Saturday, November 16, 2019

Lib Dems enter the danger zone

There's no consistent trend in the GB-wide polls as far as the Tory v Labour battle is concerned - some have the Tories stretching away to a point where a large overall majority for Boris Johnson looks very hard to avoid, but others have the gap narrowing and leave open the possibility of a hung parliament.  But one trend that does seem relatively consistent is that the Lib Dems have dropped back since the start of the campaign.  Jo Swinson is entering a danger zone over the next couple of days - voters in England already seem to be concluding of their own accord that this is a traditional two-horse race, and if Tuesday night's rigged Johnson v Corbyn debate on ITV is given the go-ahead by the courts, that conclusion could be further reinforced.  Remain voters in England (except in seats that are clearly Lib Dem targets) may start to feel that Labour are the only game in town, and the Lib Dem vote could end up being severely squeezed.

On the face of it, that could be good news for the SNP in the five seats where the Lib Dems are their main opponents - but unfortunately the dynamics are a bit different in Scotland.  A lot of Jo Swinson's voters in East Dunbartonshire last time around were basically Tory supporters who weren't much bothered about her party label - they just voted for her because they were persuaded by nefarious means that she was the only candidate who could beat the SNP.  Maybe some of those people will be more discriminating this time due to Brexit - but I suspect the Lib Dems will retain a sizeable Tory tactical vote in those key constituencies.

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I've written another couple of constituency previews for today's edition of The National - this time it's Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Ross, Skye & Lochaber

Friday, November 15, 2019

SNP win election dress rehearsal in Fife

There were three Scottish local by-elections yesterday, and we've had the results of two so far.  The SNP won both - one was technically a hold, the other was technically a gain from the Conservatives, although both were wards in which the SNP topped the popular vote last time.  Unfortunately the percentage changes you may have seen in one or two places on social media (including on Britain Elects) are completely inaccurate - it's amazing how often that happens.  The incorrect figures exaggerated the swing to the SNP, but the real figures are decent enough anyway.

Dunfermline Central by-election result:

SNP 33.2% (+3.4) 
Conservatives 24.8% (+0.7)
Liberal Democrats 22.8% (+15.9) 
Labour 13.5% (-13.1) 
Greens 5.1% (+1.9) 
Libertarians 0.6% (n/a)

Rosyth by-election result:

SNP 42.8% (+6.3) 
Conservatives 24.4% (+2.1) 
Labour 15.2% (-3.1) 
Liberal Democrats 7.9% (+0.5) 
Independent 5.0% 
Greens 4.2% (+1.3) 
Libertarians 0.5% (n/a)

So a small swing from the Tories to the SNP, and a bigger swing (especially in Dunfermline) from Labour to the SNP.  Scarily, the Lib Dems came within two votes of beating the SNP in Dunfermline after lower preferences were redistributed - it's unusual for a party to come so close to overturning a large first preference deficit.  That may tell us something about how hard it's going to be for the SNP to win any of the five seats at the general election where the Lib Dems are their main opponent - ie. the Lib Dems may be able to successfully squeeze the Tory vote.

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I have two more constituency previews in The National - this time Orkney & Shetland and Glasgow North-East.  

Thursday, November 14, 2019

SNP enjoy 21-point lead over the Tories in latest YouGov subsample average

I'm beginning to wonder if a full-scale Scottish poll is ever going to be conducted in this campaign, but in the meantime, here's the next best thing - an average of the last five Scottish subsamples from GB-wide YouGov polls.  YouGov's subsamples differ from those of other firms because they appear to be correctly structured and weighted.  The combined fieldwork for these five took place entirely after the most recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov, which was conducted in late October.

SNP 44.2%
Conservatives 23.0%
Labour 12.6%
Liberal Democrats 11.8%
Brexit Party 4.6%
Greens 3.4%

So the SNP appear to have come through the early skirmishes of the campaign unscathed, although the real danger points (ie. the rigged leaders' debates) are yet to come.  I would guess the above figures slightly underestimate the Tories, because four of the five subsamples preceded the methodological change to take account of the Brexit Party standing aside in Tory-held seats.

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I have another two constituency previews in The National today - this time it's Dundee East and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey.  You can read them HERE and HERE.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

SNP take on the broadcasters in court over the rigged leaders' debates

So I was encouraged to receive an email from the SNP a few minutes ago revealing that they've decided to take the plunge and challenge the broadcasters in court over the rigged leaders' debates.  I must admit there was a little while when I was worried that they might let this pass without even putting up a fight, but I should never have doubted them.  There's also a fundraiser to cover the cost of the action, which you can find HERE.  (It appears to be for SNP members only.)

