Thursday, April 14, 2022

So what WAS the thinking behind the SNP's notorious "and for no other party" leaflet?

I'd just like to draw your attention to yesterday's column in The National by the chair of the Alba Party, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, in which she expresses her astonishment at the now-notorious leaflet and letter that the SNP have been sending out, urging people to "ask their friends and family" to only rank SNP candidates and "no other party".  I'm still trying to make some sense of what happened, because even from the SNP's narrow partisan interest, the message seems utterly self-defeating.  Imagine you saw a TV advert for Travelodge that told you to "never stay in any other hotel", or an advert for Twix that told you to "never eat any other biscuit".  Would those brands become more attractive to you, or would you just think you were viewing the last days in the bunker?

It was fascinating that the message was totally contradicted a day or two later by the controversial SNP MSP Emma Roddick, who wrote a lengthy Twitter thread correctly urging people to use the "vote til you boak" strategy in the local elections - meaning that you rank as many candidates/parties as you feel you can bear to.  She obviously knew she was repudiating her own party's letter and leaflet (even thought she didn't mention them directly), but the million dollar question is: was she speaking only for herself, or had she been urged to post the thread by a leadership that knew a terrible mistake had been made?  In other words, was the letter and leaflet the work of some naive and over-excitable interns, and had it slipped through the net in a catastrophic failure of quality control?

When I praised Ms Roddick for her thread (quite possibly the first and last time I'll ever praise her for anything), she became deeply uncomfortable, probably because she saw that I'm an Alba member, and in the hysterical McCarthyite atmosphere currently gripping the SNP she regarded it as vital to distance herself instantly.  She made two points of supposed 'clarification':  a) she's not part of the SNP leadership, and b) she would "boak" before reaching Alba on the ballot paper, if there was an Alba candidate in her ward.  The latter point isn't especially important, because it doesn't change the fact that her thread was 100% correct about how the STV voting system works.  Exactly where and when a voter "boaks" is very much an individual thing.  That said, it was a fascinating insight into Ms Roddick's own mindset as a supposedly pro-independence parliamentarian, and raises the obvious question of whether she would rank unionist candidates ahead of pro-independence Alba because she regards identity politics issues as more important than independence.

As for the point about her not being part of the SNP leadership, that was a statement of the obvious but it was also very carefully worded.  It doesn't exclude the possibility that she was speaking at the leadership's urging.  She's known, after all, as one of the darlings of the leadership, and it would be startling if she ever spoke on questions of electoral strategy without their blessing.

Another possibility is that the message on the leaflet was the work of the leadership, but they hadn't anticipated the fallout from it.  Because it was apparently only sent out to SNP members, former members and people who had at some point donated to the party, the leadership maybe thought they could get the "no other party" message to spread by word of mouth, while keeping it deniable by not putting it on leaflets aimed at the general public.  If so, that was extraordinarily naive.  There are enough former members who are alienated from the party that the message was bound to become publicly known within about fifteen seconds of it landing through people's doors.

As has been pointed out many times, the SNP telling its voters not to use lower rankings on other pro-independence parties will not help SNP councillors to get elected.  Literally the only effect it will have is to make it easier for unionist candidates to get elected at the expense of the Greens and Alba.  So if the message on the leaflet was leadership-approved, the only rational conclusion to draw is that they think it is strategically important that non-SNP representation in local councils should be as unionist-dominated as possible.  That would make no sense if it's really true, as the likes of Paul Kavanagh believe, that the SNP are serious about holding an independence referendum next year.  If that was the case, you would want as you head into a referendum campaign to have as many pro-independence elected representatives as possible, and as few anti-independence elected representatives as possible.  But it might start to make a sort of perverse sense if the strategy is instead geared towards a world in which the SNP have privately decided that a referendum isn't going to take place for the foreseeable future, and in which they're just trying to maintain their own power within the devolved settlement beyond 2026.  Looked at in that way, paranoid fears about Alba winning a modest number of local council seats have a kind of logic, because 'great oaks from little acorns grow'.

In other words, if the messaging in the leaflet was intentional and properly thought through, it indicates that the overriding strategic objective of the SNP in these elections is not to bring independence closer. It's instead to try and ensure that a fellow pro-independence party is "strangled at birth", to borrow the ugly words Cyril Smith famously used about the nascent Social Democratic Party in 1981.  Readers must decide for themselves whether they want to have any part of such a breathtakingly cynical and self-serving project.

