Saturday, January 7, 2023

WINGS-WATCH: Campbell appears to want someone in Ohio to be executed, he also wants Kezia Dugdale to "die down a well", and can anyone introduce me to his "fifty employees"?

Stuart Campbell of the formerly pro-independence site Wings Over Scotland (those were the days, eh?) has stayed off the subject of opinion polling for a little while, hence there hasn't been any need for a recent Wings-Watch update to correct his regular factual inaccuracies.  However, I think the time has now come for a little round-up of some of his other...well, let's euphemistically call them "excesses".

Firstly, I was astounded to see him approvingly retweeting two tweets that pretty unambiguously call for prisoners in America to be put to death.

Yeah, let's make sure "tactics" don't prevent the state from killing people, right?  Heaven forbid that the killing process should be impeded by "delays".

As you know, there is a degree of overlap between Campbell's views on the gender identity issue and my own, but he's become so totally consumed by the issue that I'm not sure he even notices anymore when it leads him to show his true colours on other subjects.  It may not be entirely a coincidence that he ended a blogpost yesterday by saying he wants the former leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Kezia Dugdale (who coincidentally defeated him in court on a defamation case and who he's had an unhinged personal vendetta against ever since) to "f*** off and die down a well".  It's not clear whether or not this would also be a form of capital punishment.  And there may be a bit of a recurring theme here, because only a few months ago he used a blogpost to describe an individual as "mercifully deceased".

Could I just say something at this point to members of my own party, including senior members.  I know many of you are admirers of Campbell - I find that inexplicable given his disgraceful behaviour in recent years, but I don't doubt your sincerity.  However, I'd gently suggest that there needs to be a bit of thought about the unqualified public adulation that goes on, because if Alba starts to look like a de facto Wings Party (and speaking personally I would never have joined in a million years if I had thought that was the likely destination), there will be a heavy price to pay.  The reputation of the party will be severely damaged by association.  Even for a small party that is still trying to build its profile and thus doesn't run away from controversy in the way a larger party might, I'm not sure that's a price worth paying.

Yesterday was the day that Campbell seems to live for, because it was the day each month when his most favourite wildly inaccurate "traffic comparison site" updates its figures.  I was a bit puzzled that we didn't see the seventy-ninth appearance of his customary excited blogpost declaring his own site to be the only pro-indy site in the universe that anyone ever reads.  It usually appears within literally minutes of the SimilarWeb update.  However, I swiftly solved the mystery - it turns out that Campbell did his monthly gloat on Twitter instead.

I actually burst out laughing yesterday when I saw SimilarWeb's figures for Scot Goes Pop, which seem to be becoming more and more divorced from reality with each passing month.  Here from the Blogger platform is a graph of the real trend of traffic to this blog during 2022.  As you can see, traffic was higher in November and December than at any previous time in the year, leaving aside a couple of brief spikes caused by individual posts going viral.  (The graph is based on page views, which is a bit of a crude measure, but nevertheless it gives a decent guide to the trend.)  This is exactly what you'd expect, because I was posting on a daily basis during most of November and December, and I was covering a lot of dramatic polls.

And yet if you believed SimilarWeb, you'd think traffic has been dropping like a stone over recent months, and is now roughly half of what it was in July and August - months when I was barely posting, partly due to being on holiday.  SimilarWeb's latest fictitious version of Scot Goes Pop's traffic for December is the lowest I've seen to date, and suggests that Scot Goes Pop now has roughly one-fiftieth of Wings Over Scotland's traffic.  Frankly, if you believe that, you'll believe anything.  Nevertheless, many Wings readers will indeed believe anything Campbell tells them, so let me just pose a couple of awkward little questions.  You see, SimilarWeb doesn't just claim to estimate a website's traffic - it also estimates the site's number of employees and revenue levels.  Here are its current estimates for Wings Over Scotland...

So who are these eleven to fifty reclusive "employees of Wings Over Scotland"?  I mean, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they must definitely exist, because Campbell assures us that SimilarWeb's estimates are 100% accurate and reliable.  Does anyone know their names?  What their job titles and duties are?  What is their salary level?  Have they ever been interviewed?

And annual revenues of between two million and five million US dollars.  Gosh, isn't Stu doing well for himself these days?  Almost a bit of a mystery that a millionaire like him would still need to fundraise, but I dare say there must be some sort of logical explanation.

Oh, and he seems to be based in Glasgow, as opposed to somewhere like, let's say, Bath.  That must be completely true as well, because SimilarWeb are of course right about everything.  Strange that Campbell has kept up the Bath fib all these years, but ours not to reason why and all that.