Of course the dilemma with this sort of thing is always that if the court case is lost, you're left in exactly the same place that you started, apart from the fact that you've got less money than before.  But that's the nature of the beast - you can't win a raffle if you don't buy a ticket, and the potential benefits if the case is won (or perhaps I should say the potential avoidance of harm) is so great that it seems to me it's well worth the risk.  It's also important to lay down a marker and emphasise that people haven't just been going through the motions by objecting to these rigged debates - the proposed format really is outrageous.  There's been an attempt to gaslight us by portraying two-way leaders' debates as "traditional", but in fact they've never taken place in UK general elections before.  Not even once.  There were no leaders' debates at all prior to 2010.  There were three-way debates in 2010, and multi-party debates (including the SNP) in both 2015 and 2017.

What are the chances of success in court?  Heaven only knows, but it should be remembered that it's not unheard of for judges to rule against the broadcasters in cases of this type.  In 1995, Labour and the Liberal Democrats successfully persuaded a Scottish court to block the broadcast of a Panorama special featuring an extended interview with the then Tory Prime Minister John Major in the middle of a Scottish local election campaign.  The killer question posed by the judge was whether such a programme would ever have been scheduled during an English local election campaign, and the BBC were unable to answer.  They were allowed to go ahead with the broadcast in the rest of the UK, but not in parts of Northern Ireland and northern England where there was a danger of transmission carrying into Scotland.  Then a few years later, a court gave retrospective relief after ITV broadcast an "Ask the Prime Minister" special featuring Tony Blair in the middle of a Scottish parliamentary by-election campaign.  STV were ordered to broadcast a similar programme giving time to the other party leaders.

On the other hand, the SNP's challenge to the 2010 general election debates featuring only Brown, Cameron and Clegg did fail entirely.  But two things have changed since then - a) the SNP are now the third largest party in the UK Parliament, and b) there is a clear precedent for the SNP being included in UK debates on an equal basis.  If it was appropriate for the SNP to be included in 2015, when they were going into the election with just six seats, it's very hard to understand why it's appropriate to exclude them now, when they're going into an election with thirty-five seats.

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I have constituency previews for Edinburgh West and Edinburgh South-West in The National today - you can read them HERE and HERE.  And you can also take a sneak peek at my monthly column in iScot magazine HERE.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

First Scottish subsample under YouGov's new methodology is still favourable for the SNP

YouGov have changed their polling methodology for the remainder of the campaign to ensure that respondents are only asked about parties they can actually voted for in their local constituencies.  In spite of the way the first poll using the new method is being reported, the Brexit Party's decision to stand aside in Tory-held seats does not appear to be making a huge difference to the gap between the Tories and Labour.  The Tory lead would have been 13 points under the old methodology and it's 14 points under the new.  However, the Liberal Democrats will be alarmed that their vote drops under the new methodology while both the Tory and Labour vote increases.  This is looking increasingly like a conventional two-horse race south of the border between two anti-Remain parties, and the rigged ITV and BBC leaders' debates (if they go ahead) will only reinforce that.

Just for a moment, I was slightly concerned about what the new methodology would show in Scotland, because the SNP's share of the GB-wide vote is slightly lower than usual at 3%.  However, it looks like that's just a statistical quirk, because the SNP's vote in the Scottish subsample is very much within their normal range -

SNP 42%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 14%, Liberal Democrats 14%, Brexit Party 2%, Greens 2%

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I've had a look at the SNP's prospects in two key Scottish Tory-held constituencies (East Renfrewshire and Banff & Buchan) for The National - you can read the article HERE.

Monday, November 11, 2019

What effect will Farage's big decision have on the election in Scotland?

Nigel Farage's decision today not to stand candidates in the seats won by the Tories in 2017 doesn't entirely remove the Brexit Party-shaped obstacle to Boris Johnson winning a majority, because of course the Tories would need to gain seats to win a majority, not just hold what they have.  This looks to me like a man who doesn't want to be seen after the election to have perversely thwarted Brexit, rather than a man who wants to remove all risk of actually doing that.

