Saturday, October 29, 2022

The row over the King's non-attendance of COP27 is an illustration of why an independent Scotland will need - and will probably have - a homegrown Head of State

King Charles is Head of State of not one country, but fifteen: Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Grenada, Belize, Antigua & Barbuda, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Jamaica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the Bahamas. Logically, then, the question of whether he will attend COP27 should be decided in one of two ways.  Either there should be a majority vote among the fifteen countries, or if even one country wants him to go, he should go on their behalf.

But, of course, that's not what's happening.  The UK Government doesn't want him to go and therefore he's not going.  Either that means both the UK Government and the monarchy itself are stuck in an imperial mindset and think the other fourteen countries are subordinate to the wishes of London, or it means that the King's status as Head of State of the other fourteen is something of a constitutional fiction.  I can only guess, but it may be that if New Zealand were to request that the King goes to COP27 to represent them, they would be told that they have a Governor-General, and that the appropriate way of being represented would be via that person.

Which raises the obvious question: if the Governor-General is the de facto Head of State, what is the point of nominally retaining the monarchy?  Why not simply continue with the system for selecting Governor-Generals but give that person the title of ceremonial President instead?

And a second question: if an independent Scotland retains the monarchy in line with official SNP policy, would we even have a Governor-General?  The argument might be that Scotland is different from the other Commonwealth Realms because the monarch spends a significant percentage of the year here, and has an official residence in Edinburgh.  But if we don't have a middle-man or middle-woman to double as Head of State when London is throwing its weight around, where would that leave us?  Who would go to COP32 on our behalf?

It's questions like these, I suspect, that explain why recent polls show the supposed pro-monarchy majority in Scotland disappears when respondents are asked what should happen after independence.  Scots may be pro-monarchy in a UK context, but it appears that they can see the logic that an independent country needs a homegrown Head of State.  I suspect that's exactly what would happen.

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Friday, October 28, 2022

Keir Starmer's poor personal ratings could be the Tories' get out of jail free card

The datasets from the GB-wide YouGov poll I mentioned earlier are now available, and there are two little nuggets of interest.  Firstly, the Scottish subsample is much more 'normal' looking than many we've seen of late, with Labour back down to the mid-20s, and with the SNP enjoying a commanding lead.  That may be a fluke caused by the small sample size, but it's an intriguing straw in the wind nonetheless.

Scottish subsample: SNP 46%, Labour 25%, Conservatives 19%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 3%, Reform UK 1%

And secondly, Keir Starmer's GB-wide personal ratings in direct comparison to Rishi Sunak are astonishingly underwhelming in the context of Labour's mammoth lead over the Tories.

Which of the following do you think would make the best Prime Minister?

Keir Starmer 34%
Rishi Sunak 30%

I said earlier that I thought we were now in a 1992-97 type scenario where we're just waiting for an inevitable Labour general election victory.  But those personal ratings might just give me pause for thought, because Tony Blair, and even John Smith for that matter, didn't generally find themselves in a virtual tie with John Major on personal popularity.

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

'Kindly unresign for a minute so I can sack you'

It's disappointing that Nicola Sturgeon spurned a golden opportunity today to heal some of the rifts within the independence movement caused by the intractable gender self-ID debate. She could have reached out an olive branch in her reply to Ash Regan's resignation letter by saying "this is an issue of tremendous importance on which people of goodwill can and do disagree, I respect your honestly-held principles, and although it is regrettable that you will no longer be able to continue your good work in government, I understand why you felt resignation was an unavoidable and honourable course".  Instead she sent a passive-aggressive reply that gave every impression of a leader who was seething that she'd been denied the chance to sack someone for disloyalty.  Indeed, the intention seemed to be to get the wording as close to a sacking letter as could be justified in the circumstances.  

