Saturday, February 27, 2021

Labour send a clear message to independence supporters: "WE DON'T WANT YOUR VOTES"

I was genuinely conflicted about the Scottish Labour leadership election.  To drum up support for Anas Sarwar, social media's top international socialist Dunc "don't call me Dunc" Hothersall tried to get a narrative going that independence supporters wanted Monica Lennon to win.  But it was never as simple as that.  Yes, Lennon had a somewhat less boneheaded stance than Sarwar on an independence referendum, but the downside of that is she could actually have succeeded in winning back a minority of independence supporters to the Labour fold, in which case an indyref could paradoxically have become less likely.  I'm not sure that risk would have been worth it in exchange for a 10% chance that she might have been in a position to persuade Prime Minister Sir Keir to grant a Section 30 order in 2025 or 2026.  More likely, actually, is that she would have gone native once in harness.  So we may well be better off with Sarwar - he's a far poorer politician than Lennon, and his win sends a clear message to independence supporters that Labour don't want their votes.

Normally when I think a political party has made a mistake in its choice of leader, I would say "but I might be wrong, time will tell".  I'm not going to say that on this occasion.  Sarwar will be an atrocious leader, and he's the SNP's dream opponent. I burst out laughing every time I visit ConHome and see someone earnestly say "Sarwar is thought to be the man the SNP fear".  Whoever managed to convince the unionists that Sarwar is some sort of political titan deserves the highest honour an independent Scotland can bestow.  In a sane world he wouldn't even have been a candidate - the Labour 'moderates' will probably end up bitterly regretting that they didn't put up Jackie Baillie instead.

Friday, February 26, 2021

The "real SNP", in numbers

It's lovely that controversial journalist David Leask is now a freelancer, and can punt his conspiracy theories about dark Russian involvement in Scottish politics in a variety of publications, not just one.  I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, so I can only judge his latest piece for The Times by its preview, but it seems to be yet another outing for his beloved but wholly synthetic narrative about there being a distinction between what he calls "the mainstream or real SNP" and an "alt-Nat" tendency associated with Alex Salmond.  Needless to say, the "mainstream or real SNP" are, conveniently, the people who already share Leask's paranoid obsession with Russia and those he thinks can be won over, while the "alt-Nats" are the lost causes who inexplicably go through whole days without even thinking about Russia.  

As I've pointed out many times over the years, though, it's mind-bogglingly bonkers to define "the real SNP" in any way that excludes Alex Salmond, given that he led the party for nearly one-quarter of its entire existence to date, is thus far the only person to have led the SNP to an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, and was the leader of the Yes campaign in the only independence referendum to have actually been held.  If Mr Salmond isn't the "real SNP", who on earth is?  Here are some numbers to amplify the point...

Length of time served as SNP leader (with percentage of time since the SNP's formation in 1934 in brackets):

Alex Salmond: 20 years (23.0%)
Gordon Wilson: 11 years (12.6%)
William Wolfe: 10 years (11.5%)
Arthur Donaldson: 9 years (10.3%)
Robert McIntyre: 9 years (10.3%)
Nicola Sturgeon: 6 years (6.9%)
Andrew Dewar Gibb: 4 years (4.6%)
Jimmy Halliday: 4 years (4.6%)
John Swinney: 4 years (4.6%)
Douglas Young: 3 years (3.4%)
Alexander MacEwan: 2 years (2.3%)
Bruce Watson: 2 years (2.3%)
William Power: 2 years (2.3%)

(Note: John MacCormick seems to have been regarded as the de facto leader from the party's founding until the 1942 split - but his official position was National Secretary, meaning his current direct successor is Stewart Stevenson.)

