Saturday, November 9, 2019

Red faces for the Lib Dems as Panelbase poll finds Nicola Sturgeon is more popular than Jo Swinson ACROSS BRITAIN

Just a quick one, because I was amused by a little detail from the latest Britain-wide Panelbase poll, which is bang up to date because it was conducted between Wednesday and yesterday.  Respondents were asked to give their views on the leaders of the five largest parties (Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and Brexit Party).  As you'd expect given the diet of bile about the SNP that the right-wing press routinely serve up for their southern readers, Nicola Sturgeon's ratings are nothing to write home about.  24% think she's doing well, and 39% think she's doing badly, giving her a net approval rating of -15.  But that's still enough to slightly outperform Jo Swinson, who 22% think is doing well, and 39% think is doing badly, giving a net approval rating of -17.

If Ms Swinson is less popular even than a filthy Jock separatist, maybe she isn't quite the Messiah her party have been taking her for.

It goes without saying that Ms Sturgeon is also more popular throughout Britain than Jeremy Corbyn (who has a net approval rating of -39) and Nigel Farage (who has a net approval rating of -28).

Friday, November 8, 2019

It's official: the BBC have done a shameful deal with Boris Johnson - they get the ratings, he gets his rigged election

Watching Question Time from Glasgow last night, I thought it was striking that there was no question about the attempts by ITV and Sky to rig the leaders' election debates by excluding the SNP (and also the Liberal Democrats in ITV's case).  It's inconceivable that a Scottish audience wouldn't have submitted questions about such an urgent threat to the democratic process in this country, so the producers presumably didn't want the topic to be debated.  And now we can understand why.  The BBC have done exactly the same deal with Boris Johnson that ITV did, and given in to his demands that all major parties should be excluded apart from his own and Labour.  You can easily see what it's in it for both sides - Boris gets his rigged election, the BBC gets bumper ratings.  So now we can look forward to three rigged debates from all three broadcasters.

If you'd like to complain to the BBC, and I have a feeling you might, here's where to go.

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The first full-scale Scottish poll to be published since the start of the election campaign has arrived - but it's not what it appears, because the fieldwork is two weeks out of date.  But for what it's worth, here is what YouGov are saying the state of play was in late October...

SNP 42% (-1)
Conservatives 22% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 13% (+1)
Labour 12% (-3)
Brexit Party 6% (n/c)
Greens 4% (n/c)

ITV dig their own grave even deeper with a comically Anglocentric justification for their rigged leaders' debate

A few hours ago, a reader of this blog alerted me to the standard reply ITV have been sending out in response to the avalanche of complaints they've been receiving about their proposal for a rigged leaders' debate featuring only two of the parties in this multi-party democracy.  Pretty much everything in the reply seems calculated as a legalistic justification that they hope will prevent Ofcom and the courts ruling against them.  By far the weakest point they make is that the two parties represented in the debate are the only parties that have supplied Prime Ministers since the Second World War.  Frankly, I'm not sure the result of the 1951 general election should be considered terribly relevant in determining the line-up for a leaders' debate in 2019.

But this is the bit that really caught my eye -

"the two parties that were by far and away the two largest in the last Parliament...Parliament's official website gives the current state of parliamentary representation as; Conservatives 298, Labour 243, Liberal Democrats 20 (SNP 35)"

On what planet do you try to justify the exclusion of the third-largest party by reference to seat numbers, and then present those numbers in a format that implies that the fourth-largest party's 20 seats are somehow more important than the third-largest party's 35?  I mean, just how seriously can we take ITV's commitment to the cold hard logic of arithmetic if they think 20 is a bigger number than 35 when it suits them?  "Oh, those are only Jock seats, they don't really count!  Just put them in brackets as an afterthought."  If our country's future wasn't at stake, this would be hysterically funny - the broadcasters are so hopelessly caught in their Anglocentric trance that they honestly can't see how ridiculous they're making themselves look.

