Saturday, February 18, 2023

Survation poll shows that SNP vote has increased slightly since Nicola Sturgeon resigned - and that Kate Forbes is frontrunner to be the next First Minister, if she wants the job

Survation have tonight followed in the footsteps of Savanta by publishing a Scottish voting intention poll with fieldwork conducted after Nicola Sturgeon resigned - although there don't appear to be any independence numbers.  That's such a strange omission that I wonder if the independence question was asked, but the results have been reserved for a newspaper client.  However, the good news is that Survation, just like Savanta, have found that the SNP's support has not been harmed by Ms Sturgeon's departure.  In fact there's a slight increase in the SNP vote, albeit not a statistically significant one.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Survation, 15th-17th February 2023):

SNP 43% (+1)
Labour 30% (+1)
Conservatives 17% (-)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 43% (-)
Labour 29% (-)
Conservatives 17% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 35% (+2)
Labour 27% (+2)
Conservatives 18% (+1)
Greens 8% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-)

For what it's worth, my guess is that Labour will not make much progress on closing the gap - which is still extremely sizeable - over the next few weeks.  The SNP will be lavished with media attention as the various candidates jockey for position, and then whoever wins the leadership will probably enjoy a honeymoon spell in the polls.

So far, the unanimous verdict of all three polling firms that have asked is that Kate Forbes is the public's preferred choice to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, with Angus Robertson consistently the second favourite. Here are the net popularity ratings found by Survation...

Kate Forbes: +5
Angus Robertson: -3
John Swinney: -12
Humza Yousaf: -18

Even leaving aside the task of winning independence, I think I would fear a bit for the SNP's chances in future elections if Kate Forbes doesn't win.  It's not great for an incoming leader to start with a negative rating, particularly given that Anas Sarwar's personal ratings are (inexplicably) not too bad at the moment.

It's hard to know how seriously to take the Telegraph on Scottish politics, but they're making a bold claim that sounds plausible enough - that Kate Forbes is willing to jettison the Greens from government, and that the Greens probably couldn't live with her policy programme anyway.  That would change the dynamic within the independence movement pretty radically, and of course would also mean the government might occasionally struggle to win key votes in the Scottish Parliament.  I suspect Alba might feel a bit happier about no longer being the only pro-indy party of significant size to be 'outside the tent', as it were.

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A gentle reminder: SNP leadership elections are conducted by preferential voting, not first-past-the-post, so there's no need to lecture potential candidates about "splitting the vote"

I spotted on Twitter that Bella Caledonia was trying to discredit Kate Forbes by pointing out who was talking her up - ie. Fraser Nelson, Alex Salmond and Chris Deerin.  But I'd suggest it's equally instructive to look at who's trying to sabotage her - it's been a long time since we last saw a Bella/Wings axis.  Stuart Campbell broke cover yesterday by revealing his agenda for the forthcoming days - he wants to undermine Ms Forbes at every turn and discredit her with silly jibes about "not working on the Sabbath" because he sees her as a threat to his own chosen one, Ash Regan.  For the second time in a week, the message to Campbell should be "careful what you wish for", because I'd suggest the fundamental truth of this leadership election is that Ms Forbes is the only gender critical candidate (or potential candidate) who can win.  Indeed, if she stands, the early indications are that she probably would win.  So whether he realises it or not, by trying to deter Ms Forbes from standing or to minimise her vote if she does stand, all Campbell is doing is helping to clear a path for Angus Robertson and the continuity-Sturgeon (at least on the gender issue) faction.

I suspect Ash Regan understands perfectly well that she can't win, because she knows that she's nailed her colours firmly to the mast and identified herself completely with a position that only a minority of the membership agree with.  The point of her standing would not be to attempt to win, but instead to lay down a marker by grabbing a substantial vote and thus demonstrating that gender critical feminism represents a significant minority within the SNP rank-and-file who are no longer going to put up with being ignored or vilified.  

Thus, by going all in for Ms Regan and suggesting that no-one else will do as leader, Campbell is - not for the first time in his life - setting himself a near-impossible task.  It's like he does this deliberately, so that when he falls light-years short of his objective yet again, he can go off in a huff, scream at the rest of the world for being raving lunatics because they didn't heed his sage counsel, and quickly revert to his comfort zone of trying to burn the whole Yes house down.

