Saturday, August 7, 2021

New Redfield & Wilton poll confirms the public want an independence referendum to be held - and shows 48% support for independence itself

We at last have our first independence poll since June, and it's also only the fourth to be conducted since the Holyrood election in early May.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Redfield & Wilton Strategies)

Yes 48%
No 52%

Redfield & Wilton are a relatively new pollster, and as far as I can see this is their first ever full-scale Scottish poll on independence.  That means there's nothing to directly compare these numbers to, although they're pretty much in line with polls from other firms in the late spring and early summer which suggested either a slim No lead or a dead heat.  On the plus side, that means there's been no slippage for Yes, which is perhaps the most we can realistically hope for while the Scottish Government continue to shy away from campaigning for independence or firing the starting gun for a referendum.

The sample is close to being split down the middle on whether an independence referendum should be held within the next year: 40% are in favour and 47% are opposed.  Naturally, most Yes supporters are in favour, which gives the lie to Councillor Hunter's notorious recent claim that Yessers don't want an early referendum.  Once the time-frame is extended to the next five years, there is clear support across the population for a referendum.

You can still come across the odd zealot on social media who risibly believes that Alba - a party that is largely ignored by the media - is somehow, God knows how, responsible for the fact that we no longer have the outright Yes majority that we enjoyed for so long last year, and even into the start of this year.  A supplementary question in the poll provides a somewhat more plausible explanation.  Slightly more respondents say that the pandemic has strengthened the arguments in favour of the Union than say it has weakened those arguments.  My guess is that the opposite result would have been obtained a year ago, and that it's the vaccine rollout that has changed the dynamic.  But the story of the pandemic is far from over yet, and there's still the potential for the pendulum of perception to swing once again.

A very significant result is that Keir Starmer's personal ratings are now well into negative territory.  Labour are the only party that can realistically depose the SNP as Scotland's leading political force, and that simply will not happen for as long as they have such a deeply unpopular leader.

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Friday, August 6, 2021

Just a reminder that we have hard evidence that the Scottish public want to be represented by Team Scotland at the Olympics, not Team GB

As we move towards the end of Tokyo 2020 and the accompanying #ButchApronFest, it's worth reminding ourselves of the result of a Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll from the start of this year, which asked in very straightforward, neutral language whether people wanted to be represented at the Olympics by Team Scotland or Team GB.

Currently, Scottish athletes represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, and Great Britain at the Olympic Games.  Do you think Scottish athletes should represent Scotland or Great Britain at the Olympic Games?  (Scot Goes Pop / Survation poll, 11th-13th January 2021)

Scotland: 47%
Great Britain: 42%

With Don't Knows excluded...

Scotland: 53%
Great Britain: 47%

Some people expressed disappointment at the narrowness of that result, but I think that looks at the issue the wrong way round.  Team GB has been one of the very few propaganda successes for unionism in recent years.  Look at the medals table from the last three Summer Olympics - Great Britain finished fourth in Beijing 2008, third in London 2012, and second in Rio 2016.  There's no question that this means they punched above their weight - to finish second five years ago, they had to outperform countries with much bigger populations, such as China, Russia, Germany and Japan.  There's also no great mystery as to how or why that happened - it's the legacy of the sports-mad Prime Minister John Major setting up a National Lottery in the mid-90s that to a large extent helped to fund athletes from a wide variety of sports.  That's a template that an independent Scotland could quite easily follow if it had similar priorities, but in the meantime British nationalists have the opportunity to claim that Scottish sportspeople are hitched along to a Rolls Royce outfit and that we'd be foolish to give that up for also-ran status.

Not everyone is convinced by that argument, because far more Scottish athletes would be given the chance to actually compete at the Olympics if we had our own team.  But nevertheless, the GB medal haul in recent Games makes a powerful case for some, which I would suggest means it's actually quite remarkable and significant that there's still a majority among the public - however narrow - in favour of Team Scotland and against Team GB.

