Thursday, January 21, 2021

Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll: A majority of Scottish voters think it "should be a priority" for the Scottish Government to regain our European citizenship rights and access to Erasmus - and Labour/the Lib Dems should act on the basis that Scotland voted to remain in the EU

At 11pm on Hogmanay, the people of Scotland (with the exception of the minority lucky enough to hold citizenship of an EU state) lost our automatic right to live, work and study in other European countries.  With a single bong of Big Ben, our horizons shrunk dramatically - they used to stretch as far as Athens, or Warsaw, or the Algarve, but now the Scilly Isles is about as exotic as it gets.  This has happened in spite of the fact that we resoundingly voted to remain full members of the EU.  It has happened in spite of the fact that our elected parliament repeatedly withheld legislative consent for laws that paved the way for an utterly unwanted Hard Brexit.  It has happened in spite of the fact that the anti-indepedence campaign in the 2014 referendum promised us that voting No would guarantee our European citizenship.  It is, not to put too fine a point on it, completely outrageous.

And yet now all three unionist parties tell us that we must "move on" and not try to regain what we've lost through no choice or fault of our own.  The SNP are repeatedly lectured about how they should abandon constitutional "obsessions" that would ultimately, let's not forget, have the enormous tangible benefit for people of restoring their full EU citizenship rights.  And yet the Tories just somehow know that the voters don't care about any of that, and would rather the Scottish Government concentrated on more mundane matters.

But is that actually true? There's only one way to find out...

As a result of the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, British people have lost their rights as EU citizens.  Do you think it should be a priority for the Scottish Government to regain these rights for the people of Scotland, such as being able to live and work in any EU country?  (Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll, 11th-13th January 2021):

Yes 52%
No 30%

There's a fairly solid desire to get EU citizenship rights back across most demographic and political groups - the main exceptions are Leave voters (albeit they don't reject the idea by as much as might be expected), Tory voters, and, weirdly, Liberal Democrat voters - who you'd expect to be strongly pro-European, and yet don't seem to be too fussed about getting their EU citizenship back.  However, that may just be a freakish finding caused by the small number of Lib Dem voters in the sample.

At the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, the UK Government chose to withdraw from the Erasmus programme, which has given university students the opportunity to study in other European countries.  Do you think it should be a priority for the Scottish Government to regain access to the Erasmus programme for Scottish students?

Yes 52%
No 29%

You'll be relieved to hear that Lib Dem voters do at least want to rejoin Erasmus! And among Leave voters it's a startlingly close result - not far off being a dead heat.  Unsurprisingly, it's the two youngest age groups, the ones who stand to suffer the most from Westminster's decision, that are keenest on making Erasmus a priority.  

Now that Brexit has been completed, what attitude do you think Labour and the Liberal Democrats should take to Scotland's relationship with the EU?

They should seek to regain EU citizenship rights for the people of Scotland, on the basis that Scotland voted to remain in the EU: 44%

They should accept Brexit, on the basis that the UK voted to leave the EU: 41%

This is a complex result, partly because it's so close, but also because Labour's and the Liberal Democrats' own voters take the opposite view from the sample as a whole, and think Brexit should be accepted.  But Labour are never going to win much on the basis of their current vote, and if they have any real ambition at all to get back into the game, they'll need to win back some of the voters they lost to the SNP in 2015.  And it looks like most of those people want Labour to change course and push back against Brexit.  No fewer than 70% of SNP voters take that view.  Sir Keir Starmer may have just put up another needless (and massive) obstacle to repairing his relationship with former Labour voters in Scotland.

* * *

There are more questions to come from the poll, including (belatedly) the Holyrood voting intention numbers.  If you'd like to be the first to know when the results are published, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.  

Video preview of Thursday night's installment of the Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll

A reply to the agenda-driven attempts to undermine the poll result showing a majority for "Plan B"

On Tuesday night, I published the result of a question from the Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll showing that voters are in favour of the so-called Plan B option to use this year's Holyrood election to seek an outright mandate for independence.  Here is a reminder of the question and the result.

The UK Government has stated that it will seek to prevent a Scottish independence referendum taking place for several decades, regardless of whether Scottish voters elect a Scottish Government committed to holding a referendum.  In view of this stance, do you think pro-independence parties, such as the SNP and the Scottish Greens, should or should not include an outright independence pledge in their manifestos for this year's scheduled Scottish Parliament election, to give people the opportunity to vote for or against independence?  (Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll, 11th-13th January 2021): 

Should: 45%
Should not: 36%

With Don't Knows excluded -

Should: 55%
Should not: 45%

Some people obviously felt quite threatened by these numbers, because practically within seconds there was a sustained attempt to discredit the wording of the question.  It's possible that a minority of people may have been raising objections in good faith, but there's no doubt at all that the majority of the criticisms had an agenda behind them.  They were being made by people who are known to have a dogmatic view that an election cannot under any circumstances be legitimately used to gain an indy mandate.  The most prolonged exchange I had was with Cameron Archibald, who notoriously let himself down very badly a couple of weeks ago by calling Joanna Cherry MP a "deceitful moron", simply because she argued that a plebiscitary election is a legitimate option that has a clear precedent in the UK's own history.  So there's no secret at all about where Cameron is coming from on this, and the idea that he was just innocently offering textual quibbles about the question should thus be taken with a heavy dose of salt.

Of course Cameron's real problem with Joanna Cherry is her stance on the trans issue.  And this is something I've noticed in recent weeks - isn't it odd how completely unconnected issues can become irrationally linked in people's minds, especially when tribal loyalties are involved? Even though there is no possible connection between trans rights and a plebiscitary election on independence, Cameron probably feels on some level that he is defending the former by scathingly attacking the latter.  That's because his allies on the trans issue just happen to be mostly opposed to a plebiscitary election, and his 'enemies' just happen to be mostly in favour of one.  

I had thought about writing a follow-up blogpost on Tuesday night to rebut some of the criticisms of the question, but I decided against it, on the basis that it might lend credibility to what were mostly bogus and politically motivated objections.  However, the fact that there's still chatter about the question after two days demonstrates once again that it's possible to mess with people's heads if you're really determined.  If you have enough friends who can insist loudly enough that there's a problem with something, and even if you take a scattergun and contradictory approach to identifying what the problem supposedly is, people will eventually start doubting themselves and think there must be at least some truth in what you're saying.  It's a bit like the "doesn't she look tired?" snowball effect in Doctor Who.

So the time has come to knock this nonsense firmly on the head.  The main criticism I had anticipated with the Plan B question was its wordiness - but that was pretty much unavoidable, because the concept of Plan B and the reasons for thinking it may be necessary are not familiar to most voters.  Unless you put the issue in context, you won't get meaningful answers from respondents.  An empty question will produce an empty result.  I also expected one or two people might suggest that the question is leading on the basis that "opportunity" is a word with positive connotations - although I thought that would be a bit of stretch.

But no, those weren't the main criticisms.  Instead, the absurd line of attack was that the term "outright independence pledge" was somehow "vague" or "unclear". It got to the point where Cameron was repeatedly asking me to explain what it meant - although I have no information on whether he managed to maintain a straight face while doing so.  Eventually I said to him in exasperation: "Cameron, if I asked you what 'spade' means, how would you reply?" The point being that I literally cannot think of any simpler or clearer way of expressing the concept of "outright independence pledge" - it's already the most straightforward language available, which is why I used it.  An independence pledge is a pledge of independence.  'Outright' means that the pledge is for independence itself, rather than just for a referendum.

Someone claimed in all apparent seriousness to have read the question and to have concluded it was about a pledge of a referendum.  Answers on a postcard, folks, if you have any ideas as to how "outright independence pledge" can even conceivably imply such a thing - it plainly can't.  The same person then asked me "why didn't you just ask whether the Holyrood election should be used as a national plebiscitary vote?", as if that would somehow have been a much simpler question.  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - I doubt if 90% of voters would have the first idea of what a 'national plebiscitary vote' actually is.