A considerably more constructive approach would be to recognise that 70% of what you want is not at all bad, and a hell of a lot better than 0%.  Yes, Kate Forbes kept her head down during the later stages of the GRR Bill and used maternity leave as an excuse for abstaining even though she could have voted remotely, but here's the thing: that decision is a big part of the reason why she's still in contention at this stage.  It was actually quite a shrewd thing for her to do, not only in terms of any personal ambitions she harbours, but also from the point of view of furthering her own ideals in the longer term.

Campbell wants her out of the race because she supposedly might "split" the gender critical vote, which he thinks should be uniting behind Ms Regan.  That's sheer electoral illiteracy, because this contest will be conducted by preferential voting, not first-past-the-post.  If both Ms Regan and Ms Forbes stand, gender critical SNP members can get the best of both worlds by giving Ms Regan their first preference and Ms Forbes their second preference - thus ensuring that Ms Regan lays down her marker and that Ms Forbes, rather than Angus Robertson, becomes First Minister.  Whereas without Ms Forbes in the race, Ms Regan would still only get a minority vote and Mr Robertson would be almost assured of becoming First Minister (as long as he stands).  How on earth is that a better outcome? 

Just to reiterate, I still have no idea whether I'll end up wanting Ms Forbes to win.  I feel that it is absolutely essential that the independence movement finds a leader who has BOTH of the following attributes: a) the type of indefinable 'X factor' that Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon possessed, and b) a credible strategy for winning independence at a brisk pace.  I am reasonably convinced Ms Forbes has attribute a), but I have no information whatsoever on whether she also has b), and nobody I've spoken to seems to have much idea either.

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Friday, February 17, 2023

Kate Forbes is the public's strong favourite to be First Minister, according to a new Ipsos poll

The informal, self-selecting polls on the SNP leadership election have so far generally shown Kate Forbes in the lead, so it's interesting that a properly conducted poll is now showing the same picture.

Net ratings on the question of whether each individual would do a good or bad job as First Minister (Ipsos UK, 16th February 2023):

Kate Forbes: +13
Angus Robertson: +7
Stephen Flynn: -1
Joanna Cherry: -3
John Swinney: -4
Shona Robison: -7
Humza Yousaf: -17

Other potential leadership candidates were asked about, but it would give a misleading impression to include their net ratings in the above list because the vast majority of respondents didn't know who they are and thus weren't able to offer an opinion on them.

For those who believe that Scotland's hopes of becoming an independent country hinge on Angus Robertson failing to win this leadership election, an analysis I have a degree of sympathy with, there's good and bad news here.  The good news is that if Kate Forbes stands, Mr Robertson would suddenly look like the underdog rather than the favourite.  The bad news is that there are credible reasons for doubting whether she'll stand (her youth and her six-month-old baby), and if she doesn't Mr Robertson would on these numbers become frontrunner by default. 

Just as an aside, it's interesting that slightly more people know who Kate Forbes is than know who Angus Robertson is, even though Mr Robertson has been in frontline politics for much, much longer. (In fact, when he first became a parliamentarian, Ms Forbes was still primary school age, although she seems to have been attending an all-ages school in India at the time.)

Of the lesser-known candidates, only Màiri McAllan stands out to me as having a flicker of a chance.  This poll doesn't particularly help her or damage her, because it gives her a net rating of +1, with 59% of respondents not knowing who she is. It's a strange thing - Ms McAllan is 30 years old and Ms Forbes is 32, and yet in spite of that small age gap my instinctive reaction is that Ms McAllan is too young and Ms Forbes isn't.  Maybe it's not so much chronological age that tips the balance here, but instead Ms Forbes' greater experience at a senior level in government.

Humza Yousaf, meanwhile, may reflect on his numbers and decide to sit the contest out.  It looks impossible for him to win from this starting point.  I do feel it's his streak of arrogance that has been his downfall, which is tragic in some ways because he is arguably the most conventionally charismatic person in the Scottish Government.

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Unionists and doomsters in despair as two out of three new polls show Yes on almost 50% of the vote - and one of them is a POST-RESIGNATION poll

Hopefully the great many people who spread defeatist propaganda about the Lord Ashcroft poll have learned a very important lesson today, because three new polls later the position for the independence campaign looks much healthier than even I would have predicted.  You just cannot write off decades of progress towards independence on the basis of a single poll, no matter how bad it seems to be (and in truth the Ashcroft numbers were nowhere near as catastrophic as they were being portrayed), because it might be an extreme outlier, it might be a rogue poll, it might just be picking up a very fleeting dip.  And it now seems that any or all of the above may have been exactly what was going on.