There's an entirely gratuitous statement of the bleedin' obvious that the only two options when a government minister intends to vote against the whip is to resign or be fired.  Well, fortunately, Nicola, the resignation happened, so the firing option was helpfully eliminated before you started writing your letter.  And then there's the utterly pointless announcement that "I accept your resignation" - yeah, I dare say the resignation would have taken effect regardless of whether you had said that or not.

The suggestion in the letter that Ms Regan had never previously raised her concerns was plainly false, because she had in fact put her name to an open letter three years ago that expressed severe misgivings.  But the question that springs to my mind is this.  If it's correct that Ms Regan didn't speak to Ms Sturgeon directly about her ongoing opposition to the reforms, couldn't that indicate that the First Minister isn't regarded as remotely approachable on the matter?  Couldn't it even point to a fear that Ms Regan would have been sacked on the spot if she had ever attempted to initiate such a conversation?

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm actually quite relieved that this issue is finally coming to a head.  Once it became clear that the SNP leadership were hellbent on passing the legislation, the outcome was always inevitable - with Labour, Green and Lib Dem support, they plainly had the parliamentary numbers.  So further delay would not have got us anywhere.  All that we who oppose the legislation could do were two things, both of which have now been done.  Firstly, we could clearly demonstrate that the claims that the public are behind gender self-ID were totally bogus - that's been done via extensive polling, including a Panelbase poll that I commissioned for Scot Goes Pop around a year ago.  And secondly, we could establish that this issue is not, as has been previously claimed, relatively uncontroversial within parliament or within the SNP.  That's now happened courtesy of the largest rebellion on the SNP benches since the party took power just over fifteen years ago.

All of which means that the people who are forcing through this legislation against the wishes of the public will now have to own it and its consequences.  The process that's unfolding is not anything like the passing of the equivalent Irish law, which was smuggled in a few years ago almost unnoticed.  In Scotland, the arguments against self-ID have been heard loudly and the majority of parliamentarians have consciously decided to ignore them.  If the claims that this law is merely a tidying-up exercise with no harmful real world consequences are borne out, the majority of MSPs will be vindicated.  But if numerous examples crop up of genuine harm, the chain of accountability will be absolutely clear.

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First poll since Sunak became leader suggests there has essentially been no honeymoon effect for the Tories at all

The polling catastrophe for the Tories during Liz Truss' brief premiership, which may well have already guaranteed a Labour government after 2024, occurred in three distinct phases.  The public's immediate reaction to the mini-budget was poor (certainly much less favourable than BBC Scotland's reaction!), and there was a marked drop in Tory support.  But it wasn't until a few days later, when the public had seen the chaos in the markets unleashed by the unfunded tax cuts, that the Tory vote really fell off a cliff.  And then in Truss' final few days there was yet another big drop as voters punished the Tories for the leadership chaos.

The first poll since Sunak took over as leader comes from YouGov, and suggests that he's only managed to reverse that third phase of the disaster - in other words, the Tories are merely back to where they were after their vote dropped like a stone when the markets hammered them.

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov, 25th-26th October 2022)

Labour 51% (-5) 
Conservatives 23% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-1) 
Reform UK 6% (+1) 
Greens 4% (-)

These numbers come from Britain Elects, and as usual we're hampered by their exasperating insistence on editing out the SNP figure, regardless of whether that is above or below or equal to the Greens' standing.  Usually the SNP are somewhere between 3% and 5%, with 4% or 5% being the recent norm.  No sign of the fabled Union of Equals on Britain Elects.

Although a 5 point drop for Labour and a 4 point recovery for the Tories looks substantial, the results of this poll are in fact more or less identical to a YouGov poll conducted on the 11th and 12th of October, some three weeks after the mini-budget.

Perhaps Sunak can very gradually claw his way back, but my guess is we're now into a 1992-97 style scenario where the public have already made up their minds, and we're just waiting for an election with a near-inevitable outcome.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Is it about time the "scunnered middle" of the independence movement had some articles of faith too?