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Actually, there's been precious little comedy value in this election campaign so far, so thank heavens for Ian Smart's latest intervention.  He's written a characteristically barking mad blogpost about Scottish Tory election chances that has somehow managed to receive no fewer than two glowing media endorsements - one from Katy Balls in the Spectator, and the other from Henry Hill in ConHome.  Ian is of course chiefly known for a couple of things - a) being temporarily suspended from Labour for using racist language on social media, and b) his long-running and bats**t crazy conspiracy theory about Kezia Dugdale being planted inside the Scottish Labour party by the SNP as a long-term sleeper agent.  Normally conspiracy theorists who use racist language find themselves cast out to the margins of society, but for some reason nothing that Ian says or does ever seems to tarnish the media's faith in him as a credible pundit and insightful thinker.

Basically what he's saying this time is that the conventional wisdom about the election in Scotland is wrong, and that the Tories will gain seats from the SNP, rather than the other way around.  Now, actually, I wouldn't dismiss that idea out of hand.  If the rigged TV leaders' debates go ahead as planned, the SNP will not be fighting the Tories on a level-playing field, and it's therefore not impossible that the current state of play could be turned on its head over the next few weeks.  The equation is really pretty simple - the SNP had a national lead over the Tories of eight percentage points on polling day in 2017, and so if the Tories can turn things around sufficiently to leave themselves less then eight points behind, they're likely to gain seats rather than lose them.

But that isn't really the point that Ian is making - he thinks the polls are wrong and that the SNP were never in a position to make gains in the first place.  His reasoning, if we can call it that, is based on a string of factual inaccuracies and magical thinking.  First of all he claims that the Brexit Party's voters should really be considered Tory voters, because the Brexit Party won't be standing in "most places".  Surely he can't have slept through Nigel Farage's announcement that candidates will he put up across the board?

Then he suggests that the only four seats that the Tories stand to lose once the Brexit Party's votes are reallocated will mostly be rescued due to unionist tactical voting.  In spite of the wide-scale tactical voting last time around, Ian still thinks unionist voters were "confused" in those seats about which party was best placed to beat the SNP, but that they won't be this time.  Which means, for example, that he's saying the resurgent Liberal Democrats will somehow lose even more votes in their former heartland seat of Gordon, in spite of the fact that they only took 11.6% of the vote in 2017 - a massive 21.1% drop on two years earlier.  As Sir Humphrey Appleby might have put it, that's a rather courageous prediction.

But Ian doesn't end there - he adds that, because the SNP are facing a Tory challenge in five of their own marginal seats where the majority is less than the Tory majority in Gordon, he can "see no reason" why the Tories won't gain most of those seats.  Well, OK, but can he see any particular reason why they will gain them?  If he can, he's not bothering to share it with us.  If tactical voting is his magic bullet once again, I have to tell him that if I was a budding unionist tactical voter in Lanark & Hamilton East, I wouldn't have a clue whether to plump for Labour or the Tories.  That constituency is an incredibly tight three-way marginal with just 0.7% separating the SNP in first place from Labour in third.  Yes, OK, technically the Tories are starting from second, but polls suggest the Tory vote will drop back, and it's Labour who have all the tradition in the seat.  Good luck sorting that one out.

Ian does have some good news for us - he fancies the SNP's chances of holding off the Lib Dems in Ross, Cromarty and Skye.  Just one snag - there is no such constituency, and there hasn't been since 1997.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A handy list of SNP election crowdfunders

One thing that has become painfully obvious over the last few days is that the London establishment, including ITV, Sky News and quite possibly the BBC as well, are hellbent on crushing the SNP at this election, and aren't much bothered about being seen to do so by illegitimate means.  And I'm afraid some SNP supporters are being a tad naive in telling themselves that high-profile TV debates excluding the party will have little impact on voting intentions or somehow might even work in the SNP's favour.  The evidence from 2010 tells a very different story - the three-way Brown-Cameron-Clegg debates effectively became the whole campaign, and the SNP could only look on helplessly as the Cleggasm changed the trajectory of the campaign in Scotland as much as in the rest of the UK.  It's also naive to believe that intensive local campaigning can somehow offset the negative effect of a debate exclusion.  If the broadcasters refuse to do the right thing, the SNP really ought to consider legal action, because it's no exaggeration to say that it might just be the only way of rescuing their election chances.

