Saturday, December 7, 2019

YouGov independence polling

You may have seen that there are polling numbers from YouGov that purport to show a sudden and statistically significant drop in support for independence - down from 49% to 44%. Now, the first thing to say (and any serious analyst of any political complexion will tell you the same) is that we need to exercise a touch of scepticism about a single poll that shows a big and unexpected change. All polls have a margin of error, but statistically it's inevitable that a small proportion of polls will fall outside the margin of error - ie. they'll be rogue polls. It's possible that's what's happened here. Another possibility is that there may have been a genuine drop in support but that YouGov are overstating it due to the normal margin of error - a reported Yes vote of 44% could mean that the true figure is as high as 46% or 47%.

But of course a third possibility is that the poll is accurate. If so, it's surprising, because two previous Scottish polls during this campaign showed support for independence holding steady at a historically high level. The Ipsos-Mori poll conducted between the 19th and 25th of November showed a 50-50 Yes-No split, so if something has changed it's happened very rapidly. But that's not totally inconceivable, and there are precedents for this sort of thing happening in previous UK-wide campaigns. Remember that the media coverage of general elections compels voters to view political issues through a Britain-wide lens - they're bombarded with political parties making pie in the sky promises to transform Britain for the better. If and when Boris Johnson is returned with a working majority and gets on with delivering a Hard Brexit, that effect is likely to wear off pretty rapidly.

The other factor is that, during general election campaigns, media discussion of independence is heavily slanted in favour of unionist spokespeople. Scottish coverage generally sees the SNP outnumbered 3-1, and at UK level the ratio is probably more like 8-1 or higher - indeed it's not unusual for independence to be discussed without any pro-independence voice being present at all, as happened in last night's rigged BBC leaders' debate. It's the polar opposite of what happens in a referendum campaign, where there has to be parity between both sides. So if the (relative) balance of an indyref campaign causes Yes support to rise, as it did in 2014, it's not unreasonable to suppose that the hopeless imbalance of a general election campaign might cause Yes support to fall, and that any such fall may be only temporary.

Bear in mind that even if this is a genuine drop, it's not as if the floor has caved in - it just takes us back to where we were a year or so ago, before the big Yes surge. Until recently YouGov's normal range for Yes was 43-45%, so 44% is bang in the middle of that. I'm not too concerned about it unless there's a corresponding drop in SNP support.  There's contradictory information about what the fieldwork dates for this poll were - one article seems to suggest it's the same poll that showed the SNP with a huge 16-point lead over the Tories, and if that's true there'd be nothing much to worry about.  However, Britain Elects are saying the fieldwork dates were the 3rd to the 6th of this month, which would mean that it's a different and newer poll, and there might still be a risk of an SNP decline.  We may find out more tonight, because there's usually a flurry of polls on the final Saturday night of a campaign (although whether any of them will be Scottish polls remains to be seen).

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I have three new constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Edinburgh North & Leith, Dunfermline & West Fife and West Dunbartonshire

Friday, December 6, 2019

The BBC's reputation in Scotland will never recover from this latest unforgivable betrayal - they made this choice freely, and they can have no complaint about the consequences

It's happening: full-scale YouGov poll gives SNP big lead over the Tories, and enormous lead over Labour

Incredibly, we'd only had two full-scale Scottish polls in this campaign prior to tonight.  Ipsos-Mori had reported a huge SNP lead over the Tories, while Panelbase had reported a lead that wasn't all that much higher than in 2017.  Although Panelbase have become known in recent times as one of the least SNP-friendly pollsters, there was a reasonable concern that Ipsos-Mori may only have found such a big lead because of their telephone methodology, and that further online polls might be more in line with Panelbase.  The new poll from YouGov lays that worry to rest.  In complete contrast to what happened in 2017, it looks as if the SNP may actually have gained a little support over the course of the campaign - quite an achievement in the 'away fixture' of a Westminster election.

Scottish voting intentions (YouGov):

SNP 44% (+2) 
Conservatives 28% (+6) 
Labour 15% (+3) 
Liberal Democrats 12% (-1) 
Greens 1% (-3) 

Seats projection: SNP 44 (+9), Conservatives 9 (-4), Liberal Democrats 4 (n/c), Labour 2 (-5)

The 6% increase for the Tories shouldn't be regarded as any kind of shock - the change is measured from the most recent YouGov poll in October, and there's been plenty of evidence since then that the Tories have reaped the benefits of a total collapse in Brexit Party support.  I know some people will be concerned to see the Tories virtually back to the 29% vote they had in 2017, but remember that under first-past-the-post what matters more than anything is the gap between the first-placed party and the second-placed party - and that gap appears to have doubled over the last two years from 8% to 16%.  For proof that a decent share of the vote doesn't necessarily translate into a decent haul of seats, remember that Labour took only one seat in 2015 despite having 24% of the vote.

