Saturday, February 6, 2021

Scot Goes Popcast with special guest Dr Yvonne Ridley

There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction on Twitter a few weeks ago when I asked if I should consider starting a 'Scot Goes Popcast', so I thought I'd give it a go as a one-off, and then make up my mind about whether to do some more.  For the 'pilot episode', I was delighted to be joined by Dr Yvonne Ridley, who was once voted "the most recognisable woman in the Islamic world".  

She talks about her experience as a captive of the Taliban in 2001, and as the Respect Party's candidate in the landmark 2012 Rotherham by-election.  She shares her memories of campaigning for Yes in the 2014 independence referendum, and as a long-standing SNP member offers some forthright views on the sacking of Joanna Cherry.  I also asked her about anti-Semitism in the Labour party, her stint as an animal handler on the TV series Outlander, and her new sci-fi/time travelling/Scottish historical novel The Caledonians.   

Devotees of the Scot Goes Pop channel on YouTube may not be totally dumbfounded to hear that I ran into some technical problems.  Well, what can I say, I'm not the BBC.  I used Cleanfeed for the recording, which worked great when I was on Paul Kavanagh's Wee Ginger Dugcast last year, but it wasn't quite so straightforward this time for some reason.  I think the main lesson I've learnt is that for any future podcasts I'll have to use a laptop, because the background "vacuum cleaner" noise that's audible throughout is simply the whirring of the desktop.  Anyway, you can hear what we're both saying, so that's the main thing!

If you have any problem with the embedded player below, you can also listen via the direct link HERE.  I'll also try to upload it to YouTube (and maybe to one or two other places as well) later on.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Worrying signs for Sir Keir Starmer in Scottish YouGov poll

A couple of days ago, YouGov published the results of a full-scale Scottish poll, but it only included favourability numbers for various leading politicians, and a couple of questions relating to the Holyrood inquiry.  It seems unlikely that they'd go to that trouble without also asking about independence, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see indy numbers in the coming days.  One possibility is that the indy question was commissioned by a paying client and that the favourability questions were internal polling tacked on by YouGov.  If so, it's hard to know what to expect, because YouGov's last indy poll was incredibly tight - Yes 51%, No 49%.

Anyway, here are the favourability numbers -

Boris Johnson:

Positive: 21%
Negative: 75%
Net: -54

Sir Keir Starmer:

Positive: 36%
Negative: 41%
Net: -5

Nicola Sturgeon:

Positive: 59%
Negative: 38%
Net: +21

Alex Salmond:

Positive: 15%
Negative: 75%
Net: -60

If I was a Labour strategist, I'd be very worried by Sir Keir Starmer's results.  He really ought to still be in his honeymoon period, and he certainly hasn't had enough time or opportunity to properly upset anyone, and yet he's already in negative territory.

I know the usual suspects will look at Alex Salmond's numbers and say "he's finished, he's done for, any suggestion that he might make a comeback is delusional". I don't know if they're trying to convince themselves or if they simply don't understand how proportional representation works, but under the Holyrood system it doesn't actually matter if 75% of people dislike you - as long as enough of the 15% who do like you turn out and vote for you, that'll do the trick.  If Mr Salmond stands as an independent or for a new party, he'll only need around 6% of the vote in a single region to return to the Scottish Parliament.

The broader point is that public opinion is not set in stone anyway - it may change after we know the results of the inquiry.  Other questions in the poll show that pluralities of respondents feel that both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon haven't "generally told the truth", which suggests a greater degree of ambivalence and uncertainty than you'd think from the favourability numbers.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Mistaken Identity

I must confess that was a bit of a generic response, because although Alex clearly felt he'd said something utterly hilarious, I didn't actually have a clue what he was getting at.  It wasn't until I read through some of the replies that I twigged that the implied punchline was supposed to be "He joined a nationalist party without realising he'd joined an identity politics collective!  Ho ho ho!"  It's a bit like that moment when a Brexiteer who isn't used to talking to actual Scottish people says "You say you're in favour of 'independence' and you want to be run from Brussels?" as if that's some sort of killer argument that we've never been exposed to before, or indeed when a Westminster Tory brings up the possibility of Shetlandic independence and says "Gotcha!  You never thought of that one, did you?"

It's like: guys, were you not listening when we first explained these things to you in 1957?