It may be that GB won't quite match their recent stellar performances in Tokyo anyway.  They're currently in fourth place in the medal table, which would equal 2008 but not 2012 or 2016.  And they also have Australia and the Russians breathing down their necks, so it's still possible that they could finish as low as fifth or sixth.

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Pro-independence vote increases markedly in East Livingston and East Calder by-election, as SNP take the vacant seat

There was a by-election yesterday for a seat on West Lothian council, and three pro-independence parties were involved.

East Livingston and East Calder by-election result (first preferences):

SNP 42.5% (+1.7) 
Conservatives 24.4% (+2.4) 
Labour 21.8% (-9.1) 
Greens 7.6% (+4.0) 
Liberal Democrats 2.7% (-) 
Independence for Scotland 1.1% (+1.1)

This will be portrayed as an SNP gain from Labour, although as is often the case in the wacky world of STV by-elections, things are not quite as they seem - the SNP comfortably won the popular vote in the ward last time around.  Nevertheless, the result is still dreadful for Labour - their vote share has slumped, and they've dropped from second place to third. The swing from Labour to SNP is a little over 5%, although it must be remembered the baseline for these numbers is the 2017 local elections, when the SNP underperformed expectations somewhat.

Independence for Scotland are continuing to contest by-elections, which presumably means they think they'll have a place in the Scottish party system going forward - which seems unlikely given that Alba's policy programme is so similar to their own.  However, they can at least claim that they've achieved a semi-respectable result this time, markedly better than the 0.4% they recorded on their first outing in June.

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

No, we don't need "considerably more" than 50% of the vote to win independence - just a simple majority. That's democracy.

The Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter posted this truly jaw-dropping tweet the other day - 

"You are comparing apples & pears. To win independence we need considerably more than 50 per cent of people to vote for it. That's not the same thing as trying to win elections, where you don't need to do that. Policy is probably actually less important than tone right now."

I'm not sure if anyone can make sense of this, but I certainly can't.  There is, in fairness, a distinction between the winning posts in referendums and elections, but it's categorically not the one that Councillor Hunter identifies.  In a referendum, you need a simple majority of 50% plus one vote, whereas it's possible to win an election on a minority of the vote.  But you don't need to secure "considerably" more than 50% to win a referendum, unless of course you've artificially added a needless and anti-democratic supermajority rule, of the type that has only ever been used once in the UK - to notoriously rig the 1979 devolution referendum.  Is that what the SNP are proposing?  If so, it contradicts decades of party policy - they were quite rightly opposed to the 40% rule in 1979, which it's sometimes said permitted the dead to be counted as No voters (a bit of an over-simplification but there's a grain of truth in that).  They were also quite rightly adamant that the 2014 independence referendum had to be decided by a simple majority.

There's a very good reason for opposing what George Robertson called "a fancy franchise", and to understand why, you only need to think through the ramifications of more people voting Yes than No in any indyref, and then the returning officer declaring that Scotland has voted against independence.  That's not exactly a recipe for stability or for 'losers' consent', and nor should it be, given the obvious demonstration that some votes are more equal than others.  

Councillor Hunter's hints about rigging the franchise (and doing so, eccentrically, in a way that would make it much harder for what is supposed to be her own side to win) need to be seen in the context of another recent tweet in which she adopted strikingly unionist rhetoric in saying that the public didn't want an indyref in the near future, and that the onus was on anyone who wanted one to change people's minds.  Er, isn't it supposed to be the SNP themselves who want independence, and a referendum to bring independence about?  If there are any minds needing to be changed (there aren't, incidentally, because the mandate has already been won), isn't it the SNP's job to change them?  And if they show no interest in meeting that challenge, and if they seem almost more comfortable when they can claim that the challenge is going unmet, doesn't that begin to call into question whether their support for independence and an indyref is anything more than nominal?