Another suggestion that has been made, and this is perhaps not intended quite so vexatiously, is that the question could simply imply that the SNP should beef up the language about independence in their manifesto as compared to previous elections, without going the whole hog of a Plan B.  But that fundamentally misunderstands what the SNP have been doing in elections since the start of devolution two decades ago.  They haven't been making lukewarm manifesto pledges about independence that can now be strengthened.  The reality is that they haven't been pledging independence at all - merely a referendum.  When SNP spokespeople, all the way up to the leader, were asked during election campaigns whether a vote for the SNP was a vote for independence, the reply was absolutely explicit: "No, it's a vote for an SNP government and a referendum". Making an outright manifesto pledge of independence would be a radical departure for the SNP, and it would be the first time that a vote for the SNP has directly been a vote for independence since the 1997 UK general election.  If the SNP had won the 1997 election in Scotland, they would have claimed a mandate to negotiate independence.  That's exactly what Plan B is now.

The final point I'd make is that commissioning a poll from Survation is a slightly different experience from commissioning one from Panelbase, because they're more likely to change the wording of the client's suggested questions (with the agreement of the client, of course). They changed this question slightly, and one of the other questions in the poll was actually changed quite radically.  That suggests to me that they were probably satisfied that the approved wording of the Plan B question was clear and was not going to be confusing for respondents.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll reveals the Scottish public's damning verdict on the Brexit deal: the UK Government "prioritised English interests over Scottish interests", and came back with a "bad deal" for the Scottish fishing industry

Judging from their jubilant reaction on Christmas Eve, the Scottish Tories clearly thought they were going to be rewarded by the electorate for the last-gasp averting of No Deal.  But the obvious problem with that belief was that Boris Johnson had ended up selling the Scottish fishing industry down the river to get his deal, just as Edward Heath had done five decades earlier to get into the Common Market in the first place.  The Tories tried to overcome that snag by putting a positive gloss on the fishing concessions, but was anyone in Scotland buying that?  I decided to use our new Survation poll to find out.

To secure the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, the UK Government agreed to allow EU boats to continue fishing in UK waters for the next five and a half years.  Do you think this is a good deal or a bad deal for the Scottish fishing industry?  (Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll, 11th-13th January 2021):

A good deal: 21%
A bad deal: 48%

With Don't Knows excluded -

A good deal: 31%
A bad deal: 69%

Damning stuff, although what would really worry me if I was the Tories is the reaction of their own voters - 38% of whom say the deal is bad, with only 35% saying it's good.  It's not hard to imagine that those negative sentiments may be particularly magnified among traditional Tory supporters in coastal communities, in which case the party will have a fight on its hands in May in its two key target seats of Banffshire & Buchan Coast and Moray.  (Both are currently held by the SNP, but the Tories won the equivalent Westminster seats in both 2017 and 2019.)

Tellingly, Leave voters from the 2016 EU referendum are almost as strong in their denunciation of the deal (49% say it's bad) as Remain voters (54%). As we know, there are plenty of Leave voters who backed independence in 2014, and if those people become convinced that Scotland has been shafted by a Hard Brexit, it could be a significant turning-point.

It's probably not a coincidence that the three regions most opposed to the deal are the Highlands & Islands (55%), Mid-Scotland & Fife (54%), and the North-East (51%).

During negotiations on the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, do you think the UK Government gave greater priority to Scottish interests or to English interests?

Scottish interests: 13%
English interests: 53%
Both equally: 24%

I don't see how the Tories can have any complaints about this result - if respondents hadn't felt very strongly about the subject, "both equally" was there as a nice, safe, neutral option, and that would have been the majority outcome.  Instead, an absolute majority plumped for "English interests", so there's clearly a lot of anger out there.  The only difference on this question is that Tory voters are more forgiving - 61% of them very charitably say that British negotiators were even-handed between English interests and Scottish interests.  But among Leave voters, there's a slim plurality who say that English interests were prioritised.  Even No voters from 2014 take the same view - 46% say "English interests", which slightly outnumbers the combined total for "Scottish interests" (5%) and "both equally" (39%).

*  *  *

There are still lots more questions to come from the poll, including (belatedly) the Holyrood voting intention numbers.  If you'd like to be the first to know when the results are published, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.  

VIDEO: Preview of Wednesday night's installment of the Scot Goes Pop poll

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll: Sensation as Scottish voters give their backing to the McEleny/MacNeil plan to use *this year's* Holyrood election to secure an outright independence mandate

Every time I've crowdfunded a poll, by far the most requested question has been on the subject of a 'Plan B' to secure an independence mandate if a Section 30 order is never granted.  To avoid duplication, I've taken a different angle for the question each time, and it might be worth starting this post with a reminder of the results from the previous three polls (all conducted by Panelbase) - 

January 2020: By a margin of 50% to 39%, respondents said the Scottish Parliament should legislate for an independence referendum in the absence of a Section 30 order, and then allow the courts to decide whether it can take place.

June 2020: By a margin of 49% to 29%, respondents said pro-independence parties should consider using an election at some point in the future to double as an independence referendum.

November 2020: By a margin of 63% to 37%, respondents backed the general principle of a Plan B being used at some point over the coming five-year Holyrood term if the UK Government remains intransigent.

The June question was in principle fairly similar to what Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil MP are proposing, but it wasn't quite as specific, because of course they don't just want to use an election to obtain an indy mandate at some point in the future - they essentially want to do it right now, in the Holyrood election that is only a matter of weeks away.  So as I'd already covered pretty much every other angle in previous polls, I thought I might as well throw in the kitchen sink this time, and use our new Survation poll to ask about the specific McEleny/MacNeil plan.  I was fully expecting this to be the first occasion on which we'd got a negative result on a Plan B question, because I thought that voters would think that we shouldn't rush our fences, and that we should at least go through the motions of making one last push for an agreed referendum before moving on to Plan B.  But I was wrong.

The UK Government has stated that it will seek to prevent a Scottish independence referendum taking place for several decades, regardless of whether Scottish voters elect a Scottish Government committed to holding a referendum.  In view of this stance, do you think pro-independence parties, such as the SNP and the Scottish Greens, should or should not include an outright independence pledge in their manifestos for this year's scheduled Scottish Parliament election, to give people the opportunity to vote for or against independence?  (Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll, 11th-13th January 2021): 

Should: 45%
Should not: 36%

With Don't Knows excluded, it works out as -

Should: 55%
Should not: 45%

I'd suggest this result poses a major problem for the Pete Wisharts of this world, who base at least part of their opposition to Plan B on the assumption that voters are intrinsically hostile to any way forward that does not involve the express permission of the UK Government, and that the SNP would thus pay a heavy electoral price for flirting with the idea.  But that's a difficult argument to maintain when voters have given the thumbs-up to what is just about the most 'extreme' variant of Plan B - ie. abandoning Plan A right away and going for an outright indy mandate in just four months from now.  SNP voters from the 2019 general election are behind the McEleny/MacNeil plan by the overwhelming margin of 74% to 10%, as are Yes voters from 2014 by a margin of 75% to 12%.  Unionists are naturally opposed on the whole, although substantial minorities of Labour voters (31%), Liberal Democrats voters (26%) and Leave voters (35%) are in favour.  

My own thinking is that once every option for a referendum is closed off, a plebiscitary election should not just be considered a possibility, but should become a default certainty.  However, we will not reach the point of every option having been exhausted until we've legislated for a referendum and the courts have adjudicated upon it - and that can't happen this side of the 2021 election.  On the other hand, Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil do have a very good point in the sense that if we spurn the opportunity of using this election to gain a mandate, when will the next opportunity come?  We surely can't just twiddle our thumbs until the 2026 Holyrood vote.  In theory, we could easily engineer an early Holyrood election in 2022 or 2023, but there are strong grounds for thinking the current leadership are far too cautious to ever do that.  The only other possibility is the 2024 Westminster election, but I've always thought it would be a big mistake to try to use the 'away fixture' of a UK general election, during which the media would be shoving Britain-wide issues down our throats, to seek an indy mandate.  