Number of Westminster general elections fought as SNP leader:

Alex Salmond: 4
William Wolfe: 4
Robert McIntyre: 3
Nicola Sturgeon: 3
Gordon Wilson: 2
Arthur Donaldson: 2
John Swinney: 1
Alexander MacEwan: 1
Bruce Watson: 1
Jimmy Halliday: 1

Number of Scottish Parliament elections fought as SNP leader: 

Alex Salmond: 3
Nicola Sturgeon: 1
John Swinney: 1

Number of Westminster elections won as SNP leader: 

Nicola Sturgeon: 3
All others: 0

Number of Scottish Parliament elections won as SNP leader: 

Alex Salmond: 2
Nicola Sturgeon: 1

Number of overall majority Scottish Parliament wins as SNP leader:

Alex Salmond: 1
All others: 0

Length of time as an SNP First Minister: 

Alex Salmond: 7 years
Nicola Sturgeon: 6 years

Number of independence referendums secured as SNP leader:

Alex Salmond: 1
All others: 0

Number of independence referendums fought as SNP leader:

Alex Salmond: 1
All others: 0

Length of service as an SNP parliamentarian:

Winnie Ewing: 32 years
Alex Salmond: 30 years 
Andrew Welsh: 29 years
Roseanna Cunningham: 26 years
Margaret Ewing: 24 years
John Swinney: 24 years

Length of time as SNP group leader in the House of Commons:

Donald Stewart: 13 years
Margaret Ewing: 12 years
Angus Robertson: 10 years
Alex Salmond: 6 years
Ian Blackford: 4 years
Alasdair Morgan: 2 years

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I have an analysis piece in The National today about yesterday's Ipsos-Mori poll putting Yes on 52% - you can read it HERE.  

Thursday, February 25, 2021

And make that TWENTY-TWO Yes majorities in a row: Ipsos-Mori telephone survey puts support for independence at 52%

Given the internal difficulties the SNP have been experiencing recently (some of them, let's face it, pointlessly self-inflicted by the leadership), I've been a bit nervous that the next poll might break the long sequence of consecutive pro-independence majorities, which stretch all the way back to a Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll conducted last June.  It's a relief, then, that the poll released today was conducted by Ipsos-Mori, which has been one of the most Yes-friendly firms in recent years.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Ipsos-Mori / STV, 15th-21st February 2021)

Yes 52% (-4)
No 48% (+4)

Have we been living a charmed life recently?  All of the last three polls were conducted by firms that have been on the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum, and all of them showed Yes remaining in the lead while dropping a few percentage points.  It's perfectly possible, then, that the next poll from a less Yes-friendly firm (for example YouGov or Survation) may break the sequence by showing either a narrow No lead or a 50-50 split.  But we shouldn't automatically assume that'll be the case - sometimes pollsters just converge with each other, so another possibility is that Yes may just be settling in at around the 51-53 range across all firms.  We'll have to wait and see.

The concern must be, though, that any fall in Yes support has occurred while the Sturgeon-Salmond controversy has been largely a 'bubble issue', so the impact of that story may not be fully factored in yet.  There's a broad consensus that the resignations of both Peter Murrell and Liz Lloyd are nigh-on inevitable, which means the SNP will at the very least be facing a day or two of very painful media coverage.  That could conceivably have a knock-on effect on support for independence, but the hope must be that we'll all move on relatively quickly.  I know some people honestly believe that Nicola Sturgeon will be brought down - I disagree with that, but if by any chance I'm wrong the impact on Yes support could be severe.  My guess is that the Yes surge over recent months has been tightly bound up with the popularity of Ms Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic.

There's some remarkably good news for supporters of 'Plan B' in one of the poll's supplementary questions.  Even before Don't Knows are excluded, an absolute majority of respondents (52%) think that, if a Section 30 order is refused, the Scottish Government should either simply press ahead with a referendum without Westminster's consent, or "take the UK Government to court to try and establish a legal basis for holding a referendum".  (The latter option isn't ideally worded, because of course what would actually happen is that the Scottish Government would legislate for a referendum and then wait to see if the UK Government launches a legal challenge as provided for by the Scotland Act.)  Better still are the results among Yes supporters: a massive 87% (!) are in favour of one of the Plan B options, and only 9% are opposed.  As many as 33% of Yes voters think that the Scottish Government shouldn't even bother with the courts, and should just get on with a referendum.