As you can see, many of the brickbats were coming from my own side, and I do wonder if the "trendies" had properly thought through their line of attack on this occasion.  They'd normally be the first to point out that the Scottish independence movement isn't about nationalism in the traditional sense, but they somehow found themselves arguing the complete opposite of that because it was a convenient way of normalising and legitimising the prominent existence of other forms of identity politics within the SNP.   

I spent an inordinate amount of time yesterday pointing out that people were attempting to put words in my mouth, by treating my "identity politics collective" tweet as if it was somehow an attack on "equalities" or "the protection of minorities".  That is plainly and simply untrue - in fact, I'd go further than that, it's an outrageous slur.  It's self-evidently the case that legal and social equality is achievable without identity politics dominating our lives - indeed arguably the way we'll know that equality has been more or less achieved is if identity politics melts away.  However, there's clearly an ongoing debate about what equality would actually look like for trans people, and being on one side or the other of that debate does not mean someone is opposed to equality, it's just a difference of perception.

Oh but wait - there is "no debate to be had".  Anyone who think there is a debate to be had is a "transphobe".  Isn't that right, Patrick Harvie?  That kind of extremist logic lies behind most of the bogus allegations of transphobia that are chucked around on a daily basis.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The way forward

Should we be bracing ourselves for the sequence of twenty-in-a-row Yes majority polls to be broken? Even just from a purely statistical point of view, it's very possible that could happen - the most recent polls from both YouGov and Survation had Yes on 51%, and the most recent from Panelbase had Yes on 52%. Due to the margin of error, sooner or later you're likely to end up dropping to 49% in at least one poll. And that's before we even consider recent events, which may have checked the momentum behind the Yes movement. Nobody is free of responsibility for that. It's all very well for the SNP leadership to lecture the rank-and-file as if they're unruly schoolchlidren, but the building and maintenance of unity is a two-way process, and yesterday's sacking of Joanna Cherry was a monumentally idiotic unforced error that the leadership have no-one to blame for but themselves. None of the excuses we've heard from anonymous sources are remotely convincing. Even if you're hellbent on punishing a hugely popular frontbencher for alleged 'disloyalty', there are ways of doing it with subtlety and nous. Instead of sacking her, you could move her to a less prominent portfolio, and if she refused to take it, you could present it as a resignation. Or you could offer her a meaningful role away from the frontbench. And what you most certainly wouldn't do is sack two other promiment people from the same wing of the party at exactly the same time as sacking her. What happened yesterday looks like petty factionalism because that's exactly what it is. 

However, we are where we are, and in a strange way the results of independence polls aren't actually the most important thing in the very short-term. So close to an election, we normally set the independence numbers to one side and concentrate almost exclusively on the party political voting intention numbers. It's odd that hasn't happened yet, and it may be because an SNP win and a pro-indy majority at Holyrood look like foregone conclusions. But we know from the 2016 campaign that such an impression can be horribly deceptive. The election has to be taken by the scruff of the neck and won, whether by the SNP alone, or by the SNP and the Greens in combination, or by a three-way combination of the SNP, the Greens, and a Party X involving Alex Salmond. I've no idea whether Mr Salmond is even thinking along those lines, and I know some people are claiming it's impossible anyway because he'd be timed out by the Electoral Commission - but there are always ways and means. He could, for example, join forces with one of the small pro-indy parties that are already registered with the Electoral Commission. If he doesn't take the plunge, though, we have to be realistic and accept that the SNP and Greens are the only game in town and are the only pro-indy parties capable of winning seats. I know that's a bitter pill to swallow for people furious with both party leaderships for their stance on the trans issue and reluctance on Plan B, but it really is true - if we care about independence, this is an absolutely critical election, and in the absence of a Salmond-led party we'll need to set aside all reservations and make an SNP/Green majority happen. And, more ideally, an outright SNP majority. 

Some people are in love with the idea of building up the ISP and winning list seats that way, but without big name backing that simply isn't a viable option. We'll doubtless hear the usual misguided arguments over the coming weeks about how SNP supporters should vote "tactically" on the list for the Greens, and those siren voices should be ignored. But at the end of the day, if you vote Green in the erroneous belief that you're doing so tactically, you're at least voting for a party that has a chance of picking up list seats. That will not be the case if you vote for the ISP or another fringe party.

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If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue during this crucial election year, donations are welcome HERE.  

Monday, February 1, 2021

The leadership need to decide whether they want the SNP to be one party or two. The factional sacking of Joanna Cherry strongly suggests the latter.

