Saturday, May 15, 2021

Here's the good news: if you vote Alba or Green in the local elections, you will NOT be "voting against the SNP"

At the bottom of the previous post, I added my reply to Peter Grant MP's peculiar tweet about the local elections next year.  However, I think it's worth amplifying the point before any disinformation about the voting system is allowed to take root.  Peter's subtext appeared to be that anyone who votes Alba next year will be "voting against the SNP" in a way that they were not if they voted Alba on the list in this month's Scottish Parliament election.  But, of course, the polar opposite is true.  

On the Holyrood list you can only vote for one party, so with the best will in the world, if you chose Alba that meant you were not choosing the SNP and there was at least a theoretical risk of costing the SNP a seat.  That risk almost played out in South Scotland - the initial BBC projection suggested the SNP would narrowly miss out on a list seat in the region, meaning voters drifting to Alba could well have swung the balance.  In the end, thankfully, the SNP took a seat in the south, meaning Alba cost the SNP no seats at all anywhere in Scotland.

But with the Single Transferable Vote system used for local elections, that risk is eliminated, because it's a preferential system which allows people to effectively use the same vote for both Alba and the SNP simultaneously.  A pro-independence voter might rank the candidates in his or her ward as follows...

1) Alba
2) SNP
3) SNP
4) Green
5) Labour
6) Labour
7) Liberal Democrats
8) Conservatives

Ideally that will help elect an Alba councillor, but if it doesn't, your vote will automatically transfer to the SNP and will have exactly the same effect as it would have done if you'd given the SNP your first preference.  So in no sense have you "voted against the SNP".

Alba, of course, will be urging their voters to use their lower preferences for other pro-indy parties.  On past form, the SNP will not follow suit and will instead tell their supporters to rank SNP candidates only.  That could well reduce the overall number of pro-indy councillors elected.  Whatever you think of Alba's prospects, there are certainly wards where the Greens are in with a shout, but a lack of transfers from the SNP will reduce their chances.

There may have been a legitimate debate in the Holyrood election about whether the SNP or Alba had the better plan for maximising pro-indy representation (in reality that debate ended in a no score draw), but in the local elections it's a no brainer - you get the most Yes-supporting councillors if you rank all of the pro-indy parties.  It may be uncomfortable for the SNP, but in the context of a Single Transferable Vote election, the time has come for them to stop trying to "bury" Alba, and instead to start cooperating with other pro-indy parties for mutual benefit.  If they prove too tribal for that, it's the whole independence movement that will suffer.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The reason for suspecting a Scottish poll conducted right now might show a pro-independence majority

The latest Britain-wide YouGov poll makes grim reading for Labour, and spectacularly gives the lie to the notion that a lurch to the right was ever going to be a magic solution to the party's problems.

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 11th-12th May):

Conservatives 45% (+2)
Labour 30% (-3)
Greens 8% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-)
SNP 5% (-)
Reform UK 2% (-1)
Plaid Cymru 1% (-)

There's no mystery about why the Conservative lead has grown still further - this is the classic snowball/momentum effect that often occurs immediately after a party performs strongly at an election.  It's for exactly the same reason that I suspect a Scottish opinion poll conducted right now would possibly show a boost for both the SNP and Yes.  But will we ever find out?  A mainstream media worth its salt would be commissioning a poll, but after the SNP landslide at the UK general election in 2019 it inexplicably took four months for any newspaper to do that (the drought had already been broken a few weeks before then, but only due to non-traditional clients commissioning polls, and YouGov conducting a poll off its own bat).  

By the way, if you think things are bad for Labour at UK level, wait until you see YouGov's Scottish subsample: SNP 50%, Conservatives 26%, Labour 13%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 2%, Reform UK 1%.  Labour centrists convinced themselves that they'd made progress by going backwards at the Holyrood election, but it looks like the public themselves haven't got that convoluted memo.

Is it good or bad for the independence movement that the Tories are so dominant in England?  The obvious plus point is that it makes it easier to argue that the only rescue from the Tories is to take matters into our own hands - UK Labour are not coming to save us.  But as Lesley Riddoch pointed out the other day, a large Tory lead may tempt Boris Johnson into an early general election in 2023, which wouldn't be so optimal.  It's in all our interests for any referendum or plebiscitary election to take place before the next UK election.  The other thought that occurs to me is that Labour are actually getting into the sort of territory where it's not totally unimaginable they might change leader before the general election - and if that happens all bets are off.  I've always said that if Labour had any sense they'd install Clive Lewis as leader - but then, as we all know, Labour have no sense.  

