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 ๐Ÿ˜† 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.