Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Let's get behind Shetland Council's audacious bid to BREAK UP THE UNITED KINGDOM

A reader emailed me the other day to ask whether there had been any polling done in Shetland or Orkney to test whether there is support for the type of 'breakaway' mooted in the motion passed by Shetland Council.  As far as I'm aware, the answer is no - full-scale polls would be hard to reliably conduct because of the small population size, so the likelihood is that any polls on the subject would be unscientific self-selecting polls.  I must say that, anecdotally, my impression is that people from Shetland and Orkney do identify as Scottish - perhaps not as fiercely as those from elsewhere, but the ultimate Spectator fantasy of Shetland remaining in the UK if Scotland becomes an independent country seems to me to be a complete non-starter.

One of the ideas apparently floated by the council, though, is that Shetland should instead become a self-governing crown dependency along the lines of Jersey or Guernsey.  I'm sure whoever dreamt that up thought it was a brilliant unionist wheeze that would put the SNP on the spot (ie. "an independent Scotland isn't viable without Shetland's natural resources"), but actually we should be heartily encouraging it, because crown dependency status would by definition mean that Shetland has become the first part of Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.  If unionists are championing Shetland's right to make that decision, how can they deny the rest of Scotland the same opportunity?

*  *  *

Douglas Ross' craven decision to vote in favour of a bill that both destroys the Scottish devolution settlement and breaches international law was roughly as predictable as David Mundell's failure to resign every single time he threatened to.  But this episode does bring home that Ross' position is rather different from Alex Salmond's when leading the SNP from Westminster in 2004-7.  As a Tory MP, Ross is not his own boss - he's subject to the Tory whip, and in theory to disciplinary action if he breaches the whip.  If, for example, Tory MPs were to be told they would automatically lose the whip if they don't vote with the government, what discretion does Ross actually have?  Could he credibly remain Scottish Tory leader if he has the whip withdrawn, which under the rules would automatically bar him from standing for Westminster as a Tory candidate?  Doubtless none of this will ever be put to the test, because any rare show of resistance would be a carefully choreographed abstention - he'd probably be given special dispensation by the whips to miss the vote because he has to run the line at yet another all-important East Fife v Forfar match.

*  *  *

I can neither confirm nor deny rumours that the individual known in certain quarters as "the Random Totty From Freedom Square" drew the below picture of Jackson Carlaw and tucked it under the door of his office earlier today.  

Friday, September 11, 2020

Support for independence soars to 53% in sizzling Survation survey

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation, 2nd-7th September 2020)

Yes 53% (+3)
No 47% (-3)

Before anyone claims that this is not an increase for Yes at all, because the last poll had independence support at 55%, bear in mind that you always have to compare like with like.  That means comparing this Survation poll with the most recent poll from the same firm, which was conducted back in January.  At that time Survation's estimate of the Yes vote was running two points behind Panelbase's, and that is still the case.  So there's no direct contradiction of the all-time high Yes vote shown in the Panelbase poll, or indeed of the rumours that Yes have gone higher still in private polling - although admittedly 53% is not actually the highest that Survation themselves have ever shown.  The number went as high as 54% in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum.  But perhaps Survation's methodology has simply ceased to be on the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum in the way it once was.  We should probably just settle for what is, after all, the seventh consecutive poll showing an outright Yes majority - an almost unbelievable run of success.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster:

SNP 51% 
Labour 21% 
Conservatives 20% 
Liberal Democrats 6% 

So for the first time in any poll from any firm in around eighteen months, the Conservatives are no longer in second place as far as Westminster voting intentions are concerned.  This is particularly embarrassing for Douglas Ross, who angrily demanded a BBC presenter supply proof that his party has gone backwards since he became leader.  Here's the proof, Douglas.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Guardian piece claims support for independence is running at 56%

James Morrison on Twitter directed me to an opinion piece in the Guardian containing an apparent nugget of information - 

"Ministers are increasingly nervous that a Scottish breakaway is on the cards (the cabinet was recently briefed that the latest opinion polls show 56% of Scots would vote for independence, and 44% to stay in the UK)."

James interprets that as meaning private polling is showing an average Yes vote of 56% - which of course would be slightly higher than the public polls have shown over the summer.  However, there's no actual mention in the article of any private polls, and it could just be that the briefing was about the polls we already know about, and that the figures cited are slightly inaccurate.

That said, private polling does go on.  Members of the YouGov panel are periodically asked about independence using a non-standard question, and the results rarely see the light of day, so that must be either private polling or for internal use.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Hard Labour

Just a quick note to let you know I've written today's National Extra piece, about the electoral consequences for Labour of doubling down (yet again) on their opposition to a second independence referendum.  You can read it HERE.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

What price will the Scottish Liberal Democrats pay for becoming a pro-Brexit party?

By all accounts, one of the tactics that helped the Liberal Democrats to narrowly regain North-East Fife last year was describing themselves on the doorstep as "pro-UK, pro-EU", ie. painting themselves as the only party not asking relatively affluent, middle-of-the-road voters to choose between two political unions.  I said at the time that the messaging might work in the short-term, but was going to run out of road once Brexit actually occurred, because at that point being pro-UK wouldn't actually be compatible with being pro-EU.

If you think about it, though, it would in principle have been possible to maintain the slogan if Ed Davey had committed the Liberal Democrats to take Britain back into the EU as soon as possible.  It would have been dishonest in practice because there is zero prospect of a Lib Dem government, but nevertheless it would have been a way of holding the line.  That option has now been removed, because Davey has sheepishly confirmed that the Lib Dems will not be campaigning to rejoin the EU, and will instead merely be seeking a close relationship from the outside.

From a UK-wide perspective that makes perfect strategic sense, because it means that the Lib Dems can still be "the most pro-European of the main parties" while no longer being in a state of outright war with Leave voters or with the referendum result.  But it leaves the Scottish Lib Dems in an awful place - they said they'd never choose between the UK and the EU, but they have, and it's the EU they've rejected.  Actually it's worse than that, because the decision has been made for them by their boss in London.  

There's now a golden opportunity for the SNP to make some ground next year with pro-European voters in pockets of Lib Dem strength.  Much will probably depend on whether the Lib Dems succeed in convincing people that formal EU membership and a close relationship is not that big a difference.  That'll be a tough sell, I suspect.

*  *  *

Just to think wildly out of the box for a moment, the recent turmoil in the Scottish Labour party has led me to wonder if it's ever occurred to Nicola Sturgeon to put feelers out, and discover whether one or two key figures within Labour might be interested in taking Cabinet positions in return for joining the pro-indy side.  It's a long shot, but if it worked it might finally break Scottish Labour and be a decisive tipping point for independence.  And never underestimate personal ambition - how else could some of these people ever hope to wield power? They wouldn't necessarily have to defect to the SNP - a model could be the way the Labour government in Wales co-opted the former Plaid leader Dafydd Elis-Thomas (he became a junior minister as an independent).

