Courtesy of an anonymous commenter on the previous thread, I've now seen Alex Massie's column in full, and it's even worse than I thought. It effectively contains a repudiation of the most fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy, which is pretty extraordinary from someone who imagines himself to be a traditional moderate conservative. The strength of parliamentary democracy, we're generally told, is that it's not rule by whim or rule by impulse - a party puts forward a manifesto containing a considered package of proposals, and voters give that party a broad mandate to implement its programme. The result of a general election is not then frivolously over-ridden by random opinion polls saying "yeah, but we don't like that bit of the programme, just leave that bit out, actually".
Massie is now elevating opinion polls above parliamentary democracy by saying it's inconceivable that the elected SNP-Green government should be allowed to honour its manifesto commitment of an independence referendum because there are purportedly ComRes or YouGov polls saying the voters aren't enthusiastic about a referendum in 2023. (In reality, the polling evidence on voters' preferred timing for an indyref is a lot more complicated and contradictory than he'd care to admit.) He apparently thinks the 'government by YouGov' principle is so self-evident that anyone who argues in favour of parliamentary democracy instead is being knowingly fatuous.
This really shouldn't need saying, but no country has introduced rule by opinion poll yet, and there are exceptionally good and obvious reasons why. First of all, polls can be inaccurate. They have a margin of error, but sometimes they're not even accurate to within the stated margin of error. Secondly, they can be easily manipulated with leading question wordings - the propaganda polls Survation regularly carry out for Scotland in Union are the most obvious example, but there are subtler forms of manipulation too. And most fundamentally of all, polls are throwaway affairs. Respondents are giving an instantaneous reaction to questions they may not have previously encountered or considered in any depth. By contrast, most voters in general elections will have thought about their decision carefully and at considerable length. Elections are a serious business, opinion polls are (relatively) disposable.
And, actually, the word 'serious' brings me to another of Massie's recurring themes. When Nicola Sturgeon was in "do nothing" mode, he used to praise her to the skies as a "serious" political leader, drawing an implicit contrast with "unserious" activists or politicians who actually want to take some kind of action to overcome Westminster's anti-democratic obstructionism of Scottish self-determination. Now that Sturgeon has - temporarily and/or superficially at least - moved to the other camp, Massie is of course blasting her for "looking unserious". (This is the Alyn Smith school of politics, where the main objective is to avoid at all costs "looking odd" when viewed through some sort of centrist dad prism.) Even more absurdly, he's claiming that "do nothing" would be a far better strategy for achieving independence, because for some fantastical reason he's never specified, he expects us to believe that Westminster will eventually agree to an independence referendum if we just wait for enough years or decades.
But let's imagine that Sturgeon had actually done what Massie thought she should do, or what he thought "a serious leader" would do. That would have meant that, having won an election on an unambiguous pledge to hold a referendum, she would then have said that obviously she can't honour her promise because Boris Johnson doesn't fancy the idea and mumble mumble something about YouGov. It's hard to think of anything that would carry a more fundamentally unserious look than that. It would be treating voters with utter contempt, it would be treating the whole process of democratic elections as a meaningless farce.
To be frank, the best that can be said for Massie is that he's making a set of mind-bogglingly stupid propositions look intelligent or defensible with the use of some elegant prose.
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