Oh, and you know how the Tories always say that nobody cares about independence and nobody wants a referendum?  Isn't it odd, then, that this poll shows that a) the majority of people want independence, b) the majority of people intend to vote for pro-independence parties, c) independence is the top issue that people say will decide their votes (it's listed as a major factor by 44% of respondents, compared to 32% for education and 25% for health), and d) a comfortable majority think that a referendum should be held if the SNP win the election.  It must be that people don't know their own minds, eh, Douglas?  I can't think of any other explanation.

Nicola Sturgeon's net approval rating has dropped by sixteen points since the Ipsos-Mori poll in October.  That can perhaps be explained by the Salmond inquiry and the score-settling against Joanna Cherry and others.  However, she remains way ahead of all the other politicians that were asked about.  The ratings for both Douglas Ross and Willie Rennie have improved a touch (Rennie now even has a net positive rating), but there's bad news for Sir Keir Starmer - he's dropped from +16 in October to +3 now.  It can't be a great sign if people like him less the more they see of him.  

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions:

SNP 52% (-3)
Conservatives 23% (+1)
Labour 15% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
Greens 3% (+2)

Scottish Parliament regional list voting intentions:

SNP 47% (-)
Conservatives 22% (-)
Labour 14% (-2)
Greens 8% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)

Seats projection (with changes from 2016 election): SNP 72 (+9), Conservatives 26 (-5), Labour 17 (-7), Greens 9 (+3), Liberal Democrats 5 (-)

SNP: 72 seats (55.8%)
All other parties: 57 seats (44.2%)


Pro-independence parties: 81 seats (62.8%)
Anti-independence parties: 48 seats (37.2%)


That would be the Greens' best result ever in a Holyrood election, exceeding the 7 seats they won in the 'rainbow parliament' of 2003.  I'd suggest it gives a more realistic impression of their prospects than recent polls that have suggested they might win as many as 11 seats - those polls used a question that was less than ideal and might have given some respondents the false impression that the list vote is a second preference vote.  

Fans of the fringe 'pop-up list parties' will be beside themselves with excitement at the news that one of them gets a mention in a major poll for the first time ever - 1% of respondents who indicate that they may change their minds about how to vote on the regional list ballot say that Action for Independence, the nominally 'umbrella' party set up by former MSP Dave Thompson, would be their most likely choice if they do change their minds.  It's unclear whether AFI were included as a 'prompted option' in the poll or whether respondents mentioned them spontaneously (my guess would be the latter).  

There's mixed news for the SNP on the same question - prospective 'mind-changers' are slightly more likely to switch to the SNP than to the Tories, but the biggest potential beneficiaries are Labour.  That's probably because Labour are inoffensive to many unionist voters, and also to a minority of independence supporters.  

Ipsos MORI asked for views on the Scottish Labour leadership candidates, and it turns out that Monica Lennon isn't far behind Anas Sarwar - she trails him by 28% to 25% among all voters, and by 40% to 35% among Labour voters.  I haven't been keeping a close eye on the gossip about the vote, so I'm reluctant to give out a betting tip that might prove to be a complete dud.  However, I'd just note the disparity between the above numbers and the betting odds, which have Sarwar as an absolutely overwhelming favourite.  On the face of it, then, Monica Lennon might conceivably be a value bet.

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I'm going to give a plug to various SNP crowdfunders as the campaign proper approaches.  Today I'd like to point you in the direction of Angus Robertson's bid to oust the Tories in Ruth Davidson's seat of Edinburgh Central - you can make a donation HERE.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A reminder: the public are behind the most important proposal of the Manifesto for Independence

You might be aware of the 'Manifesto for Independence', which has been drawn up by two SNP members in the hope that all pro-indy parties will endorse it and turn the forthcoming Holyrood election into a de facto referendum on independence, leading to the Scottish Government seeking international recognition as a sovereign state if there is a positive outcome. The two small 'pop up' list parties, Action for Independence and Independence for Scotland, have already signed up, but it's obviously going to be extremely challenging to persuade the SNP and the Greens to follow suit. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, though, it should be noted that opinion poll evidence suggests the public supports a key part of the manifesto. Here is the relevant result from the Survation poll commissioned by this blog a few weeks ago - 

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%

OK, the Manifesto for Indy goes further than that and implies that there should be some sort of declaration of independence after the election, regardless of London's wishes.  But nevertheless, it's important that the public are at least behind the principle of using this May's vote as a plebiscitary election (ie. as a de facto indyref).  

