Saturday, March 20, 2021

Scot Goes Popcast with guest Ellen Höfer of EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland

For Episode 4 of the Scot Goes Popcast, I was joined by Ellen Höfer, the creative director of EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland.  Topics we discussed include...

* The new Opinium poll showing Yes ahead by 51% to 49%.

* The threat of deportation and a 'hostile environment' hanging over EU citizens if they don't sign up for settled status.

* What we know and what we don't know about how EU citizens voted in the 2014 indyref, and how they would vote in a second referendum.

* Why EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland didn't actually want to stop Brexit.

* The legislation that has extended the electoral franchise in Scotland to all residents regardless of nationality, and to some prisoners.

* Whether Nicola Sturgeon should resign if she is adjudged to have broken the ministerial code.

* Why Ellen feels the hashtag #IStandWithNicola is totally inappropriate.

* Why Ellen left the Scottish Green Party last year, and why she doesn't expect to be involved in party politics again.

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

You can also catch up with earlier episodes of the Popcast - 

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Friday, March 19, 2021

More about the Yes majority in the new Opinium poll

I have a short piece on The National's website about the new Opinium poll which has Yes ahead by 51% to 49% - you can read it HERE.  When I wrote it yesterday I included a couple of paragraphs about the findings from the poll on the Royal Family, which were probably trimmed because of space constraints.  So for your delectation and delight, I'll post them here - 

Perhaps the most stunning finding of the poll is that respondents are split down the middle over whether an independent Scotland should become a republic or retain the monarchy.  Past polls have tended to suggest that, although Scotland is cooler towards the royals than other parts of the UK, there was still a significant pro-monarchy majority.  One reason for the change could be the revelations in the recent Harry and Meghan interview, although it's also likely that the question wording played a part.  Asking respondents to think specifically about what should happen after independence may have teased out that some people who are sympathetic towards the monarchy nevertheless feel it would be logical for an independent Scotland to make a fresh start and find a homegrown Head of State.

That said, the SNP's soft pro-monarchy stance may still be electorally smart.  Republican voters are unlikely to refuse to back independence just because the monarchy is being kept, but the issue could well be a dealbreaker for some of the substantial minority of Yes voters (30% according to the poll) who want the royals to stay.  

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I received an email this morning (and it genuinely was only one email) from someone who was rather gratuitously going out of his way to inform me that he wasn't going to contribute to the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser because he didn't like the fact that I've made supportive comments about Alex Salmond.  This, of course, is one of the unavoidable hazards of crowdfunding a blog - some people will always see it as an opportunity to say "how DARE you expect me to hand over money when you haven't said exactly what I want you to say on subject X or Y". The reality is that I'm not expecting any individual to hand over money.  All I'm doing is putting the fundraiser out to the world and saying "if you like the blog and find it interesting and useful, you can help to keep it going if you wish". But if you don't like the blog and don't find it useful, or are uncomfortable with supporting it for any reason, of course I wouldn't expect you to donate - that would be silly.  By the same token, though, it would be wrong of me to say I'm going to change my views or self-censor because people will refuse to donate if I don't.  If fundraisers are having that kind of distorting effect, then it's hardly worth the bother, because you're not getting a truly independent alternative media written by people who can speak the truth as they see it without fear or favour.

In any case, my position on the current controversy is reasonably nuanced, and has been wrongly caricatured by both sides.  I am indeed supportive of Alex Salmond, and I think it's to be greatly regretted that the Scottish Government weren't more respectful of the jury's verdict.  I also think we'd be in a much better place now if Mr Salmond had been encouraged and welcomed back into the SNP fold.  However I do not think Nicola Sturgeon should resign, and I've made that abundantly clear.  I think it would be positively harmful to the independence cause if she was forced to go.

I've said that I would back an Alex Salmond list party if one was formed - but that would still entail voting SNP on the constituency ballot.  And I've also said that I'll be giving both votes to the SNP if there's no Salmond party, which presumably by now is the most likely scenario.

