Friday, March 10, 2023

Kate Forbes has an astounding *40-point lead* over Humza Yousaf on net approval ratings among No voters from 2014. If we're going to be daft enough to impose "sustained supermajority" requirements on ourselves, let's get real: Kate Forbes may be able to reach out and build that supermajority, but Humza Yousaf simply cannot.

In my post the other day suggesting possible questions to ask the candidates at the SNP leadership hustings, there were a couple I wanted addressed to Kate Forbes on independence strategy, because I felt her position was somewhat ambiguous.  In fairness, I would now accept that ambiguity is largely gone, albeit in a way that is maximally dismaying.  She did an interview for the Sunday National not long afterwards in which she was asked similar questions, and the answers were pretty much the polar opposite of what I wanted to hear.  No, the special conference (if it takes place) will no longer be making the final decision on strategy in the way Nicola Sturgeon promised.  No, there is no Plan B of a de facto referendum if the SNP keep getting mandates for a referendum and the UK Government keep ignoring those mandates.  All Forbes proposes to do is keep trying to build independence support higher and higher on the basis of the magical thinking that there is some ill-defined threshold of support beyond which the UK Government will crumple and achieving independence will become a piece of cake.  

This fails to take account of two inconvenient and rather enormous problems.  Firstly, if independence support goes higher, the UK Government actually have a stronger incentive to refuse an independence referendum, not a weaker one, because the referendum would look less winnable for the No side.  And secondly, even if it turns out this ill-defined threshold of necessary support exists, it may not even be attainable for demographic reasons.  For example, I've always argued that 60% support for independence on a sustained basis (which incredibly is sometimes punted as a perfectly reasonable target) is not attainable, because there are too many sections of the electorate that we know are very firmly wedded to the No side.

Forbes' position on independence strategy is, at it turns out, near-enough identical to Yousaf's.  Total surrender to the anti-democratic Westminster narrative that 50% + 1 on the day of the decision is not enough, and that we instead need a supermajority on a sustained basis in opinion polls run largely in the south of England by people who often have unconscious unionist biases (leading to abominations such as the "Kellner Correction" in 2013-14 which allowed YouGov to justify to themselves significantly under-reporting the high level of Yes support they were picking up).  A meek acceptance that Westminster have the right to define what the supermajority needs to look like and what "sustained" means, and that our London masters also have the right to keep shifting the goalposts on a whim, Ruth Davidson-style, to suit themselves.  And no Plan B, ensuring that Westminster's veto on Scotland's exercise of its right to self-determination is absolute and total.  It's a heartbreaking reversal of the much more credible strategy that the SNP still, to this day, nominally hold under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon.

So if both a Forbes win and a Yousaf win would represent exactly the same setback on independence strategy, does that mean it's six of one and half a dozen of the other if it comes down, as it appears to be doing, to a straight choice between the two of them?  No, it does not mean that.  Forbes is still vastly preferable to Yousaf, and there are two main reasons for that.

Firstly, although Forbes is adopting a Yousaf-like independence non-strategy, the mood music she's surrounding it with is a million times better than the equivalent offered by Yousaf.  Now, I know some people will roll their eyes at that observation, but in politics and in government, optimism can often prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, particularly for a new leader enjoying a honeymoon period.  An example of what I mean is Tony Blair achieving a seemingly-impossible agreement between the Northern Ireland parties within a year of taking office.  If he'd been asked in 1997 exactly how he was going to broker such a deal, he wouldn't have been able to explain, but he still managed it, and a big part of the explanation for that was sheer momentum and positivity.  Forbes is offering something similar on independence by constantly stressing we can achieve our goal sooner than many people think, and certainly in time enough that her newborn daughter will "grow up" in an independent Scotland - not go to university in one or be an adult in one, but actually grow up in one.  In contrast, Yousaf is forever sucking the life out of the Yes campaign by emphasising that independence is a very, very, very long way away - what's the rush, guys, Rome wasn't built in a day, if Nicola couldn't find a way, how the hell do you expect me to do it, etc, etc, etc.

Furthermore, Forbes is putting the onus on herself to deliver the objective of independence within such a tight timescale, which means she can actually be held accountable if she fails to find a way of breaking the deadlock.  Yousaf, on the other hand, would just shrug and say "don't look at me, guys, you just haven't been knocking on enough doors - there's nothing I can do until you get support for independence a lot higher".  He'd also be able to quite reasonably point out that SNP members had elected him on a promise to do essentially nothing about independence, and that he's just faithfully delivering the nothingness that members voted to get.