It's difficult to know what to make of this, because Councillor Hunter is known to be close to the SNP leadership, but that doesn't exclude the possibility that these are just personal views.  But if by any chance she's vocalising the views of the leadership, it's deeply, deeply concerning.  It would suggest to me they're looking for evergreen excuses to say "now is not the time for a referendum" no matter how much time elapses.  48% Yes in the polls?  "It's not a majority."  51% Yes in the polls?  "It's not a significant majority."  55% Yes in the polls?  "We need 60%."  60% Yes in the polls?  "We need a two-thirds majority.  We only get one shot at this."  

And on and on it goes into infinity.

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Monday, August 2, 2021

Last year, the UK political class and their scientific advisers expected us all to accept Covid infection and a great many of us to die - and, no, they have no right to tell us to shut up about that episode now

This is an observation I've made before.  I'm sometimes accused of being "on the wrong side of history", particularly in relation to the trans issue, even though my views are more nuanced than some.  The jury has to be out on that - when you have two movements that regard themselves as progressive (gender critical feminism and trans activism) in direct conflict with each other, anyone who claims to know for sure the future verdict of history is over-reaching themselves.  So, it's true, I can't say for certain that I'm on the right side of history on the trans debate or several other debates.  But there's one debate that I'm fully entitled to say that history has already judged me to be on the right side of - and that's the herd immunity debate of early 2020.  At a time when the Scottish Government was locked into a Westminster-led "Four Nations" herd immunity strategy, I was putting out blogpost after blogpost begging them to change course, to come into line with WHO guidance, and to start trying to suppress the virus.  Frankly, it's beyond all credible dispute that I made the right call, and that the Scottish Government were following the wrong course until they finally U-turned in late March, by which time a lot of the damage was already done.

Early yesterday morning, I tweeted something that should have been utterly uncontroversial.  I contrasted a media report revealing that many people are being reinfected after a previous natural Covid infection with Jason Leitch's claim in early 2020 to know that it was essentially impossible to catch the virus twice.  He was using that claim to justify his insistence that the whole Scottish population had to be infected with Covid, albeit in a "smooth" and "safe" fashion, and that doing so would bring the crisis to an end.  Even at the time, it was a statement of the obvious that the herd immunity policy was idiotic and devoid of all sense of human responsibility if there was any chance at all that Leitch's claim was wrong - and, sadly, we now have cast-iron proof that it was.  To make any sense of where we are now, a year and a half later, it's important to recognise and face up to the truly catastrophic error of judgement that was made.

But, remarkably, an awful lot people disagree and want the whole matter swept under the carpet.  The first person to react to my tweet yesterday was the veteran journalist Ruth Wishart, who demanded to know what the point was of "badmouthing" Leitch, who in her view has given "heroic" service during the pandemic - a downright bizarre way of describing the contribution of a man who became the public face of a policy which deliberately allowed a highly contagious virus to move through the population during early-to-mid March 2020, and thus led directly to several thousand avoidable deaths.  Yes, it's good that the mistake was eventually tacitly accepted and that the policy was belatedly changed, but all that achieved was to prevent thousands more people from needlessly dying - it didn't reverse the disaster that was already occurring.  

I pointed this out to Ruth, and her only response was to demand to know what my epidemiological qualifications are, and to contrast that with Leitch's allegedly peerless expertise.  Hmmmm.  You know, I'd have thought Leitch and his cheerleaders would want to maintain a diplomatic silence on his qualifications at this stage, given the notorious incident last spring when he tried to shut down Piers Morgan's perfectly reasonable questions by smugly referring to his fabled masters degree in public health.  We now know that the masters-less Morgan was correct and the "highly qualified" Leitch was completely wrong, because Leitch was arguing that from a public health point of view it was right to go to a mass-attended indoor concert in late March 2020.  "I would have gone myself" he fatuously added.  Morgan pointed out that this was an utterly incredible position for a man such as Leitch to take, and at that point Leitch refused to engage further, instead taking the "I'm qualified and you're not" tack.  If ever there was an interview that ought to have put a government official out of a job, that was the one.

