Saturday, January 1, 2022

A New Year's resolution for the independence movement: embrace the principle of falsifiability

A warm welcome to 2022, the year in which - if Nicola Sturgeon keeps the promise she made to the SNP conference - the "process will be initiated" to enable an independence referendum to be held by the end of 2023.  Since the conference, Mhairi Hunter and Pete Wishart have both underscored that promise - Hunter by saying that the result of the 2024 Westminster election is essentially irrelevant because a referendum will have been held by then, and Wishart by saying a referendum will definitely be held in the first half of this parliament (meaning by November 2023) without any caveats about Covid or the way in which Boris Johnson reacts to a Section 30 request.  

A cynic might suspect Hunter and Wishart rehearsed their words carefully, because people have started to notice how casually the previous promises on indyref timing were "explained away".  If the likes of Hunter don't at least go through the motions of making their remarks about the 2024 election congruous with the Indyref 2023 promise, it would be assumed that they're implicitly regarding the promise as every bit as insincere and empty as the promise to hold an indyref before Brexit.

Leadership loyalists say - "there's not long to wait until we find out whether the promise is genuine, so why not hold your fire?"  But the problem is that they said exactly the same thing about the pre-Brexit promise, and when that promise was broken they just pretended it had never been made, and moved on to the next one.  On past form, if there is no referendum by the end of 2023, they'll move on to saying "there's not all that long to wait until we find out whether the promise to hold a multi-option referendum involving a Devo Max option before 2031 is genuine, so why not hold your fire until then?  What's the matter with you?"

So here's my New Year challenge to the loyalists, and indeed to the whole Yes movement - by all means believe that the current promise is the real deal, but make that belief falsifiable, as scientists would say.  We've been given benchmarks by which we can judge whether the promise has been kept by specified dates, so stick to those.  Don't shift the goalposts yet again if the target dates are missed.  The process must be initiated by the end of this year, and a referendum must actually have been held by the end of next year.  If that happens, I will gladly eat humble pie and look forward to the referendum campaign with relish.  If not, there will simply be no rational basis for believing any subsequent promises on independence or a referendum from the current SNP leadership.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Time for the Bells?

Peter A Bell is justly recognised as a national treasure - and a firm favourite with the kids, as you can see from the classic poster above.  It's always a very special treat when he sends me a novel-length diatribe and then "warns" me that he will be publishing it on Facebook or on his blog as a "precaution" just in case I "censor" him.  That's the type of fearsome threat that makes empires shudder.  Let's face it: the union is as good as dissolved.

I don't know if anyone else has this problem with Peter, but I find his prose very difficult to read.  That's not a problem I've ever had in the disputes with Jeggit or Stuart Campbell, both of whom are very readable even when they're saying things that don't really stack up.  But with Peter, it's often so hard to work out what he's actually angry about, or why anyone should care that he's angry, that I end up having to take a rest every couple of sentences, which means that I sometimes don't even finish reading his comment or post.  In all honesty, that was something I was conscious of even when I was still on good terms with him a few years ago.

So instead of torturing myself by attempting a line by line response to his latest "constructive contribution to the debate", I'll just make a few general remarks about Peter's current idiosyncratic positioning in opposition to both the SNP and Alba, which drives pretty much all of his furious missives these days.  The problem in a nutshell is this: he imagines himself as somehow equidistant between the SNP and Alba, and thinks he can act as a 'bridge' between members of the two parties, but in reality he's significantly further away from the SNP than Alba are.  Alba's route-map to independence is much more radical than what the SNP propose, but Peter's belief in a unilateral declaration of independence is much more radical still.  And yet he thinks the problem can all be sorted out by Alba accepting that the SNP are the only possible vehicle for achieving independence, and the SNP leadership in turn accepting that Peter has been right all along about UDI - something which is of course light-years away from what they would ever accept.  As with the embarrassing #Referendum2018 episode, he feels sure that the SNP could be just a little push away from seeing the light, whereas they actually look upon him and his views as totally batty, and would be far less likely to listen to him than they would to even Alba politicians.

It's precisely because the SNP are not open to alternative ideas on achieving an independence mandate that Alba was formed - and yes, because of the party's current position in the polls, it's going to take an awful lot of hard work to gain traction and achieve our objectives.  But the solution is to get stuck in and actually do that hard work.  It's not to delude ourselves into believing that there's an easy silver bullet available if Peter A Bell can just have a stern word with Nicola Sturgeon.