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To catch up with my Scot Goes Popcast interview with Alba candidate Lisa Keogh, please click HERE (video version) or HERE (audio only).

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Alba's allure affirmed: Alex Salmond's new pro-independence party storms to best poll result since 2021 election in BMG belter

I'm not entirely sure when the Herald published them, and an online search has drawn a blank, but it's been brought to my attention that there are Holyrood numbers from the new BMG / Herald poll - and they're extremely healthy for the Alba Party.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 44%
Labour 22%
Conservatives 21%
Liberal Democrats 8%

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 33%
Labour 22%
Conservatives 20%
Greens 10%
Liberal Democrats 8%
Alba 3%

That's the first time Alba have been above 2% in any poll from any firm since the 2021 Holyrood election, and confirms the impression of other recent polls that Alba have recovered from a very rocky patch in the latter half of last year when they were barely registering.  One explanation for the rebound is probably the determination of Alba members to keep the party visible.  Certainly anyone who travels on the M80 between Glasgow and Stirling will be reminded in a very in-your-face way that Alba is still very much around.

Again, it looks like the SNP might be suffering a bit of a dip in popularity, although BMG's polls are so infrequent that it's hard to be sure.  I'd imagine Labour will be a bit underwhelmed by their own showing, because although they're in second place on both ballots, they haven't opened up a significant gap in the way they have on the Westminster results.  

And talking of the Westminster results, it turns out that the Herald reported the wrong numbers - a bit amateurish of them given that they commissioned the poll themselves.  Here are the correct figures...

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 42%
Labour 26%
Conservatives 19%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 4%
Reform UK 1%

So not as bad for the SNP as we originally thought, although 42% is still unusually low for them.  And Labour's showing is also better than we were led to believe - placing them roughly where they were at the time of their mini-recovery in the 2017 general election (although the SNP's lead over Labour is still bigger than it was in 2017, which is absolutely crucial in a first-past-the-post election).

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To catch up with my Scot Goes Popcast interview with Alba candidate Lisa Keogh, please click HERE (video version) or HERE (audio only).

Monday, April 11, 2022

Impudence! Betrayers! Puffins! TIME!!!!

Yes folks, it's a blogpost title in the inimitable style of Peter A Bell (well, inimitable except in the sense that I've just imitated it), which can mean only one thing - after two and a half weeks of putting this off, I'm finally going to reply to Peter's latest blogpost about me, in which he refers to me with uncharacteristic restraint and maturity as a "lying wee s***e", "the Scot Goes Pffft blogger" and "James 'Creepy' Kelly".  

Now, before we go any further, let's make sure we're all on the same page and have correctly identified who the man calling me "creepy" actually is.  Here's a genuine poster from a few years ago that features Peter.  (Posted without comment, as they say.)

Moving on to the actual content of Peter's post, I'm not going to deny that this has been a monumental struggle for me.  As I've said before, I find Peter's prose to be almost physically painful to read, and usually the best I can bear to do is skim-read his posts to get the general gist and to pick out the two or three most pompous or ludicrous sentences.  However, I've done my level best this time to read the whole thing so I can reply properly.

First of all, Peter seems deeply upset about me "misquoting" him (which apparently means he can't tell the difference between a direct quote and a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase) and about my use of "straw men".  I must say that's a bit rich given his repeated attempts to put words in my mouth and to take issue with points that I simply never made. For example, he says this - 

"Fully a year after I started asking questions about how Alba Party intended to honour the terms of its 2021 manifesto – far less live up to the overblown rhetoric of its more ‘enthusiastic’ devotees – someone giving the impression of speaking with some authority for the party has attempted some kind of response...According to James Kelly at least, Alba Party has retreated somewhat from the more grandiose assertions and notions contained in its 2021 manifesto...Where a year ago the talk was of a ‘supermajority’ and forcing an extraordinary election and making that election substitute for a referendum, now the aim is rather more modest."

That is complete fiction from beginning to end.  I did not state that the Alba Party has "retreated" from anything in its 2021 manifesto.  Nor, incidentally, do I think that holding an extraordinary election and using that as a de facto referendum is a bad idea - in fact I suggested such a course of action myself multiple times before Alba was even founded.  And last but not least, I wasn't speaking on behalf of the Alba Party in anything I wrote, except to the small extent that I have one voice out of the 15 or 16 on the Alba NEC.  As I explicitly stated in my blogpost, there are differences of view within Alba on what the party can realistically expect electoral success to look like over the next couple of years, but I do believe that the utopianists who think Alba can suddenly replace the SNP as the largest party are very much in the minority.  I think most members realise that we'll be doing well if we start regularly polling at 4-5% of the vote or higher, thus forcing the SNP to start looking over their shoulders and thinking about what policy measures will be required to stop more of their own voters drifting to Alba.