Ruth Wishart quickly blocked me, apparently taking the view that unqualified adoration of the saintly Jason Leitch is an indispensable part of social media etiquette.  However, that wasn't the end of the matter, because the inexplicably enormous Leitch Fan Club picked up where she left off, and for the remainder of the day my notifications were buzzing with literally dozens, possibly well over a hundred, furious replies.  Some of them were downright abusive.  In particular, there was one anonymous troll who tried to pull rank on me by claiming to be a bioscientist involved in Covid research.  Given that he/she became increasingly abusive as the exchange progressed, and given that he/she was peddling false information that has long since been debunked, I can only hope that the bioscientist claim was untruthful too. After many, many hours I blocked the individual in question, to which they reacted by calling me a "w***er".  I've since reported them to Twitter.  (On past form that's probably a waste of time, but as a matter of principle I'm not going to pretend that abusive behaviour is OK.)

I said to someone last night that this passionate support for Leitch almost resembles a religion, given how irrationally angry people become at the sight of even the mildest and most legitimate criticism of their hero.  Insisting that his detractors must acknowledge "what he's sacrificed for us during the pandemic" carries a distinctly Jesus-like connotation.  The other similarity with religion is the dependence on a 'founding myth' of what happened in the early days of Covid, which naturally absolves Leitch of all blame.  The core beliefs of the Church of Leitch are as follows...

* That Leitch was correct when he claimed that you couldn't catch the virus twice, but that "the science has since changed".

* That Leitch did not in fact support a herd immunity policy, and that his statements on the subject were "misunderstood".

* That, in any case, Leitch was speaking in line with a monolithic global scientific consensus when he said that the virus had to be allowed to move through the whole population.  (This appears to contradict the claim that he never actually supported herd immunity, but don't worry - faith sometimes involves contradictions.)

* That Leitch was fully in conformity with WHO guidance, and that he has simply "moved with the times as the science has evolved".

Every single one of those is a fairy tale.  In February and March 2020, Leitch and all the other propagandists for the Westminster approach were in open defiance of the world-leading experts of the WHO, who were stressing again and again that coronavirus was not flu - it had a much higher death rate but was also transmitted in a way that made suppression possible by means of social distancing and rigorous contact tracing.  WHO leaders urged all countries to follow the good examples of China and South Korea by preventing transmission.  Leitch and his counterparts in England decided that they knew better than the WHO, and that the South Korean approach couldn't work (even though it was plainly working remarkably well in South Korea itself).  Instead Leitch wanted us all to catch what he clearly believed to be a relatively mild illness, and the only purpose of any limited restrictions was to create a sort of "orderly infection queue system" so that not too many people would be ill at any one time and the hospitals would not be overwhelmed.

That, of course, is the herd immunity strategy in a nutshell.  The notion that Leitch was "misunderstood" in his support for herd immunity is laughable beyond belief.  Indeed, the very thing that makes Leitch important in the story of the UK epidemic is that his public statements in support of herd immunity were considerably more explicit than those from Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance (although Vallance famously let his guard slip on a couple of occasions and made fairly direct comments about seeking an infection rate of around 60%).

There are so many quotes related to herd immunity from Leitch's Grand Complacency Tour of the TV and radio studios, but for convenience all the quotes below are taken from a Channel 4 interview on 16th March 2020.  It can be viewed in full HERE

Interviewer: "You'll be aware of this Public Health England document...that says they expect 80% of the population to be infected, and perhaps 15% to be hospitalised.  Are those sort of percentages that you recognise...?"

Leitch: "They are...and they're the kind of numbers we've been working with for the last few weeks.  They're not all going to happen on Wednesday.  Which is one of the reasons why the method we're trying to apply in Scotland and the UK is to smooth that hospitalisation over time."

In other words, he was totally cool with huge numbers of infections and hospitalisations, as long as they happened sloooooowly.  He does go on to say that the absolute numbers talked about in the Public Health England document could be reduced somewhat with "mitigation" measures - but "mitigation" has a very different meaning from "containment" or "suppression".  It still implies mass infection.  

