Friday, August 30, 2019

BOMBSHELL POLLING ANALYSIS: Average of YouGov's Scottish subsamples since Boris Johnson became PM puts SNP on course for SEVENTEEN GAINS, and the Scottish Tories on course for ELEVEN LOSSES

The frustration continues: for some reason, we still haven't had a full-scale poll of Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (or indeed for Holyrood) since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.  The change at the top has altered the trajectory of GB-wide polling, so it seems likely that the same will prove true in Scotland, but to what extent?

It's high time that we had a look at the next best thing to a full-scale poll.  YouGov announced a few years ago that they were starting to correctly structure and weight their Scottish subsamples for GB-wide polls, and it looks pretty likely from the relative stability of their figures that they've continued to do that ever since.  That doesn't mean that an individual Scottish subsample from YouGov can be treated as the equivalent of a full-scale poll - the margin of error on a correctly structured subsample of 150 or 200 is still much higher than the margin of error on a full sample of 1000 or 2000.  But averaging the figures over time can give you more meaningful results, and we're now in a position to do that, because there have been eight published YouGov subsamples with fieldwork that took place entirely after Mr Johnson entered Number 10.

YouGov Scottish subsample average since 24th July:

SNP 44.4%
Conservatives 19.3%
Liberal Democrats 12.8%
Labour 11.4%
Brexit Party 7.0%
Greens 4.0%

Westminster seat projection:

SNP 52 (+17)
Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c)
Conservatives 2 (-11)
Labour 1 (-6)

We shouldn't forget that, although the Tories have opened up a GB-wide lead, they haven't recovered to anything like the kind of levels of support that they had even a few months ago - they're still languishing in the low 30s, which normally wouldn't be enough to top the popular vote in a general election.  They're leading by default because their main opponents are polling at an unusually low level too.  In Scotland, it looks like they're not being so fortunate - yes, they've recovered a bit due to the Boris effect, but that's not doing them much good because their main opponent actually appears to be polling higher than in 2017.

The SNP are so far standing firm in the face of both the 'Boris bounce' and the 'Swinson surge' (the latter being a largely mythical thing anyway - the Lib Dem recovery preceded the change of leader).  I thought the result of the East Kilbride by-election last night was really interesting - Labour's vote slumped by eleven points, and it looked possible that a lot of those votes might have gone direct to the Lib Dems, who enjoyed a ten point boost.  The SNP seemed unaffected by the Lib Dem surge, and saw their own vote increase by four points.

OK, that's only one by-election and there may well have been local factors.  But if the Lib Dems start taking significant numbers of unionist/Remain votes away from Labour in seats that the Lib Dems can't possibly win in a million years, and if there is no substantial movement of votes from the SNP to the Lib Dems, the stars might just be aligning for a dramatic SNP landslide in terms of seats.

And who knows what effect Ruth Davidson's resignation will have on the above figures - if there are any moderate Scottish Tory voters left, they might start drifting off to the Lib Dems or somewhere else.

Two by-elections, two big swings to the SNP

As expected, the Shetland by-election proved to be just too big a mountain for the SNP to climb, but by any normal standards the swing in their favour was enormous.

Shetland parliamentary by-election result (29th August 2019):

Liberal Democrats 47.9% (-19.5)
SNP 32.3% (+9.3)
Independent - Thomson 10.9% (n/a)
Conservatives 3.7% (-0.1)
Greens 1.6% (n/a)
Labour 1.3% (-4.6)
Independent - Stout 1.1% (n/a)
Independent - Scott 0.6% (n/a)
UKIP 0.5% (n/a)
Independent - Tait 0.3% (n/a)

That's a swing of more than 14% from the Liberal Democrats to the SNP. If that had been the result of a by-election on the mainland, it would look like an unmitigated disaster for the Lib Dems and their new leader Jo Swinson, because if national polls are to be believed they should be closing the gap in seats they don't hold, and sailing out of sight in seats they do hold. They certainly shouldn't be seeing their vote slump in a previously rock-solid heartland. However, we've known since the European election in May that the Northern Isles were bucking the national trend for whatever reason, and we've always known that localised trends in island constituencies don't usually have any wider significance, so the Lib Dems will probably just feel relieved to get out of this with a win of some description. The SNP will also be pleased, though, at this demonstration that there aren't any no go areas for them in Scotland.