The second reason for favouring Forbes over Yousaf is more fundamental.  If we are now doomed to an outcome where the new SNP leader imposes on us a totally needless supermajority requirement for Yes support, there is hard polling evidence to demonstrate that Yousaf will have no chance of achieving his self-imposed target, but that Kate Forbes might just be able to.  In other words, Yousaf and Forbes both have the same strategy, but Forbes may have the capacity to actually make the strategy work in a way that Yousaf does not - and there can hardly be a more crucial distinction than that.  An analogy would be that both candidates intend to set off on a foolhardy solo flight across the Atlantic, but that Forbes has just enough fuel in the tank to reach New York while Yousaf's fuel will run out when he's barely halfway over the ocean.  So you already know before he even starts that Yousaf is going to fail, whereas with Forbes it remains to be seen.

The Ipsos poll commissioned by Channel 4 for last night's debate showed that Kate Forbes was clearly the preferred choice of the general public, but that she was essentially tied with Yousaf among the subsample of people who voted SNP in 2021.  It was astoundingly ironic that Yousaf, a candidate who claims that he is the guy to get independence support over the line (meaning his self-imposed supermajority line), was claiming that only the results among SNP voters mattered and that Forbes' popularity with the wider public was irrelevant.  In other circumstances, it might be just about defensible to say that the SNP had 47.7% of the vote in 2021, and that you don't need any more than that, so if you're semi-popular with SNP voters nothing else matters.  But if you're voluntarily chasing supermajorities, I'm afraid 47.7% just doesn't cut it.  Even to get to 55%, you'll need to win substantial numbers of votes from unionist parties and those will mainly be people who have never previously voted for the SNP or for independence.  The Ipsos poll clearly shows Kate Forbes has a fighting chance of reaching those voters, but with Yousaf it would be hopeless.  Let's crunch the numbers from the poll...

Net approval ratings among people who voted No in the 2014 independence referendum:

Kate Forbes: +2
Humza Yousaf: -38

Net approval ratings among people who voted Labour in the 2019 general election:

Kate Forbes: -12
Humza Yousaf: -13

Net approval ratings among people who voted Conservative in the 2019 general election:

Kate Forbes: +8
Humza Yousaf: -57

With numbers as stark as those, further commentary is barely required.  For all the talk about Kate Forbes representing a "lurch to the right", she is slightly preferred to Yousaf even by Labour voters - and those are Corbyn-vintage Labour voters, remember.  Among people who voted Labour in the 2021 Holyrood election (by which time Starmer had taken over from Corbyn), her lead over Yousaf rises sharply to a commanding 20 points - her net rating among 2021 Labour voters is -12, while Yousaf's is -32.  As for Forbes' astonishing popularity among Tory voters, can you imagine the effect if she started winning over a significant minority of Tory voters to independence?  That's the one section of the electorate we've pretty much written off from a Yes point of view, so cracking that problem could actually be the key that opens the door to a supermajority that would otherwise remain permanently out of reach.

The reality is that if Kate Forbes is elected leader, a lot of the current clouds above us will clear almost instantly.  There'll be a real buzz in the media about an exciting young female leader of Scotland - the third SNP leader in a row who appears to be one of the most talented politicians of her generation across the whole UK.  There'll be countless articles at home and abroad comparing her to other dynamic female world leaders such as Sanna Marin of Finland and Kaja Kallas of Estonia.  Many people won't like this, but even her strong religious convictions will be a source of fascination.  The sense will be that Scotland is on the march to independence with someone new and fresh.  By contrast, if Humza wins, the dark clouds will continue to gather, and the media narrative will be that the SNP has self-harmed and locked itself into its death spiral, possibly leading to defeat at the hands of Anas Sarwar in 2026.

The choice before SNP members this month could hardly be more existential.


  1. James, another cracker of an article.

    "Nominally hold under the leadership of Sturgeon." I don't believe Sturgeon ever had any intention of letting a referendum happen. Sturgeon was running out of road. She only stated the de facto in June last year to give her an extension to the road. She new the London court would say no. When Angus put in his resolution to carry out a de facto in Holyrood in October this year the possibility of that happening was too great a risk. The solution was resign earlier than planned. The road had been shortened. Next up had to be Yousaf who as you rightly say would stand on doing nothing about independence. De facto referendums and special democracy conference would just go away. Independence would just go away for a very long time. It is incredible how many SNP members, staff and politicians do not seem that bothered about getting independence. They just love talking about it and, of course, Kavanagh's favourite, telling us all how bad the Tories are.

