Friday, September 27, 2019

An alternative government without Corbyn is a non-starter

So Nicola Sturgeon today repeated her hint of a few weeks ago that the SNP would be prepared to install Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister on a temporary basis to prevent a No Deal Brexit.  Of course SNP, Plaid and Green support wouldn't be quite enough to give Corbyn a majority - he would also need the Lib Dems and at least some of the ex-Labour or ex-Tory independents.  But the intriguing thing from a constitutional point of view is that he wouldn't actually need to win a majority in a parliamentary vote before becoming Prime Minister - the Queen could appoint him and see if it works out, which is essentially what she did with Boris Johnson.  What circumstances she would do that in are unclear, but if Johnson was to lose a vote of no confidence, SNP support could leave Corbyn as the only game in town.

On the other hand, if Jo Swinson does prove able to block a Corbyn premiership, history may not be kind to her, especially if a No Deal Brexit is the outcome.  What I truly don't understand is why her focus is on keeping Corbyn out rather than getting herself back into government in a senior position.  If the SNP decide to support a Corbyn-led government from the outside, Swinson would even have a claim to be Deputy Prime Minister, as long as she could accept Corbyn as PM.  That's how governments of national unity work - not by exclusion, but by inclusion.  Intra-party "dream tickets" work on a similar basis - for example, Kinnock/Hattersley or Blair/Prescott.

Another possibility would be the model briefly tried (not terribly successfully) in Germany in the late 1990s, whereby Corbyn would remain Labour leader and would hold a very senior position in government (such as Chancellor), while someone else becomes figurehead Prime Minister with his blessing.  But really, any temporary government in which Corbyn is not the dominant player is a non-starter, and if the Lib Dems are remotely serious about stopping Brexit, it's about time they woke up to that.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Christ on a bicycle: how to avoid newbie mistakes on the Holyrood voting system

Believe it or not, I'm still receiving a steady stream of messages and comments from people who are convinced they are world-leading experts on the Holyrood voting system, and who want to "explain" to me some mistakes I've supposedly made in my recent posts.  The super-confident cluelessness of some of these people is quite entertaining in a way, but I'm becoming concerned that casual readers of the comments section may be misled by that confidence, so I'm going to set a few of the dafter misconceptions straight.

"Christ on a bicycle, what are you saying here?  How can you dispute that a party with 3% of the list vote would take 4 seats?  AMS is a proportional voting system and 4 seats is 3% of 129.  Stop being an idiot, James."

I can dispute it very easily, because under the Holyrood system seats are not distributed proportionally on a national basis.  Scotland is split into eight regions, each with between fifteen and seventeen seats.  That means, unless something weird happens, that it's very unlikely a party would take a seat in any region with less than 5% of the list vote.  Conceivably a party with 3% of the national vote might nick a seat or two if they do better in certain regions than in others - but the most likely outcome is that they would take zero seats.

"Christ on a bicycle, what are you saying here?  How can you produce a hypothetical example of a Holyrood result where the list vote of the parties only adds up to 96%?  All list votes count under AMS.  Stop being an idiot, James."

I can do that because I'm taking into account the obvious fact that there will be a number of minor parties and independents on the list ballot, which in combination will take a non-trivial share of the vote.  Indeed, any hypothetical example that doesn't take account of that point is flawed, although exactly what share of the vote minor parties will take can only be speculative.  Incidentally, it's doubtful whether it can truly be said that "all list votes count under AMS" - to all intents and purposes votes for very small parties don't really count towards the seat allocation, and that means larger parties can sometimes win slightly more seats than they otherwise would on any given share of the vote.

"Christ on a bicycle, what are you saying here?  How can you claim that the SNP can win significantly more seats than their share of the list ballot?  AMS is a proportional system.  Stop being an idiot, James."

I can say that because of a little something called constituency seats.  If the largest party takes all or nearly all of the constituency seats in a region, there won't be enough list seats to fully compensate the other parties and make the overall result proportional.  There are multiple examples of that scenario occurring in past Holyrood elections.

"Christ on a bicycle, what are you saying here?  How can you produce a hypothetical example where the SNP take an average of 6.5 seats per region on 29% of the list vote?  That list vote only entitles the SNP to two seats per region, which requires there to be 4.5 SNP constituency seats per region, and if they win that many they'd be over their 'quota' and wouldn't take any list seats anyway.  Stop being an idiot, James."

A lot of that one is utter gibberish, but instead of trying to disentangle it, I'll just make this really simple.  There is no 'cap' of 4.5 constituency seats per region - that would be an arithmetically impossible cap to enforce anyway.  A party can win as many as 73 constituency seats nationwide, regardless of how high or low their share of the list vote is - and that's an average of 9.1 seats per region, not 6.5.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Who needs a criminal underworld when we have Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Privy Council?