Stephen Paton, John Nicolson, Stewart McDonald and others were salivating a few days ago at the thought of being able to dance on the Alba Party's grave - but I'm afraid they're going to be disappointed for at least another year.  Alex Salmond has released a video this afternoon making abundantly clear that Alba will be contesting next May's local elections, and as a result I would suggest it's now virtually inconceivable that the party will fold before then.  He remains the leader (or technically the acting leader) of a party with two members of parliament at Westminster and well over ten local councillors.  

If there's another poor result in the local elections, I can imagine that the party's future might be reviewed again at that point - but it's up to all of us who value Alba's contribution to ensure that there's a good result instead.

On the subject of the three SNP MSPs who are said to have been ready to defect to Alba if Alex Salmond was elected as an MSP, it's been suggested that they have no leverage now that the SNP have been returned with such a commanding win.  But that isn't true, and the reason is the parliamentary arithmetic.  Nicola Sturgeon has a safety-net due to the Greens, but she will not have Green support on every single vote by any means.  So losing three or more seats will not be cost-free for her - regardless of whether that happens as a result of direct defections to Alba, or due to MSPs simply resigning the whip and sitting as independents.

SNP comfortably win Airdrie & Shotts by-election

This came a lot earlier than I was expecting, and I can't find any coverage at all on TV, but according to North Lanarkshire Council this is the result of the Airdrie & Shotts by-election for the vacant seat in the UK parliament...

Anum Qaisar-Javid (SNP): 10,129 votes (46.4%, +1.4)
Kenneth Stevenson (Labour): 8,372 votes (38.4%, +6.5)
Ben Ron Callaghan (Conservatives): 2,812 votes (12.9%, -4.7)
Stephen Philip Arrundale (Liberal Democrats): 220 votes (1.0%, -2.6)
Neil Peter Manson (SDP): 151 votes (0.7%, +0.7)
Jonathan Marc Stanley (Scottish Unionist Party): 59 votes (0.3%, +0.3)
Martyn William Greene (Reform UK): 45 votes (0.2%, +0.2)
Donald Murdo MacKay (UKIP): 39 votes (0.2%, +0.2)

So a closer result than at the 2019 general election, but I don't think anyone in the SNP will be overly worried about that, bearing in mind that their own vote share actually increased. It looks like Labour may have been the beneficiary of tactical voting from Tory supporters - either that or lapsed Labour voters are returning to the fold after trying the Tories out.  Turnout is sharply down, which complicates the arithmetic, but it's highly unlikely that the Tories would suffer from that more than other parties, so that's not the explanation for their mini-slump.

This is a by-election that could have been a major problem for the SNP if last week's Holyrood election hadn't gone to plan, because their own supporters would have been demotivated and might not have turned out.  However, the good result effectively removed that risk.

It shouldn't go without note that the Liberal Democrats almost suffered the humiliation of being overtaken by the SDP - a party that most people probably don't even realise still exists.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Presiding Officer election confirms SNP will *not* be a minority government

Today's election of Green MSP Alison Johnstone as the sixth Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament puts the final touches to the new parliamentary arithmetic, which looks like this... 
SNP 64 
Conservatives 31 
Labour 22 
Greens 7 
Liberal Democrats 4 

Presiding Officer (non-voting) 1 

SNP: 64 seats 
All others: 64 seats 

Pro-independence parties: 71 seats 
Anti-independence parties: 57 seats 


The SNP are no longer a minority government - with exactly 50% of the voting members they're neither a majority or a minority, and the media should be picked up if they inaccurately use the term minority government. However, this is only the starting position, and we know from past experience that at some point over the course of a five-year term it's highly likely that at least one or two SNP MSPs will lose the whip. There'll be the odd personal scandal along the way, and of course Fiona Robertson will be gutted if at least five MSPs aren't expelled for "transphobia". We also hear that three or more MSPs were thinking of defecting to Alba if Alex Salmond had been elected, and they'll still have that option at a later stage if the SNP drag their feet too much on an indyref. 

So we probably will revert to minority government eventually, but for now that's not where we are.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

How do voters read the SNP's motivations?

So just to return briefly to the subject of this morning's post - whether or not the SNP are primarily motivated by independence or by a desire to stay in power. It's quite a difficult one to read, because there's a small, closed group of advisers around Nicola Sturgeon and unless you're on the inside of that group you'd never know for sure. Indeed, it's possible they don't entirely know themselves. I don't think there's much doubt that they're genuinely committed to independence as an ideal, but the impression that's given is that they'd only want to push for it in practice if they can do so in a reasonably risk-free way, which is not realistic. 

