Friday, April 16, 2021

Thoughts on tactical voting in the South of Scotland

Could I gently ask people to cut me some slack?  I've got quite a heavy workload at the moment - I'm writing daily constituency profiles for The National, I've still got to finish my monthly column for iScot, and I'm trying to keep the blog ticking over as well, so that doesn't leave me an awful lot of time for dealing with comment moderation.  I genuinely had no option but to turn pre-moderation on - since I came out in support of Alba for the list vote, the level of abuse and vitriol in the comments has gone completely beyond a joke.  But if your comment isn't approved quickly, that doesn't necessarily mean it's been deleted, it just means there are only so many hours in a day.  Every comment needs to be approved or rejected individually.

Some people have emailed asking me for advice on tactical voting in specific regions.  All I can really say is I don't believe in tactical voting on the list.  I'm advocating an Alba list vote because I think Alba are the best party, and that's the way the list vote should be used.  I know there's a slight paradox there because Alba themselves do advocate gaming the list system, but that doesn't particularly worry me - all parties look for an angle to try to maximise their vote. 

As for the claims that 'both votes SNP' makes sense in the South of Scotland in a way that it doesn't elsewhere, it's not as simple as people are making out.  It's true that the SNP will probably win list seats in the South and that they could therefore take a hit if they lose list votes, but it doesn't automatically follow that an SNP list vote is the best way of maximising pro-indy representation in the region.  They'll win constituency seats in the South as well, which means the d'Hondt formula will reduce their list vote drastically before a single list seat is allocated - and that in turn means that if Alba get over the de facto threshold of 5% or 6%, you could potentially get more bang for your buck in the South by voting Alba.  But the big question is: will they get over the threshold? This is the problem with trying to game the system: to make it work reliably, you need to know in advance how everyone else is going to vote, and that's not possible.  It's much simpler just to vote for your first choice party on the list.

I've also seen another bogus claim about how the system works, and ironically it's been trotted out by both Alba supporters and detractors.  The suggestion is that the better the SNP do in terms of constituency seats, the better Alba will do in terms of list seats.  That's a lovely thought but it isn't actually true.  If the SNP are severely over-represented in a region's constituency seats, the list seats are effectively spread more thinly in trying to compensate the other parties.  So in some cases Alba will have less chance of a list seat if the SNP do well in the constituencies.  But that doesn't matter because Alba's aim is to maximise pro-indy representation, and voting SNP on the constituency ballot certainly has that effect.

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You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).  And if you find Scot Goes Pop's coverage of polls helpful and would like it to continue, I'm currently running a fundraiser HERE.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

If you're voting by post today, please consider voting Alba on the list ballot - but make sure you vote SNP on the constituency ballot

Postal ballots are starting to arrive in people's homes today.  Because of the pandemic, more people than usual have applied for a postal vote, and we know from past history that a lot of people tend to return their votes straight away. So this is not a drill - for a substantial proportion of the population, today is election day, and voters are about to make decisions about Scotland's future that they won't be able to take back.

I want to urge all independence supporters to strongly consider voting for the Alba Party on the regional list ballot.  You do that simply by marking a cross in the box next to the Alba Party's name on the regional list ballot paper.  (Do not write a number in the box or your vote probably won't count.)  If you're unsure of why Alba is the best choice, here are seven good reasons I've blogged about earlier, but above all else just think about how you'll feel in May 2026 if yet another five-year parliamentary term has gone by without the SNP government using its mandate to hold an independence referendum.  

To be clear, I've no idea whether or not the SNP leadership privately intend to do something about independence over the next few years.  There's a very small, closed group of advisers around Nicola Sturgeon, and unless you're on the inside it's almost impossible to discern what their instincts and guiding principles are (other than extreme caution, of course - we can take that as read).  I've watched the SNP party election broadcast that came under criticism in some quarters, and I thought it was fantastic - it pushed every button for a true independence supporter and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  But was that intended to set the stage for an endgame to the battle of wills with the UK government, or was it intended simply to exploit the passions of independence supporters to get the SNP re-elected so that they can stay in power and focus on other priorities, as they've done over the last five years?  I literally don't know - it could be either.