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I'll have a treat for you later tonight - a few hours ago I recorded a podcast with Ellen Höfer of EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland, so check back later for that.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Drama as new Opinium poll shows majority for an independent Scotland

The lesson for unionists is be careful what you gloat about.  It's no time at all since they were rejoicing that the run of Yes-majority polls had come to an end, and just yesterday Ruth Davidson was boasting (on highly dubious grounds, incidentally) that the unionists now had their own unbroken sequence of six polls showing opposition to independence.  But the wheels of fate don't stop turning for anyone - that little run is now over, courtesy of a new Opinium poll for Sky News.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 51%
No 49%

To the best of my recollection this is the first Opinium poll on independence since the 2014 referendum, so it's not possible to give percentage changes, or to draw any conclusions from Opinium's track record as either a Yes-friendly or No-friendly pollster.  However, the hope must be that these numbers mean that the drop in support for independence has now stabilised, or even that there has been a little bounceback.  Certainly the unionist parties were keen to give the impression that the last year was just a weird aberration and that once No was back in the lead it would stay there permanently.  It appears that won't be the case, and it really is anyone's guess whether the next poll will show a Yes lead, a No lead, or an even split.

I have to raise at least one eyebrow at the reporting priorities of Sky News in all this.  There are two main stories in their poll - one is a Yes majority breaking the sequence of No leads, and the other is that the SNP are projected to fall slightly short of an overall majority.  Sky have chosen to headline the latter, and to treat the former as a minor detail.  I can't help feeling that if the poll had shown a No majority and had broken a sequence of Yes leads, they would have magically decided that the independence numbers were the newsworthy part.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot voting intentions:

SNP 46%
Conservatives 24%
Labour 20%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 4%

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot voting intentions:

SNP 42%
Conservatives 22%
Labour 19%
Greens 7%
Liberal Democrats 5%

Seats projection (with changes since 2016 election): SNP 64 (+1), Conservatives 29 (-2), Labour 24 (-), Greens 7 (+1), Liberal Democrats 5 (-)

SNP: 64 seats
All others: 65 seats 


Pro-independence parties: 71 seats (55.0%)
Anti-independence parties: 58 seats (45.0%)


More details and analysis to follow shortly...

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Two videos explaining how the Scottish Parliament voting system works (and how it doesn't work)

I'm hoping not to get caught in the same trap I fell into in 2011 and 2016 when I spent the last few weeks before polling day doing little else but countering disinformation about the voting system.  To save time, and as they say on Blue Peter, here's something I made earlier.  Two videos, in fact.  The first is a film I made with Phantom Power in 2016 which explains the Holyrood voting system in detail, sets out the theory that it can be 'hacked' by voting strategically on the list, and then explains why that theory is largely bogus.  The second is a livestream debate I had on the subject with Tommy Sheridan, also in 2016.  A number of people were kind enough to say at the time that I had either won the debate or that it was a score draw, which is quite something when you consider what a formidable debater Tommy is - although, to be fair, he may have been going easy on a fellow Yes supporter, and I think his main problem was that his basic argument wasn't particularly convincing.  Even the finest debater can only do so much with such thin material.

To anticipate the objection that is always raised at this point, no I have not contradicted myself by saying I would get behind an Alex Salmond-led list party, if one were to be formed.  The point is that I wouldn't be doing that to 'game the system' - I would simply be voting for my first choice party on the more important list vote, which is exactly the way the system is supposed to be used.  That said, Alex Salmond is the one person who might actually be capable of successfully gaming the system.  Why?  Because, as stated in the videos, for a tactical push on the list to work, you'd effectively need a mind control ray - you'd need implausibly large numbers of people doing exactly what you want them to do by voting for the SNP on the constituency ballot and then switching to a Party X on the list.  Alex Salmond would be able to produce that effect due to the trust and loyalty gained from his twenty years at the helm of the SNP - he'd be able to convince a substantial minority of SNP voters that 'SNP constituency, Salmond party list' is a natural extension of their usual partisan choice.