    It is incredible how petty and small minded so many SNP members are. They supported Sturgeon's de facto referendum proposal but when Regan proposes the closest alternative to that proposal they reject her because - "eh well Salmond/Alba". One benefit of Yousaf winning is that no more carrots will be dispensed and numpties won't have to chew on them. No need as he won't be promising anything.

    My glass half full stance is that maybe Forbes and Regan are working together to stop Yousaf and then will take Independence forward as a team in a more positive way than Forbes has outlined so far. There is always hope.

    1. Regan came a cropper last night when she said she was unaware about the Lineker controversy, and she would give Lineker a red card. Jesus wept.

    2. Is that the best you can come up with. This numpty must be Hamish100.

      Why is an English footballer who lives in England and broadcasts on the English broadcaster so important to you. Indeed why should an english journalist ask such a question to candidates in a Scottish leadership contest - oh I've got it so dafties like you can react to it.

    3. Update: The numpty is Alec Lomax as he has posted the same on WGD. So my apologises on this occasion to Hamish but you are still a daftie.

  2. Good analogy with Tony Blair and Northern Ireland. In the same way that many Old Labour lefties hated Blair, maybe Forbes is the leader we actually need, rather than the one we dream of. She’s not radical enough on Indy to please the SNP/Alba fundamentalists, but precisely because of that she is the one leader capable of reaching across the divide and persuading the soft noes, you know, precisely the people we need to persuade if Indy is ever to happen. As long as she doesn’t start any illegal wars like Blair we might just be ok.

    Your point about Blair not knowing in advance how he would solve the NI conundrum is also important. I feel we too often fall into the unionist trap of trying to show in exquisite detail how exactly a future Indy Scotland will be. What will the currency be? What about the border? What about pensions? What about shipbuilding jobs? etc. etc. Brexit should have taught us that unionists are similarly incapable of answering such questions, because, well, nobody knows the future and shit happens.

    It’s impossible to give perfectly satisfactory answers to such questions. Any answer can be picked apart with a load of what ifs. The future is uncertain and we have to accept that and be ready to adapt and change course as circumstances change. What’s important is to know the principles by which decisions will be made. Here’s our choice: future decisions will be taken in the best interests of Scotland, or, we’ll just go along with whatever Westminster decides. I know which one I prefer.

  3. Hopefully Forbes will win, thus letting Ash resign and join her wee pals in ALBA.

    1. Well Forbes declared Regan was her best pal in politics and Regan declared Forbes was her best pal. So maybe Forbes will join her in Alba following your logic - ya numpty. Why do all these pathetic numpties always use "wee" when disparaging people? Answer they are very limited in vocabulary and is the mark of a WGD numpty.

    2. Hey Dr Jim are you too scared to repeat your challenge made on WGD that you bet anyone 50p (wow) that Regan will join Alba. 50p😂😂😂😂😂I know times are tough but could you not stretch to £1 or are you not that confident. I notice that you are slowly moving your disturbing infatuation with Sturgeon on to a younger woman. Anyway Forbes does not share your view of Regan as the pair are besties.

  4. Hopefully Forbes will win.

  5. Patience, waiting, SNP losing government control, a new messiah, political events and we might see an indy Scotland... but time will have to pass.

  6. The thing is that the Greens obsessively dislike Forbes and are threatening to throw all their prams out of the toy, and take their highly unpopular and economically moronic policies (as Tom Hunter agrees) with them if she gets elected. Which means a Holyrood Election is almost inevitable on 19th October 2023, it can be made all about Indy, and the greens will be cast into the kitchen recycle bin along with the mushrooms and mouldy cabbages.

    Yippee! They were OK as a party but in Government a disaster.

    Nick Chuggins

  7. As someone who worked with Maze prisoners in the period leading up to their release in July 2000 under the Good Friday agreement, I am struck by the resonance this article has to conversations I had at the time. The fast transition to prisoner release could not have been expected. Although many points were made, one was that a kind of cultural momentum and expectation had been important in breaking years of deadlock. More so than anyone’s detailed advance planning