"Alba Party’s ‘plan’ assumes we can afford to wait until the next Holyrood election in 2026 before acting to dissolve the Union and restore Scotland's independence."

Again, this is another straw man, on two different counts.  Firstly, it wrongly characterises my own analysis of how Alba can be electorally effective and achieve its objectives as "Alba Party's plan".  And secondly, it suggests that my analysis referred specifically to the 2026 Scottish Parliament. I did not state that, I did not imply that, and I certainly did not mean that.  There are council elections next month in which Alba could start to achieve its electoral objectives and thus put pressure on the SNP to become more radical on its independence strategy.  That pressure can also come, incidentally, from Alba doing well in opinion polls - and to state the bleedin' obvious, we won't need to wait until 2026 for opinion polls to be conducted.

"The aspect of reality that James Kelly chooses to disregard as he refutes claims not made by me is time. This blithe discounting of time is a ubiquitous feature of Alba Party rhetoric. He also denies political reality. But that may be a matter of perspective. Not so time. Time is real. The electoral cycle is real...What James takes absolutely no account of is what the British state will be doing while we wait for Alba to gain enough electoral support to have some influence."

Alba are currently on 2% of the vote.  I'm suggesting they'll be doing well and can start producing results if they get to 4-5% of the vote.  Now, I fully appreciate that jumping from 2% to 4% is not all that easy, but from the way Peter is talking you'd think I was proposing a manned mission to the third moon off Jupiter. In reality we're talking about something that in the best case scenario can be achieved within a few weeks or months.  I dare say that the British state is more than capable of getting up to all sort of nefarious activities within a few weeks or months, but this begs the obvious question: why does Peter think his alternative strategy will be so much quicker that it can successfully head the British state off?  What is it about Peter's plan that is just so God-damn speedy?

The snag is, of course, that to answer that question, we'd first have to work out what Peter's plan is, and that's far from a straightforward task.  Indeed it's not entirely clear that he has a plan at all.  Let's start with what we know for sure: he wants people to reject Alba and stick with the SNP as the sole vehicle for independence.  So to that extent it's a 'do nothing' strategy and is unlikely to produce faster results than a strategy that involves taking some actual action.  He does, however, want the SNP to be much more radical than they currently are.  In fact, he wants them to do a lot of the things that Alba are proposing and that the SNP leadership have rejected out of hand.  Or, to put it another way, he wants to achieve Alba policy by staying with the SNP and opposing Alba.  In some respects, he also wants things to be done that are far more radical than what Alba are proposing.  So he wants to bring about greater radicalism than Alba's policy by sticking with a party that is much less radical than Alba.  Can anyone make sense of this?  I can't.

My best guess is that we're supposed to believe that the sheer force of Peter's personality and the unique persuasiveness of his blogging skills is just about to completely transform the SNP out of all recognition.  Any time now.  Probably before breakfast tomorrow.  Thanks to Peter, the SNP will suddenly be more Alba than Alba.  Nicola Sturgeon will become a revolutionary who is just gagging to declare UDI.  At the moment of epiphany, she'll probably break down in tears and scream "WHY couldn't I see that Peter A Bell was right all along?!  He's a thinker AND listener."

Once we all realise that TIME is the enemy, we'll realise that we must avoid all distractions such as actually doing anything positive to try to bring about a change in strategy on independence, and instead turn with religious fervour to Peter's booming voice.  Because that, and that alone, can slay TIME.

"I ask the questions James Kelly neglects to ask. Why would the SNP be troubled by Alba taking four or five per cent of the vote in the Council elections? Why would this bring about the change in Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue when all else has failed to do so? How would Alba translate that relatively tiny vote in the almost wholly irrelevant (to the constitutional issue) local elections into a lever with which to move the Scottish Government?"