Back in the real world, why are SimilarWeb getting it so hopelessly wrong?  They appear to rely on a panel system, which probably works well enough for extremely large sites like the BBC and the Daily Mail, but for smaller sites like Wings Over Scotland and Scot Goes Pop it's bound to lead to massive inaccuracies, because one or two panellists randomly visiting or not visiting in any given month could be extrapolated to count as literally thousands of people.  The estimates are also for visits as opposed to visitors, which slants the results for a site such as Wings that functions like a chat forum, with the same people constantly going back to check if there have been more comments posted.  And as for why SimilarWeb are so utterly convinced that Campbell is a multi-millionaire with up to several dozen paid minions, well, answers on a postcard, folks.

Stewart McDonald is not just rewriting the past - he's rewriting the present as he attempts to downgrade Nicola Sturgeon's firm policy of a de facto referendum to merely "one option that has been widely covered"

If the future of our country wasn't in danger of being adversely affected, it would almost be funny to watch the succession of usual suspects from the SNP's "do nothing" faction queueing up to pen newspaper articles in which they use tortuously coded language in an attempt to coax Nicola Sturgeon into backing down on her plan to actually try to win independence.  Stewart McDonald's effort is even more cagy than Marcus Carslaw's, to such an extent that you might be forgiven for thinking for the first half of the article that he is actually expressing support for the Sturgeon plan.  However, this apparently loyal cheerleading is just waffle calculated to win a hearing for McDonald's real views, which all come in the second half, and which essentially amount to "independence should remain a safely distant ideal, rather than something that might actually threaten my Westminster career in the here and now".

Let's decode what he's actually saying...

"Any strategy on independence must be flexible..." - This seems to hint at a degree of resignation that the de facto referendum plan will at least be nominally adopted by the special conference, so instead he wants to sabotage it with some sort of get-out clause to pave the way for a U-turn further down the road - which of course he will be constantly demanding.

"...rooted in a keen understanding of public opinion and appreciate the need for loser's consent" - This appears to mean that he thinks (just like Carslaw) that if there is a narrow majority in favour of independence, the minority who oppose independence should have an absolute veto on the wishes of the majority being implemented.  Losers' consent is of course an important concept in any democracy, but the onus is generally on the losers to provide that consent, rather than on the winners to accept that they cannot govern in the absence of it (unless of course there's some sort of credible doubt over who has won and who has lost).  Put it this way: when Donald Trump and his followers failed to provide losers' consent after their 2020 defeat, that was certainly a problem, but the solution to that problem was not for Joe Biden to give up and say that he couldn't govern without Trump's "permission", which would never have been forthcoming.

"With the courage to lead generously, we can win" - Giving your opponents a veto on election results they don't like is, in fairness, a form of "generosity".  In fact, as generosity goes it's really rather excessive.

"One option that has been widely covered since the Scottish Government’s decision to go to the Supreme Court last year is that of a de facto referendum: using the next UK General Election as the platform to settle Scotland’s constitutional future. Such a departure from the referendum option that my party has long held would be a major one, and one that must not be taken lightly or birthed out of frustration" - That is really quite an astounding paragraph.  I've heard of politicians trying to rewrite the past, but McDonald seems to be trying to rewrite the present.  Nicola Sturgeon has already firmly announced a de facto referendum as her decided policy - in fact she did so several months before the Supreme Court announced its verdict.  But McDonald is insulting our intelligence by portraying the policy as just one of many "options", albeit one that has been mysteriously "covered" more than the others.  (My guess, Stewart, is that the coverage is because Ms Sturgeon has already announced it as policy.  Just a thought.)

"Indeed, the combination of the court judgement and Westminster intransigence must not force us into seeking an answer to the wrong question, or down paths that won’t ultimately allow independence to be lawfully delivered...For many years we have separated a vote for the SNP and a vote for independence. If we are to ditch that patiently crafted position - central to delivering 16 successful years in government and mainstreaming our cause - then we should do so only on sound, solid merit, not a throw of the dice. It will be difficult to get back if we lose" - I defy anyone to read these words and come to any other conclusion than that McDonald thinks there shouldn't be a de facto referendum, and that the SNP should maintain the strategy of using elections to seek a referendum.  However, elsewhere in the article McDonald openly states that a referendum, and I quote, "seems impossible".  It's rare for a siren voice to admit that it's trying to lure people onto the rocks, so McDonald should be commended for his refreshing honesty in admitting that he wants his party to reject a de facto referendum in favour of something that he knows to be "impossible".  Even more commendable would be to admit the real nature of his motivation for attempting to sabotage the independence campaign in this way.