But what is the assessment of voters? There's some interesting data from a pre-election YouGov survey that asked about this very subject. Most people who were planning to vote SNP on the list understandably gave their party the benefit of the doubt - around 63% disagreed (including 28.5% who strongly disagreed) with the notion that the SNP care more about staying in power than about achieving independence. But around 12% did agree, and a more substantial minority of 25% neither agreed nor disagreed. So those are the doubters who the SNP theoretically might risk losing to a more radical pro-indy party if they drag their feet for too long. 

Pluralities of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters also think the SNP are genuinely more motivated by independence, and an outright majority of Green voters take the same view. But Tory voters think the SNP are more motivated by staying in power. There's an obvious paradox there, because the Tory campaign pitch was based around the idea that the SNP are hellbent on indy and that the Tories are the thin blue line that stands in their way. It appears that only the Tories' own voters don't actually believe that!

The future's blue. The future's Alba.

Apologies to anyone 'triggered' by that title, but hey, there's room for more than one point of view in this world.

I had an epiphany earlier.  As has been pointed out, by the end of this parliamentary term the SNP government will have been in power for nineteen consecutive years - slightly longer than the interminable Thatcher/Major government at Westminster between 1979 and 1997.  I had assumed that perhaps a Disraeli-led or Gladstone-led government in the 19th century would have served for longer, but nope - the two great men kept swapping power over a period of decades, so neither came close to nineteen consecutive years.  You have to go all the way back to the 18th century to find a Westminster government that clearly exceeded the SNP's time in office.

There's a good reason for that, of course.  There's a natural pendulum in electoral politics - eventually every government will start looking tired and people will get sick of it.  That doesn't necessarily mean that the SNP will lose power in 2026, because they'll be starting from an exceptionally high base.  However, it does mean they're likely to lose seats (with Labour the most obvious beneficiary) and as a result there's surely a far greater than 50/50 chance that the overall pro-independence majority will be lost after fifteen years.  In other words, this coming parliament is probably independence or bust.  Either we get the job done this time, or we see the sun set on our hopes until deep into the 2030s, or forever.

Now, of course that thought will have occurred to the SNP's strategists too, and that ought to be encouraging.  But it really depends on what you think their number one priority is these days.  Is it independence, or is it power for its own sake?

In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the three superpowers exist in a state of perpetual war, and there is no objective to the conflict other than that it should continue, because the mobilisation of war entrenches the power of the elite.  Doesn't that remind you of something? "Stop Indyref2 in its tracks" galvanises the unionist vote behind the Tories, and "tell London that Scotland's future is Scotland's choice" galvanises the pro-independence vote behind the SNP.  It suits both sides down to the ground for that conflict never to reach a resolution, for Indyref2 to always be there, just beyond the horizon.  And even if SNP strategists realise that they can't defy political gravity forever, they might still think that minority government between 2026 and 2031 in a unionist-majority parliament is a prize worth chasing.

So those of us who actually do regard independence itself as the objective have got to break this pattern somehow.  I suggested the other day on Twitter that the continued existence of Alba could function as a useful 'deterrent' - because the SNP will know disaffected Yessers have somewhere else to go if independence isn't delivered by 2026 - or more to the point if there hasn't been a genuine and honest attempt to deliver it by then.

But in fact the benefit could be felt long before 2026.  There are council elections next May which Alba have said they'll be contesting.  The silver lining of the poor result last week is that expectations will be fairly low and it'll be easier to exceed those expectations.  Imagine, for example if Alba took 5% of the national vote - that would be seen as a major warning to the SNP leadership.  Whether that will even be possible depends on the strategy employed - will Alba put up candidates across Scotland to maximise their national vote, or will they pour all their resources into a few select localities to attempt to get some councillors elected?  There's a case to be made for either.

I was also pleased to see in Kenny MacAskill's new article that Alba will not be an abstentionist party at Westminster.  That's definitely the right call.  They have a precious parliamentary platform and they should use it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The media doesn't want to talk about this - but unionism has got a Douglas Ross problem

I was having a look at the YouGov website to see if I could find the datasets from the Times poll about Devo Max, which naturally Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson is beside himself with excitement about.  They're not there yet, but the tables from earlier questions from what was presumably the same poll are up - and what leapt out at me are the personal ratings for party leaders.

It was stated again and again throughout the election campaign that Alba were doomed because of Alex Salmond's poor poll ratings.  That was never true - in a proportional system you can win seats even if only 10% of the public like you, just so long as enough people within that 10% feel strongly enough about it.  The fact that Alba didn't win seats doesn't in any way disprove that point, although of course people will pretend that it does.