So yes, in a thrilling and unexpected plot twist, Peter suddenly seems to understand that we're not talking about waiting until 2026, which of course totally contradicts everything he has previously said. But hey-ho, let's not quibble.  To answer his question, all I can do is refer him back to the blogpost he's replying to, because that's where the point is explained.  If Alba's vote share can no longer be dismissed as negligible, then the damage being done to the SNP's own vote share also ceases to be negligible.  Vote share is what wins you seats, vote share is what keeps you the dominant force in Scottish politics.  The SNP can't afford to lose one-tenth, let alone one-fifth, of its vote to another pro-independence party.  If there's a danger of that, they'll have to take action to stitch their coalition of support back together - and that means speaking to the concerns that SNP-to-Alba switchers have.  Overwhelmingly, what those people want is greater urgency on independence and a U-turn on GRA reform.

Next, Peter quotes Jonathon Shafi saying "influence campaigns on the SNP leadership have failed" because the SNP organisation is so centralised.  Peter appears to be completely missing the point here, because it looks like Shafi was talking about internal influence campaigns within the SNP.  It's precisely because the internal influence campaigns failed that Alba was created, ie. to change the approach to that of applying external influence.  It's Peter who wants to persevere with a strategy that has already failed.

"What rational reason is there to suppose that the SNP leadership would buckle under the weight of a 5% vote for Alba in the local elections? Does Nicola Sturgeon look like she might be impressed by this?"

What would you expect her to look like, Peter?  What would be the big clue?  Something to do with her eyebrows, perhaps?

"James Kelly would no doubt retort that the SNP would be bound to worry that they might lose 5% to Alba in the next Holyrood election. Again, I ask the question he neglects to ask. Why would they worry?"

Because, as I have been pointing out for well over a decade, the list ballot is the most important ballot in Holyrood elections.  The SNP cannot rely on retaining such an abnormally high number of constituency seats forever, and once they start losing constituency seats they'll desperately need all the list votes they can get.  Yes, Peter, losing five percentage points of support on the list to Alba would worry the SNP.  It would worry them considerably.

"A certain success for Alba in the council elections might even suit the SNP. If the British parties end up with control of more local authorities then we can be sure Alba will be blamed. Whether they are culpable or not is irrelevant. If they can be portrayed vividly enough as the culprits then enough of the mud will stick to do some damage to Alba’s prospects in the 2026 Scottish Parliament election."

That's a desperately weak line of argument, I have to say.  In a preferential voting system, the only conceivable way Alba can do any damage to the SNP is if Alba voters don't bother giving second and third preferences to the SNP.  In reality, Alba will be urging its voters to rank all pro-independence candidates - the complete opposite of the advice that the SNP themselves have been giving so far.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

BMG poll is a big wake-up call to independence supporters: we can't afford to muck around at the local elections by not ranking all pro-indy candidates

The last set of Scottish local elections five years ago heralded a downturn in the SNP's fortunes and a boost for both the Tories and Labour, which was followed up in the general election shortly afterwards by the loss of 21 of the SNP's 56 seats, leading to an independence referendum being kicked into the long grass.  We're fortunate this time that the local elections are self-contained and not the first part of a two-act drama, because there is some polling evidence that history may be repeating itself to some extent - ie. the SNP may be dipping and Labour may be recovering, although luckily the Tories are going backwards on this occasion.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (BMG / Herald):

SNP 38%
Labour 24%
Conservatives 18%
Liberal Democrats 5%
Greens 4%

I haven't included percentage changes, because it looks to me as if there's a 10-point drop in the SNP's vote since the last BMG poll a year ago, and yet the BMG spokesman in the Herald piece says it's only a 6-point drop.  I'm not sure of the explanation for the discrepancy, but either way it's a substantial shift and takes the SNP back down to roughly the share of support they had at the 2017 general election.  The hope must be that margin of error effects are exaggerating the slippage - and indeed the recent Survation poll reported a much smaller drop in SNP support for Westminster.  

Nevertheless, this is a massive wake-up call for any independence supporter who is more interested in fighting the SNP or Alba at the local elections, rather than our real opponents in the unionist parties.  It's imperative that pro-independence voters give their top rankings in the ballot to all of the pro-indy candidates in their ward.  You can guarantee that Tory supporters won't be mucking around by only ranking one candidate or by spoiling their ballot papers.  We would be mad to let the unionists start with an in-built advantage.

There are also independence numbers in the poll, which are identical to the results of the recent YouGov and Survation polls - 

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47%
No 53%

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To catch up with my Scot Goes Popcast interview with Alba candidate Lisa Keogh, please click HERE (video version) or HERE (audio only).