*  *  *

There are still lots more questions to come from the poll, most of them Brexit-themed.  If you'd like to be the first to know when the results are published, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.  

Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll: SNP on course to win 55 of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster, with the Tories slipping into a deep hole that could finish Douglas Ross' leadership

As I mentioned in the preview video earlier, I was planning to put out both the Holyrood and Westminster voting intention numbers from our new poll today.  However, I later spotted a small problem with the Holyrood tables which Survation are now in the process of resolving, so in the meantime I'll give you the Westminster numbers, which are nothing short of a horror show for Mr Douglas Ross Esquire.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll, 11th-13th January 2021):

SNP 48% (-3)
Labour 23% (+2)
Conservatives 19% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)

Seats projection, with changes from the 2019 election: SNP 55 (+7), Conservatives 2 (-4), Labour 1 (n/c), Liberal Democrats 1 (-3)

In fairness, 19% is not the Tories' lowest ebb recently - they fell as low as 18% in polls from both Survation and JL Partners in the mid-autumn.  However, what is new is the four-point lead that Labour have opened up over their main unionist rivals - they haven't had an advantage as big as that since exactly three years ago, when they were still basking in the afterglow of Jeremy Corbyn's moral victory in the 2017 general election.  

I am seriously beginning to wonder if Douglas Ross is heading for the same fate that befell Jim Murphy in 2015 - ie. only lasting a few months as leader before a single unimaginably bad election finishes him off.  I don't think the Tories are even close to being psychologically ready for a return to third place - it just wasn't on the radar until very recently.  Even when they lost more than half their seats in the 2019 general election, they were still comfortably clear of Labour in terms of both seats and the popular vote.

It would be completely nuts to call the SNP's 48% vote share a poor result, given that it's three points better than they achieved in their 2019 landslide victory.  However, it's their first sub-50 result in any Westminster poll since last March.  Time will tell if that's just a little blip caused by sampling variation - although in the long run it's very difficult for any party to maintain support at quite such a high level.  

Independence supporters often give over-65s a bad rap for being the only age group that is solidly No.  But it's worth making the point that even they would elect an SNP majority if they were the only people allowed to vote.  Voting intentions among over-65s are: SNP 37%, Conservatives 26%, Labour 23%, Liberal Democrats 14%. As was the case for Yes on the independence question, the SNP's best age group is 25-34 year olds, where they enjoy phenomenal 63% support, with the Tories on just 7%.

*  *  *

There's still lots more to come from the poll, including a big result tonight on whether the SNP and Greens should use the coming Holyrood election as a de facto referendum on independence.  If you'd like to be the first to know, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.  

VIDEO PREVIEW of upcoming questions in the new Scot Goes Pop poll

Monday, January 18, 2021

Sigh. No, the Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll does not mean that Nicola Sturgeon has a "man problem".

There's a rather, for want of a better word, daft post on Wings Over Scotland tonight (ironically tagged with the word "psephology"!) which tries to paint the finding in the new Scot Goes Pop poll that women back Yes by 55% to 45% as some kind of bad news story, on the basis that it must somehow mean that Nicola Sturgeon has a "man problem".  It's true that I mentioned in my own post that men break for No in the poll by 53% to 47% and that I didn't offer any further comment on that - clearly I should always provide footnotes for the benefit of passing numpties.  Allow me to explain.

As a general rule, any subsample, even a subsample comprising half of a poll's respondents, is not going to be anything like as reliable as the full poll.  The full sample will be correctly weighted to demographic and political target numbers, but that isn't necessarily going to be the case for every individual subgroup, so you'd expect a degree of random fluctuation among those.  A No lead among men in an individual poll shouldn't, therefore, be treated as gospel.  Stuart would have more of a point if a succession of polls had repeatedly shown the same thing about male voters, but as he may or may not know (has he bothered to check?), that isn't the case at all.  In fact, this should be pretty obvious even just from a common sense point of view.  It would have been extremely improbable for Yes to have ever built up such a sustained lead if Nicola Sturgeon had been repelling male voters while she had been attracting female voters - the two trends would have cancelled each other out and No would have stayed in the lead.  In the real world, the general picture across most polls is that men have remained pro-Yes while women have been converted to independence in significant numbers.  The Survation poll doesn't disprove that or establish a new trend - the figures for men are probably just caused by meaningless sampling variation.

When I pointed out a couple of weeks ago that Stuart was actively campaigning to bring Nicola Sturgeon down, he angrily denied it, and yet here we have a post that paints the 19th Yes majority poll in a row as bad news, and then attempts to 'blame' Ms Sturgeon for it!  And all on the basis of a very silly false premise.

It's getting almost comical now.

Exclusive Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll is the NINETEENTH IN A ROW to show a pro-independence majority

So as I mentioned a couple of times here and on Twitter, I ran into a slight hitch with the new Scot Goes Pop poll - I had initially been hoping to stick with Panelbase, who conducted all three of our polls last year, but for contractual reasons they weren't able to do it on the timescale I was hoping for. After mulling it over a bit, I decided to contact other firms in the hope of getting a quick result, and I ended up going with Survation - a pollster with a fantastic pedigree, most notably because they were pretty much the only firm to call the 2017 general election correctly. 

However, after the poll was commissioned, I started to become a bit nervous, for two reasons. Firstly, Survation were somewhat less favourable for Yes than Panelbase were last year, and their final poll of 2020 was particularly tight - with Don't Knows included it was practically a dead heat (Yes 44%, No 42%), which means that just the slightest of swings could have brought to an end the long sequence of eighteen Yes-majority polls in a row.  And a small drop is something that can very easily happen simply due to random sampling variation. Secondly, by unfortunate coincidence the fieldwork got underway just after the Alex Salmond / Nicola Sturgeon controversy broke. So I genuinely thought there was a risk of ending up with a narrow No lead or a 50 / 50 split. 

I'm thrilled to say that hasn't happened. Welcome to the nineteenth poll in a row that says Scotland wants to be an independent country. 

Should Scotland be an independent country? 

Yes 51% (-1) 
No 49% (+1)

(Survation poll for Scot Goes Pop, conducted 11th-13th January 2021.  Fieldwork was online, with 1020 respondents interviewed.  Before Don't Knows are excluded, the figures are Yes 45% (+1), No 43% (+1), Don't Know 12% (-2).)

In the overall scheme of things I'm not concerned about the narrowness of the result - the likelihood is that it's simply a case of different firms producing slightly different results due to methodological factors.  Panelbase, ComRes and Ipsos-Mori seem to be the Yes-friendly firms these days, with Survation and YouGov a touch more favourable for No.  But the bottom line is that all firms, whether Yes-friendly or No-friendly, are as of this moment united in saying that Yes are ahead.  And with a very recent Savanta ComRes poll putting Yes on a heady 57%, there's no reason to assume that the lead is necessarily a narrow one.  

As for the 1% drop in Yes support in today's poll, that's not statistically significant, so it's wrong to jump to the conclusion that the Salmond/Sturgeon episode has had an impact - the change may well just be meaningless margin of error "noise".  Indeed, with Don't Knows included there's no swing to No at all - a 2% Yes lead from December remains intact, and there's even been a 1% increase in the Yes vote.  However, I believe there are two more polls in the field at the moment, so when we have those we'll have a better idea of the trend.  My own guess is that public opinion has remained pretty static recently.