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Kevin Hague: Wikipedia editor

As requested by Professor John Robertson, a quick post about the Wikipedia entry on GERS.  Until I mentioned this on Twitter a few hours ago, the three most recent edits to the page were made by none other than Kevin Hague.  The most significant edit was to the "criticisms" section - a standard feature on Wikipedia to provide balance on any given topic.  Before Hague's intervention, the section briefly summarised a number of criticisms of GERS, exactly as it should have done.  Hague changed that in an attempt, at considerable length, to undermine the criticism made by Professor Richard Murphy.  This is what was added - 

"When pressed by a Holyrood parliamentary committee, none of the assembled panel agreed with his criticisms, he admitted that even if GERS were restated as he suggests the impact would only be "a couple of percentage points or so of the stated Scottish deficit ... maybe" and conceded that he could think of no example of a country following the accounting technique he was advocating."

To state the obvious, Hague's rather garbled edit was wholly inappropriate.  The criticisms section is not there to mock the people making the criticisms, or to put them in the dock.

Incidentally, Hague incorrectly labelled another of his edits as "minor" - implying that it was merely a spelling correction or a similar unimportant change.  In fact it added an entire sentence intended to bolster confidence in GERS.  He also made a "minor" edit to the entry on the Barnett Formula to add the following - 

"More recently, during a time of low absolute spending increases, application of the formula has in fact lead [sic] not to a "squeeze" but to a divergence in spending per head in Scotland's favour."

Oh, and just for good measure he also put in a propaganda link to the "These Islands" website.  Pretty "minor" stuff, huh?

Monday, August 24, 2020

In-depth interview on the Holyrood voting system

Exactly one month ago, I was interviewed on IndyLive Radio about the Holyrood electoral system and the perils of attempting to game the system.  I've just spotted that the programme is now available (in slightly edited form, I think) on YouTube, so you can listen to it at your leisure HERE.  The first half is Dave Thompson making the case for gaming the system, and the second half is me making the case against.  It's fair to say the issues involved are explored quite thoroughly, so if you've yet to make your own mind up, it's not a bad place to start.

*  *  *

A couple of weeks ago I announced I was changing this blog's settings to only allow comments from people signed in to a Google account.  I know some of you were delighted by the change, because it seems to have finally put a stop to contributions from GWC and his ilk.  However, from my own point of view it hasn't worked out, because the pornographic spam on older posts has continued unabated - to my surprise that seems to come from Google accounts, and no matter how many times I mark it as spam, it just carries on.  Additionally, as you've probably seen, a Jockophobic troll from south of the border has been copying and pasting the same handful of comments (including extreme racist and homophobic language) up to several hundred times a day. 

There's no simple solution to this.  Individual accounts can't be blocked or banned on the Blogger platform.  All that's open to me are crude options such as switching on pre-moderation (which kills the flow of conversation), or turning on word verification (which irritates people).  In the hope of giving myself a short break from deleting hundreds of comments a day, I'm going to try word verification for 48 hours or so, and then I'll review the situation again. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Unionist propaganda poll throws up a blatant contradiction

As you may have seen, there was a unionist propaganda poll yesterday, commissioned by the "Scottish Fabians", in an attempt to deflect attention from the consistently large pro-independence majority.  It amusingly produced two completely contradictory results.  On one question it purported to show that, by a 52-36 majority, respondents think independence is a "distraction" from more important issues.  But on another question it showed that by a vast margin of 63-9, respondents would be unlikely to vote for a party that disagreed with their own view on independence.  Why would people who don't regard independence as important be so unwilling to cross-vote on the issue?  Exactly.  People do regard it as hugely important, and it's probably the number one driver of people's party political preferences at the moment.

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of those who said that independence is a "distraction" are No voters.  Down the ages, "this is boring", "this is a distraction" has always been a convenient mask for those who are opposed to radical change - what it really means is "we desperately don't want this to happen".  If you were to say to them that we should become independent tomorrow so that we can put an end to the "distraction" and the "boredom" once and for all, you'd suddenly find that nothing matters to them more than resisting that.

As for the minority of independence supporters who agreed on the "distraction" point, I suspect some of them would have been virtue-signallers.  Many people feel that they 'ought' to say that health and education are more important than the constitution (the problem with that being, of course, that independence is essential for protecting the NHS in particular).  In fairness, it was a clever wheeze on the Fabians' part to devise a question that could artificially cobble together a majority by combining hardline unionists and Yes virtue-signallers, but as the other question demonstrates it really is pretty meaningless.

Chris McCall of the Record played along with the little stunt by breathlessly describing the poll as "another independence poll".  Well, no.  Another independence poll would have asked the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  And we can all hazard a confident guess of what the result of that would have been, and why the Fabians very carefully didn't ask it.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Some thoughts on the methodology of the ComRes poll

As I mentioned yesterday, the ComRes poll showed the SNP doing a little less well on Holyrood voting intentions than in recent polls from Panelbase and YouGov - albeit still well enough for the seats projection to give them an overall single-party majority.  I wondered if there might be a methodological reason for the difference, and now that the datasets have been released a few possibilities leap out.  

First of all, unlike Panelbase, ComRes have weighted by 2016 Holyrood vote recall, rather than 2019 Westminster vote recall.  That's not necessarily illogical in a poll of Holyrood voting intentions, but if you're asking people to cast their minds back four-and-a-half years, when they've voted in no fewer than two general elections since then, there may be a potential for faulty recollection.

Secondly, although there's no suggestion in the explanatory note that the results are weighted by 2014 indyref vote recall, there is, for whatever reason, a sharp divergence between the unweighted and weighted numbers on that point.  After weighting, the 429 respondents who recalled voting Yes in 2014 ended up counting as only 330 people.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the phrasing of the question asking for voting intentions on the list is strikingly similar to Survation's, in that it describes the list vote as a "second" vote.  We know from Survation polls that this tends to produce worse results for the SNP on the list, and better results for the Greens - probably because some respondents wrongly gain the impression they're being asked about a second preference vote.

More about the record-breaking 55% support for independence

Just a quick note to let you know I have a piece in The National with more analysis of the Yes vote hitting 55% with Panelbase - you can read it HERE.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Unionists in utter disarray as second poll of the day shows a sizeable pro-independence majority

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Savanta ComRes)

Yes 54%
No 46%

I haven't listed any percentage changes this time, because as far as I can see this is the very first ComRes poll on independence since 2014.  Indeed, I'm not totally sure that they've ever done an independence poll before.  I do recall that the abomination that is "ITV Border" commissioned them during the indyref to poll voting intentions in "the South of Scotland", basically meaning Dumfries & Galloway and the Borders only - approximately 5% of the Scottish population.  That produced predictable results.  But off the top of my head I can't think of any full-scale ComRes indyref poll, and there's no sign of one on the Wikipedia list.