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Barring something unexpected, this will be the last Scot Goes Pop blogpost of 2021. It's been another epic year for the blog: we've commissioned no fewer than three full-scale opinion polls, and produced fourteen podcasts with well-known guests such as Alex Salmond, Chris McEleny and Yvonne Ridley.  If you'd like more of the same in 2022, donations are still very much welcome at the fundraiser page HERE.  Or, if you prefer, you can donate direct via Paypal.  My Paypal email address is:

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Scot Goes Pop proudly presents a festive Pete Wishart word-search puzzle

It's somehow been forgotten in the mists of time that Scot Goes Pop once had a regular 'Word-Search Wednesday' puzzle feature.  (The Denis MacShane word-search was my all-time favourite, although the Councillor Terry Kelly word-search was a close second.)  As it's the festive period, and as it's ACTUALLY WEDNESDAY, I thought I'd revive the tradition for one night only with a word-search in fond tribute to all things Pete Wishart.

And here are the words you're looking for (the ones in bold only)...

"They have some sort of obsession with carrots.  I simply can't understand it."

"If I wasn't gagging for independence so I can get away from this ghastly job at Westminster at maximum speed, people might start imagining something utterly ludicrous like me wearing slippers."

"My Westminster pension is the last thing I'm thinking about, believe me."

"Bloggers!  Urgh!  Yuck!"

"Having said that, and please rest assured there's no contradiction here at all, I'm a rather accomplished blogger myself and I write the blog that everyone's talking about!"

"Alba! Tut! Harrumph! Absolute menaces!"

"And this particular absolute menace is just soooooooo immature for taking a selfie of himself with TWO carrots."

"These absolute menaces will learn one day that you win nothing with hate.  You know, hateful behaviour like taking a selfie of yourself with TWO carrots."

"You can't win independence with a plebiscite.  In other news, I also believe the only route to independence is a referendum, which may or may not be an alternative word for a plebiscite."

"Mr Speaker sir, oh how I wish I was addressing myself with those words."

"Order!  Order!  AW-DAAAAAAH!"

"As a tireless worker for the cause of independence, what could be more natural than for me to be promoting a recruitment drive for careers at Westminster?"

"Your claim that I am an incredibly sensitive chairman of this committee - HOW DARE YOU CALL ME INEPT - is erroneous."

"Hold!  Hold!  Hold!  Hold!  Hold!  Hold!  Hold!  Hooold!  HOOOOOOOOLD!!!!!!!"

Astonishingly, Toni Giugliano doesn't understand how the STV voting system works

Toni Giugliano, the SNP's unsuccessful constituency candidate in Dumbarton, posted three rather unwise tweets about the Alba party yesterday - including one in which he unwittingly gave the game away about his own lack of knowledge about Scotland's electoral systems.

"Imagine running a council election campaign against one of the most marginalised groups in society. WTF is wrong with these people?"

"Aren’t these the same people who pontificate about Indy being their top priority? Well here’s a wee problem for Abla (sic). This is an STV election. Every vote taken away from the SNP lets pro-union parties in. No gains in this elections and it’s all over."

"What might seem insignificant or “fringe” today could easily become mainstream tomorrow. Always challenge injustice. Never ignore."

Of course I have to start by briefly challenging Toni's appalling cynicism in lying - and it is, without question, an intentional lie - that Alba's campaign against legally-recognised gender self-ID somehow constitutes a campaign against trans people.  Alba fully respects the rights of trans people - and that includes, incidentally, their right to identify as they wish in their day-to-day lives.  It's the way that the legal enforcement of gender self-identification could infringe the rights of others, especially of women and girls, that Alba are quite rightly concerned about. It also has to be said that if Toni really believes that people who wish to self-ID are "one of the most marginalised groups in society", he ought to be questioning why the apparatus of the state is so full-bloodedly behind them (as indeed are four of Scotland's six largest political parties).  Other marginalised communities don't enjoy anything like that kind of protection or support - consider, for example, Scotland's small and vulnerable Russian community, who regularly have to endure dreadful Russophobic comments from senior politicians such as Stewart McDonald.  I haven't noticed Fiona Robertson rushing to get round the table with representatives of the Russian community to draw up a working definition of Russophobia that could be used to discipline McDonald if he refuses to reflect on his conduct.