So just a few quick thoughts on today's extraordinary events.  I said after the initial Court of Session verdict that in the event that it was upheld by the Supreme Court, we didn't need to worry about Scotland suddenly being seen as an "influential partner in the United Kingdom", and so it has proved.  This is being reported as a Supreme Court decision and not a Court of Session decision, which in one sense is fair enough because the same effect could have been achieved even without the Scottish case - the Supreme Court could simply have upheld Gina Miller's appeal from the English court ruling.  It may be that the Scottish ruling emboldened the Supreme Court justices, but that can only be speculation.  I also said that if prorogation was lifted, it wouldn't remove the casus belli for an indyref by making Brexit, or a No Deal Brexit, any less likely, and that also seems to be correct.  For all the talk this afternoon of a vote of no confidence, few seem to expect it to go anywhere just yet.  An election is undoubtedly coming, but not until after the Halloween deadline.  Parliament played its strongest card in preventing a No Deal exit before prorogation even occurred, so it could be that the extra Commons sittings will be a lot of talk and no further action.  Perhaps the biggest significance of the ruling is that it will prevent a further suspension in the crucial closing weeks of October.

All the same, though, these judges are so irresponsible - how oh how are the government supposed to set out their much-needed domestic agenda without shutting down parliament for five weeks?  It's simply impossible.

And have the police sealed off the crime scene in Balmoral library yet?  We hardly need a criminal underworld when we have Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Privy Council.

It's showtime!

My phone battery is dying, but someone suggested the title to complete a trilogy, and I couldn't resist.  Regard this as an open thread on Boris Johnson, forever to be known as the Unlawful Proroguer.  Britain hasn't seen a political scandal quite like this since #pounds4mcdougallgate...

Monday, September 23, 2019

It's answer time!

One thing that baffled me about the reaction of Wings supporters to my rebuttal of Gavin Barrie's article the other day is that they seemed offended and outraged that I had dared to reply to a piece that ended by directly challenging me and others (ie. those that had taken issue with Mr Barrie's argument) to "make their case".  The whole thing has just got even more peculiar - because Mr Barrie posted on this blog tonight to tell me to "just stop", by which he appeared to mean that I should stop making the case he had challenged me to make.  Then, in another dramatic plot twist, he immediately deleted that comment and instead posted another one asking me even more questions about the subject he had just told me to shut up about.  He finished by demanding that I answer his questions, and addressed me as "matey boy", which admittedly is an exciting promotion from "dishonest c**t".

I'm more than happy to answer Mr Barrie's questions.

Question 1.  "So James, what does your own modelling of the Holyrood voting system indicate?"

Answer: My "modelling" strongly indicates (ie. this is accepted fact) that any small party that fails to gain around 5% of the vote in any electoral region is highly unlikely to take a seat in that region.  Any votes that such a party takes away from larger pro-indy parties will make it harder for those parties to win list seats, and could therefore reduce the overall level of pro-indy representation in the Scottish Parliament.  I would be very surprised if anyone else's "modelling" shows anything different, given that it's an inescapable statement of the obvious.

Question 2.  "Have you worked out the optimum number of constituency seats that would return the maximum regional seats and hence maximum SNP control of Holyrood?
Because, that might just mean, perhaps, we could do all of this without standing another party, but it would require a feasibility analysis and you know, a detailed voting model, from someone who understands the Holyrood voting mechanism, the likely voting patterns across regions based on historical analysis and a knowledge of demographic groups that live there...
I've done it. In your own time, matey boy."

Answer: No, I have not worked out the "optimum number of constituency seats" because a) it's incalculable without making some thoroughly dodgy assumptions (perish the thought that Mr Barrie would make any of those), b) it weirdly implies that winning more than the 'optimum' would somehow reduce the overall level of SNP representation, which is arithmetically impossible, and c) it's not actually an interesting or helpful question anyway, except to someone who believes that it's possible to achieve a set number of constituency seats by sheer force of will.  This is the whole problem with the Wings party wheeze - it's no more possible to click your fingers and get 57 or 63 or 69 SNP constituency seats than it is to click your fingers and get the fantastical percentage of the list vote for the Wings party that Mr Barrie was breezily taking as read in his article.

I'm also puzzled by Mr Barrie's comment that "perhaps, we could do all of this without standing another party".  What is "all of this"?  If he means winning a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, we already know we can "do all of this" without the help of a Wings party, because we've done it with a bit to spare in both of the last two elections, and as it happens opinion polls currently suggest we're on course to do it again next time.  If he means something over and above a majority, why would we need to do that, and more to the point, why would we take stupid risks in pursuit of something we don't actually need to do?

*  *  *

Polite notice: Any comments posted on this thread by Wings supporters saying "boooring", "yawn", "give it a rest", "get to f***, d***wad", etc, etc, etc, will be deleted.  Mr Barrie asked questions, demanded that I answer them, and I have done as he demanded.  Neither he nor anyone else can have any complaints about this post.