This is a particularly useful poll because it broadens the number of polling firms that have recently tested support on independence and found similar results.  The Brit Nat denial on social media in recent months has been rather comical, and one of the most common refrains has been that Yes only appear to be ahead because pro-indy clients have been "spamming Panelbase".  (Apparently our friends are unaware that Panelbase adhere strictly to British Polling Council rules, and that the identity of the client makes literally no difference to the results they report on the headline voting intention question.)  Well, there have now been three firms (Panelbase, YouGov and ComRes) that have shown a Yes vote of 53% or higher over the course of the summer, and four firms (Panelbase, YouGov, ComRes and Survation) that have shown a Yes vote of 50% or higher over the course of the year.

It also now looks nigh-on inevitable that we'll reach the end of 2020 with Yes ahead on the yearly polling average.  From January until now, the average stands at Yes 51.9%, No 48.1%.  That includes one YouGov poll from February that used a non-standard (albeit non-leading) question - if that's taken out, the figures are Yes 52.2%, No 47.8%.  And perhaps more to the point, over the summer (ie. from early June until now), the average is Yes 53.7%, No 46.3%.

The ComRes poll has Holyrood voting intention numbers as well...

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions:

SNP 51%
Conservatives 24%
Labour 17%
Liberal Democrats 6%

Scottish Parliament regional list voting intentions:

SNP 43%
Conservatives 21%
Labour 16%
Greens 10%
Liberal Democrats 8%

Again, there are no percentage changes listed, because there's no previous ComRes poll to compare the results to.  The SNP aren't doing quite as well as in recent Panelbase and YouGov polls (that's probably due to methodology), but it's still enough for them to be on course for a small overall single-party majority - the seats projection is SNP 66 (+3), Conservatives 26 (-5), Labour 19 (-5), Greens 10 (+4), Liberal Democrats 8 (+3).  And that translates into an extremely comfortable 76-53 pro-independence majority.

Independence is backed by unprecedented 55-45 margin in new Panelbase poll - and that's "decisive", if every BBC report in 2014 is to be believed

As I pointed out last week, the 53% Yes vote in the YouGov poll couldn't be directly compared with the 54% in the two most recent Panelbase polls, because each firm has its own methods. And the thought did cross my mind that the 57% SNP vote found by YouGov - higher than any other firm has reported since the 2016 election - might be a clue that things have actually improved further, rather than stayed steady or gone slightly backwards. Today's latest Panelbase poll for Business for Scotland, showing Yes reaching a new high watermark, might well support that theory.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 55% (+1)
No 45% (-1)

"Decisive margin" said every BBC report in 2014.  (There was such consistent usage of the word "decisive" by the BBC in 2014 that obviously an edict had gone out from on high.)  "The settled will of the Scottish people" said David Cameron in 2014.  It's happened, folks: Yes now lead by exactly the same margin that No won the 2014 indyref by - and judging from the British establishment's own past words, they should be regarding this development as game over.

To put it in perspective, before this calendar year, only a small handful of Panelbase polls had ever shown a Yes lead, and no Panelbase poll had ever shown a Yes vote higher than 52%.  The last three have now shown Yes on either 54% or 55%.  By any standards, the evidence of a major breakthrough is overwhelming.  Of course the further 1% increase since the last poll is well within the margin of error - if Yes was holding steady at around 54%, you'd expect some polls to show the figure at 53% or 55% (or indeed 52% or 56%), so we'll have to wait for more information before concluding that the upward trend is continuing.  But that should certainly be regarded as a real possibility.

Monday, August 17, 2020

A few miscellaneous points

First of all, congratulations to the poster 'Unknown' who has stolen away Tam the Bam's title of Scot Goes Pop Precious Union Contemplation Diviner after just one day.  He/she correctly spotted that I was contemplating the value of Our Precious Union at the Ness of Duncansby, midway between John O'Groats and Duncansby Head lighthouse.  That's the first time I've been up that way since the age of 10, and one thing that surprised me is that you don't really get the same sense of being at the 'end of the world' that you do in a place like Cape St Vincent in Portugal, because there's land immediately beyond John O'Groats in the form of Stroma, and there's also land not far beyond Stroma which I presume must be Orkney.

Just as I did when I was 10, I went on to walk the coastal path to see the Duncansby Stacks.  I thought it might not be as impressive as I remembered from childhood, but quite the reverse.  Why that walk isn't better known, better advertised, better signposted is beyond me.  You often hear of people going to John O'Groats and being underwhelmed by what they find there, but most of them are probably oblivious to the fact that Scotland's equivalent of the Cliffs of Moher is just a stone's throw away.

Anyway, as you'll have gathered from the last few posts, I've been away for a little while, and one consequence of that is there's been a backlog of emails I haven't got round to responding to.  A couple of people asked about the possibility of making recurring (monthly or quarterly) donations to help support the blog.  I don't have any facility set up for that, but the good thing about the GoFundMe crowdfunders is that they remain open for donations indefinitely, so if you have a sudden random urge to make a contribution you can do so at any time HERE.  However, bear in mind that I'll probably run a proper 2020 fundraiser at some point over the coming months.  (I know I've run two crowdfunders this year, but those were specifically to pay for our exclusive opinion polls.)

There was also a well-meaning email trying to organise a reconciliation between myself and Stuart Campbell, on the basis that we're all on the same side and we need to be pulling together.  What I would say to that is there wouldn't have been any dispute in the first place if we really felt that we're still on the same side.  Stuart's attitude to independence seems much more ambivalent now - it might be useful to ask him whether he'd still want independence if, for example, it meant not getting his way on self-ID and other related issues.  He'd probably evade the question by saying the cause of independence is doomed anyway unless the SNP drop self-ID - but I suspect if he was being honest, his answer would be "no".  (And, by the same token, there are now prominent figures in the SNP who regard their support for self-ID as far more important than independence - it's a really unfortunate situation on both sides.) 

Stuart also has an unrealistically hostile attitude to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, which can only be harmful in the long run.  And yes, I know the SNP is not the independence movement, but that's really not the point.  Look at it this way - even if a credible new pro-indy party is set up, and even if it's successful (two very big "ifs"), the most it will be able to do is gain leverage over the SNP by holding the balance of power at Holyrood.  That will still leave the SNP as by far the predominant pro-indy party, which means that whoever is SNP leader will effectively lead the Yes campaign in any referendum that occurs over the next couple of years - and that probably means Nicola Sturgeon, unless she voluntarily opts to stand aside.  If we get to that point, Wings will self-evidently be damaging the cause unless he at least massively tones down his antipathy towards the First Minister.  Is he capable of doing that, or has it all gone too far?  Again, he would probably argue that it's not a valid question because there isn't going to be a referendum if Nicola Sturgeon remains leader.  But that kind of black-and-white thinking is somewhat divorced from the nuances and complexities of the real world.

*  *  *

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Our Precious Second Readers' Contest

Congratulations to Tam the Bam, who I can officially crown Scot Goes Pop Precious Union Contemplation Diviner after he was the first to correctly state that I was contemplating the value of Our Precious Union at the Corran ferry.  (Stravaiger later came in with more detail, but I think in fairness Tam was specific enough, and he was first.)

