Saturday, September 7, 2019
The SNP may be right to ca' canny on bringing about a general election, if only for a very short while
Then there's the argument that it's not the SNP's business to block the democratic will of the people of England and Wales to leave the European Union. I think that has some merit, but it's also a bird that has well and truly flown. The time to choose that approach was in 2016 or 2017, and for better or worse the SNP are now fully committed to the twin-track strategy of trying to stop Brexit for the whole of the UK while simultaneously pushing for an independence referendum. It's pretty much impossible to turn back, and in any case the leadership are entitled to point out that the selected strategy appears to have borne fruit in opinion polls. It should also be remembered that a 'facilitate Brexit but only for England and Wales' stance would only have been much use if there had been a Westminster government open to making concessions in return for SNP cooperation, and that was never the case.
I suppose the pessimistic side of me does worry about passing up a chance to seize the moment when the stars seem so perfectly aligned for an SNP landslide victory right now, but the reality is that a month-long campaign would have been plenty of time for everything to fall apart if that's what is destined to happen. We know from a number of recent elections that public opinion can remain stable until the official campaign begins, but from that point onwards all bets are off.
Perhaps the biggest gamble that the SNP and other opposition parties are taking is in assuming that a later election will take place with Britain still being a member of the European Union. If Johnson, even as a lame duck PM, comes up with some sleight of hand to engineer a No Deal exit against parliament's wishes, or indeed if EU leaders like Macron hand him that outcome on a plate, the result of a post-No Deal general election will be impossible to predict. The only way of avoiding that leap in the dark is to replace the Johnson government with an emergency administration - but the obstacle to that is Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems, not the SNP.
Last but not least, the SNP don't actually have the numbers to bring about a mid-October election without Labour assistance, so from both a practical and presentational point of view, there was very little point in them being seen to try and fail to give Johnson the date he wants.
* * *
I was profoundly shocked to hear BBC News mislead their viewers last night by claiming that new Lib Dem recruit Luciana Berger had previously been sitting with the Independent Group for Change. In fact, although Ms Berger was a member of the Independent Group, which subsequently changed its name to Change UK, she left before it changed its name again to the Independent Group for Change. She was thereafter a member of The Independents, not of the Independent Group for Change.
Change UK: making Judean liberation splinter groups look united since February 2019.
Friday, September 6, 2019
Carlaw is crestfallen as YouGov polling suggests the Scottish Tories are heading for a COMPLETE WIPEOUT
It's very early days with this, because I'm not sure if this is just a subset of wider GB polling, and therefore I don't know if the sample size is credible. But there appears to be a YouGov poll confined to the seats currently held by the Scottish Tories, producing the following results...
Voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov, respondents in Scottish Conservative-held constituencies only):
Liberal Democrats 12%
Brexit Party 5%
On a uniform swing, that would mean the Tories being wiped out completely in Scotland, although the seats currently held by John Lamont and David Mundell would be virtual dead heats.
Does this contradict this week's full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov suggesting the Tories would, on a uniform swing, cling on to three seats? Not necessarily. The Tories outperformed their 2017 national result in the seats they gained, so it's entirely conceivable the pendulum could swing back the other way and they could underperform their national result in those seats this time. The Lib Dem vote also looks relatively modest considering we're talking mostly about rural seats, so perhaps some Lib Dem supporters are willing to vote tactically for the SNP to get the Tories out.
If I was a betting man, though, I'd still say the SNP have a mountain to climb in the two Borders seats. Everywhere else the prospects are reasonably rosy.
It's no secret that Stuart regularly lets himself down on social media - we've all seen it. But I think it's only really when you're directly on the receiving end of the abuse that you realise just how impossible it's going to be for this man to successfully launch a political career. An ordinary citizen, even a very high-profile blogger, can get away with things that the leader of a political party (and an aspirant Deputy First Minister, perhaps?) simply cannot. All that a half-competent journalist will have to do to discredit the Wings party in the eyes of voters is to read through Stuart's colourful tweet history...and it'll just go on and on and on. The only way that such a party could ever achieve a respectable vote would be on a sort of "Trumpian" basis, ie. by attracting voters who are indiscriminately angry at the world and want to find an abusive politician to vocalise that indiscriminate anger. I don't think any sensible person in the Yes movement should be following Stuart down that rabbit-hole.