There's one thing I am sure of, though.  Nicola Sturgeon laughed at Willie Rennie when he suggested that Scotland didn't need the powers to introduce universal basic income, because we could supposedly persuade the UK government to introduce it for us.  "Persuade?  Persuade Boris Johnson?" she asked incredulously.  And yet that is exactly the position of the SNP leadership in respect of a Section 30 order paving the way for an independence referendum - they not only think Boris Johnson can be persuaded to grant one, but that it will somehow be "unsustainable" for him to refuse.  That contradiction is an insult to the intelligence of every independence supporter.  If we want an independence referendum, or some kind of equivalent democratic event to bring independence about, we're going to need to make it happen.  The UK government are not going to grant it out of the kindness of their hearts.

It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the SNP have the mettle to make things happen when we hear today that one of their MSPs says he doesn't want to do anything until there is 70% support for independence in the polls - something that will plainly never occur.  To all intents and purposes it was a statement of opposition to independence.  Admittedly he's not exactly a key decision-maker, but it's troubling just the same.

Luckily we don't have to guess or wonder whether the Alba Party want to do something about independence over the next five years - this is a party of people who would gladly have independence yesterday if they could.  Given that we have a choice between the SNP and something better on the list ballot, it's really important that we vote for something better.  Don't let's wish in a couple of years' time that we hadn't squandered this opportunity.  Think about how much it will change the dynamic if Alba have enough MSPs to form an official group at Holyrood, thus allowing Alex Salmond to hold the government to account at First Minister's Questions every week.  Until now, the only pressure on Nicola Sturgeon has come from people who think she's going too far and too fast on independence.  Think of the difference it'll make if there's also pressure from those who think she's not doing enough, or that she's not doing it fast enough.  And it's not as if she'd just be able to brush that pressure off, because there would always be a danger of SNP MSPs (and MPs and councillors) defecting to a strong Alba party if it became clear that independence has been kicked into the long grass.

That said, it's equally important, and indeed absolutely vital, that you also vote SNP on the constituency ballot.  Again, you do that by marking a cross in the box next to the SNP candidate's name on the constituency ballot paper.  (Do not write a number in the box or your vote may not count.)  If you vote for any party other than the SNP on the constituency ballot, or indeed if you abstain, you are helping the unionist parties to win - it really is that simple.  In every single constituency in Scotland, the SNP are the only pro-independence party that can keep the leading unionist candidate out.  The Greens certainly can't do it.  (I know some people will quibble about Glasgow Kelvin, but even there the SNP are the leading pro-independence party by a country mile.)

To return to Alba, the other point worth making is that it's a party that has rooted itself firmly in the grassroots independence movement.  OK, there's an element of mutual self-interest in that, because the mainstream media aren't giving Alba a fair hearing, so it makes sense for Alba to use the movement as an alternative means of getting the message out.  But just contrast the way that Alba have embraced the movement with the way that the SNP have always kept us at a distance and treated us as a mild embarrassment.  Having been a pro-SNP blogger since 2008, I'm in a better position to know that than most.  Don't get me wrong, there are a number of leading individuals within the SNP who have been extremely kind and friendly towards me over the years - James Dornan, Ivan McKee and Angus Robertson all spring to mind.  (Angus comes in for a lot of criticism, but I can only speak as I find, and he seems to me to be a very genuine person.  He offered me some very helpful advice when I started running polls.  I'd have no hesitation in voting for him in Edinburgh Central, and whatever the virtues of Bonnie Prince Bob, fringe candidates really should be standing on the list rather than helping the Tories by splitting the pro-indy vote on the constituency ballot.)  But on an 'institutional' basis, I think it's fair to say that the SNP have deliberately kept the organic part of the movement at arm's length.

If you'll forgive me for being as pompous as the New York Times, the official Scot Goes Pop endorsement in this election is SNP on the constituency ballot, Alba on the regional list ballot.

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You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).

He demanded it, so here is my substantive response to Wings Over Scotland

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Alba may contribute to a Yes-dominated parliament

Just a quick note to let you know that I've written a piece for The National's online-only National Extra feature, about today's remarkable Panelbase poll suggesting that Alba Party could be on course for five seats in the Scottish Parliament.  You can read it HERE.

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You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).  And if you find Scot Goes Pop's coverage of polls helpful and would like it to continue, I'm currently running a fundraiser HERE.