There was a mixed reaction to my blogpost of yesterday in which I said I was coming round to the idea that the positives of an Alex Salmond-led list party might outweigh the negatives.  A frequent refrain from those who disagreed with me was that we need an overwhelming, unified, single-party majority for the SNP in the Holyrood election to build momentum towards an independence referendum.  As regular readers know, I have sympathy with that view and at times have even expressed it myself - but it's not only up to Nicola Sturgeon's detractors and Alex Salmond's supporters to decide whether that can happen.  It's also up to the SNP leadership themselves.  If they want unity, they need to lead by example and demonstrate that the SNP is a broad church in which all strands of mainstream pro-independence opinion can find a home.  That means having a top team that encompasses the most talented parliamentarians from all of those different strands.  

When the idea of Joanna Cherry as a future SNP leader has been raised, some people have argued that she's not suitable.  Perhaps, it's said, she isn't quite as charismatic as a Nicola Sturgeon, or perhaps she doesn't project her voice in PMQs quite as well as an Ian Blackford.  But there can be no credible disputing of the fact that she easily makes the grade as a senior frontbencher.  She's one of the four or five most talented people the SNP have in either parliament.  If a decision were to be made on the basis of merit, she wouldn't be on the fringes of team selection - she's a star striker, and would be an automatic pick.  The fact that she's just been sacked outright strongly indicates that the decision wasn't made on the basis of merit, but was instead driven by petty factionalism.  The message it sends is that people who share Joanna Cherry's views (of whom there are many, as the NEC election results demonstrate) no longer have a place in the SNP, except on the fringes.  It must raise a doubt over whether the SNP are even bothered about attracting their votes anymore.

During the Labour leadership election of 1980, a group of Labour centrist MPs met Denis Healey and asked what they could expect from him if he defeated Michael Foot.  He basically replied that they couldn't expect anything at all from him because he was more interested in courting the votes of left-wing MPs.  He didn't need to bother with the centrists because they had no-one else to vote for.  "You've got nowhere else to go" he told them.  But one or two ended up voting for Michael Foot and then defected to the SDP a few months later.  I think I'm right in saying that one of them sent Healey a message that simply read "found somewhere else to go".

I don't know whether the SNP leadership are deliberately trying to drive good people out of the party.  But they need to understand that their actions will have that effect, and they need to be very sure that the consequences of that are worth it in return for...well, in return for whatever the hell they think they're gaining by sacking someone of the quality of Joanna Cherry.  If you leave people with no other attractive options, they'll always find somewhere else to go.

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If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue during this crucial election year, donations are welcome HERE.  

Sunday, January 31, 2021

A new Alex Salmond-led party may now be the best way of healing the Yes movement - and of securing a change of strategy on winning independence

Every time a new revelation appears about the Sturgeon / Salmond controversy on Wings or the Craig Murray blog, I'm messaged by people saying words to the effect of: "Now surely even YOU must see it, James! Sturgeon has to go!" To which my reaction is one of bemusement, because I've been privately aware of many of the details of the conspiracy against Alex Salmond for almost a year (I was told in confidence so I haven't said anything), and more broadly because I simply can't understand why people are excited and enthused about the possibility of something happening that in all likelihood would be an unmitigated disaster for the independence movement. Losing a wildly popular leader may on occasion be unavoidable, but it's something to be dreaded rather than longed for. We should be leaving our opponents to try to get their dream scalp - if they can. We shouldn't be joining in or egging them on. 

I said a couple of weeks ago that people have a remarkable capacity to conflate completely unrelated issues due to personal animosity, and the intra-Yes campaign to unseat Nicola Sturgeon is a classic example of that. There are three reasons that some Yessers want her gone - her stance on trans rights, her apparent lack of a viable strategy to guarantee a vote on independence, and her alleged involvement in the attempt to jail her predecessor. Those are all completely separate issues, and yet in some people's minds they've become all muddled together as if they're one in the same. It ought to be possible, for example, to think Ms Sturgeon might need to resign if certain conclusions are reached about her role in the conspiracy, but to also think that would be a matter of extreme regret because she is the person best placed to lead Scotland to independence. Have you ever heard anyone express that combination of views? No. By a remarkable coincidence, the people who want her to resign for moral reasons all happen to think she's a terrible leader and that getting rid of her will lead to a much-needed change of strategy on winning independence. 