But can YOU steal Tam's crown straight away?  This one is from a few days ago - where was I channelling Matt Hancock?  It's in Scotland, obviously. People only ever contemplate the value of Our Precious Union in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.  In England they just get on with being English or Johnny Foreigner.

Our Precious Readers' Contest

A quick readers' contest (and I may have one or two more of these): where was I contemplating the value of Our Precious Union last night?  There's no tangible prize, but the winner takes the coveted title of Scot Goes Pop Precious Union Contemplation Diviner.

21% of the electorate is more than enough to win seats in a proportional system

Just to deal briefly with the Herald piece from the other day suggesting that Alex Salmond's hopes of regaining control of the SNP were "forlorn" in the wake of a poll showing that 21% of respondents have a favourable view of him, and 63% have an unfavourable view.  There are two obvious points: firstly, I'm not aware of any suggestion that Alex Salmond actually wants to become SNP leader again, so as far as any leadership change is concerned, he'd be more interested in the personal ratings of whoever the alternative leader might be.  Secondly, there's also the option of a new Salmond-led party, and under a proportional representation system 21% approval is plenty enough to win seats, as long as enough of those people are enthusiastic enough.  I haven't changed my view that a Salmond party would probably gain some representation in Holyrood.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Analysis of that sensational YouGov poll

Just a quick note to let you know that I've written some analysis for The National of the YouGov poll showing Yes support soaring to a record-breaking 53%.  You can read it HERE.

Incidentally, just to address the complaint Peter A Bell has left in The National's comment section: no, support for indy has not "soared from 54% to 53%".  That's an apples-and-oranges comparison between a Panelbase poll and a YouGov poll.  The last comparable YouGov poll had Yes on 51%, so it's a two-point increase.

Support for independence hits record-breaking high with YouGov

Should Scotland be an independent country? (YouGov, 6th-10th August 2020):

Yes 53% (+2)
No 47% (-2)

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions:

SNP 57% (+3)
Conservatives 20% (-3)
Labour 14% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Scottish Parliament regional list voting intentions:

SNP 47% (+2)
Conservatives 21% (-2)
Labour 14% (+2)
Greens 6% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 54% (+3)
Conservatives 20% (-5)
Labour 16% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
Greens 2% (n/c)
Brexit Party 2% (+2)

Monday, August 10, 2020

Housekeeping note

The trolling and spam on this blog has got completely out of hand in recent times, particularly over the last month, so to attempt to apply a brake I've temporarily changed the settings to only allow comments from people signed in to a Google account.  The final straw has been a torrent of pornographic spam - you may not even have seen it because it's mostly been on old posts, but it's been happening more than a dozen times per day, and every comment needs to be deleted individually, which is a major chore.

I'll try reversing the change in a few days to see if our friend has taken the hint.  But even once things are back to normal, I would urge people to post more constructively than has often been the case of late.  Cut down on the swearing and other inappropriate language.  Don't post defamatory claims about named individuals.  And if you want to spend half your life posting ad hominem attacks on me, then by all means do so, but not in the comments section of my own blog.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The road to independence for Scotland - and the road to nowhere for Douglas Ross

So a couple of 'quick notes' for you tonight.  I have a new article on The National's website about whether Douglas Ross is likely to keep his promise to Michelle Ballantyne to be "Boris backing, Brexit positive, anti-Nat".  You can read it HERE.  Also, I'm quoted (along with John Curtice and Mark Diffley) in Chaminda Jayanetti's new piece for politics.co.uk entitled 'The road to independence: How Covid and Brexit pushed Scotland from the Union' - you can read that HERE.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

It's time to democratise the SNP's NEC

Earlier this evening, I had a brief but interesting Twitter exchange with the former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, who incidentally I voted for back in the day no fewer than four times - twice when he was the SNP candidate for Cumbernauld & Kilsyth in 1999 and 2003, and twice when he was a Central Scotland list candidate in the same years.  (He was elected on the list in 1999, but missed out in 2003 due to his ranking on the list being too low - ironically as the result of something of a stitch-up.)

Now, in fairness, what Andrew says about being unhappy with the NEC decision does check out - I had a look through some of his earlier tweets and he had made the same point before. So I'm happy to apologise to him for getting the wrong end of the stick. (I know some cynical souls will suggest that we may simply be seeing a tactical retreat after the NEC decision had already proved to be unsustainable. But we have to take what people say at face value in the absence of contrary evidence.)

Nevertheless, it's also reasonable to point out that I gave Andrew the opportunity to explain exactly what he did mean by the comments I misconstrued, and as you can see he very studiously avoided doing so. There presumably must be a reason for his reluctance to publicly explain what "placating the gallery" is getting at.  Off the top of my head, I can only really think of a small number of demands that people have been making on social media - one is that the decision to block James Dornan be overturned (that's already happened), one is that the decision to block Joanna Cherry be overturned (Andrew says he'd support that), and one is that people should think more carefully about who is placed on the NEC and the process by which they end up being placed there.  Is it the latter demand that Andrew is concerned about?  This is not an attempt to "cast aspersions", but when an explanation isn't forthcoming, all that can fill that gap is a process of logical deduction, and I'm struggling to think of any other possibilities.

If I'm right, it's little wonder that Andrew is unwilling to spell out what he means, because the calls to reform the NEC are a simple matter of democratic accountability.  To the limited extent that the NEC is elected at all, it's elected by an indirect method, and that's bound to cause great concern if the end result is a body taking decisions that are alien to the wishes of the wider party membership.  As for the observation that those who do have the opportunity to elect NEC members should take the process more seriously in future, that's an affirmation of a democratic principle too.  If you feel that any person you've helped to elect has let you down or acted inappropriately, of course you should reflect on that before you cast your next vote.

In the overall scheme of things, it wasn't all that long ago that even the SNP leader wasn't directly elected - there was election-by-delegate instead.  That wouldn't be considered acceptable now, and an unelected NEC really ought to be seen in exactly the same way as an anachronism.  And it can no longer even be said that it's an "anachronism that works".

Incidentally, none of this should be seen as a criticism of Angus Robertson, who would be an excellent MSP for Edinburgh Central, every bit as much as Joanna Cherry would.  (I regard Robertson and Cherry as two of the four most likely successors to Nicola Sturgeon, along with Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes.)  But we must have a fair process, and an end to factional control of the SNP's internal structures.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Since Scotland broke away from the disastrous Westminster-led response to the crisis, our outcomes have been dramatically - not "marginally" - better than England's

I raised a dubious eyebrow at this comment today from David Herdson over at Stormfront Lite -

"And what’s true in England is true in Scotland too. While Nicola Sturgeon likes to pat her administration on its back, the truth is that cases are rising there too, and the death total is still worse than just about everywhere else in Europe. Having marginally better outcomes and considerably better communication skills than London is nothing much to write home about."