A few nuggets from the datasets:

* The traditional gender gap has been completely reversed.  There's a big Yes lead among women of 55% to 45%, while men break 53% to 47% for No.  I would imagine the Sturgeon factor has played a big part in turning the female vote around.

* The best age group for Yes is 25-34 year olds, who break in favour of independence by the astonishing margin of 78-22.  The anti-indy campaign had better hope the old adage about people becoming more conservative as they get older is true.  If it isn't, independence is virtually inevitable sooner or later.

* Survation provide a regional breakdown in their datasets, and unsurprisingly the most pro-indy region is Glasgow (59% to 41%).  Next best are the Highlands & Islands (56% to 44%).  The best region for No is, of course, the South, with figures of 43% Yes, 57% No.

* Here's a factor that may go a long way towards explaining why Survation are less favourable to Yes than Panelbase - they've found that only 24% of Labour voters are pro-Yes.  Panelbase typically find a much higher figure than that.

* 54% of Remain voters would back independence, along with a surprisingly healthy 38% of Leave voters.

There's a lot more to come from the poll - Holyrood voting intentions, Westminster voting intentions, and no fewer than seven supplementary questions, some with pretty sensational results.  (A lot of them are Brexit-themed, as you'd expect.) If you'd like to be the first to know, you can follow me on Twitter HERE.  

VIDEO PREVIEW: The new Scot Goes Pop poll on independence will be released today

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Tories ramp up the betrayal of the notorious "Vow" that rescued a No vote in the 2014 indyref

Just a reminder of the text of "The Vow", as signed by David Cameron on behalf of the Conservative Party in September 2014 - 

"WE ARE AGREED THAT 

The Scottish Parliament is permanent and extensive new powers for the Parliament will be delivered by the process and to the timetable agreed and announced by our three parties..." 

No reasonable person would interpret the words "permanent" and "extensive new powers" as meaning that powers already held by the Scottish Parliament in 2014 could be stripped away by the UK Government at any time.

Friday, January 15, 2021

A young female voter's verdict on Nicola Sturgeon

As you know, I'm very conflicted about the current intra-Yes warfare.  Having seen people try to put him in jail, I cannot blame Alex Salmond in any way for prioritising truth and justice over every other consideration.  I also agree that the current leadership are wrong to reject a Plan B for securing an independence mandate, and that something will have to give.  However, actively trying to bring down Nicola Sturgeon in order to change the strategy does not strike me as being a great plan.  If a vacancy did occur, I'm sure I'd support any bid for the leadership by Joanna Cherry, but she wouldn't be the frontrunner by any means, and we could easily end up with another leader just as committed to the current strategy (or non-strategy as some would see it). We'd also have thrown away our greatest asset in the process.

After my recent dispute with Stuart Campbell, a young friend of mine sent me some thoughts.  She's from England originally, and was studying in Edinburgh at the time of the 2014 independence referendum.  With a week to go she was still firmly planning to vote No - until she went to a rally and heard Nicola Sturgeon speak.  With her permission I'm publishing a lightly edited version of what she wrote - and it's an interesting insight into the potential downsides of changing leader at such a crucial moment.

"I've finally worked out what annoys me about Stuart Campbell πŸ˜† it's only taken me 2 years.

He doesn't understand his own demographic and relies on a cult following rather than what would help unionist supporters choose independence. He doesn't understand the type of people who might be drawn to his blog, and essentially talks to himself. 

I used to be a staunch No voter. I only changed my mind about independence about a week before the vote. I was the typical English union supporter all round and his blog would've been offensive to me as someone sitting on the fence. A lot of No voters are young girls who like me, idolise Nicola Sturgeon. She is literally one of my idols and he shakes trust in her as a figurehead. At the moment people's opinions of her don't matter. The fact is most people love her and she gets girls like me interested in politics for the first time. Older people too. I don't think he understands he isn't addressing No voters, he's addressing his own cult following.

I've worked it out FINALLY.

My only real reasons for being drawn to Yes were:

1. Sturgeon 
2. The community feel 

That's what hooked me in and started me reading. Stuart shakes trust in someone very famous and good at her job, right at the last minute before an independence vote. He values his ego above independence and nothing more.
    
But I was the typical No voter. I was quite hardcore against independence before watching Nicola Sturgeon. Oh yes, I was completely against independence. I changed at the last minute. I found her engaging and inspiring. She drew me in. I was really against independence.  A lot of people are like me, young and think she is amazing. His opinion of her isn't the priority. The priority is reinforcing trust in her. When people think of independence they think of Sturgeon by association. Stuart is using a big following irresponsibly.  

I felt Scottish people hated English people and it was a shortsighted decision. If it wasn't for Sturgeon I would've voted No. She really got me interested in politics for the first time in my life.

Yeah. It's nothing to do with the general public or independence. Most of my English friends find Sturgeon fascinating. Stuart doesn't seem to understand the audience he is speaking to.   

But I'm a prime example. Stuart's blog would've been very confusing for me. The swearing and the way he is arrogant and sounds superior. People who come to Yes are very afraid of it because it's so different and feels a bit, mad. Sturgeon is who people look to. I don't think he understands a typical No voter at all.

It's like trying a gym for the first time and the instructor is shouting and complaining at you, trying the equipment. You'd never go back."

The most biased poll questions ever?

You might remember that when this blog commissioned its third Panelbase poll last autumn, I had a bit of a dilemma, because I wanted to find out about public attitudes to the Internal Market Bill's impact on devolution, but I knew there was no point in simply asking "do you approve of the Internal Market Bill?" Most people weren't in any position to judge whether they approved of it, because the mainstream media hadn't bothered informing them about it. So I had little choice but to ask lengthier questions that summarised some of the effects of the Bill. I kept everything straightforward and factual, but this still led to a prolonged meltdown from a number of unionist trolls on Twitter about what was supposedly the most "shockingly biased" poll they had ever seen. Curiously, though, those people have had nothing to say so far about a Panelbase poll that is currently being carried out, and which contains a couple of questions that by any standards must be considered several billion times more biased and leading than anything I've ever come up with.  In fact they may well be the most brazenly biased questions I've ever seen asked in a bona fide political poll.

Should Scotland turn its back on the Rest of the UK in a future referendum, would it be reasonable for the Rest of the UK to reduce its footprint in Scotland and (immediately after the referendum) start reducing investment and employment in Scotland. Shipbuilding, Civil Service, etc. 

Options:

Yes 
No 

Do you consider the SNP contingent of MPs in Westminster to be...

Options:

Representative of the Scottish character 
An embarrassment

Make no mistake, these were not questions commissioned by the UK Government, or by the Conservative party, or by some well-funded anti-indy think tank.  Leaving aside the bias, the first question just has a hopelessly amateurish feel about it.  There isn't even a question mark at the end of the question, and the "shipbuilding, civil service, etc" part along with the bit in brackets seem to have been shoved in as an afterthought, making the whole thing very disjointed and difficult to follow. I actually saw a chap on Twitter fantasising a few weeks ago about the possibility of blackmailing the people of Scotland into staying in the UK by telling us in advance that all UK government funding (ie. our own tax revenues) would be withdrawn in the transitional period between a Yes vote and independence day.  I wish I could remember who that was, because that might well be a pretty strong clue as to who is behind these poll questions.

As for the second question, can you imagine the outrage if a pro-indy client commissioned a poll asking if the Tories are "representative of the Scottish character"?  Even the notion that there is such a thing as "the Scottish character" that people are expected to measure up to would be considered racist.  It reminds me of the night before the independence referendum in September 2014, when Neil Oliver went on Newsnight and informed viewers that the proposition put forward by the Yes campaign was "fundamentally un-Scottish", whatever the hell that was supposed to mean.  Saying that people are un-Scottish simply because they oppose independence would have been deemed disgraceful and appalling, but somehow saying the same thing about people simply because they support independence is fine and barely merits a shrug.  