In the comments section of this blog the other day, someone referred to being in the "scunnered middle", meaning somewhere between the SNP and Alba, and dissatisfied with both parties.  That's not quite where I am - I'm still a member of Alba, and I hope to stay that way, and if I get the opportunity I'll stand in the party's internal elections again in the future.  Nevertheless, I am absolutely sick to the back teeth of taking fire from about three different directions and being left to feel paradoxically isolated simply for being somewhere in between the extremities. The fact that it's happening demonstrates, I think, how the independence movement is increasingly splitting into entrenched factions which are taking ever more extreme positions.  This cannot go on much longer - or rather it can, but we're doomed to failure if it does.  People have stopped listening to each other and stopped recognising the fact that they need each other and can't win independence alone.

Last night, for example, I joined in with the very obviously justified criticism of SNP MPs for their premeditated act of petty bullying in walking out of the Commons chamber as soon as an Alba MP opened a debate on an issue of vital importance to the people of Scotland.  My reward was SNP leadership uber-loyalists screaming abuse at me because I apparently don't understand that Alba MPs are subhuman creatures who all right-thinking people must joyfully shun at every available opportunity.  I replied rather forcibly to that infantile nonsense, but my only reward was people on the other extreme jubilantly telling me that this proves I was wrong for saying we mustn't split the pro-independence vote in a first-past-the-post Westminster election.  Apparently last night's incident means that all decent people must vote against the evil SNP at every conceivable opportunity for the remainder of time, regardless of the consequences for independence.  Can people really not see how pathetic this all is, and how we're losing sight of the bigger picture?

A few weeks ago, a chap insta-blocked me on Twitter, literally because of a single reply in which I politely disagreed with his view that unionist list MSPs are "unelected". (By definition, people elected on the list ballot cannot be unelected.  Anyone who thinks they are is essentially saying that first-past-the-post is the only 'proper' electoral system, and thus legitimising the system which unleashed the horrors of Thatcherism on the basis of as little as 42% of the popular vote.)  This suggests to me that the factions are now becoming intolerant of anyone who rejects even the smallest, most trivial facet of their belief systems. It's like you have to unthinkingly chant articles of faith such as "Murdo Fraser has lost every election he's stood in!" to avoid expulsion from the tribe on the basis that you're a bit suspect or can't be trusted.  This is of course the flipside of the madness that has gripped both the SNP and the Greens on identity politics issues - it's practically getting to the point where it's career death in those parties to fail to display your pronouns on social media, because that means you're probably secretly in league with far-right forces in America or whatever.

One reason why I haven't done many podcasts recently is that it's increasingly hard to find anyone willing to take part as a guest.  Many SNP and Green people who would have happily spoken to me prior to spring 2021 now regard me as untouchable because I'm an Alba member.  But many people in my own party also regard me with suspicion because I'm a moderate, have a mind of my own, and have stood up to the likes of Stuart Campbell in the past.  And with almost comical irony, there's a third group who see themselves as above the fray and regard me with distaste because I've "picked a side and am contributing to the warfare within the Yes movement".  Well, if this is what being on one side feels like, all I can say is I'd like to know where the hell my troops are.  It's getting to the point where I'm taking a "plague on all your houses" attitude - I've more or less decided that the podcasts will continue, but mostly as solo efforts from now on.

Maybe it's about time that "the scunnered middle" have a few articles of faith of their own to bash others over the head with.  Here are a few suggestions...

* Free speech and tolerance on identity politics matters.  We all have the right to take strong views in favour of either trans rights or women's sex-based rights, but we must also respect the right of others to take the opposite view, and we must accept that both camps will always have a home within the independence movement.  (You would think that would be an utterly uncontroversial point to make, but we all know that otherwise sensible people will be screaming in horror as I say it.  "The independence movement must be purified from all transphobes!", "You're throwing women and girls under the bus, James!", etc, etc, etc.)

* Independence first.  No other issue should be allowed to get in the way of us uniting to bring independence about - and that includes the trans issue, and it also includes the personal animosity between the groups surrounding Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.