Unfortunately, though, this U-turn is going to be disproportionately harmful to the SNP, because by relative historic standards the Tories did particularly well in Scotland in 2017, meaning there are more seats here where the Tories will be getting a free pass from the Brexit Party than there otherwise would be.  There's no getting away from it - this is going to make it somewhat harder for the SNP to win back the twelve seats they lost to the Tories two years ago.  Not impossible by any means, but a bit harder.

I know some people (OK, Ian Smart) will now glibly add the Brexit Party share of the vote to the Tory share and argue that gives a better indication of the state of play in Tory-held seats.  If we do that for the most recent full-scale Scottish YouGov poll, it would put the Tories on 28% of the vote and the SNP on 42% - and that still represents a 3% swing to the SNP, enough to see three Tory seats tumble.  But it doesn't work like that anyway, because not all Brexit Party supporters will vote Tory in the absence of a Brexit Party candidate. From YouGov's datasets, it looks like less than half of people planning to vote for the Brexit Party in Scotland actually voted for the Tories in 2017.

If you're looking for other silver linings, here are a few...

* If Farage is true to his word this time, he'll still put up candidates in 46 of the 59 Scottish constituencies, which should make it slightly easier for the SNP to hold a handful of constituencies where the Tories are in a close second place.

* We know that a minority of Brexit Party voters would otherwise be in the SNP column (one such voter left a comment on this blog a couple of weeks ago), so the absence of Brexit Party candidates in a substantial minority of seats could end up slightly boosting the SNP's share of the national popular vote.  That's obviously less important than any failure to gain seats, but the popular vote share will certainly be mentioned after the election and will affect perceptions of how strong the SNP's overall mandate is.

* This shouldn't affect the SNP's chances of gaining seats from Labour.  Even if the SNP fail to gain a single Tory seat, and even if they lose North-East Fife to the Lib Dems, holding their other 34 seats and gaining the six marginal Labour seats would still be enough to take them to the psychologically-important figure of 40.

* I would guess UKIP might see an opportunity here to take votes that otherwise would have gone to Farage.  We'll have to see if they now put up candidates in a few Tory-held seats.

* A de facto Johnson-Farage electoral pact may scare the living daylights out of some Remain voters and convince them that they shouldn't muck around with their vote at this election.  If so, that ought to benefit the SNP, who are the strongest Remain party in the vast majority of Scottish constituencies.

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

A question for the BBC and Sky

It's a very simple question: what will happen if, as seems highly likely, one of the "candidates" (sic) in your "Prime Ministerial Debates" (sic) uses the platform you have given them to make an attack on Nicola Sturgeon's plan for a second independence referendum?  Because of the rigged nature of the debates, Ms Sturgeon will have no right of reply within the programme, and unlike ITV you don't appear to have any plans for an interview-based programme afterwards to give excluded parties a chance to respond.  So what will you do?  Will you immediately tell Boris Johnson to stop speaking or to change the subject?  Will you hurriedly clear your schedules afterwards to give Ms Sturgeon the appropriate number of minutes to reply?

This is a question well worth asking, because many years ago ITV were successfully challenged in the Scottish courts after they broadcast an "Ask The Prime Minister" programme featuring Tony Blair in the midst of a Scottish parliamentary by-election.  The judge ruled that parts of the programme had been legitimate because they related to Mr Blair's role as Prime Minister, but that other parts were clearly party political and that other parties had been denied a right of reply of equivalent length and prominence.  STV were therefore required to broadcast a programme before the by-election giving remedial time to other parties.  If memory serves me right, it was presented by Bernard Ponsonby and featured the likes of Charles Kennedy and John Swinney.  So if the SNP are left with no option but to go to the courts, it might be worth placing particular emphasis on the likelihood of Scottish issues being mentioned during the rigged debates.

Oh, and a small hint for the broadcasters: no, the SNP's participation in separate Scottish debates does not provide the necessary balance, because the Conservatives and Labour will also be included in those Scottish debates.  The only thing that can possibly balance out a programme excluding the SNP is an equally prominent programme excluding the Tories and Labour (and also the Liberal Democrats in the case of Sky).

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Do you ever get the feeling you're being gaslighted?  The Guardian claimed yesterday that the BBC were planning to "host a traditional head-to-head debate between the prime minister and Labour leader on 6 December".  How can it be "traditional" when it has never happened before?  There has never been a two-way leaders' debate in the history of British general elections.  Never.  There were three-way debates in 2010, and multi-party debates in 2015 and 2017 (albeit Theresa May refused to participate in the latter).

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