Incidentally, both questions are "forced choice", ie. there's no "Don't Know" option.  So on the second question, respondents will either have to answer that SNP MPs are "representative of the Scottish character" or "an embarrassment".  The only way to avoid giving one of those two answers will be to abandon the poll altogether.  I suspect that's going to backfire on whoever commissioned the question, because people who don't know or don't have a strong view are probably more likely to gravitate towards "representative of the Scottish character" as the more reasonable, restrained answer.  Only frothing unionists would regard "an embarrassment" as the default response.  So I'm pretty confident there'll be a clear majority for "representative of the Scottish character", which almost certainly means this particular result will never see the light of day.

A couple of other questions from the poll were also screenshotted on Twitter -

Considering the extreme differences in styles between them, who would be the better negotiator for Scotland post an Independence vote?

Options:

Alex Salmond
Nicola Sturgeon

Do you agree with Ms Sturgeon's statement from September 19th 2016 that "Independence transcends Brexit, oil, National Wealth, and all political fads and trends"?

Options:

Yes 
No

Although oddly worded, those questions aren't so biased, so I can't work out whether they were commissioned by the same client.  My first thought was that the Salmond/Sturgeon question might have been commissioned by Wings, but on closer inspection I don't think so.  Whatever else might be said about him, Stuart is a highly literate wordsmith, and he would be unlikely to come up with an ugly formulation such as "post an Independence vote".  

There are also apparently a number of questions about the SSP, leading some people to express confusion about why the SSP would commission a poll containing unionist-skewed questions.  There's no mystery about that - it'll simply be a composite poll with questions commissioned by two or more very different clients.

*  *  *

A few days ago, I mentioned on Twitter a passing thought I'd had about starting a Scot Goes Pop podcast, and I was very surprised by how positive the reaction was.  I might consider it once the forthcoming poll is completed.  Of course to make it worthwhile I'd need to invite guests to take part, so do you have any thoughts about who you'd most like to hear from?  (Ideally people who'd be likely to agree to do it!)

*  *  *

I have an analysis piece at The National about yesterday's remarkable Savanta ComRes poll showing a Yes vote of 57% - you can read it HERE.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

It 'as to be Anas

In one sense, Richard Leonard's departure as Scottish Labour leader is an unalloyed Bad Thing, because it proves once again that he's been leading a branch office rather than an autonomous Scottish party.  It really ought to have been possible for a Corbynite to lead Scottish Labour while a centrist was in charge in London, but instead we see internal devolution being exposed as a fiction again as the change of direction at UK level is replicated by compulsion in Scotland.

What isn't yet so clear, though, is whether this is a Bad Thing for the independence movement and for the SNP, because there's not much doubt that Anas Sarwar, who was Leonard's centrist opponent last time around, has the makings of an even worse leader.  I suspect the 'moderates' have learned their lesson and that they'll put up Jackie Baillie instead, but if by any chance Sarwar stands again we should back him all the way.  

If Baillie wins, Scottish Labour will have a confident and articulate leader for the first time in many years, and I suspect she would perform well in the TV election debates.  But I also suspect she may learn the hard way that people have simply stopped listening to Labour, and that the person at the top doesn't make a huge amount of difference.


Storming start to 2021 as Yes scores second-highest ever vote share in an online poll

The final Scottish poll of 2020 was the first in the new regular series from Savanta ComRes for the Scotsman newspaper, and it was truly extraordinary - it had Yes on 58%, which was 2% higher than in any previous online poll from any firm (although it 'only' equalled the best ever result in a phone poll). The first poll of 2021 is the second poll in the same series, and it's only 1% shy of being a repeat performance - which of course means it's the second best ever for Yes in an online poll.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 57% (-1)
No 43% (+1)

I know some people may actually be disappointed by this result, because they would have expected the reality of a very Hard Brexit to inevitably increase Yes support from wherever it had previously been.  We've seen hypothetical polling questions over the years suggesting that Scotland's forced departure from the single market and the customs union would indeed have that effect - but the thing is that people are notoriously bad at answering hypothetical questions, ie. they can't necessarily predict with any great accuracy whether their opinions will change in a different context.  In any case, my guess is that people are currently thinking far more about the pandemic than they are about Brexit.

That said, this may not be the ideal poll with which to judge the trend.  Because the previous poll in the series was a record-breaker, it's impossible to discount the possibility that Yes support was exaggerated due to sampling factors, in which case you'd expect some kind of reversion to the mean this time.  We'll have to wait for further polls to be sure of the direction of travel - but we can certainly rest easy in the sense that it looks like support for independence is still running at an exceptionally high level.

Obviously the main cloud on the horizon for the Yes movement at the moment is the open warfare between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond (and perhaps just as importantly between their proxies/supporters). The poll was conducted between the 8th and yesterday, which means it just about took place in its entirety after the story broke - but the impact may not have been fully factored in on the first day of fieldwork, which is when most people respond to online polls.  The forthcoming Scot Goes Pop poll will have later fieldwork, so that might give us a better clue as to any effect on public opinion.  In all honesty I'm a bit nervous about it, because it'll be conducted by a firm that hasn't been quite as favourable for Yes as ComRes has recently, but fingers crossed there'll at least be some sort of Yes lead.  I'm quite proud of the fact that a Scot Goes Pop poll in June started the run of seventeen/eighteen polls in a row showing a Yes majority, so I'll be a bit miffed if it's also a Scot Goes Pop poll that ends the sequence, but hopefully that won't happen!

ComRes also have Holyrood voting intention numbers - 

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 53% (-2) 
Conservatives 19% (-1) 
Labour 18% (+2) 
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 44% (+2) 
Labour 18% (+1) 
Conservatives 16% (-4) 
Greens 11% (-1) 
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)

In recent times it's mainly been Survation that has shown Labour ahead of the Tories, so there may be some significance in the fact that another firm now has Labour in the runner-up spot in the more important list ballot.  But of course the real story is one of Tory collapse rather than of Labour recovery - returning to main opposition party status on a pathetic 18% of the vote would be a pyrrhic triumph for Starmer and Leonard by any standards.

On past form the ComRes question will have described the list vote as the "second" vote, which I've always suspected leads to an overstatement of the Green list vote, and an understatement of the SNP list vote (because a minority of indy supporters interpret it as a 'second preference' vote).  I very much doubt that the Greens are really in double figures.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Both sides of the coin matter

Westerners tend to scoff at the claim that China is still a socialist country, let alone a Marxist-Leninist state.  What the Chinese Communists would say is that Marxism is widely misunderstood - it's not just about redistributing scarce resources so that everyone can be equal, it's also about building up the productive forces so that everyone can be wealthy.  But whereas communist states of the past placed too much emphasis on equality of outcome and not enough emphasis on creating wealth, it could be argued that modern China is doing the opposite and neglecting the redistributive part of the equation.

Is the independence movement falling into a similar trap? After all, to achieve independence, we need to do two things: a) we need to build the Yes vote (or more accurately keep it where it is, now that it's over 50%), and b) we need a strategy for bringing about a referendum or equivalent democratic event.  Both sides of the coin are equally important, and yet large parts of the movement are only focused on one.  Those who say that all our problems will be solved if Nicola Sturgeon is deposed overlook the fact that she's taken us to sustained majority Yes support, and that we could squander those gains with a less charismatic leader.  The best strategy in the world for achieving a referendum would be pointless if we then lose the vote.

But supporters of the leadership have just as much of a blind spot.  They talk as if it doesn't matter that Boris Johnson will keep rejecting a Section 30 or that we have no apparent strategy for circumventing his veto, because every time he says "no", support for Yes will supposedly keep growing.  Er, even if that's true, so what? What satisfaction or comfort will it be (or should it be) to the current generation of SNP politicians if they reach the end of their careers with hundreds or thousands of opinion polls having shown support for independence, but with Scotland still firmly stuck in the UK prison?