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

Additionally, with the election looming many SNP candidates will be crowdfunding for their campaigns.  I hope to showcase quite a few of them over the coming weeks.  First up today is Gordon MacDonald, the incumbent SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands.  At time of writing, he's just £300 short of his target figure of £3500.  You can visit his crowdfunder HERE.  

"But what motive could there possibly have been?"

The people who try to paint Alex Salmond's supporters as irrational, tinfoil hat-wearing "alt-Nats" tend to incredulously make two claims: a) that there "isn't a shred of proof" of a conspiracy against Mr Salmond, and b) that there was no conceivable motivation for a conspiracy anyway. Well, I'll leave others to grapple with the question of whether there's any proof or not, but the idea that there was no possible motive is self-evidently daft.

First of all, the fact that Mr Salmond lost his seat in the 2017 general election did not mean he was a "busted flush politically".  He had suffered a political setback, but so had the large number of other SNP MPs who lost their seats in the same election - and yet several of those people either got their seats back at the 2019 election, or will be standing in winnable seats at the 2021 Holyrood election.  Mr Salmond could easily have made the same journey back to parliamentary politics if the investigation against him hadn't intervened - indeed he still could, albeit perhaps not under the SNP banner.

But there were voices in the SNP that very much wanted his defeat in Gordon to be the end of the road for him.  One reason was his decision to have The Alex Salmond Show broadcast on RT.  As we all know, there is a small but influential faction within the SNP group at Westminster that has a paranoid obsession with Russia, very much in the fashion of controversial journalist David Leask.  Any connection with the Russian state, no matter how absurdly tenuous, is regarded as a type of contamination.  That alone led to a conviction in certain quarters that Mr Salmond must never be a frontline SNP politician again.

But that's unlikely to be the main reason for the way that events unfolded.  More significant was the period of #MeToo and #IBelieveHer - the latter of which can have two distinct meanings for different people.  It can quite properly mean that if a woman makes an allegation of sexual assault, it should always be taken seriously and be scrupulously investigated.  But it can also, for some people, mean that if a woman makes an allegation of sexual assault, it is automatically true.  That's a mindset that is quite simply incompatible with the most fundamental priniciple of our justice system - ie. that no-one is guilty of any crime unless it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

If there was an assumption that the allegations against Mr Salmond must have been true, it's not hard to see why corners were cut and an unfair, biased investigation process was allowed to unfold - the ends justified the means, it might have been thought, to get long-overdue redress for female complainants.  Nicola Sturgeon and the people around her might have wanted to capture the zeitgeist of #MeToo by seizing an opportunity to demonstrate that no man was untouchable - not even the former First Minister, her own political mentor, the leader of the Yes campaign in the 2014 referendum.

But having overreached themselves with a tainted process for what they might well have thought was the best of motives, they may have then panicked about the political damage that would be done to them as a result of a legal defeat.  I've heard it suggested, and this is just an interpretation but it's not an especially implausible one, that they became concerned that Nicola Sturgeon's own position as SNP leader might be under threat as a result of the misjudgement, which by extension threatened the career prospects of her closest aides and advisers.  One possible way to head off the threat was to totally discredit Mr Salmond so that any victory he enjoyed at judicial review would be left looking like an unimportant technicality.  What would discredit him? Well, if you could ask around and come up with lots more allegations, that might do the trick, because people will think there's no smoke without fire.  But ultimately there's nobody quite so discredited as someone who has been tried, convicted and sent to jail.  It would obviously be a very serious matter for people to try to get a former colleague imprisoned for reasons of self-preservation, and I'm not in any position to say whether that happened.  But it's what I've heard suggested.  There may or may not have been a conspiracy, in which case there may or not have been a motive - but if you really can't see what motive there could possibly have been, well, there's your answer.