"The independence movement’s overarching task remains the same as it was before Lord Reed declared the court’s unanimous verdict: building majority support for independence" - On an average of recent polls there already is a majority for independence, so McDonald's belief that "building" is still needed seems to hint at a supermajority requirement - something that Marcus Carslaw also wants to impose. That's just another form of the losers' veto.

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Friday, January 6, 2023

Positive straw in the wind from YouGov for the independence campaign

As I always say, if there are no full-scale Scottish polls around, the next best thing is a Scottish subsample from a GB-wide YouGov poll, because unlike other firms, YouGov appear to structure and weight their Scottish subsamples correctly.  That means all you have to worry about is the small sample size (which admittedly is still a major problem).  The first YouGov subsample of the year is moderately encouraging from a pro-indy perspective...

YouGov Scottish subsample (4th-5th January 2023): SNP 43%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 14%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Reform UK 5%, Greens 4%

As with the full-scale Scottish polls towards the end of last year, Labour seem to be falling short of a really telling breakthrough, and the hope must be that the Labour surge has now peaked.  If the unprecedented Tory chaos of the autumn wasn't enough to push Labour into an outright lead in Scotland, it's hard to see what else might yet come along to do the trick - at least until an election campaign is actually underway.  Pro-independence parties in combination have 47% of the vote - not quite enough in the context of a de facto referendum, but within plausible touching distance of the required outright majority.

Across Britain, Labour have a huge 21-point lead over the Tories.  However, there are also leadership ratings in the poll, and those figures are perhaps the clue as to why so many people remain to be convinced that the 2024 general election is unwinnable for the Tories.

Which of the following do you think would make the best Prime Minister? (GB-wide results)

Rishi Sunak: 26% (+1)
Keir Starmer: 31% (-1)

Months or years prior to an election, leadership numbers have often proved to be better predictors of the election result than headline voting intention numbers.  If that rule of thumb holds true on this occasion, we could be looking at a very narrow Labour victory, and a hung parliament remains firmly in the game.

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Thursday, January 5, 2023

If gradualism has been "successfully" pursued by the nationalist movement for decades, why has it lasted decades, why isn't Scotland independent as a result of it, and why is the Scottish Parliament *losing* powers?

I've been taking a proper look at Marcus Carslaw's rather peculiar opinion piece in which he lambasts the idea of using the next Westminster election as a de facto independence referendum (which is official SNP policy, remember) but offers no alternative plan other than more "gradualism" and aiming for a "sufficiently large and consistent majority of voters" in support of independence.  The latter will be correctly interpreted as meaning Carslaw adheres to the anti-democratic belief that if a narrow majority of voters support independence, the outcome should be that Scotland remains indefinitely trapped in the United Kingdom against its will.

The fascination of the article is that, if it had appeared a year ago, it would have been seen as Carslaw acting as a loyal outrider for the SNP leadership, and trying to prepare the ground for the independence campaign being quietly shelved for the foreseeable future.  But now, if taken at face value, it's instead the peculiar spectacle of a 'do nothing' faction of the SNP rebelling against Nicola Sturgeon because they think she's being too radical.  As I said on Twitter, the worry must be that she'll be so disconcerted by the novel experience of being 'outflanked on caution' by others within her own party that she'll start to question what she's doing.

The language Carslaw uses is quite funny and unwittingly revealing in some places.  He queries whether the de facto referendum plan "fits into the gradualist strategy that the nationalist movement has successfully pursued for decades".  This begs an obvious question - if gradualism has been so "successful", why has it lasted "decades" and why isn't Scotland independent as a result of it?  And how would Carslaw measure further success in the future if gradualism is maintained?  A cynic might suggest he'd be looking for it to last several more decades without independence being achieved.

My own view on gradualism is fairly simple.  I don't think there was ever any realistic prospect of the Scottish public being bold enough to jump from direct London rule to outright independence in one go.  A devolved Scottish Parliament within the UK was always a necessary stepping stone, so until devolution was achieved twenty-four years ago, gradualism was the only game in town for the SNP.  But since devolution, gradualism only makes sense if it is actually effective in accruing more powers for the Scottish Parliament. If that was the case, I would continue to be an enthusiastic gradualist (and long-term readers will attest that I've never been dismissive of enhanced devolution in the way that other pro-indy bloggers are).  The problem is that the complete opposite has been happening in recent years - by the SNP's own admission, there has been a "power grab" from Westminster leading to devolved powers actually being taken away.  