* People should not be dismissed as troublemakers or the enemy within (or as "contributors to internal warfare") simply for putting pressure on the SNP leadership to stop kicking independence into the long grass.  Foot-soldiers in the independence movement have the right to their opinions on "process" just as much as on anything else, and there's nothing magical about being at the top of the SNP that gives anyone "papal infallibility" on questions of strategy. 

* But by the same token, the right to pressure the SNP on independence strategy should not be abused to justify all-out hate campaigns against Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues.  (Nor are hate campaigns against Alex Salmond justified, nor should he be written out of the SNP's history in Soviet style.)

* No self-sabotage in elections.  Proportional election systems give pro-indy parties the scope to compete with each other without doing harm to Yes representation, but where first-past-the-post still exists (ie. Westminster and the Holyrood constituency ballot), there has to be unity to prevent a split vote that will allow unionists to gain seats.  You can't go from "supermajority" in 2021 to "minimise-our-majority" in 2024 and pretend not to spot the contradiction.

Any other suggestions?  

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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Nice try, Ruth, but Nicola Sturgeon was elected First Minister by MSPs in 2014. Rishi Sunak has been elected by no-one.

Does the Colonel have a fair point here?  Spoiler: no of course she bloody doesn't, but let's at least start by giving her credit for a couple of specific aspects of her tweet.  Firstly, it's obviously true that the Record is a repulsive "newspaper", the existence of which represents an ongoing crime against humanity, and it would do all of us a tremendous service if it voluntarily winded up operations immediately.  (Although the idea that it's "partisan" in favour of the SNP as well as Labour is downright risible.) And secondly, I think most independence supporters would agree in retrospect that it was sub-optimal that Nicola Sturgeon did not face a contested leadership election in 2014.  Although her victory would have been assured anyway, it would have been highly desirable for her to have been required to engage in an internal SNP debate about the way forward in the immediate aftermath of the indyref defeat, and also about the medium-term strategy for independence in the event that Brexit reopened the issue.  To some extent the depute leadership election served as a proxy for that debate, and you might remember that I backed the eventual winner Stewart Hosie, because his strategic vision seemed clearest and strongest to me, but ultimately we knew we were electing someone who wouldn't be calling the shots.

However, let's now look at the differences between the processes by which Nicola Sturgeon and Rishi Sunak ascended to office, because you don't have to look far to find some.

* The SNP leadership contest in 2014 was not rigged by an absurd rule stating that each candidate had to be "nominated" by twenty-eight per cent of the entire parliamentary party.  Nicola Sturgeon was elected unopposed simply because there was no other candidate with non-trivial support who was willing to stand against her.

* Nicola Sturgeon was not "elected unopposed" by a rigged system less than two months after being beaten fair and square in a contested leadership election by someone else.

* Although Nicola Sturgeon didn't face a contested election to become SNP leader, she did face an election among MSPs to become First Minister.  It's surprising Ruth Davidson doesn't remember that, because she stood in that election and was heavily defeated by a margin of 66 votes to 15. Rishi Sunak, by contrast, hasn't even been elected as Prime Minister by the House of Commons - he's simply been appointed by the King in line with constitutional conventions.

* The Scottish Parliament has five-year fixed terms, so it's wired into the system that a new First Minister will see out the remainder of the term unless extraordinary circumstances occur.  There is no such barrier to Sunak seeking a proper mandate from voters - this very Tory government changed the law to hand the power of choosing the general election date back to the Prime Minister.  (Incidentally, in doing so they outrageously extended their own term of office - the sort of thing you'd expect to happen in a tinpot dictatorship.  This parliament was originally supposed to end with an election in May 2024, but in theory that may not now happen until January 2025.)