There have been some suggestions that the SNP's biggest failing in this campaign was in the realm of expectation management, ie. that they allowed the impression to take root that they might actually win Shetland outright, which now leaves the big swing in their favour looking like a disappointing result. But I think sometimes you have to build a sense of excitement about a campaign if you want a decent outcome. There's not going to be much of a bandwagon effect if people think your aim is a distant second place.

Oh, and it shouldn't go unmentioned that the Tories specifically said in their election leaflets that if voters wanted Brexit, their only option was to vote Tory.  So presumably this result means that 96.3% of Shetlanders don't want Brexit?

*  *  *

There was also a substantial swing to the SNP in a local council by-election in East Kilbride...

East Kilbride Central North by-election result (29th August 2019):

SNP 46.5% (+4.2)
Labour 20.3% (-11.3)
Conservatives 14.6% (-4.1)
Liberal Democrats 12.4% (+9.9)
Greens 4.5% (+0.6)
UKIP 1.4% (n/a)
Scottish Libertarians 0.4% (n/a)

It's worth bearing in mind that the above percentage changes are from the baseline of the 2017 local elections, when the SNP's national vote stood at 32%. So the SNP are not necessarily setting the heather alight with a 4% increase. But what really matters here is the catastrophic drop in the Labour vote - if that trend continues, the SNP will sweep the board wherever Labour are their main opponents in any snap Westminster election. There still appears to be every chance that Scottish Labour will once again by reduced to just one seat (Edinburgh South).

* * *

How can you tell the difference between a Westminster by-election and a local council by-election? The declaration of a Westminster by-election result is pretty much always broadcast live by the BBC, either on their news channel, or on BBC1, or on a simulcast between the two channels. By contrast, local council by-elections are for obvious reasons never covered live, and indeed are hardly ever mentioned on air after the event. Judging from the complete lack of live coverage of the Shetland result on BBC1, BBC2, the BBC news channel, the BBC Scotland channel and Radio Scotland, it appears that the BBC think that a Holyrood by-election is closer in nature to a council by-election than to a Westminster contest. It's not all that surprising to see London news editors stuck in the dark ages, taking the view that Holyrood is - in the immortal words of Tony Blair - comparable to an English parish council. But BBC Scotland have no excuse after twenty years of devolution, and it's a real dereliction of duty that they didn't broadcast some sort of live by-election special. On past form, it's highly likely they would have done if this had been a Westminster by-election in Scotland.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Scottish Tories locate their Ruth-less streak

So there have been two big developments in Scottish politics today (so far - the day is young!).  One is unalloyed good news for the SNP, the Yes movement, and humanity at large.  The other is not-so-good news, but nuanced.

Let's start with the good news - the departure of Colonel Ruth.  It's very hard to see how this is going to be anything but electorally harmful for the Tories, and therefore electorally beneficial for the SNP.  Her popularity was always wildly exaggerated by her adoring fans in the media, but nevertheless she did have personal ratings that were much healthier than you'd expect for the branch office leader of the most toxic London party.  As baffling as it may be to us, there's no doubt that she was a net asset for her party, and even if she's replaced by someone reasonably telegenic and likeable, it'll take a long while to build up that person's profile.

The alternative to her being replaced by someone telegenic and likeable is of course for her to be replaced by Adam Tomkins, and his decision about whether to stand will tell us a lot about the man.  He comes across as a fanatical British nationalist, so the million dollar question is: does he care more about that nationalist ideology than about his personal ambitions?  If so, you'd expect him not to stand, because he'd be clear-sighted enough to recognise that he'd be a voter-repellent and that he'd make "the partition of Britain" more likely to happen.  But if he does stand, we'll know he's in this game for personal advancement.

The not-so-good news today is the Labour leadership in London changing their position on a Section 30 order for the 749th time.  This was probably inevitable, because the Scottish and London leaderships of the party were always going to have to come up with some kind of agreed position they could just about unite behind in a coming general election.  The silver lining is that it's a genuine compromise, and the Scottish leadership have had to cede some ground as well - Richard Leonard is now accepting the possibility, however reluctantly, of a Section 30 order after a "fresh mandate".  (What's supposed to be wrong with the current mandate remains a mystery.)