Also of interest may be this email exchange I had with the editor of Bella Caledonia in 2016, which is a reminder that although the voting system doesn't change, the claims people make about it change easily with the political weather.  Five years ago, Bella was pushing for tactical voting on the list and Wings was saying that it was a 'mug's game' - but in 2019 they magically swapped positions when Stuart started talking about setting up a Wings party.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

With Craig Murray as a candidate, AFI may be winning the AFI v ISP 'elimination heat'

As you may have seen on social media last night, the list-only pro-independence party Action for Independence has unveiled Craig Murray as a candidate.  In my view this is a potentially significant moment, because Craig is a relatively well known public figure - apart from his past life as a senior diplomat and a whistleblower, he arguably writes the most-read Scottish politics blog, exceeding the readership of even Wings Over Scotland (although there's always the problem of definition, because Craig writes about global topics and therefore has a more international audience).  I'm not sure off the top of my head whether Tommy Sheridan is planning to personally stand for AFI, but I would imagine there's a chance of that, and if so, AFI can now boast two well-known candidates, which is two more than their rivals ISP will be fielding.  So at the very least, it's starting to look like AFI are coming out on top in the AFI v ISP 'elimination heat', and may end up being the more credible option for Yes supporters who don't want to vote SNP on the list for a variety of reasons.  

The problem is, of course, that AFI might generate just enough momentum to get them to 2% or 3% of the list vote, but no further.  If that happens, it would be the worst of all worlds, because it probably wouldn't be enough to win seats, but it would be enough to cause harm to larger parties that actually do have a chance of winning list seats - ie. the SNP, the Greens, and possibly the independent Andy Wightman.  However, we'll see.  There's always the possibility of a snowball effect, with other big names crossing over to AFI in the wake of Craig's decision, and if that happens it's still possible that we might end up with a credible list party that can do good rather than harm - ie. that can actually win seats and potentially use its leverage in the Scottish Parliament to coax a reluctant SNP leadership towards Plan B.

But what I said the other day still applies - we need to jump decisively one way or the other on the list vote.  We either need a list party with enough support to win seats, or we need to wholeheartedly get behind the SNP (or the Greens) on the list.  Either is fine, but what we mustn't do is fall between two stools.   

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We in the bloggers' union were beside ourselves with excitement on Thursday, because my fellow blogger Caron Lindsay was the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Livingston South by-election.  For the uninitiated, Caron is the person who would have been editor of Pravda if the Soviet Union had been a Liberal Democrat dictatorship.  But there's no sign of the revolution happening any time soon in Livingston (or at least not that sort of revolution), because the SNP won with an increased share of the vote, and with the Lib Dems limping home in a distant sixth place.

Livingston South by-election result:

SNP 43.9% (+3.0) 
Labour 24.6% (-10.9) 
Conservatives 17.6% (-1.8) 
Independent 5.9% (n/a) 
Greens 4.2% (+1.7) 
Liberal Democrats 3.3% (+1.5) 
UKIP 0.5% (n/a)

There was also a big increase in the SNP share of the vote in the Leaderdale and Melrose by-election - and indeed a net swing from the Tories to the SNP.  However, you wouldn't have got that impression if you'd read the hysterical reporting of a "Conservative GAIN from the SNP".  We've really got to find better vocabulary for dealing with the situation that frequently arises in STV by-elections where a party "gains" a seat in spite of having been well ahead in the popular vote in the ward last time around.  It's particularly inaccurate to say, as Britain Elects did, "Conservatives GAIN Leaderdale and Melrose from SNP", because that implies the SNP previously "held the ward".  They didn't - they held one seat out of three on the ward, and were miles behind the Tories on the popular vote.

What we should probably say in cases like this is "Party A picked up the seat on the ward left vacant by the resignation/death of Councillor X from Party B".