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Monday, October 24, 2022

A reminder of why Sunak's coronation is probably the best available outcome for the independence cause

It was slightly comical and/or grotesque last night to see so many Labour people on Twitter queuing up to celebrate - literally celebrate - Rishi Sunak's likely coronation as Prime Minister.  They apparently thought the SNP would be gutted by the fact that we're not getting the return of Boris Johnson.  Well, I don't know what the SNP leadership are privately thinking, but as I've been saying for days, the political realities have changed out of all recognition during Liz Truss' ultra-brief tenure and it is simply no longer the case that Johnson is/was the ideal Tory leader for the independence cause.  What previously made him such an asset was that he gave the Tories popularity in England but left them deeply unpopular in Scotland - thus meaning voters could see that independence was the only way out.  Sunak is now our best hope for replicating that former balance, and these Labour armchair commentators may soon think they should have been careful what they wished for.

However objectionable he may be for a variety of reasons (personally I'll never forgive his ideologically-driven hostility to anti-Covid measures), Sunak is the only leading Tory who is regarded as a credible figure by voters in England, particularly on economic matters. He is thus the only person who might just about be able to drag his party back into the game south of the border.  There's far from any guarantee that he'll do that - it may be a task beyond the capabilities of anyone.  But if he does, Labour in Scotland may no longer be able to ride on the coat-tails of their party's momentum in England, and the prospects for a plebiscite election may look pretty decent.

But is the flipside of the Sunak effect in England that we must also accept he's the most likely person to revive Scottish Tory fortunes and win them seats?  I'd have been far more worried about that if he'd won the last leadership contest a few weeks ago.  In the intervening period, the Tory brand in Scotland has been tarnished to the point where the party is now loathed as much as it was in the late 1980s and 1990s.  Even a vaguely respected leader will only be able to limit the damage in Scotland at the next election - any notion of getting back to 2017 levels of support is now pure fantasy.  So that's what I mean when I say Sunak is best placed to get us back to the optimum situation of Tory popularity in England and Tory unpopularity in Scotland.  If his relative charisma and relative competence ends up saving his party two or three Scottish seats, that's a fairly marginal downside in the overall scheme of things.

Furthermore, if Johnson had won, an early general election could have been on the cards, due to Tories defecting or resigning the whip.  That would have given the SNP leadership an excuse to back off from the plebiscite election plan and the independence cause could have been left to go into drift after any defeat at the Supreme Court.  They will now have no such excuse, because the likelihood is that the election will be held in 2024, well after the Supreme Court ruling.  (In spite of what some people would have you believe, there is essentially no chance of the election being as late as 2025, because no Prime Minister voluntarily holds a national vote in January.  The latest likely date in the real world is October 2024.)

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Readers' Survey results: a slim majority of Scot Goes Pop readers are SNP supporters

Well, me and my bright ideas.  I thought the embedded survey on the previous post (now deleted) was completely free, but it turns out that it's only free until you hit 100 responses, at which point you're told you have to upgrade if you want to see the results.  Hmmm, sod that.  Luckily, though, I did have the presence of mind to take a screenshot of the results after 89 people had voted, and here's what they showed...

Which party do Scot Goes Pop readers support?

SNP 50.6%
Alba 40.5%
Greens 6.7%
Other 2.3%

So, as I suspected, the Scot Goes Pop readership is very mixed, and probably more so than is the case for most comparable pro-independence blogs.  The fact that I'm not writing for a single-party audience was almost certainly a disadvantage during my unsuccessful bid to be re-elected to the Alba NEC a week ago, but in every other sense it's a good thing - the more places in which independence supporters of different party allegiances are together under the same roof, the better.

The only major surprise is that no-one admitted to being a supporter of a unionist party.  I always had the impression that there were a reasonable number of unionist lurkers here, but maybe they'd have showed up if more than 100 people had been able to vote!

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Sunday, October 23, 2022

Could Starmer's unimpressive personal ratings mean that the general election will be more competitive than we assume?

***puts on Canadian accent***

It's another terrrrr-ible night for the Conservatives.