Another more prosaic point that I don't think has received sufficient attention yet is that most political parties impose 'exclusivity' rules on their members. You might recall that in the aftermath of the indyref, many people tried to join both the SNP and Greens simultaneously, and had to be gently reminded that's against the rules. It's usually against the rules to even give active support to another party. I've already seen actual office bearers of the SNP at branch level expressing enthusiasm for the Wings party, and I'm not sure the penny has quite dropped for them yet that they could be making their own positions untenable in the long run. Does it matter if Wings supporters end up outside the SNP? I think it does, because the legitimate views held by Wings supporters (such as the desire for more urgency on independence, and gender critical views) need to be heard and fought for inside the SNP. If you want to end up with a careerist, devolutionist SNP government for the next twenty years, then the division caused by a Wings party could be the right way of going about it.
I know Wings supporters will respond to this post by saying "oooh, this is so booooring, James, give it a rest" (and I know they'll say that because I've heard little else for the last 24 hours). Stuart himself, while he was still engaging with me semi-politely, innocently protested that he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, because he wouldn't go ahead with the party if polling shows it won't get enough votes to win a significant number of seats. But the drumbeat of war emanating from both Wings the site and Wings the Twitter account is unmistakable, and I'll be honest with you - my very strong suspicion is that Stuart will at some point publish highly misleading Archie Stirling-style polling which will whip his supporters into an even greater frenzy and make the momentum towards a new party unstoppable. And then when the true picture of support for the party is revealed, it'll be far too late to halt the damage.
Incidentally, please note that if Stuart blocks me on Twitter (he may already have done that by now for all I know) I'll automatically go on his notorious "block-list" which he urges all his followers to use - something I can honestly say I never supported even when I was on good terms with him. So be aware that if you use the block list, you could well be blocking me without even realising it, along with the countless other good pro-indy people who Stuart has had random fallings-out with over the years. (The last time I checked, the likes of Kirsten Innes and Maurice Smith were on the list, which seems absolutely insane.)
* * *
And yes, before anyone says it, I know there are far more important things happening in politics this week of all weeks, and I'll be posting about some of those later tonight.
Thursday, September 5, 2019
High quality Scottish pro-independence blogs, ideally ones that are regularly updated
Maybe two or three high-quality pro-Plaid and/or pro-independence blogs from Wales
Maybe a pro-Mebyon Kernow or pro-autonomy blog from Cornwall
If you'd like me to link to your own site, I'm happy to consider that as long you add a reciprocal link, and as long as your site is good quality and doesn't contain any inappropriate content.
By the way, I know everyone's first suggestion will be Wee Ginger Dug, and I'd love to add that but I seem to run into a technical problem every time I do. I've just tried it again and a gigantic photo appeared taking up half the screen. The reason is that the blog list settings add a little snippet from the most recent post in each blog.
It goes without saying that I'd be only too happy to restore a reciprocal link to Wings at any time Stuart chooses, but it does take two to tango and at the moment he appears highly unlikely to have a change of heart.
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
I noticed earlier this afternoon that Stuart Campbell has removed Scot Goes Pop from the links list on Wings. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is an act of symbolic retaliation for the scepticism I've shown towards the idea of a Wings political party. For obvious reasons, I've now removed Wings from the link list on the desktop version of this site, after what I think must be around seven years or so. I'm sure that won't make a huge amount of difference to Stuart, but as a matter of principle I obviously don't want traffic to flow in one direction if a conscious decision has been taken to stop it flowing in the other direction.
I want to make clear that - at least as far as I'm concerned - this doesn't need to be, and shouldn't be, a new Berlin Wall in the Yes blogosphere. There's always been a large amount of overlap between the readerships of the two sites, and I see no reason why that shouldn't continue to be the case. Long-term readers will know that I've always been extremely supportive of Stuart, even when the self-appointed Yes establishment has been ranged against him. I have a particularly vivid memory of vociferously defending him in a tense face-to-face meeting with Mike Small and Angela Haggerty in early 2017. From Angela's reaction, I got the distinct impression that was the first time anyone had ever been brave enough to express some of those views to her in person, rather than on social media. So it will hopefully be plain to any fair-minded reader that there is no personal agenda of any type behind the criticisms I've made of the Wings party proposal. I've said that it's a foolish idea which risks costing us pro-indy seats at Holyrood for the simple reason that I genuinely believe that to be true. I've been absolutely consistent on this issue over the years, and it's Stuart that has done the 180 degree turn. I defy anyone to read his blogpost in 2016 stating that attempts to game the Holyrood voting system were a "mug's game", and then conclude that the views he expressed in it are remotely reconcilable with what he is saying now. The impossibility of gaming the system hasn't changed over the last three years - all that's changed is that he now sees his own beliefs on the trans issue, rather than radical left people in RISE and the Greens, as being the beneficiary of any 'tactical voting'.