Of course there's a grain of truth in that - over the entire course of the pandemic to date, Scotland can be reasonably said to have had a poor outcome by international standards.  But what that doesn't tell you is more important than what it does.  The vast bulk of infections and deaths were front-loaded in the early part of the crisis when Scotland was in almost total lockstep with the Westminster-led "Four Nations" approach.  The modelling suggests that almost 100,000 people were infected in Scotland the week before lockdown - that's nearly 2% of the entire population in just seven days.  I personally know people who were infected that week, and probably most of us do.  That was being allowed to happen by an intentional policy choice of herd immunity.

At some point, the penny dropped in Scottish Government circles that we were not in fact facing the "mild infection" that the likes of Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance had briefed them about, and as a result Scotland has diverged sharply from the policy south of the border.  To the best of my knowledge, the extent of the U-turn has never been publicly acknowledged, but it's been almost total.  We've gone from Jason Leitch saying in his Grand Complacency Tour of the TV studios in February/March that almost everyone was going to get the virus and that was totes fine, to a specific goal of eliminating the virus completely.

That hasn't left us with merely a difference of "communication" styles between Scotland and England (although the communication in Scotland has self-evidently been vastly superior), but a difference of substance.  And that divergence hasn't just led to "marginally better outcomes" as David suggests, but to dramatically better outcomes.  He's correct that case numbers in Scotland rose on Friday to their highest level for two months - but that was a rise of 30.  That's still well behind England on a per capita basis.

That said, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and Scotland's success story is about to be tested as never before by the gamble of opening schools on a full-time basis in a matter of days from now.  It's ironic, then, that David's piece is a call for the reopening of schools to be prioritised.

*  *  *

Friday, July 31, 2020

YouGov poll: Nicola Sturgeon's net personal rating is 87 points higher than Boris Johnson's

YouGov today published results of a full-scale Scottish poll, but it only contained favourability ratings for various leading politicians.  It would be odd to conduct a poll of that sort without also asking for voting intentions, so I'm wondering if there might be more to come, possibly for a Sunday newspaper.  In the meantime, we have the familiar picture of Nicola Sturgeon towering over her unionist competitors - 

Net favourability ratings:

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP)  +36
Rishi Sunak (Conservative)  +7
Sir Keir Starmer (Labour)  +1
Richard Leonard (Labour)  -28
Jackson Carlaw (Conservative)  -32
Matt Hancock (Conservative)  -38
Dominic Raab (Conservative)  -38
Priti Patel (Conservative)  -48
Boris Johnson (Conservative)  -51
Michael Gove (Conservative)  -57
Dominic Cummings (SAGE)  -69

I know some will say that this is mildly encouraging for Sir Keir Starmer, but given that he hasn't had much time or opportunity to get on anyone's nerves yet, I'm not sure a neutral rating is much to write home about.  Meanwhile, these numbers are a rude awakening for anyone in the Tory ranks who would fondly like to imagine that Michael Gove's Scottish background and accent are some kind of secret weapon - he's somehow less popular than even the Prime Minister.

To return to the subject of last night's stitch-up at the SNP's NEC, quite blatantly intended to prevent Joanna Cherry and James Dornan standing at next year's election, what I would say is this.  When we have a wildly popular leader, who commands respect and admiration in Scotland, the rest of the UK and to some extent even internationally, it would plainly be in all our interests to be able to get behind her and achieve a thumping, united mandate next May.  But if that's going to happen, it really does take two to tango.  You can't turn the SNP into a cold house for those with certain perfectly legitimate views (for example self-ID sceptics) and then lecture the people you've alienated about how they still have to vote for you anyway.  Maintaining a big tent requires a bit of give and take, not just a one-way process of take.  Nicola Sturgeon is in so many ways a good leader, and now would be an excellent (and indeed essential) moment for her to demonstrate that once again by asking for the NEC's decisions to be urgently reviewed before any lasting damage is done.  

So many independence supporters would prefer to stick with the SNP in May.  Make it possible for them.  Don't put up needless walls.

A factional and self-destructive decision

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The SNP leadership should just chill out and stop trying to artificially obstruct Joanna Cherry's bid to become an MSP

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Before they burn their bridges, leading figures in the SNP ought to remember that Alex Salmond is a man with options

Following on from my bewilderment over a period of weeks as Iain Macwhirter acted as an unlikely cheerleader for herd immunity, it's refreshing to once again find something to agree with him about, and I see that his column today will argue that Nicola Sturgeon should seek a reconciliation with Alex Salmond "before it's too late".  I think from the SNP leadership's perspective that point should really be beyond dispute.  The period after Mr Salmond's acquittal ought to have been a time of healing, but instead a number of senior SNP parliamentarians foolishly made comments that were obviously intended to make it very difficult for the former leader to be welcomed back into the fold.  It became clear that one or two of them really did believe in the nonsensical claim peddled by the controversial journalist David Leask that the man who had led the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence to date, and who they had served under themselves without any apparent difficulty, was somehow not part of the "real SNP" (whatever that might be).

We live in an infantile age where anyone who makes even the smallest mistake or misjudgement can find themselves characterised as an irredeemable monster.  In the eyes of several individuals very close to the top of the SNP, Alex Salmond was at some point reclassified, practically overnight, from a respected statesman to an "enemy of women", and absurdly the verdict of the court made almost no difference to that assessment.  Even if they truly believed that the demonisation was justified, they seemed to have lost sight of the realpolitik of the situation, which is that Mr Salmond, unlike the vast majority of politicians, is a man with options.  It's not actually possible to deny him a future in politics by simply freezing him out of the SNP, because he has the option, if he wishes to take it, of a bright future in politics outside the SNP.  His critics might think it's unfair or distasteful that he has that option when others don't, but all that matters is that he does.  You'd almost be forgiven for thinking that people close to the leadership actively prefer the idea of his comeback being outside the SNP, given that their actions make that outcome somewhat more probable - but the idea that they're doing it intentionally makes absolutely zero sense given the obvious potential for electoral damage to the party.  The more plausible conclusion is that sound strategic judgement has given way to identity politics zealotry.

During the 1980 Labour leadership election, Denis Healey famously treated his natural allies with contempt.  He told them they had "nowhere else to go", and that he would instead concentrate on wooing the left in his ill-fated bid to defeat Michael Foot.  A few months later, some of the MPs that Healey had antagonised left to join the newly-formed Social Democratic Party, and one of them sent him a note that simply read "found somewhere else to go".  The SNP leadership are acting as if Mr Salmond has nowhere else to go.

As I've said a number of times in recent months, I'm personally in two minds about whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing for the independence movement if Mr Salmond ends up launching a new list-only party.  On the face of it, things are going exceptionally well at the moment - support for independence has never been higher, and thanks to Nicola Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic there is unprecedented faith in Scotland's ability to govern itself competently.  That progress could in theory be squandered by the self-inflicted wound of a major new divide in the pro-indy camp.  But, on the other hand, even sky-high support for independence would be of absolutely no use to anyone unless the SNP leadership actually do something with it.  If a Salmond-led party emerges, at least we'd immediately have something that we don't have right now - ie. a very credible route-map to Scotland becoming an independent country in the aftermath of the 2021 election.  The new party would not win a majority, it would not become the largest single party, and it would not form a government on its own.  But it would have every chance of becoming a kingmaker, and it would presumably use any leverage it gains to insist on a way forward that is not dependent on the granting of a Section 30 order.