Astounding Alba: new Panelbase poll shows Alex Salmond's new party on course for FIVE seats

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions (Panelbase / Believe in Scotland):

SNP 47% (-2) 
Conservatives 23% (+1) 
Labour 20% (-) 
Liberal Democrats 6% (-) 
Greens 4% (+2) 

Scottish Parliament regional list voting intentions: 

SNP 36% (-3) 
Conservatives 22% (+1) 
Labour 17% (-) 
Greens 9% (+1)
Alba 6% (-)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+1)   
All for Unity 2% (-2) 

Seats projection (with changes from the 2016 election): SNP 63 (-), Conservatives 26 (-5), Labour 20 (-4), Greens 10 (+4), Alba 5 (+5), Liberal Democrats 5 (-)

SNP: 63 seats
All others: 66 seats


Pro-independence parties: 78 seats
Anti-independence parties: 51 seats


The only thing about this poll that critics of Alba seem to be interested in is whether or not Panelbase once again listed the party as "Alba (led by Alex Salmond)" - the theory being that this would artificially boost its reported support (although ironically that means people are conceding that Alex Salmond is actually popular with some voters!).  I don't know the answer to that - I can't see any mention of the wording in the Believe in Scotland write-up.  But personally I'm not sure it's totally unreasonable to have a few explanatory words explaining to respondents what Alba is - it's possible that the party's support might even be underestimated if you don't do that on the first few occasions.

UPDATE: It now looks highly likely that Alex Salmond's name was NOT added to the Alba option in this poll - there's no sign of that in the datasets, and anecdotally, people who were interviewed for the poll say Alba were presented in exactly the same way as every other party.  So the commentators who used "a dodgy question" as the get-out clause for Alba being on 6% in the previous poll will have to dream up an alternative excuse this time.

One thing there perhaps should be a health warning over, though, is the 4% Green vote on the constituency ballot.  The Greens are only standing in a minority of constituencies, so I'd have thought it's unlikely that their national vote will be that high.  Assuming most Green voters are pro-independence, that means the 47% SNP vote in the constituencies may be a slight underestimate.

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More details and analysis to follow.  You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).  And if you find Scot Goes Pop's coverage of polls helpful and would like it to continue, I'm currently running a fundraiser HERE.

Stunning Panelbase poll shows pro-independence majority

The Panelbase poll that several people have mentioned being interviewed for has now been published, and it turns out the client (at least on the headline indy question) was Believe in Scotland.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Panelbase / Believe in Scotland)

Yes 51% (-)
No 49% (-)

This is now the eighth poll in a row, across all firms, to show Yes on 50% or higher, and the seventh poll out of eight to show some sort of Yes lead.  Once again, this bolsters the impression that the Yes vote bounced back very slightly after the dip earlier in the year, and that a slim Yes lead is now the new norm.

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More details and analysis to follow.  You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).  And if you find Scot Goes Pop's coverage of polls helpful and would like it to continue, I'm currently running a fundraiser HERE.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Some free advice for the biggest Alba supporting website

In the wake of Margaret Lynch's alleged comments at the Alba women's conference, a number of the party's most vociferous critics seemed to think it was a natural progression to ask me whether I was now going to "disassociate" myself.  The answer is of course "no", because there's a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides of the trans debate, and if I was going to distance myself from all of that I'd have to distance from both the SNP and Alba, and just about every other party too for that matter.  If Margaret Lynch's comments about the age of consent were overblown, they were no dafter than certain aspects of the SNP's absurdly broad definition of "transphobia", which seek to patho─║ogise the expression of legitimate opinion, or than the embarrassing claims that the moderate, centre-left social democratic Alba Party is some kind of "far-right hate group".

My own view is that there's no prospect of the SNP government reducing the age of consent - although that isn't necessarily because nobody wants it to happen.  Reading between the lines of some of the carefully-worded comments that have been made, it looks like there are indeed advocates of a change to the age of consent, albeit perhaps not quite as dramatic a change as Margaret Lynch is concerned about.  For example, the suggestion is that sex between fourteen and fifteen year olds should be decriminalised, but that it would still be illegal for adults to have sex with them.  But the reality is that the government wouldn't be able to go even that far, because they know they would pay too heavy a price with public opinion.

Now that I'm back on the same side as Wings Over Scotland (albeit 'co-belligerent' rather than 'ally' is probably the correct term), I'd like to offer Stuart Campbell some free advice.  He's unlikely to take it, but I'll offer it anyway.  Stuart, you lost faith in the SNP, and you lost faith in Nicola Sturgeon.  But against all the odds, the creation of the Alba Party has given you an opportunity to go back to what you do best - campaigning passionately for a pro-independence mandate, and without having to compromise your principles.  Don't squander that opportunity by wasting the next three weeks talking about nothing else but the trans issue. I know you think the public are on the same page as you on that subject, and I would agree that polling tends to bear that belief out. But there's a difference between voters holding a certain view and caring enough about it to allow it to change their vote.  If Alba are going to succeed, it won't be primarily as a family values party, or even as a feminist party.  It'll be as an independence supermajority party, and that's what we need to spend the remainder of the campaign getting people excited about.