That said, local campaigning is obviously very important as well, and the SNP are not on a level playing-field as far as funding is concerned - the Tories in particular can bring in riches from south of the border in a way that the SNP can't.  So, as I've done in previous general elections, I've put together a list of links to local SNP election fundraisers.  It's probably not exhaustive - feel free to point me in the direction of any I've missed.

GORDON - Richard Thomson
NORTH-EAST FIFE - Stephen Gethins
EAST LOTHIAN - Kenny MacAskill
MORAY - Laura Mitchell
DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY - Richard Arkless
ANGUS - Dave Doogan
ABERDEEN SOUTH - Stephen Flynn
STIRLING - Alyn Smith
MIDLOTHIAN - Owen Thompson
ARGYLL & BUTE - Brendan O'Hara
ROSS, SKYE & LOCHABER - Ian Blackford
GLASGOW EAST - David Linden
GLASGOW NORTH - Patrick Grady
ABERDEEN NORTH - Kirsty Blackman
GLASGOW CENTRAL - Alison Thewliss
CENTRAL AYRSHIRE - Philippa Whitford
EDINBURGH EAST - Tommy Sheppard
NORTH AYRSHIRE & ARRAN - Patricia Gibson
GLASGOW SOUTH - Stewart McDonald
MOTHERWELL & WISHAW - Marion Fellows

There are a couple I haven't included on the list because they seem to be closed after reaching their target - Catriona MacDonald in Edinburgh South and Paul Robertson in Banff & Buchan.

There's also the option of donating to the SNP centrally HERE.

Of course, another vitally important thing that everyone can do apart from donating money is badger any potential SNP and/or independence supporter they know to register to vote at this link by the deadline of 26th November, if they're not already registered.  Young people and those who have recently moved house are particularly worth chasing up.  And remember also that citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in the UK, and citizens of all Commonwealth countries who are resident in the UK, are eligible to vote in general elections - but may not be aware of that fact.  New Zealanders may be newly-receptive to the arguments for Scottish independence given what happened to the All Blacks a couple of weeks ago!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Sky News makes brazen attempt to rig the general election by inviting the fourth-largest Commons party to a three-way leaders' debate, but not the third-largest

I pointed out the other day that just about the only thing that might be more outrageous than ITV's decision to hold a two-party election debate in a multi-party democracy would be for Jo Swinson to get her preferred outcome and for there to be a three-way debate in which the fourth-largest Commons party is included and the third-largest is excluded.  But Sky News have proved up to that task - they've brazenly invited the leader of a party with 20 MPs (Swinson) and not invited the leader of a party with 35 MPs (Sturgeon).  Like ITV's decision, this is an entirely arbitrary selection based on the broadcaster's own preferences and not on objective criteria.  It most certainly is not justified by precedent, because Nicola Sturgeon was invited to every leaders' debate in 2015, even though the SNP went into that election as only the fifth largest Commons party and the Lib Dems went in as the third-largest.  (And the SNP were not obviously doing better in the opinion polls in 2015 than they are now, so that's no excuse either.)

The broadcasters are quite literally making up the rules as they go on, which is the sort of thing you'd expect to happen in Putin's Russia - and the likes of Andrew Neil would be quick to scream about it if it did.  My own view is that there should be a moratorium on leaders' debates until an independent body can come up with objective criteria for inclusion and exclusion that are applied consistently, not changed at a whim because broadcasters are prioritising "box office potential" over the integrity of the democratic process.

I also cannot understand why the SNP are being so passive at the moment.  I know they were bruised by a failed legal challenge to the three-way debates in 2010, but they have a much stronger case now as the third largest party, and you can't win a raffle if you don't buy a ticket.

UPDATE: I see Sky's carefully-worded justification for excluding the third-largest party is that they have invited "the three main UK-wide parties".  Guys, when you're in a hole, it's generally best to stop digging.  "UK-wide" is not a synonym for "based in London".  Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats are UK-wide parties because they don't put up candidates in Northern Ireland.  If you want a debate between UK-wide parties only, it'll be a Boris Johnson monologue.  (Although maybe I shouldn't put ideas in their heads, because they'd probably be tempted.)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Election 2019: Early straws in the wind from YouGov are favourable for the SNP

There still haven't been any full-scale Scottish polls during the election campaign, and indeed there have only been two full-scale Scottish polls since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and since Ruth Davidson threw the towel in.  That seems incredible when you bear in mind how crucial Scotland could be to the outcome of the whole election.  Something will turn up sooner or later, but in the meantime the best we have to go on are YouGov's Scottish subsamples, which do have a very large margin of error due to the small sample size, but nevertheless are superior to other firms' subsamples as a result of being correctly structured and weighted.  There have been two YouGov subsamples published since the campaign got underway, and both have been favourable for the SNP.