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If you missed my podcast chat with Dr Tim Rideout of the Scottish Currency Group on Monday, you can catch up with it HERE.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Scotland's nose-peg election?

It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry whenever somebody close to the SNP leadership lectures the membership on the necessity of unity and discipline in the run-up to a crucial election that could make or break our chances of independence.  It's like: in that case, would you mind terribly abstaining from petty score-settling against Joanna Cherry, and from introducing highly provocative definitions of transphobia that you know perfectly well are going to enrage half the party, and from treating the man who led the party for twenty years as if he is some sort of political foe?  Can't that sort of self-indulgence wait until the election is out of the way?  

There was a determined (and possibly coordinated) effort on social media a couple of weeks ago to portray an opinion poll showing that Alex Salmond had slightly poorer favourability ratings than Boris Johnson as the death-knell of any hopes of a political comeback for Mr Salmond.  But I think the leadership are in danger of falling for their own propaganda on this one - they've started to think those poll numbers make them fireproof in declaring outright war on Mr Salmond, and they couldn't be more wrong about that.  However the general public may feel, there's still considerable sympathy and admiration for Mr Salmond to be found within the SNP membership.  I suspect I'm fairly typical of SNP members in that I have a high regard for both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon, and think they're both exceptional leaders.  However, if anyone had asked me, I would have advised the leadership not to needlessly force us to make a choice between the two in the way that they now appear hellbent on doing, because they may not like our answers.

That said, it'll only be possible to make a direct electoral choice between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond if the latter chooses to stand in the May election.  If he doesn't, then realistically the SNP will remain the only game in town for achieving independence.  And Ms Sturgeon herself is highly likely to still be SNP leader on election day.  Wings justifies his "tear the whole house down" attitude by saying it's "inevitable" that Ms Sturgeon will depart and that all he's doing is trying to hurry the process along.  But that's wishful thinking on his part.  From everything I've heard both publicly and privately, Peter Murrell and Liz Lloyd are toast.  But Ms Sturgeon will probably survive because her wildly popular handling of the pandemic will insulate her.  

Someone said to me the other day "Jimmy, come on over to the ISP, even without a celeb politician to hold your hand".  I thought about that for twenty seconds, and although the policy platform of ISP is undoubtedly closer to my own views than the SNP's is right now, I wasn't particularly tempted.  It's not just that I don't think ISP will win any seats - I'm actually not at all sure they'll even exist a year or two from now.  They might well quietly fold in the same way that Change UK did after an election flop (and bear in mind that Change UK was far better financed than ISP and had much more high-profile backers).  Having been a member of the SNP for several years, I don't want to give that up for a party that might leave me politically homeless within a few months.  I want a marriage, not a casual affair, if that makes sense.

What we need to do is ignore the provocations and condescension from the leadership and think about the best interests of the independence cause in a hard-headed way.  We are the foot-soldiers, we are the ordinary people of Scotland, we are the ones who are actually serious about independence and care passionately about making it happen.  There are no career considerations complicating the issue for us.  It may seem strange to quote Peter A Bell at a time like this (or at any other time for that matter) but he's been right about at least one thing over the years - the SNP are our vehicle for achieving independence, and we use them, not the other way around.  Even if we think the party has been hijacked by identity politics entryists, we still have to use them if they're the best option available to us, and especially if they're the only realistic option.  Grass-roots campaigns are important, but they can't do the job on their own - having a pro-independence Scottish Government, and a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, are absolute prerequisites for realising our goal.

I know there's a snag, though: a party that wins power will claim a mandate for anything and everything that was in its manifesto.  So people who are deeply concerned about the SNP's direction of travel on civil liberties or women's rights may be worried about casting a vote that could be interpreted as a blank cheque.  But I suppose it just depends on how serious you are about independence - are you really willing to consign us all to London rule for God knows how many more years to thwart the SNP leadership on these other issues?