In all honesty, and in spite of my mixed feelings about the strategic wisdom of launching a list-only party, if Alex Salmond was to decide to take the plunge I'd probably put my doubts to one side and get behind the initiative.  Right now I'm a proud supporter of the SNP because it's the only large party with independence as its raison d'être, but if another large and credible party comes along with a stronger commitment to independence, the equation would obviously change radically.

It's safe to assume that, unlike me, the SNP leadership don't have even the slightest doubt in their minds that the cause of independence is best served by the Yes movement remaining largely united behind the SNP, and the SNP only.  If that is indeed their verdict, it would plainly be logical for them to reach out to Mr Salmond.  If they don't, they'll have no-one to blame but themselves for any negative consequences that follow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

BREAKING: It's the other guy who's obsessed, insists angry man for the 34,289th time

Alert readers (ahem) of Wings Over Scotland may have noticed that in the vast majority of the countless blog/social media posts Stuart Campbell has used to rant about Scot Goes Pop over the last year, his main - and rather curious - complaint is that I am supposedly "dementedly obsessed" with him.  It does beg the question of whether he genuinely thinks his audience is too thick to notice the colossal irony of that charge, because one thing I'm quite sure of is that he's not too thick to have noticed it himself.  One of his stock tactics has been to demand answers to certain questions, and then when I do what he demands and provide the answers, he uses my reply as further evidence of my "demented obsession".  On the most recent occasion he attempted that stunt, only a couple of weeks ago, I actually asked him for an assurance that if I gave him the reply he was angrily insisting upon, we could dispense with the increasingly tedious "demented obsession" repertoire, even if just this once.  He gave that assurance.  So I posted the reply he wanted, and as it happens I haven't blogged about him since (although needless to say I always reserve the right to blog about any subject at any time of my choosing).

But wait, what's this?  Today brings word of the 34,289th post on Wings about the subject of the James Kelly "demented obsession", and it does read like someone who has lost his cool somewhat -

"the usual suspects stamping their feet and pouting about it yet again on social media, in particular the firmly-ensconced SNP MP Pete Wishart and the worryingly obsessed former poll-analysis website WINGS OVER SCOTLAND IS BAD AND TERRIBLE AND STUART CAMPBELL SOMETIMES DOES SWEARS SO NOBODY WOULD EVER VOTE FOR HIM! Goes Pop."

Blimey.  Given that I haven't even been blogging about him, what could possibly have sent the poor Reverend into such a meltdown?  As far as I can see, it appears to be a complaint about a mere two tweets I posted yesterday in relation to a newspaper report about him and his interminable on again-off again plans for a new Wings political party.  Let me just gently reiterate a piece of advice I've given to Stuart in the past - if it really bothers you this much that people are commenting on you and your actions, you might not be ideally suited to a political career.  Because if you do enter the political arena, you're going to regularly make the news (as you've just done), and people will comment on social media about those news stories.  It really does go with the territory.  If you can't even cope with two mildly critical tweets, it might be best that you reach that realisation now, because there'll be a lot, lot worse to come from people far more hostile than I am.

As for his belief that swearing is a national pastime in Scotland, and that anyone who doesn't think an abusive leader is an electoral asset must be living in the 18th Century, I can only repeat what I said in my reply two weeks ago.  When Stuart imagines Scotland, he appears to imagine a pub full of working-class football supporters.  That's not totally inaccurate, of course, but it's only part of Scotland, and it's not even the dominant part.  A female friend spontaneously said to me afterwards "he's wrong, you know, extreme swearing would totally put me and a lot of other people off voting for a party like that".  Personally, I've no doubt that's correct.  Stuart disagrees, but if he puts it to the test he'll be in for a rude awakening.

"We’ve watched in bafflement as James Kelly in particular has interpreted this complete silence as a series of “U-turns” and “re-U-turns” so lengthy and contorted that we honestly have no idea what he even thinks our plans are now, despite the absolutely extraordinary amount of time he spends ranting about us."

Hmmm.  What I've actually been doing, of course, is replying to his own crazy-paving utterances on his plans.  Some of those utterances have been publicly posted in the comments section of this blog, so it's a bit pointless for him to pretend he's remained "silent" on the topic.  But, hey, if you think your readership is that gullible, why wouldn't you try the Orwellian "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia" line?  I doubt it's any coincidence that Stuart's favourite book is Ninety Eighty-Four.

Honestly, Stu - I've got the memo.  You're trying to pathologise criticism of your budding political career because you know that the criticism is well-founded and has the potential to hit home.  But if pathologising my own critique as "dementedly obsessed" was ever going to work, wouldn't I have given up in embarrassment by now?  Do I come across as someone who'll be deterred from pointing out the dangers of a Wings party to the independence cause any time soon?  Maybe it's time to try a new tack.  In fact, here's a radical thought - you could actually engage with the criticisms, and debate like a normal, mature politician.  You might just need the practice...

Thursday, July 23, 2020


The other night, I happened to stumble across this Phantom Power film I took part in a few years ago.  It also features Derek Bateman, Paul Kavanagh and Janice Galloway.

I think I'm right in saying that my segment was filmed literally a couple of weeks after the independence referendum, so it's an interesting reminder of what was going through my head during that period.  Given that George Galloway has been in the news recently, this is the observation that leaps out -

"You also can look at the statements that the London parties made during the referendum...George Galloway, who normally you wouldn't think he was speaking on behalf on anyone but himself, but in fact he was the official designated representative of Better Together [in the televised debate at the Hydro], and he specifically said that not only was Devo Max on offer, but something that he called Devo Supermax.  I mean, if Devo Max is commonly defined as the devolution of everything apart from foreign affairs and defence, the mind boggles as to what Devo Supermax is, but certainly that's what George Galloway promised, and nobody from Better Together said 'actually, he spoke out of turn, that doesn't apply', so that is a pledge they made.  I think what we've now got to do is keep them to the promises that they made.  Whether they intended to make them or not, what they said is on the record."

This begs just one very simple and devastating question, which doubtless the fearless mainstream media will be persecuting Galloway with during the campaign to come - "WHERE'S OUR DEVO SUPERMAX, GEORGE?"

*  *  *

Monday, July 20, 2020

For the Yes movement to stay behind them, the SNP must have a crystal-clear manifesto commitment to an early referendum - with no caveats or get-out clauses

I've been having a look at Robin McAlpine's attack on the SNP leadership, and there are parts I strongly disagree with, but also parts about which I just have to throw my hands up in the air and say "it's too soon to tell".  He's convinced that the SNP have no intention of delivering an independence referendum in the next five-year Holyrood term - well, that's a concern that I have, but I'm not sure how either I or Robin are in any position to say that it's a certainty.