The biggest threat to SNP dominance in this campaign is any late Labour surge, and this poll does pick up tentative signs of a Labour recovery - but it could well be too little, too late.  Labour would need to be well into the 20s before they'd do any real damage, and they're fast running out of time.  Their last opportunity to make a big stride forward could be the rigged BBC "Prime Ministerial" (sic) Debate that includes Corbyn but excludes most other major party leaders.  But the equivalent ITV debate a few weeks ago failed to noticeably shift the dial.

If YouGov's numbers are close to the final result, the SNP can be quietly confident of making gains from the Tories, and supremely confident of making gains from Labour.  Which makes it all the more frustrating that they may have thrown away their chance in one of the six seats they realistically hoped to take from Labour.  However, if the SNP really do have a 29% national lead over Labour, Neale Hanvey will hope to ride on the coat-tails of his former party's success due to having the SNP name and logo next to his own name on the ballot paper.  He may still have an outside chance.

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I have two more constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's North Ayrshire & Arran and Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

BBC doubles down with arrogant reply to complaint about Andrew Neil's factual inaccuracies

I've just been taking a look at the screenshot on Twitter of the reply David Hooks received from the BBC after his complaint about Andrew Neil's interview with Nicola Sturgeon. I presume the complaint related to the factual inaccuracies in Neil's line of questioning, which were so blatant that in one case the BBC's own Fact Check tacitly acknowledged the mistake. Even by the BBC's standards, the reply is dripping with arrogance and corporate propaganda. It follows the familiar trick of ignoring the actual complaint and responding to an imaginary one instead - ie. "how dare Andrew Neil interrupt people". This is the bit that leaps out -

"As a consequence, it is true that Andrew Neil often interrupts politicians, but he only does so when he does not feel he is getting a precise and direct answer to the question he has posed. He does so courteously but firmly."

Now, we all know that's not true.  Andrew Neil often crosses the line from being an interviewer to being a participant in a debate in which he puts forward his own opinions, and the purpose of his interruptions is often to loudly drown out a point he disapproves of and doesn't want viewers to hear.  One obvious example was a couple of years ago when he challenged RT presenter Afshin Rattansi about the complaints against RT upheld by Ofcom, which he suggested were proof that Putin was pulling the strings.  Rattansi countered by quite reasonably pointing out that the BBC Trust had upheld a similar complaint against the BBC's own Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg.  Neil immediately cut him off and angrily denounced him for suggesting that Kuenssberg and her employers were anything other than saintly figures who hadn't received their due in prestigious industry awards yet.

Not all of Neil's interruptions of Nicola Sturgeon were in that mould, but a good few of them were.  Specifically she was refusing to accept the premise of his questions relating to the supposed requirement for a country to have its own currency before joining the EU (a requirement that the BBC Fact Check later admitted does not exist).  He did his utmost to talk over her to the extent that viewers wouldn't even notice that she was disputing him on that point of fact - frankly he failed, but that was his intent.  At one point he even bizarrely suggested that Ms Sturgeon had accepted his claim, and when she pointed out that she hadn't done any such thing, he hurriedly changed the subject.

Antics of that sort are not an attempt to furnish viewers with greater illumination.  They're an attempt to deceive viewers.  There's simply no excuse for it, and it's little wonder that the BBC proved unable to address that point directly.

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I have two more constituency profiles in today's edition of The National - this time it's North-East Fife and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Solidarity with Denise Findlay

I see that Stuart Campbell has predictably taken advantage of the ill-treatment of Neale Hanvey and Denise Findlay by calling for Nicola Sturgeon to resign as SNP leader.  That's a crazy thing for any independence supporter to do in the middle of an election campaign in which Ms Sturgeon is unquestionably our greatest asset, and in fact it's such a crazy thing to do that I'm forced to conclude that it's being driven by Mr Campbell's own political ambitions.  No leader is perfect, and undoubtedly two very poor and counterproductive decisions on internal party discipline have been made on Ms Sturgeon's watch during this campaign.  But it's possible to agitate for change within the SNP while still recognising that we won the political lottery by ending up with one of the UK's best communicators as our leader, and that we'd be much worse off without her.

For what it's worth, here are my own views on the utterly indefensible decision to force Denise Findlay out of the party -

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UPDATE: I'm relieved to hear that Denise has reversed her decision to resign from the SNP, and will now fight what appear to be spurious allegations of antisemitism through the party's disciplinary procedures.

Mike Smithson makes a Blair-style non-apology for his propaganda letters - but he knows he's got this one badly wrong

Tony Blair was always the master of the non-apology.  After the disaster of the Iraq War, he tried to get himself off the hook with this tortuous formulation -

"I can apologise for the information being wrong but I can never apologise, sincerely at least, for removing Saddam."

So he wasn't apologising for something that no-one had asked him to apologise for, and while he 'could' apologise for the Dodgy Dossier, it was by no means clear that he was actually doing so.  The cynicism of that statement popped into my head again yesterday when I saw Mike Smithson's non-apology for his propaganda letters to voters, because it was very much in the same mould.

"As is widely known I have been a member of the Lib Dems since its foundation and make no apologies for seeking to help the party during elections."