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You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).

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If you find Scot Goes Pop's coverage of polls helpful and would like it to continue, I'm currently running a fundraiser HERE.

Alba and absolute numbers

After the Alba Party was launched a couple of weeks ago, I ran a Twitter poll asking how people were planning to vote on the list.  "Nothing scientific," I stressed, "just curious to see how my own followers are planning to vote". The poll was reasonably popular, attracting more than 2000 votes, and a couple of people suggested that I should repeat the exercise every week or two to see if anything changes.

So that's what I did yesterday, and I assumed that people were intelligent enough to understand that the "non-scientific" disclaimer still applied without me having to reiterate it every single time - but no.  Instead I had to wade through a sea of drivel all evening along the lines of "what sort of polling 'expert' thinks that a self-selecting poll is meaningful, you've lost the plot James, but whatever keeps you busy, ho ho ho". Some of these were people who really should have known better.  Lesson of the day: never expect an intelligent reaction, and always insert footnotes for numpties.

The poll initially followed a very similar path to the first poll, with Alba moving into a double-digit lead over the SNP and the Greens trailing far behind in third place.  But no sooner had I provisionally declared Alba the winner before a sudden influx of thousands of votes pushed the SNP into a modest lead over Alba.  The most likely explanation is that the second poll attracted a lot more retweets from SNP supporters than the first poll did.

So with around twice as many overall votes as the first poll, the results are not directly comparable, but what's interesting in both cases is the absolute numbers.  Unlike many self-selecting polls, Twitter polls are restricted to one vote per account.  OK, some people have multiple accounts or fake accounts, but it's reasonable to assume that most votes come from real, unique people.  At time of writing, there have been 4656 votes, of which 32.6% were for Alba - so that's approximately 1518 Alba votes.  It might surprise you to know that on a typical turnout, only around 80,000 real votes for Alba would be required to win eight seats (one in each region). So even my little Twitter poll has picked up roughly 1 in 50 of the voters that Alba would actually need.

None of this is to imply that the other 98% of the required votes are necessarily out there - but it's a useful reminder to look at absolute numbers, and not just percentages, before dismissing an exercise completely out of hand.

A number of people have mentioned being interviewed for a Panelbase poll with Wings-type questions, so we should have another real, scientific poll quite soon.  It remains to be seen whether the full poll is for Wings or whether he asked for a few  questions to be tacked on to someone else's poll, or to an omnibus poll.

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You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).

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If you find Scot Goes Pop's coverage of polls helpful and would like it to continue, I'm currently running a fundraiser HERE.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Seven good reasons to vote for the Alba Party on the list ballot

1) Commitment to independence.  Of the three main pro-independence options at this election, there's not much doubt that Alba has the strongest commitment to the goal.  Some of the party's critics say "if you want to vote for a pro-indy alternative to the SNP on the list, you should vote for the Greens, because they at least have a track record of winning seats", but the Greens are quite open about the fact that a substantial minority of their members are anti-independence.  That means almost inevitably that some of their candidates in this election must be unionists - in fact I recall someone left a comment on this blog a few weeks ago expressing concern that one of the Green list candidates in the Lothian region was on the record as being a UK federalist.  Independence is also not necessarily a particularly high priority for the Green candidates who nominally support it. As for the SNP, I don't take the cynical view that they've become a devolutionist party - I do think the vast majority of SNP parliamentarians believe in independence, at least in principle.  However, it's now possible to identify a small number of SNP MPs at Westminster who appear to have a different agenda - they're not necessarily actively opposed to independence, but they're more than happy for it to remain on the backburner for twenty or thirty years while they get on with their exciting careers in London.