Here is the first poll to be published with fieldwork carried out after Nicola Sturgeon's resignation -

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Savanta / The Scotsman, 15th-17th February 2023)

Yes 49% (-)
No 51% (-)

Given the absolute pummelling the independence cause and the SNP have been taking in the media, especially the London-based media, these are frankly wonderful numbers.  Let's take a step back and remind ourselves of what it all means - if there was an independence referendum right now, this poll is suggesting Yes might well win, because it shows a statistical tie.  Due to the standard margin of error, either side could be ahead.

It's even possible the Yes campaign may now enjoy an extended post-resignation honeymoon, if that isn't a contradiction in terms, because people always see the outgoing leader through rose-tinted glasses, and the SNP will now enjoy unprecedented attention as the beauty pageant of potential leadership candidates gets underway in earnest.  And then even after the election is over, the new leader can probably expect a honeymoon of sorts for at least a few weeks (unexpected events permitting).

There are also voting intention numbers in the Savanta poll, which offer considerable reassurance that YouGov may have been wrong in suggesting Labour were on the brink of overtaking the SNP on the Westminster ballot.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 42% (-1) 
Labour 32% (+2) 
Conservatives 17% (-2) 
Liberal Democrats 6% (-) 

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot: 

SNP 43% (-) 
Labour 30% (+2) 
Conservatives 17% (-1) 
Liberal Democrats 8% (-) 

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot: 

SNP 32% (-) 
Labour 27% (+3) 
Conservatives 16% (-2) 
Greens 14% (+1) 
Liberal Democrats 9% (-1)

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Support for independence SOARS by two percentage points to 49% in staggeringly satisfying Survation survey

Many thanks to a commenter on the previous thread for pointing out that YouGov's poll is not the only one that has newly appeared - there's also one from Survation, and it shows a radically different trend.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation, 1st-7th February 2023)

Yes 49% (+2)
No 51% (-2)

Probably the most important point about these numbers is that they pose a tremendous credibility problem for the people who were indulging in fairly wild propaganda about the big drop for Yes in the Ashcroft poll and claiming that it showed Nicola Sturgeon had destroyed the independence cause or set it back decades, etc, etc.  As I pointed out in my own post about the Ashcroft poll, when you just have one poll showing something surprising and out of the ordinary, you really have to exercise a bit of caution and scepticism until and unless some corroborating evidence appears.  And here we have a timely demonstration of the reason for that - a poll with fieldwork that partly overlapped with the Ashcroft poll, and partly took place later, and yet showing completely the opposite trend, with Yes bouncing back to a virtual tie.

As for the difference between Survation and the new YouGov poll, I don't place too much importance on the fact that the YouGov fieldwork was a bit later than Survation's, because nothing really happened in the interim that would have had much of a dramatic impact on public opinion.  (Nicola Sturgeon didn't announce her shock resignation until the YouGov fieldwork was almost over.)  So the difference between the trends in the two polls may simply be margin of error noise.

Survation also have Westminster voting intention numbers that are markedly rosier for the SNP than YouGov's are...

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 42% (-1)
Labour 29% (-)
Conservatives 18% (-)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Only statistically insignificant changes there, and no sign at all that Labour are about to storm into the lead.

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You won't be surprised to hear that The Sun are not telling the truth: there is not a YouGov poll showing a "16 point drop" in SNP support since 2019

My old...well, how can I put this, acquaintance from my days at StormfrontLite, the self-styled international thriller writer Sean Thomas, alerted me earlier to a Sun article about a new YouGov survey of voters in Scotland.  Straight away I was sceptical about the numbers, because Labour's 27% share of the vote for Westminster is not remotely high enough to explain the SNP being as low as 29% (which would constitute a 16-point drop since the 2019 general election) or the Tories being as low as 12%.  Having now looked up the data tables, it turns out there's a very straightforward explanation - Don't Knows haven't been excluded from the numbers, which is almost unheard of in party political voting intention polls.

