEleny/MacNeil plan to use an election to secure an outright mandate for independence in the event that a Section 30 order is refused.  For the avoidance of doubt, if the SNP were to accept that plan for the next general election, an alliance with the Lib Dems would be completely out of the question, because there would have to be a pro-independence candidate in every single constituency.  But we've all heard the mood music from the SNP leadership: in a snap pre-Brexit election, they're more likely to emphasise their plan to stop Brexit, albeit with a pledge to hold an independence referendum.  That being the case, they might as well maximise the number of seats they win.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The real winner in Brecon and Radnorshire was the Welsh language

So a few quick thoughts about the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election result...

* The big paradox is that the Liberal Democrats won, and they won essentially because they are a Remain party, and yet this is a constituency that voted Leave in the referendum and that voted for Leave parties again tonight.  Even if you don't count Labour as a Leave party, there was a narrow majority for the Tories, Brexit Party and UKIP in combination.  The Lib Dems were able to come through because the minority Remain vote was united and the majority Leave vote was badly split.

* The narrowness of the result means that it's pretty likely that the Tories would have held on if a) Boris Johnson had become Prime Minister before the postal ballots went out, or b) the Brexit Party hadn't put up a candidate.  It's also quite conceivable that the Lib Dems would have fallen short if it hadn't been for the unprecedented decision of Plaid Cymru to stand aside in their favour.  Many Plaid members must be privately wondering whether that was a wise tactical move.  The leadership may have thought that the Lib Dems were going to win anyway, so it was best to get a share of the credit...but now that it looks like Plaid may have swung the balance, there could be some regrets if considerable momentum is generated for the Lib Dems in Wales.  But who knows, maybe the Lib Dems will act honourably for once in their lives and return the favour in constituencies where Plaid are the strongest Remain party.

* The real victor tonight was the Welsh language.  Although Brecon and Radnorshire is very much in the more Anglicised part of Wales (hence Plaid's relative weakness in the constituency), the result was intended to be announced in both Welsh and English, but in the case of the main candidates, the returning officer only read out the numbers in Welsh and forgot to give the English version.  The BBC and Sky well and truly got their comeuppance for covering a Welsh by-election without thinking to have a Welsh speaker on hand, because they literally didn't know what the result was for several minutes after it was announced.  A far cry from the Welsh devolution referendum of 1997, when the BBC results programme was presented by a young Huw Edwards, who in one or two cases translated the results from Welsh in real time so that viewers would know them a few seconds early.

* As was widely trailed, the Tory/DUP majority in the House of Commons has been technically reduced to just 1, although in practice it's slightly higher than that because Charlie Elphicke remains a Tory MP in all but name.  The majority will also revert to being 2 temporarily if Jared O'Mara sticks to his plan to resign his seat after the summer recess.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On Robertson v McAlpine

I've just been catching up with the indirect war of words the other day between Fiona Robertson (the SNP's highly controversial Women's and Equalities Convener) and Joan McAlpine (SNP MSP for South of Scotland).  It was a reminder that, although I'm a lot closer to McAlpine's views on the self-ID issue than to Robertson's, this debate has essentially become a fight to the death between two different currents of radical identity politics that both I and the vast majority of the population aren't actually signed up to: radical feminism on one side, and radical trans activism on the other.  It's noticeable that almost everyone opposed to self-ID, even if they're the last person in the world you'd think of as a radical feminist, adopts the language of radical feminism when talking about the issue.  It's as if no-one is comfortable addressing the issue from any other angle whatsoever, and of course Fiona Robertson and her fellow travellers would probably tell you that's because many people are merely using feminism as a figleaf to cover up their "transphobia".  (Certainly not a view that I share.)

The dispute between Robertson and McAlpine was over the now-notorious case of Jessica Yaniv, a trans woman in Canada who demanded that women should perform an intimate waxing on her, even though she is anatomically male.  Although this episode is hugely problematic for Robertson, because it bears out many of the fears over self-ID that she has insisted are completely unfounded, she nevertheless offered a degree of support to Yaniv by suggesting it would still be wrong to "misgender her", and that Yaniv should be regarded as a "female predator" rather than a male predator.  To support this rather unconvincing view, she placed Yaniv's actions within the context of broader female predatory behaviour, which she claimed often involves women using their femininity to access victims.  That infuriated McAlpine, who as a radical feminist regards predatory sexual behaviour as something that men do to women.  The irony is that Robertson agrees with her on that point - as an all-round identity politics obsessive, nobody is more passionate than Robertson about preaching the gospel that one gender is still oppressed in a one-way direction by the other.  It just goes to demonstrate that the ideology of radical trans activists is so Orwellian that it leads its proponents inexorably into saying things that are the polar opposite of what they actually believe.  Because self-identifying trans women are women, that means Yaniv must be a woman, no ifs, no buts, and that she therefore must be a female predator, and that female predatory behaviour must therefore be a thing, even though Robertson's own radical feminist worldview would normally tell her that it can't possibly be.