I'd be interested to hear from Carslaw how he reconciles that trend with his narrative that gradualism has been a "success".  Perhaps he'd argue that the power grab has to be set against the new powers that were won in 2014/15 by the Smith Commission process.  But that doesn't make sense, because the Smith process wasn't actually a triumph for gradualism - it was instead triggered by an attempt to achieve independence as a "Big Bang" in 2014 and by the panicked unionist response to the near-success of that bid.  If anything, that's a precedent that suggests the best results are achieved by ditching gradualism.

Perhaps because he's an SNP staffer and office bearer at branch level, Carslaw is careful not to directly call for the de facto referendum policy to be reversed.  Instead, he demands clarity from the policy's proponents on how it "will deliver an independent Scotland".  But why and how can that be the test?  It's the SNP leadership and its fans in the 'do nothing' faction that have argued for years for immaculate constitutionality and legality, which is another way of saying that Scotland will only become independent at the UK government's discretion.  Carslaw is therefore knowingly demanding the impossible when he implicitly asks how a plan to achieve independence can succeed against London's wishes.  His own plan, such as it is, would fail exactly the same test.  He can't explain how twiddling our thumbs while we wait for a "sufficient majority" will deliver independence.  If anything, a supermajority in the polls for independence, even assuming that's remotely achievable, will just give Westminster an even greater incentive to refuse an independence referendum.  

Perhaps the most revealing word Carslaw uses in his article is "risk".  The de facto referendum is a "high-risk gamble" and is therefore unconscionable.  If Carslaw has any sort of creed or discernible strategy, it seems to amount to nothing more than the avoidance of risk.  But again, can he explain how running away from risk at all costs will deliver independence?  

The reality is that it is not in our own hands to deliver independence - that will always require agreement with London.  But what is in our own hands is to secure a mandate for independence.  Securing a mandate is a necessary prerequisite for negotiating an independence settlement.  You can only secure a mandate if you actually take the risk of seeking one.  The proponents of a de facto referendum, including to her credit Nicola Sturgeon, want to seek a mandate.  Carslaw, it would appear, does not.  He is therefore considerably further away from passing his own "delivery" test than those he denounces.

There's also a touch of intellectual dishonesty from Carslaw when he points out, as so many of us have, that using a Westminster election as a de facto referendum carries the disadvantage of disenfranchising both EU citizens and 16 and 17 year olds.  Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that this means a snap Holyrood election should be used instead, he fatuously pretends that the problem is completely insoluble.

I can only speculate as to why a young independence supporter would be quite so evangelical about not actually trying to win independence for a few more decades.  He's probably in a decent position to seek selection as SNP parliamentary candidate, and perhaps he fancies a full three-decade career in Westminster before independence happens.  Maybe I'm doing him a disservice, but I'm struggling to think of a more plausible explanation.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

A rare example of me saying 'Bravo, Patrick Harvie' - and some thoughts on Alba's future

From the Herald on New Year's Day - 

"Mr Harvie rejected outright the suggestion that a pro-independence majority vote in the election should be read as a mandate to hold a legal independence referendum. 

He said it would be a mandate for independence itself, not another vote. 

He told the paper: 'If we are left with a de-facto referendum as the only option, that is in place of the referendum that we ought to have, that we deserve to have, that we have a right to have, it’s not about triggering another one, it’s about answering the question.'"

That's extremely heartening to hear from the co-leader of one of the two pro-independence parties that make up the Scottish Government.  It should really be a statement of the obvious - an election can only be classed as a de facto independence referendum if an outright mandate for independence is being sought, rather than a mandate to hold a referendum.  But nevertheless Angus Robertson, Mhairi Hunter and Toni Giugliano have all publicly taken the opposite view at some point over the last few months - and in Ms Hunter's case that caused particular concern, given that we always tend to assume she's speaking as Nicola Sturgeon's representative on Earth.  Hopefully Mr Harvie's intervention may indicate that's not necessarily the case.

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Yesterday, the Alba Party released the result from another of the questions they commissioned as part of the recent multi-client Panelbase poll.  I'll be totally honest and say I'm somewhat confused by the wording of the press release they've put out - it's far from clear what the exact nature of the poll question was, and that being the case it's hard to make full sense of the result.  However, my best guess is that respondents were asked which party they thought gives the highest priority to independence, and they were only allowed to select one option.  Among Yes supporters only, the results were:

SNP 75%
Alba 14%
Greens 3%

That's in line with what you would intuitively expect. Most people know that the Greens are pro-independence, but they also know the Greens give the highest priority to the climate emergency and to cracking down on free speech on the gender identity issue.  By contrast, both the SNP and Alba were specifically set up to win independence, so they were bound to come out ahead of the Greens on this particular question.