If anyone knows the definitive numbers with Don't Knows excluded, drop me a line, but a rough recalculation suggests they must be in the following ballpark - 

SNP 38%
Labour 36%
Conservatives 16%
Liberal Democrats 5%
Greens 3%

Now, obviously those numbers are still a cause for concern, because Westminster is a first-past-the-post election and what matters most is the gap between the first-placed and second-placed parties.  But the percentage drop in the SNP's vote since 2019 is just seven points - not even close to the sixteen point drop falsely claimed by The Sun.

There are also independence numbers...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46% (-1)
No 54% (+1)

Again, the numbers with Don't Knows excluded are missing from the data tables, although in this case The Sun have published them, so hopefully they're coming from a reliable source.  The numbers actually in the data tables suggest the Yes vote could be either 45% or 46% and the No vote could be either 54% or 55% - the rounding to the nearest whole number could have gone either way.

This adds to the weight of evidence suggesting independence support has dipped recently, perhaps due to the SNP's strategic folly in pursuing gender self-ID against the public's wishes.  But nevertheless, there's no sign of the 'drop off a cliff' that propagandists were talking up after the Ashcroft poll.  Remember that YouGov are firmly on the No-friendly end of the polling spectrum, and you'll find plenty of results like this from YouGov (or worse) over recent years.

UPDATE: It looks like The Sun have belatedly added the correct figures to their article, although only after the numbers that don't exclude the Don't Knows, which are thus still being given ludicrously undue prominence.

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NEC member's arrogant "de facto is dead in the water" boast - this is beginning to look very much like a coup, or an attempted one

The front page of the Scottish edition of The Times leads with a headline claiming that the de facto independence referendum promised to Scotland by the SNP is now "dead in the water".  The supporting evidence in the text is that an anonymous source from the SNP's NEC says that the plebiscite election is "dead in the water, as it always should have been"  Now, this could well be an Alyn Smith type just shooting his mouth off in an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the arrogance of the turn of phrase does sound a bit like Smith.  (Off the top of my head, I can't actually remember if Smith is currently a member of the NEC, but even if he isn't, there's sure to be some 'offspring of Daddy' there.) But even if that's the case, it confirms the fear I expressed yesterday that there are at least some dark forces within the SNP who see the postponement of the special conference as not merely an exercise in prosaic practicalities, but instead as an early part of an elongated choreography that will eventually culminate in yet another betrayal of a solemn promise made to the people of Scotland that they will soon have the right to choose their own constitutional future.

On what possible rational basis could this Smith-like source have concluded that a de facto referendum is dead?  Certainly not on the basis of opinion within the SNP membership, which continues to strongly support Nicola Sturgeon's plan (not necessarily her choice of a Westminster election, but that's the only real point of dispute). And although conference delegates tend to be a bit more small 'c' conservative than the wider membership, it seems pretty likely that delegates would, if left to their own devices, choose one of the three proposed dates for a plebiscite election.  So the only conclusion it's possible to draw is that the Smith-like source thinks Ms Sturgeon's resignation has opened up a space for the process to be fixed by an elite.  Perhaps Ms Sturgeon was even muscled out of the way simply to open up that space.  Presumably the plan is that members can be gently coaxed into choosing a new leader who privately intends to ditch the plebiscite election, and can then be bounced into rubberstamping that plan when it is finally presented to the special conference. That sounds a hell of a lot like a coup attempt to me.

If Angus Robertson turns out to be the main standard bearer of the 'ditch the de facto' plotters, we've already had a sneak preview of how he might try to navigate the obstacle of a leadership vote in which the electorate are mostly people who support a plebiscite election.  When Nicola Sturgeon originally announced her policy, there were very obvious clues that Mr Robertson was not on board for it.  Instead of coming out and expressing his opposition publicly, he used formulations of words that attempted to redefine a de facto referendum as something much less than it actually is.  In particular, he called it "an election campaign in which independence is the key issue".  That's a completely meaningless statement that certainly does not describe a plebiscite election.  A party could campaign in an election on the "key issue" of marshmallows being fabulous, but that wouldn't give them a mandate to take any specific action on the whole Marshmallow Question.  In a nutshell, he'll use vague language intended to give the impression to members that he's continuing with Nicola Sturgeon's plan, but his words will be deniable enough to give him scope to ditch her plan within a week of taking office.  Don't fall for the ruse.