The obvious way of squaring the circle is for the current leader to remain in place, but with a much more credible strategy for bringing about an independence mandate.

Poll update

One or two people have been asking when we can expect the results from the Scot Goes Pop poll. It'll be a while yet - if I was going to hazard a guess I would say around ten days or so. As I mentioned on Twitter, I actually ran into an unexpected hitch, so the process is going to be slightly different this time. I'll explain a little more when the results are ready. 

Someone also sent an email asking me to change the wording of the main independence question to "Should we in Scotland control our own affairs?". Believe me, it would have been a really big mistake to muck around in that way, because even if the results had been positive, nobody would have regarded that as a bona fide independence question, and quite rightly so. It's always best to use the standard independence question, and we're always the first to criticise unionist propaganda polls that don't do that. 

On the subject of the 1990s edition of Question Time in which Nicola Sturgeon was in the audience and demanded that Donald Dewar uphold the principle that Scotland could become independent simply by electing SNP MPs in a majority of Scottish constituencies, I've been directed to Wikipedia's list of QT episodes, and it looks like the most likely candidate is 23rd March 1995, when the recording was in Glasgow and the panel consisted of Dewar, Margaret Ewing, Ray Michie and Ian Lang. Dewar also appeared in episodes in 1996 and 1997, but those were recorded in London, so it's unlikely that Ms Sturgeon would have been in the audience for those. Realistically, it must have happened before she stood as the SNP candidate in Govan in May 1997, and indeed by 1998 she had made her own first appearance on the actual panel. 

I received a downright odd email overnight accusing me of "cleverism" for drawing people's attention to the fact that Ms Sturgeon previously held a very different view on how Scotland can and should exercise its right to self-determination. I was also accused of "holding her hostage" to views she held a very long time ago. That really is a complete nonsense. The whole point here is that the SNP leadership have been suggesting that there is some kind of timeless process that has always been recognised as the only legitimate or effective way by which a country can become independent. The fact that the SNP and Ms Sturgeon herself were wedded to essentially the opposite position 25 years ago drives a coach and horses through that claim. Of course the leadership is entitled to change its view on the best means to achieve an independence mandate, but to claim that the new policy is suddenly the only possible means of achieving a mandate is much more problematical.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Check your attic for this key Question Time footage

In the unlikely event that there is a Plan B enthusiast out there with a complete collection of Question Time episodes from the last thirty years, here's what you need to seek out.  I am fairly sure (like 95%+ sure) that there was an episode in the mid-to-late 1990s in which Donald Dewar was on the panel and a very youthful Nicola Sturgeon was in the audience.  She was already reasonably well known in Scotland by then, but of course it's not unusual for a Question Time audience to be stuffed with political activists.  She was called to speak, and she challenged Dewar on something Tony Blair had said - he'd suggested (gasp) that a referendum might be required for Scotland to become an independent country, because in his view the SNP winning a majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster wouldn't be sufficient.  

Ms Sturgeon was incensed that Blair had ripped up a decades-long consensus on the means by which Scotland could legitimately express a desire to become independent, but Dewar stood his ground - he pointed out that it was possible/likely that if the SNP ever won a majority of seats, they would do so on a minority of the vote, and that couldn't possibly be a mandate for independence.

Essentially Dewar was making a lot of the points Ms Sturgeon now makes about the nature of a 'legitimate' indy mandate, and yet Ms Sturgeon emphatically rejected them at the time and branded them a democratic outrage.  She was adamant that the truly legitimate path to independence was one that didn't even involve a referendum at all.  

Given the circumstances, that might be a rather useful piece of footage to have, although it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.  The only people who may have a realistic chance of tracking it down would be BBC employees with access to 'BBC Redux' - a sort of on-demand digital archive of all BBC programmes going back many years.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

I'm warning you, if you say "Jehovah" once more, or "England" to a former leader of the Liberal Democrats...

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

A small, cowardly man pursuing a bitter personal vendetta: Stuart Campbell's late night legal threats against me

As I pointed out a few hours ago, it's fairly likely that Stuart Campbell broke some law or other yesterday by sending me an unsolicited, highly abusive email, calling me a "wretched little c**t" and a "pathetic, snivelling coward".  

This was not part of some ongoing correspondence - it was a bolt from the blue, and the first email I had received from him for nine years.  However, I made clear that I did not intend to pursue the matter.  Since then, I have had to wade through a sea of drivel from his apologists: "Grow up, James!  You must have led a sheltered life, James!  You're so bitter and twisted, James!  You could have just sworn back at him, James!  Be a man, James!"

Well, I now expect to hear no more of that nonsense ever again, because I have just received a lengthy email dripping with menace from his legal representative (a man who I had previously assumed to be a friend) implying that action may be taken by Campbell against me.  Why?  Because he doesn't like a comment that was posted on this blog by Douglas Clark, and rather than do what normal people would do and just post a response (it's not as if the guy doesn't have a platform) he wants to censor it out of existence, and if I refuse to censor it out of existence he wants to get revenge.  Not against the person who actually expressed the views, but against me, who did not.  Don't anyone ever tell me that this isn't a small, cowardly man pursuing a nasty, bitter personal vendetta.  Until I get some sleep, the only action I intend to take is to post the entire correspondence so far and allow people to make their own minds up.  The only part I'll leave out is the quote of Douglas Clark's comment - ironically if I include that Campbell will probably claim it as "defamation".

To be abundantly clear, Campbell and his friends have been peddling a number of falsehoods today to prepare the groundwork for this stunt.  They have suggested that my statement that I had turned on pre-moderation of comments amounted to an "admission" that I had "actively passed" Douglas Clark's comment.  That is categorically untrue.  It was auto-published *before* I turned pre-moderation on.  They have claimed that Campbell asked me to delete the comment.  As far as I can see, he did not - he sent me an abusive email, but he didn't bother to explain what he was actually angry about or ask me to take any specific action.  Pretty much the only thing he did was call me a "c**t".  Therefore the claim that I "refused" to censor Douglas Clark's comment is also patently untrue.

David Halliday:

Hi James. I wanted to let you know that I am just about to send an email to you from my work account and to explain that the reason for sending it so late in the day is the urgency to things. I didn't want to send it without prior comment or letting you know it's on its way - you'll understand when you see it, I hope and I hope too that we'll be able to get the issue raised resolved.

Me:

OK, no problem, I'll look out for it.

David Halliday: 

Dear James, 

I think you know that I act for Stuart Campbell. Stuart has asked me for advice about the btl comment posted on your site by “douglas clark” on 4 January at 6.28 am. I attach a screenshot. The concern is particularly about the following section:

“***” 

This section repeats more or less exactly a false allegation made some time ago by Ewan McColm (sic) in a Scotsman article. It is entirely untrue that Stuart has ever said, or believes, that the victims at Hillsborough were to blame for their deaths. That would clearly be an absurd proposition. Claiming that someone believes it is equally absurd. It is also defamatory. What Stuart believes is that other Liverpool fans were among those responsible for the tragedy. When the McColm article was written, I raised defamation proceedings on behalf of Stuart against the Scotsman and we were, fairly swiftly, able to negotiate a five figure settlement with them. Having been forced to go to that trouble Stuart is not going to let others repeat the absurd, defamatory falsehood with impunity. The following is an extract from the letter I wrote to Johnston Press at the time and I’m hoping it’s a useful summary:

“We have been consulted by Stuart Campbell in relation to material published by you at page 6 of today’s issue of “The Scotsman” newspaper and at the url http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/snp-s-mixed-messages-on-beleaguered-campbell-gunn-1-3442129. 