The title of the press release suggests that Alba are on course to overtake the Liberal Democrats in Holyrood list polling this year.  There's nothing in the Panelbase poll that would actually support that claim (or not on the results we've seen so far anyway), although in fairness the press release doesn't directly state that the claim is based on the results of the poll - it's just presented as a belief that Alba themselves hold.  To consistently overtake the Lib Dems on the list, they would probably need to get into high single digits, and in my own view that's unlikely to happen until there is a change in the way that Alba's offer is presented to voters.  At the moment evidence from both polls and local by-election results strongly suggests that Alba are flatlining at a level of support at which they would be highly unlikely to win list seats.  There's still three-and-a-bit years until the 2026 Holyrood election to turn things around, but as regular readers know, I think that would entail Alba adopting a relentlessly positive pitch about greater urgency on independence, distancing themselves from the ethno-nationalists who want to restrict voting rights for English people in Scotland, and also toning down the rage directed against the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon.  If anything, based on what I've seen from a number of senior Alba people on social media in recent weeks, the opposite seems to be happening and the public face of Alba just seems to be becoming ever more angry and militant. For example, there was a suggestion on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that continuing to vote for the SNP after the passing of the GRR Bill was somehow the equivalent of voting for Jimmy Savile.

I remain a member of the Alba Party and during this year I'll continue to make the case for a change of direction (and certainly a change of tone) before it's too late.  Remember that if Alba lose both their Westminster seats at the general election, they'll have no remaining elected representation at all, and there's a big danger they could start to look like an irrelevance or a failed experiment unless by that stage they can already point to genuine progress in the polls.  So time is very much of the essence.

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Sunday, January 1, 2023

Poll suggests monarchy is on a shoogly peg if Scotland moves towards independence

So a very Happy New Year to all Scot Goes Poppers!  We're now almost certainly in the penultimate year prior to the Westminster general election, which as things stand we expect to be used as a de facto independence referendum.  There's perhaps a very small outside chance that Sunak will call a snap election in the second half of this year, but only if he's made a massive recovery in the opinion polls, which at the moment is very hard to imagine.  And while January 2025 is technically the last possible date for the election, there's no chance in the real world of it being that late (in spite of what some people would have you believe).  The last realistic date is probably October 2024 - although if Sunak goes that late, the Tories will have unilaterally extended their own term of office in tinpot dictator style.  When they were elected in December 2019, the law clearly stated that the next election could be held no later than May 2024.

Although I'm a couple of days late with this, I thought I'd also look briefly at the Panelbase poll on the future of the monarchy in an independent Scotland.

If Scotland votes to become an independent country, should Scotland be a republic with an elected Head of State or should Scotland keep King Charles as Head of State?  (Panelbase / Alba Party, 12th-16th December 2022)

Republic: 55%
Keep King Charles: 45%

This is broadly in line with two or three other recent polls that showed a relatively even split, or a slight republican lead, in the context of an independent Scotland.  It's important to stress, though, that this doesn't mean Scotland has suddenly become an anti-monarchy country - there still appears to be a majority for keeping the monarchy if we stay in the UK.  I'm not sure it would be possible to devise a question that accurately captures attitudes to the monarchy without regard to Scotland's relationship with the UK, because if you don't mention independence in the question, people will just assume they're being asked about a scenario in which Scotland remains part of the UK.

Plainly, there is a substantial minority of voters who are monarchists in a UK context but who nevertheless think it would be more appropriate for an independent Scotland to have a homegrown Head of State, and those are the people who are tipping the balance.  This suggests that the BBC, and the rest of the forces of monarchism, have largely failed in their propaganda attempts to convince us that the late Queen was as "Scottish as they come", and that Scotland had a "special place in her affections" (just like Wales, Northern Ireland, Buckinghamshire, Jamaica and pretty much every other location on the planet). If we really perceived the monarchy as being authentically Scottish and rooted in Scotland, the question of independence wouldn't make such a huge difference to whether we think the monarchy should be retained.

Incidentally, I still think it makes strategic sense for the SNP to either be neutral on the subject of the monarchy, or to maintain a soft pro-monarchy stance.  Pro-indy republicans will still want independence even if the monarchy is retained, whereas monarchists might just be deterred from voting Yes by the prospect of a republic.  But for Alba it's a completely different calculation.  It's logical for Alba to have an anti-monarchy (and indeed anti-NATO) stance, because they're seeking to build a niche vote among the most radical independence supporters.

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