Here's the case for remaining optimistic, at least for now.  Students of history will know that coup attempts have a relatively high failure rate, and often produce results that are the complete opposite of what was intended.  On 19th August 1991 it looked for all the world as if the Soviet Union had reverted to hardline communism.  But by 22nd August the country was set on an even more liberal path than before the coup started, and by Christmas Day the Soviet Union itself had ceased to exist.  The anti-Chavez coup in Venezuela two decades ago fell apart on a similar timescale.  So the SNP plotters do not have to succeed.  Members have the power to stop them - although there's a huge danger of forfeiting any power at all for a very, very long time if the wrong leader is elected.

It's surely inevitable that at least one leadership candidate will emerge with a strong, highly specific and daring stance on winning independence in the very near future.  Whoever that person is will deserve the full support of SNP members - not only to save our chances of independence, but also because he or she will represent the only hope of salvaging SNP internal democracy.

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Thursday, February 16, 2023

SNP members: it's time to grab yourselves a leader with the will to win independence in a reasonable timeframe. That opportunity is right now - throw it away, and the next chance might not come for another decade, if ever

So as you've probably seen, my plea of yesterday went unheeded (how unusual!) and the special SNP conference has been unceremoniously postponed.  The jaws of many, many independence supporters are going to be dropping to the floor right now.  If this proves to be the early part of an elongated choreography that eventually ends with the solemn promise of a de facto referendum being retracted, it's going to lead to a perception that there is no promise that the SNP hierarchy make to the Yes movement that can ever be relied upon.  No matter how much they bind themselves in, no matter how much they appear to sign the promise in blood, there are simply no lengths they will not go to (or so it appears) in order to come up with an inventive excuse for U-turning.  On one reading of yesterday's events, they'll even sacrifice their own leader to come up with an excuse if they can't find a plausible enough one anywhere else.

This decision is also utterly irreconcilable with the words of Nicola Sturgeon only yesterday, when she claimed that one of the main benefits of her resignation was that conference delegates would not feel honourbound by loyalty to rubberstamp her own preferred option, and could instead make a free choice on the timing of a de facto referendum.  Well, that advantage is straight back out of the window only 36 hours later, because by the time the conference takes place (if it ever does) there'll be a new leader and the decision of delegates will be strongly influenced by their loyalty to whoever that person is.

However, we are where we are, which means the priority for now is the leadership election rather than the conference.  My advice to SNP members is to use any and every contact you have with the leadership candidates or their campaign teams to stress that you intend to vote for whichever candidate is strongest and most specific on holding a de facto referendum by X date (and obviously you'll have your own thoughts on exactly when X date should be).  Remember that, particularly in a close contest, candidates will be looking for any sort of extra edge over their opponents, and if they hear from enough members that a crystal-clear commitment to a de facto referendum will bring them a crucial bundle of additional votes, you may well find that the promise is forthcoming, even if it wasn't originally planned. It might also be an idea to ask for specificity on what tactics (such as disruption tactics at Westminster) will be used to press home any mandate won at a plebiscite election. 

Over the next few weeks, you as SNP members will have truly unprecedented leverage to bring independence closer than ever before - so please use it.  You may regret it for the rest of your lives if you don't.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Postponing the promised SNP emergency conference would be totally unacceptable and a subversion of internal democracy

By far the most disturbing part of this momentous day has been the mutterings from certain usual suspects in the SNP that the special party conference next month, in which the details of a de facto referendum are to be decided, should be postponed due to the leadership vacancy.  If that idea is even entertained, let alone if it comes to pass, there will quite understandably be grave suspicions that Nicola Sturgeon's resignation was merely part of the choreography for backing down on a solemn promise made to Yessers that a de facto referendum would definitely take place.  It could well permanently destroy trust between the SNP and the broader independence movement, because forever afterwards it would be known that there is no promise watertight enough that the SNP leadership can't find a creative method of wriggling out of it.  (And I must admit that this one would be creative enough that I don't think I could ever have anticipated it.)

Toni Giugliano is arguing that the NEC resolution that will be put to conference is no longer valid.  Simple question: why?  His claim might make sense if it was the NEC that had just collectively resigned, but it's not, it's just the leader.  And clearly the resolution was not Nicola Sturgeon's sole work, because it contains two options, and presumably she only agrees with one.  Moreover, the resolution is amendable, so even if Giugliano dislikes both options (and plainly he does) there's still a democratic path open to him.  Why doesn't he just take it, rather than trying to rig the process?  What he really wants is conference to be used as a rubber-stamp by the new leader to cancel the de facto referendum altogether.  Nicola Sturgeon argued in her speech that one of the advantages of her resignation is that the conference would no longer feel bound by loyalty to go along with the option she personally prefers.  It logically follows that it would be just as bad for conference to feel bound by loyalty to go along with whatever option the new leader hits them with.

