Friday, September 13, 2019

SNP break through 50% barrier in sparkling subsample from YouGov

The Scottish subsample in the latest GB-wide YouGov poll is worthy of note, because it's the first time that I can remember for a very long time that the SNP have been above 50% in a YouGov subsample.

SNP 52%, Conservatives 19%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Labour 8%, Brexit Party 7%, Greens 3%

Of course it's extremely unlikely that the SNP are really on 52%.  Assuming that YouGov still structure their Scottish subsamples correctly, the margin of error would be in the region of 8%, so the true vote share for the SNP could easily be something like 44% - a much more plausible figure.  But nevertheless the SNP wouldn't be getting results like this, even as a freakish one-off, unless their vote was holding up exceptionally well.  They'll take particular heart from the underwhelming showing for the Lib Dems and the disastrous showing for Labour.  There's no scenario in which the wheels can truly come off for the SNP (by which I mean that they would do worse than 2017 and fail to take a majority of Scottish seats) without there being a pro-Labour swing.  As things stand, it looks like Labour are going to have to make up huge ground over the course of the campaign just to get anywhere close to being back to where they were two years ago.  Nothing is impossible, but it seems pretty unlikely that the SNP will be losing any seats to Labour this time.  Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are polling lower in Scotland than in any other part of GB, in spite of having a shiny new Scottish leader.

*  *  *

You may have seen the comments by Tory rebel Oliver Letwin suggesting that there is now a majority in the Commons for holding a second EU referendum before the general election, which he thinks could be delayed until next year.  I'd suggest this should be taken with a pinch of salt, because we've heard confident claims many times in the past about the inevitability of a second referendum, but whenever it's been put to the test parliament has voted against the idea.  One major obstacle is surely that the Labour leadership want any referendum to take place after the election.

But let's suppose for the sake of argument that Letwin is right and that a Referendum Bill is passed in this current parliament.  What does Boris Johnson do then?  He can't strike legislation down by decree, but by the same token it would be unthinkable for him to allow the 31st October deadline to pass and a second referendum to take place on his watch.  That would be a humiliation that would surely finish him as leader of the Tory party.  Which leads me to an inescapable conclusion: he would preempt matters by submitting his resignation as Prime Minister.

And then what?  One of the stupid things about the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is that the resignation of a Prime Minister or government does not in itself set in train the 14-day deadline by which parliament will be dissolved unless an alternative government can win a confidence vote.  A dissolution can only occur if MPs vote to bring it about by one of two specific mechanisms.  If they choose not to do that, the current parliament continues and there has to be some sort of government.  By convention, the Queen is supposed to appoint a Prime Minister who can command a majority in the Commons, but even if no such person exists, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would effectively force her to appoint somebody anyway - she wouldn't be able to do the sensible thing and simply dissolve parliament with a view to finding a PM with a clear mandate.  If the Tory leadership have vacated the pitch, and if the Labour leadership continue to show no interest in Jo Swinson's ideas for a compromise PM, the Queen would presumably have to appoint the available person who is closer than any other to enjoying the confidence of the Commons, and that person would be Jeremy Corbyn.

So that might well be the last-ditch plan to overturn any Referendum Act that is passed.  Boris Johnson resigns, allows Jeremy Corbyn to become PM for a few days, and then seeks to bring him down by simple majority in a confidence vote - which would start the clock ticking for a general election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.  The Tories would then stand on a platform of scrapping plans for a second referendum.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

No, of course today's legal ruling isn't bad news for independence. Don't be silly.

I'm rather bemused to see a certain pro-independence website claim today that SNP politicians should never have taken legal action to challenge prorogation, because that supposedly harms the cause of independence.  This seems to be part of a thinly-disguised but none-too-subtle daily campaign to chip away at faith in the SNP: "The current pro-independence party isn't fit for purpose, so what on earth are we going to do about that, readers?  I'm blowed if I know.  What big teeth you've got, grandmother!"

I'm not a great believer in the scorched earth theory of politics, ie. the idea that if you actively contribute to making post-Brexit Britain a wasteland, independence will become inevitable.  There are two obvious flaws in that theory: 1) voters are likely to spot what you're doing, will probably think it's a touch irresponsible, and will be turned off from your political project as a result, and 2) whenever an indyref is held, the result is likely to be close, and none of us can guarantee that we won't actually end up living in that Brexit wasteland for an indefinite period.  I know the website in question takes the 'win or bust' approach to politics, but I don't subscribe to that either - responsible politicians always have to think about how we'd live to fight another day if Plan A doesn't work out.