To that I'd say two things. First of all, under Nicola Sturgeon's leadership, Yes has reached sustained majority support for the first time in history.  That's not a coincidence - it's almost certainly happened because her handling of the pandemic has instilled confidence in the public that an independent Scotland would be competently governed. If she's replaced by someone who commands less confidence, the equation might change and the Yes lead might disappear. The fact that this poses a major problem for the "get her out" brigade can be seen from the rather unconvincing efforts of Wings to make out that the Yes poll lead isn't really that impressive or is somehow sub-par. The first of twenty polls in a row showing an independence majority was a Panelbase poll commissioned by Scot Goes Pop last June, and Wings reacted to it with a long post that attempted to 'prove' that the poll actually showed that Yes was continuing to flatline - a claim that looks risible in retrospect. If you think having a sustained Yes lead barely warrants a shrug, let me tell you this - you're going to miss it when it's gone. 

Secondly, there's a degree of magical thinking about the belief that deposing Nicola Sturgeon will lead to a change of indy strategy. In reality, her replacement would most likely be one of the following: Angus Robertson, Humza Yousaf or Kate Forbes, and it's reasonable to assume that they would all be continuity candidates. It's not clear whether Joanna Cherry would even stand, given that she's an MP rather than an MSP. If she did, I'm sure I'd join Wings and others in supporting her strongly, but she wouldn't be the favourite by any means. 

Which leads me to a rather startling conclusion. The level of hostility I've seen towards Ms Sturgeon on social media is such that I'm not sure that the SNP is capable any longer of accommodating both her supporters and the opposing camp. We literally have people who think that deposing the SNP First Minister of Scotland ought to be the number one objective for all independence supporters (as opposed to, say, taking on the Tories or other unionists) - that's a perverse and irrational position, but we can't pretend that they don't genuinely feel that way or that they're likely to change their minds. And the SNP leadership are far from blameless in this - the decision to adopt what will presumably be an exceptionally broad, "everything and the kitchen sink" definition of the word 'transphobia' has a distinctly McCarthyite whiff about it, and leads me to wonder whether they even want the SNP to be one party rather than two. 

When it was first suggested that Alex Salmond might set up his own list-only party, I was conflicted about it, because I worried that it might erect a new Berlin Wall down the middle of the independence movement. That's no longer a valid concern, because the Berlin Wall is already there anyway. (Examples: Kirsty Blackman regularly lambasts her colleague Joanna Cherry on social media, and Hannah Bardell recently 'liked' a tweet boasting that Joan McAlpine had been no-platformed due to her non-existent 'bigotry' on the trans issue.) So I'm coming round to the idea that the positives would outweigh the negatives. One thing I know and admire tremendously about Alex Salmond is that he's a relentlessly positive electoral campaigner - once the new party is up and running, he wouldn't waste any time with a vendetta against Nicola Sturgeon. He'd devote every waking second to winning new converts and to motivating independence supporters to come out and vote. My guess is that he'd emphasise that his party is intended to complement rather than compete with the SNP - while making clear that it takes a very different view on strategy and would attempt to use any leverage in a balanced parliament to coax the SNP into changing course after the election. If Ms Sturgeon remains in post (and my guess is she probably will) that could very well leave us with the best of both worlds - she'd still be there to reach the parts that other pro-indy politicians can't reach, but her detractors would also have a political home and would be using their time to achieve something far more constructive than removing her from office. There'd also be little or no risk of splitting the pro-indy vote in a harmful way, because Alex Salmond is the one person with enough of a personal following to ensure that a list-only party gets over the de facto threshold for winning seats. 

For my part, Alex Salmond has always been my political hero, so I'd back his party if he set one up. In all other circumstances, I'll be sticking with the SNP - unless, of course, I get chucked out on a spurious charge of 'transphobia'. * * * 

The future of Scot Goes Pop: 

As readers of the desktop version of this blog may have spotted, there's a small 'donate' link in the sidebar - but it's been linking to the last general fundraiser than I ran, which was from 2019. That was beginning to look a bit odd, so I've replaced it today with a fresh fundraiser page for 2021. I won't 'officially' launch the fundraiser for a while yet, because I know there's a big danger of donation fatigue, but the page is there and it's now fully open for donations if anyone would like to. The money raised from the poll crowdfunders in recent months was / is ring-fenced for polling, and I didn't run a general fundraiser last year for the first time since 2013, so things are now getting extremely tight if I'm going to continue with normal service through the Holyrood election and beyond (especially given that lockdown has cut off one of my previous main sources of income). So basically I've reached the point where I have no choice. I won't make a big effort to promote it until the proper launch, though - there'll just be a small link at the bottom of each blogpost. Click HERE to visit the fundraising page.