A better idea might be to take charge of how our votes are defined.  In 2005, Polly Toynbee urged Guardian readers to photograph themselves wearing a nose-peg as they cast their votes for Labour, to make the point that they were doing so to keep the Tories out, and not as any kind of endorsement of the war in Iraq or any of Tony Blair's other right-wing excesses.  Perhaps we could set up a 'memory box website' in which people make personal declarations about the meaning of their votes for the SNP.  "OK, you asked me to keep my eye on the prize of independence, and you told me that voting for the SNP was the way of doing that, so I took you at your word.  My SNP vote today is a vote for independence, nothing more, nothing less.  I do not give my consent to any erosion of civil liberties or women's rights."  And the word 'consent' really ought to prick the conscience of the leadership, given its prominent place in the new definition of transphobia.

But what if, say, stopping self-ID really is a dealbreaker for you?  What I would say is that if you vote ISP, don't kid yourself that it's some sort of brilliant strategic way of gaming the d'Hondt system, because it isn't.  You'll be giving your vote to a party that won't win a single seat.  But if you're casting a vote of principle rather than of tactics, it's nevertheless fair to say that you're doing something a whole lot less destructive than voting for a unionist party.  The popular vote will be looked at when judging the strength of any mandate for an independence referendum, and even a vote for the tiniest fringe pro-indy party will help in that respect.  

In the absence of a Salmond-led party, though, the only ways to achieve an indy mandate in terms of both votes and seats will be to vote SNP/SNP, or SNP/Green, or possibly SNP/Wightman.  

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If you missed my podcast chat with Dr Tim Rideout of the Scottish Currency Group yesterday, you can catch up with it HERE.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Scot Goes Popcast Episode 2: Dr Tim Rideout on an independent Scottish currency

In a few days' time, the Scottish Currency Group will host a virtual conference called 'Moving Beyond the Sustainable Growth Commission'. To set the scene for that, I was joined for the second episode of the Scot Goes Popcast by Dr Tim Rideout, head of the Currency Group and also a newly-elected member of the SNP's Policy Development Committee. Topics we discussed include... 

* The six tests the Growth Commission laid down for establishing a new Scottish currency. Are they reasonable, and can they ever realistically be met? 

* Whether the euro is a better long-term bet than a Scottish currency. 

* Whether it would be quicker for Scotland to rejoin the single market via EFTA than it would be to rejoin the EU as a full member state. 

* The Panelbase poll question that Tim and I worked together on last year, which showed considerable public sympathy for the idea of a Scottish currency. 

* Would the new currency rise or fall in value against other currencies? 

* Tim's four suggestions for the name of the currency, and his own personal favourite. 

* Whether the leadership have listened to the message SNP members sent them in the internal elections a few weeks ago.

* We had a quick debate about whether Nicola Sturgeon's leadership will survive the ongoing inquiries, and whether it will affect the SNP's chances at the Holyrood election if she doesn't. (We actually disagreed on both points.) We also discussed who might replace her if she does step down. 

* Tim gives his verdict on the infamously rude reply Pete Wishart MP sent him after he made some perfectly polite suggestions about the attitude the SNP should take to the Commons vote on the Brexit deal last December.

I think you'll find the sound quality vastly improved this time.  There were a few minor gremlins, and it was just my luck that a delivery man pounded loudly on my front door midway through the recording, but I don't think that'll affect your enjoyment too much.

If you have any problems with the embedded player below, the direct link to the podcast is HERE.

Don't forget you can also listen to Episode 1 of the podcast, in which I spoke to Dr Yvonne Ridley about her experiences as a prisoner of the Taliban, and her thoughts on the sacking of Joanna Cherry, by clicking HERE

And if you have any *realistic* suggestions for future podcast guests, please let me know in the comments section below. The operative word here is *realistic* - people keep suggesting Devi Sridhar and Andrew Neil, but I have a feeling they might both be a bit preoccupied at the moment! Incidentally, I've no objection to having a guest from the anti-indy side of the fence, but finding someone who is actually willing to do it might be a challenge. For all his bravado about taking on all-comers, Kevin Hague rejected the idea out of hand when one of his chums kindly suggested it to him.