McAlpine's brand of feminism is more impressive than Robertson's because it's logically consistent.  But I still winced when I saw some of the specific arguments that McAlpine deployed against Robertson: for example, the claim that 98% of sexual assaults are committed by men.  I would recommend that everyone reads this recent BBC article about male victims of serious and violent sexual assaults committed by women, and the reactions they received when they spoke out about their experiences.  One was told by a police officer that "you must have enjoyed it or you'd have reported it sooner".  It's very difficult, and arguably impossible, to compile accurate and meaningful statistics when male victims know they won't be believed if they come forward.  Exactly the same problem exists with domestic violence.  It almost certainly is the case that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women, and that the problem can therefore be regarded as "gendered" (in exactly the same way that many disadvantages of being male, such as significantly lower life expectancy and a higher suicide risk, can be regarded as gendered).  But there's a very big difference between saying that men are mostly the cause of a problem, and saying that they are more or less exclusively the cause of a problem.  Facts matter and truth matters - and if we know there may be gaps in our knowledge of the facts, that matters as well.  I was also uncomfortable with McAlpine telling Robertson that she "sounded like a men's rights activist".  That's exactly what was once said to me by a certain actor (when he took a rare break from bragging about his desire to thump his political opponents).  I regarded it as a lazy cop-out then and I regard it as a lazy cop-out now.  An argument stands or falls on its own merits, not on whether it "sounds like something X or Y would say".

But, at the end of the day, you don't need to agree with every aspect of McAlpine's reasoning to accept that she's reached the correct basic conclusion.  You don't need to believe that the ideology of trans activists is some sort of  'conspiracy of the patriarchy' (a somewhat paranoid view if ever there was one) to agree that there are safety issues in allowing anyone to access female-only spaces at will, or that women's sport will be devalued by the participation of biological males, or that statistics on crime will become even less meaningful if they are unable to distinguish accurately between male and female perpetrators.  These points are really just plain common sense, which is why they are the centre of gravity in wider public opinion, and not just in radical feminist circles.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Plaid Cymru make history by TAKING THE LEAD in a Welsh poll for the first time ever

Today's much-hyped Welsh poll from YouGov didn't disappoint: it shows Plaid Cymru taking the lead for the first time, and they've done it on both the constituency and the regional list ballots.  That said, as you can see from the percentage changes below, they weren't far off the lead in the previous poll, so perhaps the fact that this historic moment has arrived shouldn't be such a surprise.  In fact, on the regional list vote it's the Brexit Party they've overtaken and not Labour!

Welsh Assembly constituency ballot:

Plaid Cymru 24% (n/c)
Labour 21% (-4)
Brexit Party 19% (+2)
Conservatives 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+3)

Welsh Assembly regional list ballot:

Plaid Cymru 23% (+1)
Labour 19% (-2)
Conservatives 18% (+6)
Brexit Party 17% (-6)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+5)
Greens 4% (-4)

Although the Welsh Assembly uses the same Additional Member System that we use to elect the Scottish Parliament, the ratio between constituency and list members is slanted much more towards constituency members, and that of course was done deliberately by Labour to make the system less proportional and to give themselves more seats than they would otherwise be entitled to.  It's certainly doing the trick in this instance: the seats projection shows that Labour would remain the biggest party despite losing the popular vote.  However, they would only have a little more than a quarter of the seats, leaving Plaid Cymru with scope to lead a coalition that freezes out Labour.  On past form, though, Adam Price might actually prefer a coalition with Labour, which would leave Plaid as the junior partner in a government still led by Mark Drakeford.

Predictably, London commentators (and Duncan Hothersall) are missing the point entirely by focussing on the Westminster results from the poll, which show a narrow Tory lead.  As I pointed out last night, that isn't actually unprecedented - the Tories have led in Wales before, and as it's a slim lead it wouldn't be surprising if it disappears once the Boris honeymoon is over.

*  *  *

I want to say something about all the chatter on social media (and indeed in the comments section of this blog) about how Jo Swinson will "have to look for an English seat" because she's "on course to lose East Dunbartonshire".  I really do think this is making us look a bit silly.  Jo Swinson will not be looking for a new seat in England or anywhere else for the simple reason that she already has a safe one.  Yes, I know that the SNP won it in 2015, but there are three crucial differences between then and now: 1) the SNP were on an insanely high 50% of the national vote, 2) the Lib Dems were at a historically low ebb, and 3) Swinson didn't have the traditional leader's bonus that she can now expect.  Even with all those factors working against the Lib Dems in 2015, they only lost the seat very narrowly.