In any case, the logic for believing that the ruling of the Court of Session makes independence less likely is thoroughly unsound.  The jury is out on whether this will give the impression that Scotland does after all "have influence in the UK", because that entirely depends on the view the UK Supreme Court takes on appeal.  I'd have thought it's pretty likely that the UK government's appeal will be upheld.  (Joanna Cherry takes the opposite view, but of course it's sensible for her to be as upbeat as possible to create a sense of momentum.)  I can't think of a better demonstration that Scotland is not an equal and influential partner in the Union than for the Supreme Court to strike down a ruling by an uppity Court of Session.

In the unlikely event that the Supreme Court upholds today's ruling and prorogation is nullified, I'm struggling to see how that would make Brexit - and thus the casus belli for Indyref 2 - any less likely to happen.  The whole point of prorogation was to prevent the opposition and Tory rebels passing a law designed to stop No Deal on 31st October, and that's already happened anyway.  I suppose it's possible that a sitting parliament might find it easier to force the publication of sensitive documents, or to give Jeremy Corbyn more flexibility in his options for seeking to bring the government down.  But that's all highly speculative.  My guess is that the overturning of prorogation would have huge symbolic significance, and huge long-term significance for UK constitutional law, but relatively limited practical significance in the here and now.

Lastly, the website claims it would be "astonishing" if a non-prorogued parliament actually chose to sit during the party conference season.  Astonishing or not, I'm extremely confident that's exactly what it would do in the light of the current crisis.  I don't think the conferences would necessarily be cancelled - MPs would just juggle them as best they could.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The next indyref question will not be Remain/Leave, because that would be based on a false premise

So our old friend "TSE", Deputy Editor of Stormfront Lite and the man who famously once made up a story about a family tragedy to avoid settling a private bet, thinks he's had another wizard idea.

"Perhaps this explains why Yes did so well in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. In any future Independence referendum the Unionists should ensure the question on the ballot paper is ‘Should Scotland remain a member of the United Kingdom?’ Yes or No."

It's no secret that some unionists are angling for something like that to happen, and Stephen Daisley has already gone into propagandist mode by taking it as read that their scheme will succeed - in his articles he casually refers to the No side in any future indyref as "the Remain side".  But to some extent they're whistling in the wind.  Whatever doubts there may be about the impartiality of the Electoral Commission (and for the first time I'm starting to share those doubts), the chances that a question based on a false premise will be endorsed are vanishingly small, and TSE's preferred question is undoubtedly based on a false premise. 

Scotland is not a "member" of the United Kingdom.  That is not a matter of interpretation, it's a matter of fact.  The UK is not an organisation with members in the way that the European Union is.  Notwithstanding devolution, the UK is a unitary state and the territory of Scotland is simply a part of it.  You cannot rescind membership that does not exist.

OK, you might say, surely TSE's question would work with a slight modification?  How about...

"Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom?  Yes or No."

Nope, that doesn't work either, because it doesn't tell you anything about what will happen if and when Scotland ceases to be part of the United Kingdom.  Does it become part of another existing state?  Does it become a Crown Dependency outside the UK like Guernsey?  Does it become a freely associated state like the Cook Islands?  Or does it become an independent country?  It's not clear from the question, and the one thing the Electoral Commission are bound to insist on is clarity.  Frustrating as it may be for the Daisleys of this world, a referendum question about independence will self-evidently have to actually mention the word 'independence' or 'independent'.

Which takes us back to the 2014 question - "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  Short, succinct, crystal-clear and understood by all.  The Electoral Commission suggested it for a very good reason, and they're going to need to dream up a very good excuse if they intend to muck about it with it.

YouGov poll shows support for holding an independence referendum has soared

So this is a sort of request post - a couple of people asked me to write about a detail in last week's full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov that perhaps didn't receive due attention.

In principle, do you think there should or should not be a referendum on Scottish independence at some point in the next five years?