But Toni's quite right about one thing - the fact that Alba are being dismissed as "fringe" today doesn't mean that the party won't be mainstream tomorrow.

This is primarily a blogpost about Toni's quite astonishing ignorance of the STV voting system used for the local council elections, though.  We've seen similarly ill-informed tweets from Peter Grant MP a few months ago.  Both men have clearly suggested that there is somehow a danger of Alba splitting the pro-independence vote in an STV election in a way that there wasn't in the Scottish Parliament election a few months ago, which was conducted by AMS (the Additional Member System). In fact, the polar opposite is true.  Anyone who voted Alba on the Holyrood list ballot in May was voting against the SNP.  You could only vote for one party on the list, and whichever party you chose, you were rejecting all of the others and harming their chances of winning list seats.  There may have been a strategy behind it, you may have thought with some justification that SNP list votes were highly likely to be wasted, but neverthless there were undoubtedly scenarios in which voting Alba could theoretically have reduced the number of SNP seats.

There is no such scenario in local elections under STV, because STV is a preferential voting system, which means you don't have to reject the SNP to vote Alba.  If the Alba candidate is eliminated, your vote will simply transfer to your second preference candidate, and if that person is an SNP candidate, your vote will have exactly the same effect as it would have done if you'd given your first preference vote to the SNP.  That's not in any way a figure of speech, it's quite literally true.  Votes are not 'diluted' when they're transferred from a first preference candidate to a second preference candidate.

So a few obvious questions for Toni Giugliano and Peter Grant.  Why don't you understand all of this?  Don't you think senior politicians should educate themselves about a voting system before pontificating on it? And once you do understand the significance of STV being a preferential voting system, will you be urging SNP voters to give their lower preferences to other pro-indy parties, including Alba? If not, do you understand that you will be needlessly reducing the number of pro-indy councillors across Scotland, and increasing the number of unionist councillors? Doesn't that suggest that whatever your agenda is, it's not one that prioritises independence?

Incidentally, just in case anyone wrongly assumes that I've changed my own tune on STV elections since joining Alba, here is the video I made for the 2017 local elections with Phantom Power, in which I explain in detail how the system works, and make precisely the same point that I've made above - that SNP voters should give their lower preferences to other pro-indy parties and candidates (which back then mostly meant the Greens).

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What Would Jeggit Do?

For those of you who still wear your WWJD bracelets, you need wonder no longer, because the great man's latest blogpost leaves little doubt that the answer to the question is: give up, throw in the towel.  In fact, Jeggit isn't just giving up on independence for the fabled "generation", but for two generations, judging from his comment about how our grandchildren might yet get it right.

Does Jeggit have a point? Short answer: no.  If the independence cause was as dead as he seems to believe, Scotland would look very different from how it does today.  It would look, in short, like the Scotland of twenty years ago.  There would be a unionist coalition government at Holyrood, with no indication in the opinion polls of a pro-independence alternative being viable.  The SNP would have only a tiny handful of seats in the House of Commons.  Support for independence would be in the doldrums.  All of those things could very well happen again at some point in the future, but for the time being there's absolutely no sign of it.

Instead, what do we have? A majority pro-independence SNP-Green government, which would almost certainly be re-elected if there was an election tomorrow.  Pro-independence parties (the SNP, Alba and Margaret Ferrier) have over 80% of the Scottish seats in the Commons, and that situation might actually improve if there was a fresh election.  And support for independence stands at either 50% or 55%, depending on which of the two most recent polls you believe.  We are, in a nutshell, in a phenomenally strong position.  We have the means to bring about a vote on independence, and we have a realistic chance of winning that vote if it occurs.

There is, admittedly, a practical problem.  Our pro-independence government has been hijacked by an SNP leadership faction that probably still believes in independence in principle, but is far more preoccupied with sustaining itself in power.  If, as a by-product of staying in power, independence was somehow to magically fall into these people's laps, they would be happy enough about it.  But they're certainly not going to take any risks to make it happen.  And in the real world, independence can't and won't happen without risks being taken.