I'm sure the SNP will throw the kitchen sink at East Dunbartonshire when the election is called, but that will not really be with a view to winning the seat.  They'll be looking for a respectable result in a high profile contest, and to demonstrate that even the constituency of the Lib Dem leader is not a no go area.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Memo to Boris Johnson: "awesome foursome" doesn't actually rhyme properly in Scottish and Northern Irish accents

Just to return briefly to the subject of Boris Johnson's bizarre appointment of the MP for Worcester as a junior minister in the Scotland Office, I think we can gain a little sense of the warped thinking behind the decision in Robin Walker's own tweet about it.

"A huge honour to be made Minister for the union working with @BorisJohnson @ScotSecofState & @NIOgov - our precious union deserves to thrive through brexit & beyond. I will work with colleagues all across the UK to ensure that it does"

So he's not describing himself as a Scotland Office Minister or a Northern Ireland Office Minister, but rather pompously as "Minister for the Union" (which is supposed to be Johnson's own new title, as it happens).  You can imagine the conversation: "Here's a wonderful way to bring together all the parts of our precious, precious union.  Let's merge a junior post at the Scotland and Northern Ireland Offices and give it to someone who represents one of the other nations of our glorious United Kingdom."  They probably barely even noticed that the actual optics of that wheeze was to install an English MP as a colonial Deputy Governor-General of both Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Two servings of imperialism for the price of one.  Maybe they'd have got on a little better if they'd tried a Welsh MP instead.  We could have done a completely fair swap and put Ross Thomson in the Wales Office.

Incidentally, the magnificent irony of Boris Johnson's characterisation of the four nations of the UK as the "awesome foursome" is that the rhyme doesn't actually work properly in Scottish or Northern Ireland accents.  Most English and Welsh accents are non-rhotic, meaning that the letter 'r' is effectively silent in certain circumstances, and the word 'foursome' is pronounced 'fawsome'.  But Scottish and Northern Irish accents are rhotic (unless your name is Alister Jack) meaning that the 'r' is fully pronounced.  Absolutely everything about this new government is dripping in unthinking Anglocentricity - its vocabulary, its jokes, its gimmicks, its colonial appointments, and its dogmatic obsession with forcing through a No Deal Brexit against the democratically-expressed wishes of the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

*  *  *

There's a new article by Alasdair Soussi on the Al Jazeera website in which I'm quoted a few times - it's titled 'Could Boris Johnson be the UK's last Prime Minister?', and you can read it HERE.

*  *  *

Marcia has provided figures from the first YouGov Scottish subsample since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, and on the face of it they're exceptionally good news for the SNP, and disappointing for Jo Swinson.  However, I'm going to ca' canny just for the moment, because I can't actually see any sign of the datasets yet.  (I may just be looking in the wrong place - the YouGov website is getting less user-friendly with every passing year.)

*  *  *

Professor Roger Awan-Scully is known to millions as "the John Curtice of Wales" (well, that's how he's known to me, anyway) and he posted this tantalising tweet a few hours ago...

"A new Welsh Political Barometer poll by @YouGov will be published tomorrow by @ITVWales

The results go well beyond ‘gosh’ territory, or even ‘blimey’: by some way the most dramatic poll I have ever analysed.

And in some respects a genuinely historic poll for Welsh politics."

Given the Boris bounce that we saw in GB-wide polls last night, you'd be forgiven for thinking that he's hinting at a Tory lead.  But the thing is that the Tories have been in the lead in Welsh polls before, so in itself that wouldn't qualify as "the most dramatic".  So I'm wondering if we'll be looking at either an outright lead for Plaid Cymru, or Labour slipping to third place.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Many thanks to Anon in the comments section below for providing the YouGov datasets, which confirm the subsample figures that Marcia gave us earlier...

SNP 47%, Conservatives 21%, Liberal Democrats 12%, Labour 11%, Brexit Party 5%, Greens 3%, Plaid Cymru 1%

This is the second YouGov subsample since Boris Johnson became Tory leader, but the first since he became Prime Minister.  That's a crucial distinction, because in GB-wide polls the Boris Bounce only occurred after Theresa May actually left Downing Street.  And sure enough, the Tory surge appears to have been replicated in Scotland - but not at the expense of the SNP, who are in an even more commanding position than usual.  What that would mean in Tory-SNP marginal seats is anyone's guess.

You wouldn't have expected the SNP to suffer directly from a Tory surge in any case - the greater concern would have been SNP voters drifting off to the Lib Dems.  That doesn't appear to be happening at all, although I remain of the view that Jo Swinson could yet be a small-to-medium-sized problem for the SNP.  People haven't really got to know her yet, but they will do courtesy of blanket coverage during the campaign proper, and that could be the danger point.

In case you're wondering why 1% of the Scottish subsample are backing Plaid Cymru, that's just one of the oddities that's sometimes thrown up by GB-wide polling.  It may be Welsh people living in Scotland temporarily, or it may even be people who selected the wrong option by mistake.