I think there ought to be room for honest disagreement between people who are basically allies. Stuart appears to take a different view, and that's disappointing, but he'll have to make his own choices. In the meantime, Scot Goes Pop will be going nowhere, and you can always rely on me to independently call things the way I see them, without fear or favour.
First post-Boris Scottish poll puts the SNP on course for dramatic gains from both the Tories and Labour
Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov):
SNP 43% (n/c)
Conservatives 20% (n/c)
Labour 15% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+3)
Brexit Party 6% (+2)
Greens 4% (+1)
The seats projection suggests the SNP would take 51 seats (up 16), the Liberal Democrats 4 seats (no change), the Conservatives 3 seats (down 10) and Labour 1 seat (down 6).
On the face of it, there may appear to have been no change in public opinion since Theresa May was in office. However, the percentage changes listed above are from the last comparable poll in late April, when the Brexit Party surge hadn't quite reached its height yet. The reason things looked so desperate for the Scottish Tories just before May's departure is that Farage had eaten directly into their support in a way that the SNP hadn't been able to. It looks like the Boris effect has clawed back some of that ground, which is why the Tories are 'only' looking at ten losses, rather than eleven, twelve or the whole lot. Perhaps they might still be able to limit their losses further, but for that to happen they're going to need to squeeze Brexit Party support some more (or hope that Farage doesn't put up candidates in selected seats) and they'll also need to hope that the SNP lose ground to Labour and/or the Liberal Democrats, possibly due to some sort of Swinson bandwagon effect over the course of the campaign. But as things stand, the SNP are polling an impressive six points higher than the result they achieved in June 2017.
It has to be said that Scottish Labour appear to be staring down the barrel of a catastrophe, one that they might never recover from. Yes, they made a mini-comeback after being reduced to one seat in 2015, but on that occasion they had a much healthier 24% of the popular vote to use as a base to rebuild from. If they slump to anything like 15% of the vote, surely some of their remaining voters are going to start to wonder if the game is up this time. But they turned things around over the course of the short campaign in 2017, so we certainly shouldn't exclude the possibility that they'll do the same again. Their fate is probably in the hands of the London leadership - it's hard to imagine Richard Leonard spearheading much of a fightback.
There are also Holyrood voting intention numbers in the poll. Oddly, the summaries that have appeared on social media provide the constituency percentages and an overall seat projection, but not the regional list percentages. So until the datasets appear, we'll probably just have to surmise the list numbers from the seat projection.
Scottish Parliament voting intentions (constituency ballot):
SNP 45% (-1)
Conservatives 23% (+1)
Labour 13% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 12% (+5)
Brexit Party 3% (-1)
Greens 2% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 15
Brexit Party 3
Pro-independence seats: 74
Anti-independence seats: 55
PRO-INDEPENDENCE MAJORITY OF 19 SEATS
This is a very timely illustration of the point I've been making about the proposed Wings party, ie. that it's intended as a solution to a problem that doesn't actually exist. We have a pro-independence majority at the moment, and current polling suggests that we're on course to hold on to it - indeed that we could increase it substantially. The one and only thing missing from the YouGov seat projection is an outright majority for the SNP - they fall short by just one seat, and of course the only way of squeezing out that extra required seat would be to vote SNP. Voting for a smaller party wouldn't help.
I've been puzzled as to why Stuart Campbell is so convinced that the pro-indy majority is likely to be lost in 2021. Having spoken to him, it seems to be partly due to a misunderstanding of how the voting system translates votes into seats - he believes that if pro-independence parties have less than 50% of the vote between them, they can't win a majority of seats unless there's some kind of gaming of the system. That isn't true, and indeed you can see in this poll that there's a very comfortable pro-indy majority in spite of the fact that the SNP and Greens only have a combined 47% of the constituency vote. Although AMS is a proportional voting system, it's far from being perfectly proportional, and if the SNP remain dominant in the constituencies, it's entirely possible that a handsome Yes majority can be won on less than 50% of the vote, without any gaming at all.