There, you say of our client: 

“The claim about Ms Lally first appeared on the Wings Over Scotland website, run by former journalist Stuart Campbell, who has built a following among nationalist campaigners but caused outrage for his views, which include blaming the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster for the crush that killed them. … 

The civil wrong of defamation is committed by the communication of a false statement or idea which is defamatory of a person. A statement will be defamatory if, amongst other things, it makes harmful imputations against that person’s character or reputation, or exposes that person to public ridicule, hatred or contempt. Imputations against a person’s moral character or an allegation of behaviour or conduct generally or usually regarded as dishonourable will be defamatory. 

The Hillsborough disaster of 1989 was one of the world’s greatest ever sporting catastrophes. 96 people died and hundreds were injured. At the time, the disaster prompted expressions of horror at what had befallen its victims, and of sympathy for their families and the survivors, from people throughout the world. Decades on, the anniversary of the disaster is still commemorated throughout the country. Public inquiries have been held into the cause of the disaster and the plight of the families of the victims is regularly and sympathetically reported by the media. In short, the Hillsborough disaster was and remains an event of national and international significance and the victims and their families are the object of immense public sympathy and support. 

Against that background, it is difficult to imagine of a more egregiously defamatory imputation against a person than to say that he holds or has held the view that the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster were to blame for their own deaths. No right-thinking, ordinary, reasonable, decent person could conceivably hold such a preposterously inaccurate and ridiculously offensive view. Your own words confirm that you accept as much: you say that the views which you claim our client held “caused outrage”. Such views would undoubtedly cause outrage. By claiming that our client holds them, you have exposed him to just such outrage. 

What you say of our client is, however, simply and entirely untrue. He has never held or expressed the view ascribed to him. There can simply have been no possible grounds on which to assert, in any kind of good faith attempt at accurate reporting, that he has because in fact he has repeatedly and in very trenchant terms expressed the clearly and unequivocally opposite view: the victims were entirely blameless for the crush which killed them because that crush was caused by other people. Your conflation of the dead victims with these other people may or may not have been wilful. At the very least it was recklessly and irresponsibly inaccurate. To suggest that our client believes the contrary is not simply to suggest that he holds views which would be incalculably offensive to overwhelming public sentiment and mood. It is to ignore and deny the reality of the views that he has actually expressed and, moreover, expressed in a form which rendered them readily accessible to, and retrievable by, anyone interested in accurate and honest reporting as opposed to, say, advancing a political cause by smear.” 

I understand that you are able to delete the comment and that Stuart has asked you to do so but that you have refused. I am hoping that this message will let you understand that, and why, Stuart feels so strongly about the allegation and that you will decide to delete the comment forthwith. You’ll probably be aware of this already but my view would be that once the defamatory nature of a btl comment is brought to the attention of a blog publisher then that publisher risks himself being liable to the person defamed if he or she refuses to remove it. As I say, the purpose of this message is very much to explain things to you in the hope that you will decide to delete the comment and I’d be grateful if you would let me know once you’ve done that. 

Thanks. 

Yours sincerely, 

David Halliday

Me:

I am absolutely astonished at the email you've just sent me, David. Before I do anything else I'm going to let my readers know what is happening - in the context that your client sent me an email calling me a "c**t" only yesterday, this is frankly outrageous. No, I had absolutely no idea that you act for that man - how and why would I have known that? You've always been friendly towards me in the past, so the last thing I expected was a threatening email from you.

David Halliday:

Me acting for Stuart in the action against Kezia Dugdale is a matter of public record. The email really wasn't intended as threatening (and I don't think it reads a such). It was intended as an effort to getting an easy and quick resolution to things. I'll leave you to deal with things as you see fit though of course. 

Me: 

Whether it was a matter of public record or not, it was something I was totally unaware of, and I've no idea why you'd expect me to know that. There is an implied assumption at the end of your email that I will take a certain action - that seems to me to contain an air of menace. If that's not the case, I can therefore assume that no action will be taken if I uphold free speech and do not delete Douglas Clark's reply? I look forward to your confirmation. 

David Halliday: 

OK - I just thought you might know and didn't want to presume you didn't. The assumption behind the message was that, once you knew the comment is false and defamatory, and what the background to things is, you'd delete it. I didn't - and to be fair still don't - see why you wouldn't. I just asked you to confirm once you'd done so so that I didn't need to keep checking to see if you had. If you don't then you'll understand that Stuart will decide what he wants to do, not me. I'm acting for Stuart so can't claim to be an honest broker but I did genuinely hope that my message might diffuse things. I'm sorry if it's not had that effect but, as I say, the background and history of this specific allegation is such that Stuart feels very strongly about it and I'd hoped that my message would explain why, in a useful way that might take the heat out of things. 

Me: 

There are two inaccuracies in your email that I think should be addressed - your client has not at any point (as far as I can see) directly asked me to censor the comment, and I therefore did not "refuse" to do so. Would you acknowledge that, please? Would you also acknowledge that he has been falsely claiming today that I "actively passed" the comment through moderation, and indeed falsely claiming that I "admitted" doing so? Thanks in advance. 

David Halliday: 

I will certainly pass that on, yes, see what Stuart says and get back to you. I should maybe say that I have not been following the exchanges between you so don't know what either of you have said about the other beyond what's said in your post to which the comment was appended. In return, can I ask that you think about whether you'd be prepared to delete the post now you know of its falsity and you can maybe let me know what you've decided to do if you've reached a conclusion when I get back to you (probably tomorrow now, I'd imagine). I can't see that anyone is morally obliged to advance the cause of free speech by providing others with a platform to spread defamatory untruths. I quite appreciate it was on a much smaller scale than your site, and that you're entitled to take a different tack, but during the referendum I single-handedly ran a Facebook page and an associated blog and I was forever telling people (friend and foe) that I owed them no obligation to them to provide them with a forum to defame others. 

Me: 

"Now I know of its falsity"? What? I have no idea whether it's false or not - all I know is your personal opinion of it. For now, my main priority is making people aware of what is going on. This is a man who sent me an unsolicited email yesterday calling me a "wretched little c**t" - if there should be legal threats flying around, I think you and I both know they're flying in the wrong direction. Why don't you take this up with Douglas Clark, given that he actually expressed the views that Campbell simply can't bear? Rather than me, who did not express those views? Well, we both know that too. This is a nasty, bitter personal vendetta.

*  *  *

UPDATE: I'm grateful to Douglas Clark for emailing to let me know that he's deleted the comment himself, so the above threats are now academic.  Make no mistake, this was never about protecting Campbell's reputation (to the extent that he had any reputation left to protect) - the idea that a single sentence in a reader's comment on a blogpost was in any way equivalent to an article in the Scotsman newspaper is risible.  It was never any threat to him, and if it really bothered him that much, he had a highly privileged platform with which he could have countered Mr Clark's claims.  Indeed, he could have done so in a comment here if he had wished - but, predictably, he blew that chance by launching foul-mouthed personal abuse at Mr Clark in the reply he attempted to submit.

Nope, this wasn't about Hillsborough, or about defamation - this was purely and simply a stunt to attempt to humiliate me by getting me to dance to his tune.  That stunt failed, as it thoroughly deserved to.  I have taken no action at all.  Please note for future reference, Stuart - the moderation policy on this blog is a matter for me and not for you.  Rather than getting solicitors to send me threats late at night, a better channel for your energies will be addressing the frequently grotesque state of the comments section at Wings Over Scotland.

Monday, January 4, 2021

An embarrassment to the Yes movement

In what technically counts as Stuart Campbell's 679th article about me, he complained today about an unnamed blogger who had supposedly made a "completely gratuitous and unprovoked personal attack" on him.  I was slightly bemused to follow the link and discover that he was still going on about me calling his views on Nicola Sturgeon "comical".  I must say that for a man who routinely calls people "c**ts", he has an insanely low threshold for what constitutes "personal abuse" in the opposite direction.

Just to further demonstrate what might be charitably described as a monumental double-standard and/or failure of self-awareness, I received the following email from him this afternoon.