29th-30th October: SNP 44%, Conservatives 19%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Labour 9%, Brexit Party 8%, Greens 8%

31st October-1st November: SNP 50%, Conservatives 22%, Labour 15%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Greens 2%, Brexit Party 1%

It may well be that the SNP are appearing to do better than usual due to random sampling variation, but everything feels like reasonably plain sailing so far.  I truly believe the biggest threat by far to the SNP's position is the broadcasters' attempted stitch-up of the leaders' debates.  It wouldn't be so bad if it was just the one ITV debate, but every instinct in my body tells me that the BBC and Sky will both attempt exactly the same stunt.  Stephen Bush of the New Statesman seems to be taking seriously the possibility that the Liberal Democrats will succeed in challenging the debate formats, so I hope the SNP aren't caught napping on this - if the Lib Dems manage to muscle their way into the debates, the SNP have got to be ready to muscle in too.  The only thing that would be even more outrageous than the current proposed format would be three-way debates in which the third-largest Commons party is still excluded.

There's remarkable Britain-wide opposition to the broadcasters' plans in the YouGov poll - 53% of respondents think all of the major parties, including the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, should be involved in the leaders' debates.  Just 10% think it should be a straight Johnson v Corbyn affair, and only 9% think there should be three-cornered debates involving Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson.  In the Scottish subsample, support for the SNP being involved rises to 73% - and just 5% back ITV's two-way format.

The Greens' intervention in many Scottish marginal seats is not illegitimate - but it may do harm to the independence cause

Like many of you, I was at the pro-independence rally in George Square yesterday (you can find a few photos at the bottom of this post), and I thought one of the best speeches was by Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie - it was passionate and inspiring, and I don't think there was much in it that any SNP supporter could take issue with.  Harvie's contribution to the Yes campaign in 2014 shouldn't be underestimated either.  But I think it's fair comment to say that the planned Green intervention in the forthcoming general election - the sheer number of constituencies they're standing in and also some of the particular constituencies they've selected - will not be helpful to the independence cause, and could well be extremely harmful.

Way back in 2004, I voted for Ralph Nader rather than John Kerry in the hotly-contested US presidential election that was ultimately won by George W Bush.  I did it because I couldn't bring myself to vote for a supporter of the death penalty.  But some people told me in no uncertain terms that I had taken leave of my senses by voting for a man who had acted as a spoiler four years earlier and handed Bush the presidency on a plate.  That criticism led me to reflect at quite a bit of length about the wisdom of no-hoper parties participating in first-past-the-post elections, where the risk is that they'll take votes away from larger parties on the same side of the political spectrum who stand a much better chance of winning.  And the conclusion I came to was that Nader's critics didn't have a leg to stand on, because hardly any of them actually supported reform of the electoral system.  It would have been entirely reasonable for them to say "hold your nose and help us win this time, so that we can change the voting system and make sure you never again have to choose the lesser of two evils".  But instead the message was effectively "vote for us because you've got no other choice, and to help us ensure that you never have any other choice in future elections".  It was an argument for permanent self-exclusion from the electoral process of certain political views - something which no democrat should ever be asked to accept.  The sole way the likes of Nader could ever hope to break out of that vicious circle was to stand for election and cause a 'problem' big enough to ensure that a larger party would feel the need to solve it by reforming the system.