Maybe some will claim that the planned conference process is flawed because the vote will be restricted to delegates and most members will be excluded. They might argue that using the leadership election as a proxy vote on the de facto referendum is democratically superior because all members will get a say. But that theory only works if every leadership candidate is open and honest about their intentions. Generally what actually happens is that a candidate will say whatever is necessary to get elected, and only then reveal what was in their mind all along. That's how Tony Blair smuggled in the concept of New Labour in 1994.  That's how Starmer mugged the soft left in 2020.

No, instead of electing the leader and then being bound by the whim of that individual, do it the other way around.  Hold the conference first and make sure it's the incoming leader that is bound by democratic decisions that precede their own election.  I have no doubt whatsoever that if left to their own devices, the SNP conference delegates would approve a de facto referendum. I have no idea whether they would select the 2023, 2024 or 2026 option, but it would be one of those three and the Scottish people would at long last get a choice on their own future.  No last-minute chicanery should be allowed to thwart that.

PS. I think I was over-optimistic earlier in saying that Angus Robertson as leader would follow roughly the same strategic path charted by Nicola Sturgeon.  I think he'd actually be even more cautious and passive.  The mood music from him in recent months (for example in the notorious France 24 interview) suggests that he thinks the commitment to a de facto referendum is an optional extra that should be discarded.  He may well be the standard bearer for the 'do nothing' faction in the coming contest - which makes the fact that he is the current bookies' favourite to win very troubling indeed.

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The race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon is about to start: is Kate Forbes the only potential candidate with enough stardust to win independence?

I was mildly bewildered to wake up this morning and discover there's a splash about me on page 4 of The National.  I literally said to the Random Totty "must be a slow news day". Well, it's not a slow news day now.

My guess is that Nicola Sturgeon's decision to resign is genuinely personal - her heart is probably no longer in it, or perhaps that elusive UN job we've speculated about for years has finally come up.  In spite of the relentless propaganda to the contrary, her position was certainly not politically untenable - as very recent polling evidence shows, she remains more popular than the leaders of all the opposition parties.  The timing is deeply odd, and some would argue even a tad irresponsible from the point of view of the independence cause, because it means the forthcoming conference to decide strategy on a de facto referendum will now be overshadowed by the leadership succession.  It would perhaps have been better if she had waited until the conference was over, although on the plus side this frees up delegates to make a genuine rather than "managed" choice.  (The conspiracy theory is that she was somehow forced out by the do nothing Stewart McDonald faction which will now try to seize control of the conference and prevent any sort of de facto referendum from taking place.)

Ms Sturgeon's superior personal ratings in the polls explain why, if she had announced this decision a couple of years ago, I would have been horrified, and convinced it was a brutal setback for independence.  She's now become such a polarising figure that it's possible, on balance, that a change at the top might be a net positive, because there's an opportunity for a more unifying leader to take over.  But the operative words in that sentence are possible and opportunity.  An equally possible outcome is that Angus Robertson will be the successor, and will stay in office for a decade, in which case those who have been pursuing a crazed 'decapitation strategy' against Ms Sturgeon over recent weeks and months will end up wondering what on earth they've been doing.  In terms of policy and strategy, Mr Robertson would probably stick very close to the path charted by Ms Sturgeon.  'Careful what you wish for' as a commenter on the previous thread said.

Since the pro-independence government first took office in 2007, we've been blessed to have had two First Ministers who are recognised as being among the most talented politicians of their respective generations across the whole UK, and perhaps even the most talented of the lot.  But there was nothing inevitable about that - Alex Salmond's immediate predecessor in his second spell as leader was the managerial and bland John Swinney, who polls showed had completely failed to connect with the electorate.  If the SNP end up with someone like that again, it could essentially make independence unwinnable for years to come, even leaving aside the question of whether that person continues with Ms Sturgeon's overly-cautious strategy.  I actually like Angus Robertson on a personal level, but I do fear he's more of a Swinney than a Salmond or a Sturgeon.