Douglas Ross, however, is in a different category from Alex Salmond, because he's not the leader of a small party trying to win seats - he aspires to be a national leader, and he's already the de facto leader of unionism.  Nobody seems to have spotted this yet, but his ratings in the YouGov poll are strikingly similar to Alex Salmond's.  Only 18% of the public think Mr Ross is doing a good job as Tory leader and 52% of the public think he's doing a bad job, compared to 53% who think Mr Salmond is doing a bad job as Alba leader.  If it's supposed to be so unthinkable for Alba to ever have any electoral success with a leader with that type of rating, I'm struggling to understand why the unionist media are not questioning how unionists will ever win a second referendum with Ross as their champion.  

Crucially, even 24% of Tory list voters think Ross is doing a bad job - that compares with just 2% of SNP voters who think the same of Nicola Sturgeon, and 6% of Labour voters who think the same of Anas Sarwar.  The Tories got away with putting up a weak leader in this campaign, probably because their core voters are tribal and will vote for pretty much any Tory if it stops the SNP.  But Better Together II will need a lot more than just tribal Tories to win a referendum.  Unionism has got itself a Douglas Ross problem.

Monday, May 10, 2021

We all know there was a pro-independence majority in the popular vote on that all-important #PeachVote - but how big was it?

As has been widely mentioned (albeit perhaps not on the mainstream media!), the SNP, Greens and Alba took a combined vote share of 50.1% on the regional list ballot, ensuring there is a pro-independence majority in the popular vote on the more important of the two ballots.  (And the Conservatives themselves acknowledged it was the more important by banging on endlessly about how much they wanted people's #PeachVotes.)  But that doesn't in any way mean that 49.9% of the vote went to unionists - there were a large number of fringe parties and independents with a variety of views on independence.  So I've done some quick calculations...

50.1% pro-independence vote if you only include the SNP, the Greens and Alba

50.4% pro-independence vote if you also include the Scottish Libertarian Party, Restore Scotland and Scotia Future

50.5% pro-independence vote if you also include independent candidates who are well known to support independence, such as Andy Wightman and Martin Keatings

And that still doesn't mean 49.5% can be assumed to be the anti-independence figure - for example as far as I can see the Women's Equality Party don't have a policy on independence, so have to be treated as neutral.  The Scottish Libertarian Party directly confirmed to me on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that they still support independence, which ironically means that votes for Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula (a former UKIP candidate) can be regarded as pro-indy votes.

*  *  *

I have an article in The National today about the impact of tactical voting on the regional list seat allocations - you can read it HERE.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Serious questions for the Electoral Commission tonight as inexplicable ruling appears to have robbed the Greens (and thus the pro-independence camp) of two seats they should have won

Pro-independence parties have won 72 of the 129 seats in the new Scottish Parliament, which is a very handsome majority.  However, it was agonisingly close to being even better - the Greens had two extremely near misses in Glasgow and South Scotland which could have brought the total to 74.  It's been brought to my attention that in both regions, a fringe party called "Independent Green Voice" won a strangely respectable vote share - it was 0.7% in Glasgow and 0.5% in the south.  They outpolled several parties that have had considerably more publicity, such as the Women's Equality Party, the Abolish the Scottish Parliament Party and UKIP.  That raises the obvious suspicion that many voters were confused by the name and thought they were voting for the Green party - and that if they had managed to cast their votes as intended, the Greens would have had enough votes to win the two extra seats.

Now, you might think "tough, the Green party don't have a monopoly on the word green".  But the problem is that Independent Green Voice are not a green party - they're a right-wing British nationalist party (including members with a far right background) using an environmentalist name to hoodwink voters.  In other words, this is exactly the sort of scenario that the Electoral Commission exists to prevent.

The Commission have become notorious in recent years for an overly fussy and officious approach, turning down perfectly reasonable choices of name, logo and slogan.  (The Alba Party, All For Unity and the Scottish Labour Party were all victims of that, as were Change UK a year ago.)  So their relaxed attitude to this subversion of democracy seems inexplicable and indefensible.  There's already plenty of anecdotal evidence that people did vote for Independent Green Voice by mistake, as can be seen from several replies to my tweet on the subject -
On a different subject, it strikes me that the SNP's controversial 'reserved places' system has had two very unfortunate effects. Most obviously, it's cost Joan McAlpine her seat in the south, but it also means Tom Wills will not be an MSP in the Highlands & Islands. Having come so close to winning the Shetland constituency seat, there would have been a golden opportunity to function as a sort of shadow MSP for Shetland over the next five years, and by the time the next election came around he might have seemed like as much of an incumbent as the Lib Dems' Beatrice Wishart. Perhaps the Lib Dems' decades-long stranglehold on the Northern Isles would have finally been broken. The SNP have really missed a trick there.