Stuart also appears to be concerned that the Alex Salmond trial may turn voting intentions upside down before the Holyrood election takes place. All I can say is that there's lots of "what ifs" between now and May 2021, and the Salmond trial is only one of them. The closest thing to a precedent is the Jeremy Thorpe trial in 1979, which did have a negative impact on Liberal support, but not as big an impact as had been feared. And that was in spite of the fact that Thorpe was still actively involved in frontline Liberal politics in a way that Salmond is not currently involved in frontline SNP politics. Incredible though it may seem, Thorpe's trial was postponed specifically so he could stand as an official Liberal candidate in the 1979 general election, a factor which must have pulled down the party's national support. Mr Salmond, by contrast, is not currently even an SNP member, which may help to minimise any fallout. But time will tell, and none of us have a crystal ball - not about the Alex Salmond trial, and not about the economic impact of Brexit, which is more likely to work in the SNP's favour.
You might remember that when the Ashcroft poll a few weeks ago showed a slim majority in favour of independence, I pointed out that there was no earlier Ashcroft poll to compare it to, and that we therefore didn't know whether there had been a very recent boost for Yes caused by the advent of Boris Johnson and the rising chances of No Deal, or whether regular polling by Ashcroft would have shown much the same picture during the closing months of Theresa May's tenure. The new YouGov poll gives the impression that the latter is more likely to be true, because public opinion on independence appears to be unchanged since April.
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 49% (n/c)
No 51% (n/c)
In some ways that's a good thing, because it suggests the boost for Yes reported by Ashcroft isn't a transitory bounce caused by a new PM, but instead has been with us for months and has been sustained. 49% for Yes remains well above the 'normal range' of 43-45% that YouGov reported throughout 2017 and 2018. As I always point out, Panelbase and YouGov are both on the No-friendly end of the spectrum, so if YouGov are showing 49%, it's perfectly possible that another pollster (like Ipsos-Mori or Survation) might show 51% or 52%.
At the end of the day, YouGov and Ashcroft are essentially reporting the same thing: that the public are split down the middle on independence, and that the race is a statistical tie, ie. it's impossible to know who is really ahead due to the margin of error.
Ken Clarke: Longest serving member of the House of Commons, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, minister in the governments of Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron, candidate in multiple Conservative leadership elections
Philip Hammond: Chancellor of the Exchequer as recently as July
Rory Stewart: International Development Secretary as recently as July, one of Boris Johnson's fellow candidates in this summer's leadership election, pride of "The Middleland"
David Gauke: Justice Secretary as recently as July
Ed Vaizey: Culture Secretary for six years
Justine Greening: Education Secretary for two years
Dominic Grieve: Attorney-General for four years
Comparisons are being made with the nine 'whipless wonders' who John Major stripped the whip from after a Maastricht rebellion, but really there is no comparison at all: those were a collection of oddbods who (with the exception of Teddy Taylor) had never got anywhere near high office. I can't believe the purpose of this draconian action was to produce a deterrent effect either before or after the event, because it must have been obvious that was never going to work. So I suspect the rebellion tonight was used as a pretext for squaring a circle that I was never sure could be squared - ie. how could Boris Johnson fight an election on a No Deal platform with the likes of Dominic Grieve standing under Tory colours. But if purifying the Tory candidate base was the real aim, that must mean that Johnson and Cummings have been committed to an autumn election for some time, because they've just moved past the point of no return. No matter what happens in the votes tomorrow, the parliamentary arithmetic can quite simply no longer sustain a Tory government this side of an election.
Incidentally, it's not strictly true to say that the government have just lost their majority, because they've actually been a minority government since June 2017. I've been as guilty of a loose use of language as anyone else. A confidence and supply deal is not the same thing as a coalition - the DUP remained outside the government and were not committed to following the government whip on all votes. But what was previously a minority government that commanded the confidence of the House is now clearly a very different beast.