We absolutely must have a third successive leader with a bit of stardust if we're going to win independence, and my gut instinct is that person might be Kate Forbes.  Perhaps Humza Yousaf is a touch more charismatic in a conventional sense, but he's got a real arrogant streak about him which would alienate too many voters.  Another possibility would be to draft Philippa Whitford in from Westminster (admittedly a complex process which might require an interim First Minister) - I could easily see her having enormous public appeal as leader on a kind of "Mary Robinson" basis, and I'm not just saying that because she has an Irish accent.  But my guess is she won't put herself forward.

The snag with Kate Forbes is, though, that although I'm reasonably convinced she has sufficient personal appeal, she's a completely unknown quantity - at least to me - on her attitude to independence strategy.  It may be that she'd be the ideal person to keep the SNP winning elections, but wouldn't have the determination and gambler's instinct that may be required to get us over the line for independence itself.  So I'll reserve judgement until I hear what she has to say in the coming weeks - assuming she even stands at all, of course.

Lastly, I'll just note that my first tiny inkling that today's shock news was on its way came in a knowing tweet from Kevin Hague a few hours ago.  If he was in the loop, it increases my suspicion that the mainstream media and what passes for a 'unionist blogosphere' are essentially one and the same thing.

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Japanese soldiers, not recognising they had already lost the Second World War, fought on for years. It would be unfortunate if gender critical Yessers repeat the mistake by not recognising they've already *won*.

Welcome along to the latest in what is becoming a series of "the GRR war is over, or ought to be" posts.  I've already pointed out that any chance of self-ID being introduced in Scotland is essentially dead this side of the next Westminster general election.  Although Alister Jack's veto will be reviewed in court, I know of no legal expert who seriously believes that he will be overruled - not because his decision was in any way justified, but simply because Westminster wrote the constitutional rule-book to suit itself and the courts are required to enforce it.

But it now looks increasingly clear that the effect of recent events will go beyond the general election, and that's for one key reason - there is now a quiet, sullen acceptance in the SNP that they were on the wrong side of public opinion on this issue.  The polling evidence has at long last become too compelling for them to ignore.  Yes, of course, they're still paying lip-service to the idea that there is a democratic mandate for the GRR Bill, but you can see in their eyes that they no longer truly believe it.  It wasn't that long ago that the likes of Mark McGeoghegan could claim with a straight face that Alba "transphobia" and "bigotry" was holding Yes back in the opinion polls and people would nod along as if that was a credible suggestion.  It would only provoke a hollow laugh now.  It's still highly debatable whether the GRR controversy has had much of a detrimental effect on independence support, but if any harm has indeed been caused, it's beyond dispute that the main problem was the SNP leadership attempting to introduce full-fat self-ID against the public's wishes.

That belated realisation will have concrete effects.  However passionate the leadership are about trans rights, they're not knowingly in the self-harm business and they're quite capable of kicking gender reform into the long grass if that's necessary to head off any threat to their electoral chances.  And Alister Jack has, ironically, made it far easier for them to do that, because his imperial veto has essentially released the SNP from their obligations to the Greens.  They can effectively now afford to do absolutely nothing about the GRR while still not jeopardising Green participation in government.  I suspect after any Starmer win at the general election, the public rationale for SNP inaction will be that Labour would simply repeat the exercise of the veto if a GRR Bill Mark II is passed - Starmer did not, after all, oppose the Tory veto, and since then he's made clear that gender reform will now be decided on a UK-wide basis.

Which brings me to my next point - Labour will be just as terrified of the recent opinion poll evidence as the SNP are, and will reach the same quiet conclusion.  They'll remain nominally committed to self-ID but will deprioritise it and soft-pedal it and water it down as much as humanly possible.  In any case it'll definitely be London Labour making the final call, which leaves any continued haranguing of the SNP looking a bit redundant.

Meanwhile, although the decision to house trans prisoners in line with their birth sex is only provisional, it now seems almost inconceivable that the result of the review will not uphold that new practice.