Should be a referendum: 45% (+3)
Should not be a referendum: 44% (-4)

The choice of question may seem a tad odd given that the Scottish government are proposing to hold a referendum a lot earlier than five years from now, but the wording was used to maintain consistency with the question that's been asked for a couple of years.  That means we can make a direct comparison with previous results, and I've commented a number of times before on the odd results this question has tended to produced.  Even when Panelbase were suggesting the public were split right down the middle on whether there should be a referendum in as little as two years, the YouGov question was stubbornly producing a solid majority against a referendum within the next five years.  It wasn't immediately clear why that was happening, as the YouGov question isn't in any way leading, so the diverging results could only have been a 'house effect' caused by the composition of YouGov's panel, or by their sampling, or by their weightings.

But whatever the reason, the fact that there is now a slim pro-referendum majority (once Don't Knows are excluded) must be seen as highly significant.  According to the What Scotland Thinks archives, this is the sixth time the question has been asked since April 2017, and on four of the five previous occasions 51% or more of respondents were opposed to a referendum.  The narrowing of the anti-referendum lead to just six points in the last YouGov poll looked dramatic enough, but now that it's been wiped out completely, the question arises as to whether other polling firms that have previously shown an even division in public opinion would show a decisive pro-referendum majority if they released a poll now.  It doesn't necessarily work that way, but it's a logical possibility.

Of course the main independence question in the new YouGov poll showed a no change position - it was 49% Yes in the spring, and it's 49% Yes now.  I saw a few silly suggestions from unionist commentators (taking their cue from Willie Rennie) that this was a sign that Scottish voters are shying away from independence due to the current demonstration of the chaos caused by a constitutional upheaval.  The reality is that as the Brexit crisis deepened earlier this year, the Yes vote in YouGov polling jumped to an unusually high 49% - in recent years the normal range in YouGov polls has been between 43% and 45%.  And that 49% has been maintained in the new poll - the new converts to Yes don't seem to be developing cold feet.  The most that can be said is that Scots perhaps didn't find Brexit under Theresa May any more palatable a prospect than Brexit under Boris Johnson.  But the changes on the 'do you want a referendum?' question suggest that there may indeed have been post-Boris movements in public opinion beneath the surface that haven't fed through to the main independence question yet.  Sometimes supplementary questions do give you a better guide than voting intention questions (for example leadership ratings are sometimes better predictors of election results than standard party political polling).

Regardless of the majority in favour of a referendum, it's still not clear how a referendum will actually come about.  Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the obvious, so I don't think we should totally exclude the possibility that the SNP will secure the balance of power at the forthcoming general election, and will be able to win the concession of a Section 30 order as part of a deal to install a Labour-led government.  In the past, journalists have tended to assume that the SNP would have no real leverage in that scenario because they'd know they would pay too high a penalty for doing anything that might return the Tories to power.  But the electoral threat from Scottish Labour may now have receded to the point where the SNP won't feel they have much to lose from playing hardball with Labour in post-election negotiations.  And I'd suggest any future Section 30 order should permanently transfer the power to hold a referendum, rather than just for a time-limited period.

*  *  *

John Bercow's last stand against "not a usual" prorogation a couple of hours ago is surely destined to become the stuff of political folklore, but we're also seemingly heading towards something else that is highly unusual: a general election in November.  Since 1979, the practice has always been to hold elections somewhere between April and June, presumably to take advantage of longer days and better weather.  Snow isn't totally unheard of in November, and given this country's inability to cope with unusual weather, that could cause chaos.  For example, if an independence referendum had been held on St Andrew's Day 2010 as the SNP government had originally wished, it would have taken place on a day of heavy snow and severe traffic disruption.  The credibility of the result would probably have been called into question.

*  *  *

As expected, Stuart Campbell has topped off several days of abusive behaviour directed at this blog by blocking me on Twitter - which means I am now automatically on the notorious 'block-list' that he tries to persuade all his followers to use.  So please be aware of that if you're one of my followers on Twitter and if you wish to continue following me - using the block-list will lead to you blocking me without realising it (along with, I believe, another couple of thousand accounts, including some very surprising names that no indy supporter would want to block without good reason).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

It's unthinkable for any progressive party not to allow its members to elect the leader

There's just been a fascinating development in the Wings party saga.  Somebody asked Stuart Campbell whether it was true that he planned to have no involvement with the party (ie. he would be merely lending the Wings 'brand' to a group of candidates), and this was his reply -

"I'd have to be the leader, it's my party. As for being a candidate, not decided."