But that is not the situation the Scottish Greens find themselves in here.  Three of the four tiers of political representatives in Scotland are already elected by proportional representation, so one option open to the Greens would be to concentrate their efforts on local, Holyrood and European elections, and just sit out first-past-the-post Westminster elections where they might cause harm.  They could do that safe in the knowledge that the party they'd effectively be standing aside to help is supportive of a change in the Westminster voting system anyway.  But if they really feel that they have to stand in a significant minority of Westminster constituencies to draw attention to the climate emergency, you'd think the logical thing to do would be to carefully select constituencies where they'd be least likely to cause damage to the pro-independence movement - in other words, seats that the SNP are either nailed on to win or nailed on to lose.  (The latter basically means any of the four Liberal Democrat seats.)  Instead, they seem to have deliberately chosen a number of marginal seats where votes taken away from the SNP by the Greens could easily swing the balance and help to elect a unionist MP.

Denise Findlay pointed out on Twitter yesterday that if the Greens are standing in Perth and North Perthshire specifically because of problems they have with Pete Wishart's track record, that means they must be targeting Wishart and trying to get him out.  But if they succeed in doing that, they'll be replacing him with a Tory, because only the SNP and the Tories are seriously in contention in that constituency.  How is that going to help tackle climate change, let alone help the pro-independence cause or the anti-Brexit cause?  It really does seem like a totally self-defeating act.

However, I'm not going to say what they're doing is illegitimate, because unlike the "2nd vote Green" shenanigans in Holyrood elections, there's no deception involved.  Everyone knows the score with first-past-the-post elections and the potential downsides of voting for fringe parties.  It'll be painfully obvious from the numbers on the day after the election whether the Greens have cost us pro-independence seats - and if they have, there'll be no hiding-place for them.

Meanwhile, Stuart Campbell is lambasting the Greens for much the same reasons I've outlined above, but as ever he has his own agenda in mind.  He contrasts the harm the Greens could do at this election with the supposed good his own Wings party will be doing at the 2021 Holyrood election, and asks his readers which of the two parties is functioning as 'friend' and which is functioning as 'enemy'.  Of course the correct answer is that they're both functioning as 'enemy' (if it really must be reduced to such juvenile terms) because they're both doing precisely the same thing - taking an action that will at best have a neutral effect, and at worst a harmful effect.

Mr Campbell yet again misleads his readers by claiming that the worst-case scenario for a Wings party "in any reasonable fact-based model" is the net loss of one pro-indy seat in the Scottish Parliament.  In truth, that model was not based on "reason" but on fantastical and wildly-optimistic assumptions.  But even on such a flawed model, the only realistic scenarios would see Wings either cost the pro-indy side one seat, or have no effect at all.  Which means Mr Campbell is currently minded to do exactly what he's demonising the Greens for.

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As you may have seen, a commenter on the previous thread found an email address to which complaints about ITV's decision to exclude the SNP from its leaders' debate can be addressed:

*  *  *

I'm quoted in this new article by Alasdair Soussi on the Al Jazeera website about the relevance of the coming election to the independence campaign.  The other person quoted is Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University, and it reminded me of a slightly stormy exchange I had with him immediately after the exit poll was released on election night in 2017.  I had just pointed out that by winning a majority of Scottish seats, the SNP had completed the "triple lock" mandate for holding an independence referendum in exactly the terms specified in their manifesto.  Professor Mitchell's retort was something like "this is completely nuts, there isn't going to be an independence referendum for a very long time", and implied that talking too much about a referendum that wasn't going to happen had caused the SNP's supposedly poor result in the first place.  Which I thought was deeply odd on three counts: a) the SNP had just won a landslide victory roughly on a par with Mrs Thatcher's Britain-wide result in 1987, b) any problems the SNP had faced were not caused by talking about the referendum too much, but by talking about it too little and thus failing to motivate their own supporters to turn out, and c) why would anyone be surprised or annoyed that an independence supporter wasn't willing to be an accomplice to a self-fulfilling prophecy that would see the SNP betray a mandate that they had only just sought and won?

Professor Mitchell is still very much in the self-fulfilling prophecy business - arguing that the SNP's forefronting of independence in this campaign is unlikely to bring about an independence referendum, and may reduce the SNP's share of the vote.  From which I presume the logical conclusion we're meant to draw is that the way to achieve independence is never to campaign for it - or more probably that we should just replace independence with a more 'realistic' objective instead.  Those of us who believe in tailoring the strategy to the goal, rather than changing the goal to suit the strategy, are unlikely to be seduced by that counsel of despair.