The new position contains an obvious contradiction - we're told that a Section 30 order will be denied in the "formative years" of a Labour government but would be granted if there was a fresh mandate, which doesn't explain what will happen if the fresh mandate occurs during or before those formative years.  Remember that the next Holyrood election is still  theoretically scheduled to take place before the next Westminster election, and could easily be brought forward even further if Nicola Sturgeon decides to call Corbyn's bluff and get a new mandate quickly.  If she does go down that road, I'd suggest it's imperative that the SNP and Greens get together in a sort of pre-election 'summit' and agree a shared wording about independence and a referendum to put in both parties' manifestos, so that this time there can be no pedantic or semantic quibbles about the quality of a shared mandate.  In an ideal world, smaller pro-indy parties would also use the same manifesto wording, because although the SNP and Greens are the only pro-indy parties likely to win Holyrood seats, smaller parties may contribute to a popular vote mandate.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Yes, what happened today is a suspension of democracy, and the Queen may not be able to wash her hands of it for much longer

There was some discussion on the previous thread about whether today's announcement that parliament will soon be prorogued can appropriately be described as a "suspension of democracy", given that brief prorogations in preparation for a Queen's Speech are a normal part of the Westminster system.  But there is something (beyond the obvious cynicism of the timing) that makes this prorogation unusual.  James Cleverly noted today that it's absolutely routine for a "new government" to present a Queen's Speech - but if this is a new government (and it obviously is, given that its policy platform is a radical departure from what went before), who elected it?  No-one, unless you count the tiny percentage of the population who are card-carrying members of the Conservative party.  It hasn't received a direct mandate at a general election, and crucially it hasn't even received an indirect mandate from the elected parliament - it has yet to be tested in a confidence vote.  Incredible though it may seem, after a month it still hasn't been established that there is any democratic basis whatsoever for Boris Johnson to be our Prime Minister.  He owes his position simply to appointment by the unelected monarch on the advice of his predecessor.

The legitimacy of those who govern us during brief spells of prorogation derives from them enjoying the confidence of parliament - and in this case that legitimacy will be lacking, unless Jeremy Corbyn tables a vote of no confidence next week and loses it.  So, yes, I think it's entirely appropriate to characterise today's decision as a suspension of democracy.

Before the news officially came through that the Queen has approved Boris Johnson's prorogation request, this was my reaction on Twitter -

"Rather appropriate that the Queen is in Scotland as she receives the phone call asking her to suspend democracy. I wonder if she'll 'purr' down the line. I certainly hope she 'thinks very carefully' about her decision..."

Of course I was being slightly mischievous there, because I'm sure the Queen's advisers will have told her that she didn't really have a decision to make.  Convention dictates that she must accept a request for prorogation prior to a Queen's Speech.  However, there are other circumstances in which convention does still allow her some discretion, and we may be hurtling towards those circumstances.  ITV's political editor Robert Peston reported earlier that a government source had told him: "If MPs pass a no confidence vote next week, then we'll stay in No10, we won't recommend any alternative government we'll dissolve Parliament and have an election between 1-5 November -- and that means no time for legislation."  

If the government goes down that route of temporary, outright dictatorship, then the Queen can stop them.  She has the power to sack Boris Johnson as Prime Minister with immediate effect if she concludes that he no longer has the confidence of the House - and if he's just lost a vote of no confidence, such a conclusion would be a no-brainer.  Convention does not prevent her from taking action, and the modern precedents are clear.  In 1975, the Governor-General of Australia sacked the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and replaced him with the opposition leader.  The Governor-General exercises exactly the same powers on behalf of the Queen that she exercises on her own behalf in the United Kingdom.  And within her own reign, there's an example of her using her discretion on the selection of a Prime Minister - in 1963, she went ahead and appointed the Earl of Home as PM, ignoring advice from Harold Macmillan to wait until further soundings had been taken among Tory MPs.

My guess is that the Queen is so allergic to being seen to intervene in the political process (except to stop Scotland governing itself, obviously) that there isn't a cat in hell's chance of her using her power to eject an illegitimate Prime Minister.  But the problem for her is that the government will have put her in a position where she has no option but to make a political decision, one way or the other.  Doing nothing will in itself be a decision, and it'll make her the midwife of a No Deal Brexit.  That could be a catastrophic error that would destroy the monarchy's reputation among a whole generation of pro-EU citizens.