But this is a practical problem with a practical solution.  A useful comparison is the ban on fox-hunting in England, which was brought in under the Blair government.  Labour were elected on a commitment to legislate for a ban, but the leadership had no intention of actually doing anything about it because they didn't want to offend small 'c' conservatives in the countryside.  In the end, though, the Labour grass-roots and backbench MPs piled on enough pressure that the leadership realised they would pay too high a price by failing to act.

So the task for all of us is to make the SNP leadership realise that they will pay heavily if they fail to honour their promise of holding a referendum in 2023.  That pressure can come from within the SNP, or from outside via support for Alba.  Jeggit, however, insists that Alba will never command majority support in Scotland for as long as it holds its current position on the trans issue.  That's odd on two counts: firstly, opinion polls convincingly show that Alba's position on the trans issue is shared by the majority of the population, while Jeggit's position is shared by a relatively modest minority.  And secondly, Alba don't actually need to command a majority anyway - they just need 5-10% of the vote to force the SNP to think about what it would take to win those voters back.  And we all know what it would take - genuine action on independence.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Boxing Day drama as new Opinium poll is first online poll since early September to show support for independence at 50% or higher

So I've got my wish - the Opinium poll for the Sunday Mail contains independence referendum voting intention numbers, so at last we have an opportunity to judge the impact of the Downing Street party on the state of play.  But actually the results have ended up muddying the waters somewhat.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Opinium, 15th-22nd December 2021)

Yes 50% (-1)
No 50% (+1)

There are two completely different ways of interpreting this.  There's a small (and statistically insignificant) 1% swing to No since the last poll conducted by Opinium in early September.  However, that September poll was an oasis in the desert - of the twelve online polls conducted by all firms since mid-May, it was the only one that didn't show a No lead.  So it just depends on how you interpret the September poll - was it an outlier caused by sampling variation? If so, the salient point about the new poll is that it's the first online poll since September to show Yes breaking the 50% barrier, and thus could indicate that the Downing Street party scandal has caused a modest pro-Yes swing.

On the other hand, the Yes lead in the September poll could indicate that Opinium have a slightly Yes-friendly methodology compared to other online firms, in which case the new poll could suggest that nothing much has changed.  As ever, we'll have to wait for a couple more polls from a couple more firms to find out which interpretation is the correct one.

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You can catch up with my Scot Goes Popcast interview with iScot editor Ken McDonald HERE (on video) or HERE (audio only). 

Boxing Day poll shows Scottish Tories on course for a 1997-style total wipeout at Westminster

Bizarrely, given that it's currently either Christmas Day or Boxing Day (depending on your point of view on the significance of midnight), there's a poll out.  It's in the Sunday Mail, and so far all I know is what's contained on the front page of the paper, which is very little.  No indication of which polling company was used (although I suspect it might have been Survation, because the Sunday Mail have used them before), and there's no sign of the full voting intention numbers.  The only thing that's revealed is that the Scottish Tories are projected to be on course for a 1997-style total wipeout at Westminster, which is suggested to be as a result of the fallout from the Downing Street party scandal.  Hopefully there might be independence numbers in the poll, because I'd like to know if the scandal has had any effect on those.  But the Tory vote share must be low by recent standards, because a seats projection of zero is a long way from the norm.

I'll update this post with the poll results as and when they emerge.

UPDATE: It's turned out to be an Opinium poll, not Survation.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Opinium / Sunday Mail, 15th-22nd December 2021):

SNP 48% (-3)
Labour 22% (+5)
Conservatives 17% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)

The percentage changes are measured from the last Opinium poll, which was commissioned by Sky News in September.

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): SNP 56 (+8), Liberal Democrats 2 (-2), Labour 1 (-), Conservatives 0 (-6)

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Neale Hanvey, the Alba Party MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, has an extended opinion piece in Lesbian and Gay News about the three recent opinion polls on GRA reform - namely the Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll from October, the Murray Blackburn Mackenzie / Survation poll from November, and the very recent For Women Scotland / Panelbase poll, all of which showed overwhelming public opposition to legally-recognised gender self-identification.  You can read Neale's piece HERE.

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You can catch up with my Scot Goes Popcast interview with iScot editor Ken McDonald HERE (on video) or HERE (audio only).