2) Urgency about independence.  A few years ago, the Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter was asked what the Scottish Government would do if a Section 30 order was rejected, and she said "campaign some more for a Section 30 order".  What if it's refused again?  They would "campaign some more for a Section 30 order", apparently.  At no point would anyone say "enough is enough" and try a different tack - they would just keep going pointlessly round in circles into infinity.  Now, OK, Mike Russell's 11-point plan moved things forward a bit and raised the hope that the SNP might pursue a Plan B to at least a limited extent.  And if the SNP were the only credible pro-independence option available, the logical thing to do might be to take a leap of faith and assume they're serious this time about the action they've proposed, even though in the past they've failed to follow through on a number of occasions. But now the voters have their own Plan B in the shape of Alba - an insurance policy just in case the real intention is for Ian Blackford to boom "Scotland will not stand for this!" at PMQs every week for the next five years, and then to ask for yet another mandate for a referendum in 2026, and then another in 2031.

3) Breaking the SNP leadership's monopoly on strategic thinking.  Even if we get to a referendum, we need to win it, and there must at least be a question mark over whether that can happen on the safety-first, small 'c' conservative prospectus that the SNP currently seem to have up their sleeve.  An Alba group in the Scottish Parliament will be a breath of fresh air, bringing alternative strategic ideas to the table that are currently going unheard.

4) Experienced, serious and moderate leadership.  The reason why the increasingly desperate attempts to portray Alba as some kind of 'zoomer', 'extremist', or even 'far right' (!) group have failed to gain any traction whatsoever is that the party's leadership and candidates have a track record that cannot be matched by any of the other opposition parties.  In Alex Salmond they have the longest-serving First Minister of Scotland, in Kenny MacAskill they have the former Justice Secretary of Scotland (and the man who bravely released Megrahi on health grounds in the face of huge pressure from the Americans), in Chris McEleny they have the former leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council, in Jim Walker they have a world-renowned economist, in Caroline McAllister they have the former SNP women's convenor, and in Lynne Anderson they have the former SNP equalities convenor.

5) Better candidates.  Due to the SNP's controversial 'reserved places' scheme, the top place on the SNP list in each region is held by a very mixed bag of individuals, and in some cases their Alba counterparts are obviously superior.  The clearest example of all is in Lothian, where it's a no-brainer that Kenny MacAskill would be a better list MSP than Graham Campbell.  

6) There is no 'tactical' bar on voting Alba.  As long-term readers know, I'm not a fan of 'gaming the system' or of attempts to 'vote tactically on the list'.  But the irony is that the SNP's attempts to suppress the Alba vote actually amount to a call to vote tactically on the list - they're effectively saying "look at the opinion polls, they show that Alba votes might be wasted, so vote tactically for the SNP to ensure that doesn't happen".  The problem is, though, that even if there's a danger of your vote being wasted, it only makes sense to tactically vote against your first-choice party if the party you vote for instead can offer some kind of guarantee that your vote will not be wasted - and that plainly isn't the case with the SNP in most regions.  Of course it's possible that the SNP might nick a list seat in Central or in Glasgow, but is it certain?  Is it even likely?  Nope. It's six of one and half a dozen of the other - if you vote Alba, your vote may or may not be wasted, if you vote SNP, your vote may or may not be wasted, and if you vote Green, your vote may or may not be wasted.  That being the case, there's no particularly strong reason not to vote Alba if they're your first choice.

I know some will argue that the Greens in Lothian are an exception, and that they can offer a virtual guarantee of taking at least one list seat in that region.  But that just takes us back to the earlier problem, because the Green MSP in Lothian between 1999 and 2011 was the party's former co-leader Robin Harper, and he was/is viscerally opposed to independence!

7) Pressurise the SNP.  If you have reservations about a governing party's current direction (in this case excessive caution on pursuing independence and an obsession with identity politics), a respectable and time-honoured tactic is to pressurise them into changing course by voting for a smaller party.  If they want your vote back in future elections, they'll have to at least reflect on what made you and others like you feel strongly enough to look elsewhere.  I know the stock counter-argument to that is "you can't gamble with the pro-indy majority by casting a protest vote", but that doesn't really apply for the reason given above - in most cases, there's just as much risk that an SNP list vote will be wasted as an Alba list vote.

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I've had lots more constituency profiles in The National over the last few days - Moray, Banffshire and Buchan Coast, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Strathkelvin and Bearsden, Clydebank and Milngavie, Galloway and West Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Glasgow (regional list), West Scotland (regional list), Glasgow Cathcart and Glasgow Kelvin.

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You can catch-up with Episode 6 of the Scot Goes Popcast, in which I speak to Alba Party leader Alex Salmond, HERE (with video) or HERE (audio only).

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If you find Scot Goes Pop's coverage of polls helpful and would like it to continue, I'm currently running a fundraiser HERE.