The most despicable part of Tony Blair's tactics in engineering an illegal war in Iraq was the way he managed dissent within the Labour party.  In the autumn of 2002, many Labour MPs wanted to debate the prospect of invasion, but they were told that "it's far, far too early to think about that, nothing is even remotely imminent, there'll be ample time to debate before anything happens".  But then in a blink of an eye, they were being told that it was far, far too late for debate, we had passed the point of no return, and that any attempt to stop the military build-up should have taken place much earlier.

The suspicion in some quarters is that the SNP leadership are attempting a similar stunt - but instead of shutting down dissent over a predetermined action until it's too late to stop it, they're shutting down dissent over a predetermined lack of action.  But is that actually what's happening?  I've been told, by someone who is in an excellent position to judge, that Nicola Sturgeon remains sincere in her commitment to independence, but that she only ever listens to an extremely small, closed group of advisers who simply have no strategy for bringing independence about in the absence of a Section 30 order, and no interest in ever devising such a strategy.  But I've also heard it said by others that a strategy is already firmly in place and that we'll see it play out reasonably quickly after next year's election.  Without being a mindreader, it's impossible to tell for sure which of those possibilities is the correct one.  That being the case, my main criticism of the leadership at this stage would be their tendency to say to the wider movement "just get on with building support for independence and don't worry your pretty little heads about process".  We all have a stake in "process", and being told not to even think about it is bound to fuel paranoia that we're being led up the garden path.

I think part of this problem will resolve itself, though.  The movement will be expecting a crystal-clear manifesto commitment to a reasonably early referendum.  If that doesn't materialise, or if there are caveats in the wording about taking no action until the economic impact of the pandemic has been reversed (which, if taken literally, could mean decades of delay), then at that point it might cease to be so illogical to look at smaller pro-indy parties.  I certainly wouldn't say there'd be nothing to lose, because there are some pretty major potential downsides to risking a unionist government, even when the main pro-indy party has no intention of pursuing independence.  (I keep thinking about how the Parti Québécois failed repeatedly to come close to regaining majority power after losing it in 2003.)  But it's fair to say there'd be somewhat less to lose.

The much more likely scenario, however, is that the desired watertight referendum commitment will be in the SNP manifesto, in which case the most promising course of action will be to give the SNP a thumping mandate, and then to hold their feet to the fire over honouring their own commitment.  The only possible exception to that would be if there is a new party led by Alex Salmond, which might well be strong enough to win seats and to gain some leverage with the SNP government.

Of course I'm going to have to take issue with Robin's language about the electoral system.  His subtext is that the SNP asking for "both votes" is greedy and unreasonable, and that they'd have to clear an extremely high bar to even begin to justify it.  But the reality is that the whole logic of the Additional Member System hinges on the assumption that the vast majority of people will vote for the same party on both ballots.  The only reason there are two ballots rather than one is to give people some discretion to vote tactically on the constituency ballot, while still voting for their first-choice party on the more important list ballot.  It would be downright odd if the SNP weren't asking for both votes.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The other side of the coin

An anonymous commenter said this on the previous thread - 

"This may come back to haunt you James. I think there's every chance that next years Holyrood vote, if it's seen as a defacto vote for a new referendum will be heavily gamed by the unionist parties.

It may be an absolute necessity that a new Independence list only party does stand just to reverse any shenanigans."

I very much hope the unionist side does make a hapless attempt to game the system - for exactly the same reason that I hope the pro-indy side doesn't.  If, for example, George Galloway persuades a few thousand gullible Labour and Tory supporters to lend him their list votes, he won't win any seats, but he could easily gift an extra seat or two to Yes parties.  (That is, as long as we're not foolish enough to attempt to "balance out" the mistake he's making!)

Why is Galloway doing this?  It's about himself, as always.  He's seen how a small minority of Yessers have hopelessly fallen in love with the dream of 'hacking' the list vote, and thinks he can sell the same dream to unionist voters and win himself a passport back to semi-serious politics.  I very much doubt if he'll even succeed in doing that, though.

Dialogue with the Reverend

As you may have seen, Stuart Campbell took a little time off from poker and Gaelic-bashing last night to leave a comment on this blog about his views on 'gaming the voting system', and went on to demand a point-by-point reply from me. There's been a bit of a recurring pattern in the past that if I accede to his demand for a detailed reply, he then uses the fact that I replied as evidence that I am "dementedly obsessed" with him. I asked for an assurance that he would not play the same tedious game again, and he gave it. I have every confidence he will stick to his word this time (ahem). Here goes...

"But you're quite right, I have changed my mind. I don't regard that as being anything to be ashamed of when circumstances change."

But circumstances haven't changed.  The arguments against 'gaming the system' in 2011 and 2016, including the arguments that Stuart advanced himself, were based largely on the nature of the voting system and the laws of arithmetic.  Neither of those things have changed.

"The difference is that unlike Mike [Small], I've clearly and repeatedly explained WHY I've taken a different position this time - tiny wee parties nobody's ever heard of have no chance. But Wings has very high recognition with the Scottish public, especially among Yes voters - in the real world, not on social media"

This appears to mean that the "changed circumstances" Stuart is referring to essentially amount to his exceptionally high opinion of himself - and, if so, a few unkind souls might say those circumstances haven't changed much either.  But he seems to be deadly serious about this point, so I'll give a serious answer.  As far as I can see, he's convinced himself that he's super-famous largely on the basis of Panelbase polling which asked the general public whether they've read or have heard of his website.  As I've explained many times before, that's the sort of question on which online polling is bound to produce a less reliable result than telephone polling, simply because volunteer online polling panels contain far more politically engaged people than you'd find among a random sample.  Every single time there's a Panelbase poll in the field, at least two or three readers of this blog mention that they were among the 1000-strong sample who took part.  The chances of that happening during the fieldwork for a telephone poll would be much slimmer - in fact, in the whole twelve years I've been blogging, I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times someone has mentioned being polled by telephone.  Conclusion: people who respond to online polls are considerably more likely to have heard of Scot Goes Pop than the population at large, which almost certainly means they're considerably more likely to have heard of Wings too.  In a nutshell, Stuart has a distorted notion of his own fame due to polling numbers that he should have taken with a heavy dose of salt.

"So either of us might actually have a shot, and I also regard it as something worth doing for other reasons, which I've also explained at length."

The "either of us" refers to himself and Alex Salmond.  Many people will be utterly incredulous that he's mentioning himself in the same breath as the former First Minister of Scotland, but that does seem to genuinely be the current state of his thinking.  All I can say is that, to put it mildly, I disagree with him that his own name recognition is even vaguely comparable with Mr Salmond's.

"And even more so because I don't share your apparent complacent certainty that current polling will continue until next May. I remember the SNP being on 62% about this far out from the last election, and then dropping about 15 points and losing their majority, and that was WITHOUT the trainwreck that the Salmond inquiry is going to be."

That's a straw man argument on a couple of counts.  Firstly, if he's read what I've written on this subject (and presumably he's implying that he has) he'll know that, far from being complacent, I've repeatedly stressed that an inflated SNP lead is unlikely to come through a bruising election campaign totally unscathed.  It's also the case that I was one of the few people in 2016 itself who flagged up the danger that the SNP might lose their overall majority if they shed too many list votes.  That warning was greeted with disbelief in many quarters.