Tuesday, September 3, 2019
Welcome to the 3rd of September 2019, which as it happens is the 80th anniversary of Britain and France declaring war on Nazi Germany, but also seems certain to be remembered in its own right as one of the most important days in modern British political history, perhaps on a par with 28th March 1979 (when the Callaghan government was toppled in a no confidence vote), or 22nd November 1990 (when Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign). What isn't yet clear is exactly how today will be important, but then if we knew what was going to happen in advance, it wouldn't be such a historical crossroads.
It's possible, but unlikely, that the government's threats and browbeating may pay off, and that the Tory rebellion will be minimised to such an extent that a No Deal Brexit becomes virtually inevitable by the end of the day. There would still be the opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn to table a motion of no confidence later in the week, but there's no reason to think that would succeed where the legislative path failed.
On the other hand, if the rebels succeed today, a pre-Brexit general election on 14th October will be on the cards, although not before another putting to the test of Mike Smithson's theory that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act makes early elections practically impossible. If he's proved wrong about that twice in the space of two years, I'll try very hard not to laugh.
Given that we don't know who would win a snap election, it's very difficult to assess the significance of one being called. I'm unconvinced by the polls showing a handsome Tory lead - 30% of the vote is not usually a winning position, and it's only enough for a lead at the moment because of the strange way in which the opposition vote is split. The electorate is more volatile than ever, and there'll be plenty of time during the campaign for the Remain vote to coalesce in a much more effective way. In normal circumstances tactical voting websites have only a minimal effect, but I suspect this time a large fraction of the population will have one question on their minds: how do I cast my vote in this constituency to prevent No Deal? Everything will be up for grabs once minds start to focus.
Only one thing seems reasonably sure: this is the day the Tory/DUP majority in the Commons will finally be wiped out. If the government are true to their word, a large number of Tory MPs will lose the whip today, irrespective of whether the rebellion is large enough to actually win the vote. Boris Johnson's democratic authority for holding the office he does, even over the few weeks needed to hold a general election, will instantly go from being tenuous to non-existent.
Monday, September 2, 2019
A full-blooded pro-independence campaign will ensure that committed Yessers do not sit this one out, and it will also mean that there'll be no alibi for the unionist parties if the SNP get a good result - they won't be able to say it wasn't really about independence. Of course there's a danger it could go the other way if the SNP don't get a good result, but sometimes you have to take a calculated risk when circumstances look particularly favourable, and they certainly do right now.
* * *
My jaw dropped to the floor a couple of hours ago when I saw Gavin Barrie on Twitter claim that he had done modelling that showed the worst-case scenario if the Wings party goes ahead is that the SNP would lose two list seats and the Wings party would gain sixteen seats. He also said that the best-case scenario is that the Wings party would take thirty-two seats, and that there is "no downside".
I'll save you the trouble of getting your calculator out. There is no modelling that can prove that sixteen seats is the worst-case scenario, because that self-evidently isn't true. The actual worst-case scenario (and also the most likely one) is that the Wings party will take no seats at all, which means that any votes it takes on the list will make it harder for the SNP (and indeed the Greens) to take list seats, and therefore easier for unionist parties to take list seats. That's not necessarily to say that the Wings party would gift the unionist parties bonus seats, but there's a very real risk of that. I gave a hypothetical example in the comments section the other week to illustrate how it could happen, and I'll repeat it here for anyone who missed it.
Scenario A (without Wings party):
Constituency vote -
Liberal Democrats 9%
Regional list vote -
Liberal Democrats 5%
Brexit Party 4%
Liberal Democrats 5
Pro-indy seats: 63
Anti-indy seats: 66
Scenario B (with Wings taking 3% of the list vote away from the SNP):
Constituency vote -
Liberal Democrats 9%
Regional list vote -
Liberal Democrats 5%
Brexit Party 4%
Liberal Democrats 5
Pro-indy seats: 61
Anti-indy seats: 68
As you can see, with the Wings party intervention there are two more unionist seats than there otherwise would be, and the Tories and Labour are the beneficiaries. That's just one example of the many that are possible, and it's what Nicola Sturgeon was getting at this morning when she said that people who tried to game the Holyrood voting system could end up achieving the exact opposite of what they wanted. They'd think they were voting "tactically" to increase the number of pro-indy MSPs, but they could actually be reducing the number of pro-indy MSPs, and in the real worst-case scenario could even cost us the pro-indy majority.