That's absolutely fine, but according to Wikipedia the Liberal Democrats currently have 120,845 members.  The other 120,844 somehow manage to "help the party during elections" without conning voters into thinking they are an "impartial election expert" offering objective advice about tactical voting options.  That's what people think Smithson should apologise for, not for doing a bit of honest canvassing.

But once the decoy non-apology was out of the way, we then got a fascinating clue as to what has really been going on.

"I should explain that while I approved the text of the letters I did not have a prior view of the list of constituencies they were going to. This was unlike GE2017 when a similar exercise was carried out with me approving every single seat on the constituency list...The party has given me assurances about the future."

In other words, he did not write the letters himself, and although he "approved" the text, he allowed the Lib Dems to choose which seats the advice would be used in.  That makes the whole "election expert" thing a nonsense, because unless advice to "tactically vote Lib Dem to stop Labour" is carefully matched to correct constituencies by the "expert" on the basis of voting and polling trends, it might as well just be random noise - or, more accurately, propaganda.

And he's right about one thing - the character of the letters is very different from 2017, when they were making specific claims about specific constituencies, and when the claims did at least have some basis in fact, even if they were being stretched to the limit.  For example, the idea that the Lib Dems were best-placed to defeat the SNP in East Dunbartonshire, which could be justified on the basis of the previous general election result, albeit not on the basis of the local elections held just a few weeks before polling day.  Compare that specificity to the vagueness of this letter that has apparently been randomly sent out to Scottish voters this time -

I don't believe Smithson wrote a single word of that, and if he approved it he deserves every single bit of criticism that comes his way, because the claims in the letter are not ones that any genuine election expert would ever put his name to in a million years.  In the vast majority of Scottish seats, there is no conceivable way that "tactically voting Liberal Democrat" can possibly help to stop Brexit.  In every single Conservative-held seat, the SNP are the only credible challenger, and voting Lib Dem would just help the Brexit-supporting Tories to hold on.  To the extent that Labour can be considered a pro-Brexit party, the same is true in Labour seats - the SNP are in second place in all of those.  In spite of Smithson's blind spots, he's intelligent enough to know all of that, so if he approved that text, he knowingly approved something that is not only untrue, but the opposite of the truth.

And as for the notion that independence isn't "needed", that's self-evidently a political opinion, not something that can possibly be established by polling or election trends.  But it's richly ironic that the Lib Dems would choose to put those words in the mouth of Smithson of all people, because he's on the record as saying that he would vote for independence if he lived here!

VIDEO: Are the Liberal Democrats in trouble in Scotland?

For the second in my series of short pre-election videos, I've taken a look at one of the oddest patterns from the YouGov projection model.  The Lib Dem vote appears to be well up on two years ago across Scotland, but in the five seats they actually have a chance of winning, they're seemingly either flatlining or going backwards.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Latest YouGov subsample paints picture of SNP dominance

Despite the feeling that there's a bit of momentum behind Labour at GB level, they haven't made any further progress since Saturday according to the latest YouGov poll, and part of the reason is that their showing in the Scottish subsample is utterly abysmal.

Britain-wide YouGov poll:

Conservatives 42% (-1)
Labour 33% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 12% (-1)
SNP 5% (+1)
Brexit Party 4% (+2)
Greens 4% (+1)

Scottish subsample: SNP 52%, Conservatives 25%, Labour 11%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Greens 4%

In fairness, Labour were on an unusually high 21% in the previous subsample, so this is probably just sampling variation at play and the truth may be somewhere in between the two extremes.  But it certainly offers some reassurance against the idea that Labour might be starting to creep back up to the sort of level of support in Scotland where they could become a problem for the SNP.

The 9-point Tory lead will have to drop to around 6 or 7 points over the next nine days if a hung parliament is to become a serious possibility.  Such a small shift is obviously achievable - but what concerns me is that the polls may be overestimating Labour this time.  The numbers are weighted to how people voted in 2017, when there was unusually high turnout of Labour voters.   If that isn't replicated, Corbyn could be in an even weaker position than we currently think.

The good news, though, is that the opposite is true for the SNP - they didn't turn out their voters in sufficient numbers two years ago, which means 2017 weighting could be slightly underestimating their potential support.

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Since my last post I've had four more constituency previews in The National - Gordon, Glasgow East, Glasgow North and Central Ayrshire.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Video: Is the Tory lead narrowing?

A few weeks ago when I was on holiday and daydreaming, I realised a general election probably wasn't far off, and I had the bright idea (ahem) that I might mix things up a bit during the campaign by posting some short videos to keep you updated on the polling state of play.  So I finally got around to investing in a camera a few days ago...and discovered to my embarrassment that the picture and sound quality was marginally worse than the camera on my phone.  However, I was geared up to go ahead, so I decided to just do it with my phone.  Do I care about looking amateurish?  Pah, who cares about looking amateurish.  But future episodes might be in the form of a podcast, because a) making this video was far more time-consuming than expected, and b) I've got a proper microphone, so maybe I should work with what I've actually got.

Anyway, see what you think.  Tonight I'm discussing the batch of GB-wide polls in the Sunday papers, which paint a mixed picture, but on the whole suggest there may have been a narrowing of the gap.