But the more important point is that the dangers of mucking about with attempts to game the system would be much greater if the SNP poll lead dips sharply.  Stuart seems to be implying that we should be more willing to take risks with the pro-indy majority if the polls tighten, whereas self-evidently the reverse is true.

"This isn't a very remarkable opinion - you completely agree with it in principle, and you think it could work for Salmond"

I've said that it might work for Alex Salmond due to the public's massive familiarity with him, but that it would not work for any other person I can think of.  To characterise that crystal-clear assessment as "you agree in principle that a Wings party would work apart from some minor detail" is so grossly misleading as to be indistinguishable from outright dishonesty.

"you just think that because I swear sometimes and I'm 'controversial' nobody would vote for a Wings party. You're perfectly entitled to that view, however obviously stupid and wrong it is - controversy and being disliked by a lot of people didn't seem to stop Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump winning. Nor Alex himself, come to that. And I do still find it hilarious that you think the Scottish public has great fainting fits over swearywords like you do, because you're apparently from 1932."

This is something I've noticed with Stuart before - when he imagines Scotland, he imagines a pub full of male, working-class football supporters.  A very substantial minority of the Scottish electorate does indeed look like that - but the operative word is "minority".  As it happens, though, I think Stuart is getting a bit muddled here.  I believe he's harking back to the iScot article from a few months ago that he had such a meltdown over.  As far as I can recall, what I actually said in that article is that Stuart's online persona would make it difficult for the SNP to work with him if he held the balance of power at Holyrood.  I do not regard that scenario as remotely likely or even plausible, but the point I was making is that if it does happen, that could lead to the SNP doing a deal with a unionist party instead - which would be the worst of all worlds.

Oh, and you'll note that having previously mentioned himself in the same breath as Alex Salmond, he's now doing it again with Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.  No comment.

"Still, be as mental as you like. But to pretend that I'm the same as Mike Small is a bit below the belt even for you."

Count your blessings, sunshine.  I could have compared you to David Leask.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The brass neck

A Wings-style title for today's blogpost in tribute to the great man himself - who I think may be getting a touch paranoid.  A few hours ago, in the comments section of his site, he made this characteristically angry remark about me - 

"Not if he’s going to lie about me, no. I’m not an 'ISP-supporting blogger'. I’ve admired them for actually getting off their arses and doing something, but to the best of my recollection that’s as far as I’ve gone."

There's just one snag about that accusation of lying - the 'ISP-supporting blogger' I was referring to was in fact Barrhead Boy, not Wings.  (And now Barrhead Boy will doubtless have an even bigger meltdown because I've just identified him directly, but hey-ho.  Such fragile egos we deal with.)

Stuart's comment was beneath the latest of countless furious blogposts and social media posts he's written over the last year attacking me and my views on "gaming the system".  In it, he moans that I've written "literally dozens" of "hysterical articles" on the subject.  I do feel it's just possible there might be a certain irony about that complaint, but I'll bring you confirmation as soon I have it.

He also lumps me in with an array of commentators, pundits and politicians who have attacked the idea of 'tactical voting on the list', but who generally wouldn't agree with each other on other topics - such as my Labour MSP namesake, Bella Caledonia's editor Mike Small, and the controversial journalist David Leask.  The implication is that this means we must all be arguing disingenuously.  I'm quite sure Stuart is right about that.  For example, he himself has criticised JK Rowling over many years as a "litigious bully", and it would therefore be utterly unthinkable for him to now find himself on the same side as the Harry Potter author on, let's say, the trans issue.  He'd know that would totally deprive him of all credibility, and he'd make very, very sure it never happened.  He's refreshingly consistent and non-hypocritical in that way.

He has particularly strong words for Mike Small, who he points out has appeared to do a complete U-turn on the desirability of tactical voting since the last Holyrood election.  And, indeed, I can testify to the truth of that better than most people.  One night, in early 2016, I was one of several Twitter users who pointed out to Mike that Bella had turned into a propaganda site urging people not to "waste" their list vote on the SNP and to tactically vote for RISE instead.  Mike was insistent that wasn't the case, and that Bella was open to publishing all views.  I asked him whether he'd therefore run a piece by me putting forward an alternative view, and he encouraged me to go ahead and write something.  So I did it straight away, in fact I stayed up half the night doing it, and to put it mildly I was not best pleased when he wrote back immediately and indicated that he had no intention of publishing it unless I completely rewrote it to change the central message.  I didn't keep quiet about what had happened, and eventually Mike published our entire correspondence to supposedly set the record straight - but instead all he succeeded in doing was removing all doubt that he had declined the article simply because it argued against the feasibility of tactical voting on the list.  A number of his regular readers were quite shocked.

So, yes, it's true that Bella doesn't have a leg to stand on when they now attack parties like the ISP for trying to game the system.  Their position seems to boil down to "gaming the system is workable and constructive when the beneficiaries are radical left parties, but impossible and destructive when the beneficiaries are non-woke parties".  And of course Stuart is the ideal person to draw attention to this hypocrisy, because he has in no way done a complete U-turn himself since correctly stating in 2016 that attempts to vote tactically on the list were "a mug's game" that could cost us pro-indy seats at Holyrood.  

Speaking as one of the few people who is actually saying exactly the same thing now that I said in 2016, and who isn't arguing that the laws of arithmetic somehow change depending on how woke or non-woke a political party is, I must say I can only look on in total bemusement at the way Bella and Wings have swapped sides on the subject but seamlessly continued to argue with each other.  What makes it even more comical is that very few of their followers seem to have clocked what has happened.

That said, Stuart does take a moment to deny that he even wants to game the system - he innocently claims that his support for the concept of a list-only party is simply about making sure that the views of a particular segment of the electorate are represented in a way that isn't currently the case.  And naturally he's in a good position to make that claim with a straight face, because at no point has he published lengthy blogposts explaining that one of the main purposes of a list-only party is to win far more pro-indy seats on the list than the share of the vote would otherwise warrant.  Nor has he at any stage published a pseudo-scientific analysis by Gavin Barrie setting out how this would supposedly work in practice.  Nope, none of that happened.  If you think it did, you imagined it.  Stop imagining things.

Oh and by the way (as Bernie Sanders would say), it's categorically untrue that I've been "frantically punting the both votes SNP line".  I lost count of the number of times in 2016 that I had to point out that "both votes SNP" was not my message, even though people kept erroneously ascribing those words to me.  All I've ever done is point out that the list vote is the more important of the two votes, because it determines the overall composition of parliament.  It doesn't lend itself to tactical voting, and people should therefore vote for their first-choice party on the list, regardless of which party that happens to be.

It's particularly odd that Stuart should mischaracterise my argument as "both votes SNP" just one day after I wrote a blogpost saying I would have a big decision to make if Alex Salmond sets up a new party.