From: Reverend Stuart Campbell
To: James Kelly
Date: 4 Jan 2021, 16:58

Subject-line: You pathetic, snivelling coward

Text: So you're happy to let people defame me with lies but I don't get to reply? What a wretched little c**t you are.

It's been pointed out to me that a highly abusive, unsolicited email of this type is almost certainly against the law in some way, so he should count himself lucky that I'm not going to pursue it.  This episode is revealing in more than one way, though, because it also speaks to Stuart's narcissism.  What he appears to be angry about is the fact that I've switched on pre-moderation for comments.  He just assumed that was about him, in the same way he assumes that everything is about him - but it wasn't.  As regular readers know all too well, the comments section of this blog has been plagued by a hardcore troll called "Poppy", and for months now I've been switching pre-moderation on when he's around, and back off again when he disappears for a while.  He turned up this morning after a gap of a few days, so I switched pre-moderation on.

Incredible though it may seem, there are some things that happen in this world without being a conspiracy against the Reverend Stuart Campbell.

*  *  *

UPDATE: Just a quick reply to some of the points that have been made on social media.  First of all, yes I'm sure the abusive email genuinely came from Stuart.  I was able to check, because he had previously sent me an email in 2012, and it came from the same address.  

Obviously Stuart's diehard supporters will always give him a free pass no matter how outrageous his behaviour becomes, so I'm not going to worry too much about them.  What troubles me far more, though, are the people who say "James, you and Stuart are both valuable to the Yes movement and this silly squabble needs to stop, we need to bash your two silly heads together".  I would just ask those people to take a step back and consider how they'd feel if they received the email that I received from Stuart.  Or how they'd feel if a close friend or family member received it.  Would they really regard it as just silly knockabout stuff?  Just part of a silly squabble?

Or would they not, in fact, regard it as totally unacceptable behaviour?  Because, frankly, that was my reaction, and the reaction of the people I showed the email to.  I'm not sure about anyone else, but I am not accustomed to receiving emails out of the blue calling me a "wretched little c**t" or a "pathetic snivelling coward", and the day I do become accustomed to that or start to regard it as normal, something will have gone very badly wrong.



Sunday, January 3, 2021

New article, and Somerset stalker update

First of all, I've written today's National Extra piece on the subject of Boris Johnson's suggestion that Scotland won't be allowed a say on its own future for another thirty-four years.  You can read it HERE.  

Secondly, I regret I have to report that my long-term stalker from Somerset has written yet another article about me on his website.  This is at least the 678th time it's happened, and as usual he's howling in barely coherent rage.  Yes, I'm weirded out by his creepy obsession, but I can't deny I do feel slightly sorry for the guy as well.

(For those who don't understand the concepts of irony and sarcasm, I'll explain the above paragraph when I have eight months to spare.)

The trigger for Stuart's fury on this occasion was something I tweeted yesterday - 

"Stuart Campbell's earnest belief that he can get rid of the wildly popular Nicola Sturgeon in the next four months is bordering on comical."

He then set about trying to 'disprove' the premise of my tweet in a really rather odd and counter-productive manner.

"So, for the historical record: I have no belief whatsoever, earnest or otherwise, that I can get rid of Nicola Sturgeon in the next four months.

I’m an idiot..."

No comment.

"...with a website."

This is indisputably true.

"I have no power."

Agreed - hence the word 'comical'.

"This site has for some time called for Sturgeon to resign because it is our belief that she’s going to have to anyway."

So to sum up - you're putting pressure on her to go and actually think she will go, and yet you think that's somehow different from having an earnest belief that you're going to get rid of her.  Well, all I can say is that I admire the exhibition of advanced hair-splitting, but it doesn't change my assessment that it's all rather comical.  Nicola Sturgeon has reached almost unprecedented levels of popularity in public polling, and has taken the independence movement to sustained majority support for the first time ever.  The notion that she's on the brink of being deposed is fanciful in the extreme, and can only really be explained by heavy-duty wishful thinking on the part of people who are blinded with rage towards her.

The rest of the article is an extended, unhinged and utterly unconvincing waffle about the reasons Ms Sturgeon will supposedly no longer be SNP leader in four months' time, which culminates in quite possibly the most bonkers sentence Stuart has ever written in his life - 

"And let’s be clear: the only thing the Unionists fear is Sturgeon going in the next few weeks."

The terrifying thing is that he probably believes that to be true, even though anyone who hasn't lost the plot can see that it's self-evidently the polar opposite of the truth.  Whatever anyone may think of Nicola Sturgeon, she's plainly one of the finest political communicators in the entire English-speaking world, and her opponents would think it was Christmas all over again if they were suddenly facing someone less formidable.

"they’ll celebrate the near-certain avoidance of an SNP/indy majority, aided by the idiotic “both votes SNP” argument (ironically promoted by James Kelly) that ensures hundreds of thousands of pro-indy votes are wasted"

Oh dear.  Don't tell me I'm going to have to remind Stuart yet again of his splendid "both votes SNP" article from the run-up to the 2016 election in which he sagely explained to readers why attempts to game the electoral system were "a mug's game".  You know what?  Some of us understand that the way an electoral system works doesn't magically change just because our feelings towards it change.  Electoral systems are stubborn in that way.

"Information to which I’m privy would get me put in jail if I published it"

Here's the irony of this situation: I'm fairly sure I'm also privy to at least some of the information Stuart is referring to, and it leads me to have great concerns about the events that led up to Alex Salmond being put on trial.  I'm on record as saying that if Mr Salmond were to set up his own party, I would probably support it, which would put Stuart and I on the same side.  But being a supporter of Mr Salmond doesn't preclude me from having a sense of realism about Nicola Sturgeon and the vital role she will have to play if Scotland is to become independent any time soon.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Poll crowdfunder update II

The Scot Goes Pop poll fundraiser is moving tantalisingly close to reaching its target figure of £7500 - as of 7.30 this morning, £6290 has been raised.  Thank you to everyone who has donated so far, or shared the link on social media.

Thanks also for the suggestions for poll questions.  I think it might be helpful, though, if I'm more specific about the types of questions I'm looking for.  As this will be an immediate post-Brexit poll, I think it makes sense for most (not all, but most) of the questions to be directly related to Brexit - for example, the rights that people have lost now that they are no longer European citizens.  Do they want those rights back?  Or do they feel, as Labour and (extraordinarily) the Liberal Democrats apparently do, that we should now accept Brexit and move on?

I've also got one left-field, non-Brexit question that I hope to ask if there's enough room.  In addition, I know there's always demand for a "Plan B" question, and I'm not totally opposed to that idea, but only if there's a way of asking it that adds some value.  Remember that all three polls I've run so far have had a Plan B question - the first asked about legislating for an independence referendum without a Section 30 order and allowing the courts to decide whether it can go ahead, the second asked about using a scheduled election to double as an indyref, and the third asked about the general principle of whether there should be some sort of Plan B if London keeps saying no.  All three questions produced positive results, so there's no point in duplicating them.  Is there a possible question that is sufficiently different to be worth asking?  Some of you want a question specifically about whether this year's Holyrood election should be used as a plebiscitary election - but there are two potential problems with that.  One is that the SNP leadership have clearly already decided not to go down that road, and even the best poll result is unlikely to change their minds.  The other problem is that I suspect that we wouldn't get a positive result anyway, because people would think we'd be jumping the fences too quickly.

To be honest, I'm still attracted to tacking on a question about whether Douglas Ross should give up refereeing in order to "get on with the day job", so to speak.  When I floated that idea last time, there was a very mixed reaction, and Craig Murray in particular thought it would demean the whole exercise of the poll.  Frivolous question though it may be, I do think it could prove extremely embarrassing for Ross - however, I suspect I'll probably let it go again in favour of more important questions.  

Click here to visit the fundraiser page.