Leitch: "To be honest, some people are going to die of the disease this virus causes.  The vast majority of people are going to recover.  They're going to have minor illness, they're going to stay at home for seven days..."

Note the complacency dripping from that statement - clearly he believes Covid is not a SARS-like event, and that it's basically safe to expose the population to it.  His breezy prediction that "some" people would die was something of an understatement - there have in fact been over 10,000 deaths in Scotland so far, and crucially that happened in spite of the fact that the Scottish Government later changed course and tried to stop transmission.  The mind boggles as to how many tens of thousands of deaths would have been recorded if the policy Leitch set out to Channel 4 had been seen through to its bitter conclusion.  

Interviewer: "Do you agree with Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, that one of the aims of the UK Government is for people to develop an immunity to this disease?"

Leitch: "I do, I ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH HIM, because WE HAVE NO CHOICE. You can't get rid of the virus.  You can wish it away but it will not go.  Therefore we have to MANAGE THE INFECTION SAFELY ACROSS THE WHOLE POPULATION."

Remember this was open defiance of WHO guidance at the time, which clearly stated there was a choice: suppression of the virus, in their view, was both perfectly achievable and essential.  And there were umpteen statements from the WHO making clear that the idea that people could be mass-infected "safely" was grotesque and wrong.  The aim, they stressed, had to be to stop people becoming infected in the first place.

Interviewer: "The British Society of Immunology say they don't know yet if this novel virus will induce long-term immunity.  So why are you so sure that it will when they're not?"

Leitch: "So we KNOW that if you get it, you don't appear to get it again."

This removes any alibi for Leitch that "the science has changed" and that his claim about reinfection being impossible was "true at the time".  He was invited by the interviewer to agree with a statement of the bleedin' obvious that we simply didn't know yet after a few short weeks whether reinfection was possible.  And he declined.  He stated that we "knew" enough to be confident that infecting "the whole population" was "safe" and would bring the crisis to an end.

Frankly, anyone who reads or watches that interview and continues to maintain that Leitch was "misunderstood" over his support for herd immunity is making themselves look utterly ridiculous.  As I've said before, I look forward to Leitch's appearance before the inevitable public inquiry, because any semi-competent QC will identify all of the above points within about 0.003 microseconds.  He doesn't have a leg to stand on, and it's incomprehensible that he's still in office.   

The last thing I want to say is this.  The abusive troll claiming to be a "bioscientist" said he was sick and tired of people like me, without any relevant qualifications, giving their views on this subject.  Well, frankly, that person can take a hike, because herd immunity/mass infection was not the private project of Leitch, or of Catherine Calderwood, or of Chris Whitty, or of Patrick Vallance, or of other WHO-defying British scientists, or of the political class at Holyrood or Westminster.  All of us were expected to dutifully become infected because of decisions these people made, a large minority of us were expected to accept hospitalisation with a serious illness, and many of us were expected to die.  We all have a stake in Leitch's reckless approach last year, and to tell us to shut up about it is breathtaking arrogance that I and many, many others will simply never accept.  I will be continuing to speak out, no matter how inconvenient that may be to a small number of officials and their devoted fans.  

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Another person has let me know that they plan to nominate me for one of the three male positions on the Alba Party's National Executive Committee, so I'm now at least 20% of the way towards making the ballot.  The chances of actually being elected are probably pretty slim, but there's a case to be made for giving members as wide a choice as possible, so if you're a party member, by all means nominate me for the NEC if you'd like to.  I gather Denise Findlay might be standing for one of the three female spots, so she'd be a great person to nominate too (as would many others - we're really spoilt for choice).

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I'm now home from my staycation, so I can reveal the answer to the "guess the location in the video" teaser - it was in the north-west of Skye, about three miles from Neist Point Lighthouse.  Stravaiger got it bang on, but the precision of his answer (he even provided a grid reference) freaked me out and I didn't publish his comment!  A couple of people thought it was Uig in the north-east of Skye, and having also passed through there on my travels I can see why - it does look quite similar.

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