So, yes, just for nostalgia's sake, I've been taking a look at Stormfront Lite to see how the regulars are coming to terms with the latest phase of the Torypocalypse, and to my surprise I actually came across something vaguely resembling a fair point.  Someone pointed out how odd it is that Labour have such a mammoth lead in voting intentions when Keir Starmer himself has a much more modest advantage over both of the plausible candidates for Tory leader.  According to Redfield & Wilton Strategies, just 42% of voters across GB think Starmer would make a better Prime Minister than Boris Johnson, compared to 39% who think Johnson would be better.  Starmer's equivalent lead over Sunak is 44%-33%.

There's a theory that the personal ratings of leaders are better predictors of election results months or years in advance than standard voting intentions, and if that's right the next general election could yet be surprisingly competitive, regardless of what happens tomorrow.

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Considering that the Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most electorally successful parties in the democratic world, it really is odd that they seem to find it utterly impossible to settle on a satisfactory method of electing their own leader.  This latest wheeze of "election-by-nomination" is very unlikely to be the Eureka moment that stands the test of time.  It suddenly struck me earlier that it may be an attempt to introduce an element of first-past-the-post into Tory leadership contests.  All previous systems of election - the magic circle in the old days, MPs' ballots between the 1960s and the 1990s, and then members' run-off ballots in this century, have aimed to find a candidate who can command the support of an absolute majority.  But arguably the aim of the new rules is to ensure at all costs that only one candidate clears the nomination hurdle tomorrow and is thus "elected unopposed", which could happen if that one person (ie. Sunak) has the support of as little as twenty-eight per cent of the Tory parliamentary party.  That doesn't strike me as the learning of lessons from the Truss disaster.

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In the time it took me to write this blogpost, Johnson has announced he will not run - I suspected that might well prove to be the case, because he has a track record of running away when the odds are against him.  So presumably Sunak will be Prime Minister by Tuesday.

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What would be the consequences of a Johnson victory for the independence campaign?

According to the BBC, "Rees-Mogg says Johnson will stand".  My first reaction was that I'm still not convinced, but actually with only 27 hours to go until nominations close, the conceptual gap between Johnson "standing" and "not standing" may not be all that wide.  Pulling out two hours before the deadline because it's obvious that he's not going to make the threshold of 100 backers has exactly the same effect as falling short when the clock runs out.

Much has been made of the consequences for the Tory party if Johnson wins, but it must be remembered that Sunak winning on nominations alone isn't exactly a consequence-free outcome either.  There'll be tremendous bitterness among the membership about an obvious stitch-up, because it seems likely that if the rules had been the same as for the summer leadership election, Johnson would have won.  It may be fortunate for the Tories that their members have limited powers to take revenge directly, although indirect pressure could be applied via MPs who feel they have to take heed of their constituency associations.

From an independence-supporting point of view, one case for Johnson I haven't mentioned yet is that a victory for him is probably the only hope of an early general election, due to the prospect of significant numbers of Tory MPs resigning the whip in protest.  But the mood music suggests that the SNP leadership would back off from using an early election as a de facto referendum (what a surprise), a Labour government would almost certainly be elected, and Labour's momentum might see the SNP lose a number of seats (potentially quite a significant number).  So it's hard to see how we'd be any further forward.  The only advantage I can think of is that with a further general election not due until 2027 or 2028, the SNP leadership might then find itself under increasing internal pressure to bring about a snap Holyrood vote and use that as a plebiscite - which, it now seems apparent, would be the most promising way of seeking an independence mandate.

Latest from the betting markets:

Rishi Sunak: 1.4
Boris Johnson: 3.9
Penny Mordaunt: 34

This means Sunak's price has tightened since my last update and Johnson has drifted.  That doesn't tell the whole story, though, because Johnson had drifted to as far as 5 overnight and has since come back in somewhat, possibly due to Rees-Mogg's comments and Zahawi's endorsement.  The implied probability of a Sunak victory is now 71%, with Johnson having a 26% chance.

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