Remember the criticisms that were made of the Brexit Party when it was set up?  That Nigel Farage 'owned' the party in the same way that he might own a business?  That he had set himself up as leader-for-life and that there were literally no democratic means by which the members could ever replace him?  And indeed that there were no members at all, merely a fan club of 'supporters'?  And that the supporters had no say over policy, which was instead solely decided by one man?

It's surely unthinkable that any progressive, left-of-centre independence supporter would intentionally want to sign up to a party organised along those lines, but that appears to be exactly what Stuart is suggesting - he clearly sees the party as his own personal possession and will appoint himself leader for an indefinite period.  It's murderously hard to imagine the party having proper members with a democratic say over policy if they are to have no democratic say over who is leader.

Many potential Wings supporters are rightly concerned about the SNP's cautious managerialism and stifling of debate at conference.  But for my money they'll rue the day they swap all of that for the Il Duce principle.

The SNP may be largely insulated from the effects of a Tory/Brexit Party pact

Today brings the first dark whispers about the possibility of a Tory/Brexit Party electoral pact at the general election.  Would that change the equation?  Of course it would.  Until now nobody had seriously factored that possibility in, because until now it seemed utterly unthinkable.  But Dominic Cummings is a revolutionary at the heart of government, and he's attempting two simultaneous revolutions - most obviously he wants a Hard Brexit before the end of this year, but he also wants to remake the Conservative party as a populist, hard-right outfit, completely purged of its pro-European and "One Nation" (I use the term loosely) elements.  A party with Philip Hammond and Dominic Grieve in it was never going to climb into bed with Nigel Farage, but a party without them just might.  I think a huge amount is going to hinge on whether the calls to restore the Tory whip to the rebels become irresistible.  If Johnson rides it out, then the Tory internal revolution may be complete.  (The other news today that the Tories are planning to put up a candidate against John Bercow in Buckingham is another sign of the way the wind is blowing - that would also have been unthinkable before Cummings came on the scene.)

Now for the good news.  As you know, there was a YouGov poll the other day conducted exclusively in the constituencies currently held by the Scottish Conservatives, which suggested a complete Tory wipeout north of the border.  And, reassuringly, in the case of most of those projected SNP gains, a split in the pro-Brexit vote was not the decisive factor.  The Brexit Party recorded just 5% of the vote across all of the Tory seats, and if that vote was added to the Tory share, it would help the Tories rescue just two seats - Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale, and Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk.  There would also be a third seat, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, that would become a virtual dead heat.  But the SNP would still be firmly on course to gain the other ten Tory seats, which is scarcely bad going in the circumstances.

We know there's a potential pro-Brexit vote in Scotland of up to 38%, but that's not to say all of those voters are going to buy into an extreme, Faragist version of Brexit.  It looks like the Tories will require more than a pact with the Brexit Party to hold the bulk of their Scottish seats - they'll have to reach out to more moderate centre-right voters.  And, paradoxically, a pact with the Brexit Party and the whole Cummings Revolution that made a pact possible, is likely to drive those moderate voters away to the Lib Dems or in some cases even the SNP itself.

However, at UK level a united Leave vote up against a hopelessly divided Remain vote is obviously a recipe for a Hard Brexit government after the election.  I wonder if this might concentrate minds to such an extent that other previously unthinkable things start to be seriously considered - such as a Labour/Lib Dem pact, of either a formal or informal variety.

*  *  *

Scot Goes Pop link list:  Thank you for all the excellent nominations for the link list.  So far I've added Talking Up Scotland Two (by the legendary Professor John Robertson), Councillor Dick Cole (by the leader of Mebyon Kernow, no less) and Don Roberto and Me.  It looks like the latter isn't updated very frequently, but it's a highly intelligent blog, and who can resist learning more about the mysterious and fascinating Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, upon whose shoulders we all stand?  I'll probably be adding more blogs in coming days.  I tried to add Arc of Prosperity, but the feed couldn't be detected.

UPDATE : With a little help from Elisabeth, I've now located the Arc of Prosperity feed, so that's been added as well.  I'm still mulling over what might be the best Welsh blogs to add.