In a nutshell, the gender critical side of the debate have basically won on all of the important points for the foreseeable future.  The veto wasn't the 'right' way to win, but that wasn't their fault and it doesn't change the facts on the ground.  There's now simply no longer any point in them continuing the war or opening up new fronts in it when the cause of independence is so clearly at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

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Monday, February 13, 2023

On the Ashcroft poll - a message from the heart to my fellow Alba members

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Lord Ashcroft, 26th January - 3rd February 2023)

Yes 44% (-5)
No 56% (+5)

I want to say something from the heart to members of my own party, the Alba Party, in relation to the above numbers.  When I went on Twitter this morning, every second tweet I saw was from Alba members, often very, very senior Alba members, seemingly gloating about the Ashcroft poll and claiming it showed Nicola Sturgeon had destroyed the cause of independence or set it back decades.  It should be a statement of the obvious that this is not generally the way pro-independence parties behave - for very obvious reasons we normally talk independence up, not down.  In this case, independence is not just being talked down, it's being absolutely pulverised with words, in a way that is manna from heaven for the anti-indy media.  And it is categorically not the case that such extreme negativity is the only conclusion that can possibly be warranted from the poll numbers we're seeing at present.  There have been four independence polls in this calendar year to date - three have shown No leads and one has shown a Yes lead.  So it's not even entirely clear at this point that No is necessarily in the lead.  Two of the No leads have been within an entirely typical range for the polling firm in question, and this Ashcroft poll is literally the first for an extremely long time that has shown an abnormally high No lead.  Rule number one with polling analysis is that if only one poll is showing something unusual, you treat it with caution and scepticism until it's corroborated by more polls, because it could easily turn out to be an extreme outlier or a rogue poll.  We have actually seen a number of polls like this since 2014 and - at least so far - any despair caused by them has proved to be ill-founded.

Lord Ashcroft's polls have a prior history for being outliers.  He conducts them very infrequently and they sometimes show large swings in surprising directions.  I gather that he uses a variety of firms to conduct his fieldwork, and if he chops and changes between firms in each successive poll, that could partly explain the oddity of the trends he seems to pick up.

Maybe I'm getting a distorted perspective on Twitter due to the fact that I follow so many Alba people - it may be that people outside the party just aren't exposed to this barrage of extreme negativity and it thus doesn't have the destructive effect that I fear.  But nevertheless as an Alba member I don't think it's irrational for me to care so much about what is going on.  I know some Alba-bashers will say that this is simply what Alba has consistently done right from the start in spring 2021, but that is categorically not the case - this relentless talking down of independence support is something completely new.  The party seems to have undergone a radical change of direction in recent months and become a Totally Destroy Nicola Sturgeon And The SNP At Any Price Party, which was certainly not the prospectus when I became a member two years ago.  

I'm not really sure what the hell is going on, or what the underlying cause of this change is.  The NEC elections last October probably did, on balance, move the Executive in a more hardline direction, but the leadership are more than strong enough to resist that having much of an effect on policy and strategy if they want to, so this must be a decision from the top.  One thought that occurs to me is that Alba have actually been quite a successful party in one specific and limited way - they've proved quite effective at raising funds, as you can see from some of the advertising they're able to do, for example on the front page of The National.  It may well be that the bulk of those funds come from hardline anti-Sturgeon sources, and that it's been calculated that giving donors what they want to hear is necessary to keep the party in a healthy financial state.  But this is potentially leading us into a horrible purgatory where Alba successfully perpetuates itself in an increasingly unelectable state in which it will be incapable of helping the independence cause.  I've been saying for a very long time that it is absolutely possible for Alba to win list seats in 2026, but ONLY if we tone down the near-homicidal rage against Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, and become once again a party with a positive message about independence.  That's the only way we can convince SNP sympathisers that an Alba list vote is a natural complement to an SNP constituency vote.  We're doing the complete opposite of that at the moment and as a result I'm becoming increasingly pessimistic about our electoral prospects.  It's not too late to turn things around, but there may come a point where it is too late unless we step back and do some much-needed reflecting.

I know some people will earnestly argue that Alba's current militant message is actually a positive one, because it's about destroying the SNP and replacing it with Alba, which is the only party capable of delivering independence.  Frankly, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  Replacing the SNP with Alba may not be totally impossible, but from where we're starting it would be a 20 year project - certainly not remotely consistent with the original Alba message that appealed to me so much, ie. that we wanted independence in the "here and now", not in some far-distant hypothetical future.  I'm also not sure it's consistent with Alba's official policy of wanting an October 2023 plebiscite election, because that's a campaign that would almost certainly be fought under SNP and Sturgeon leadership.  If you think the Sturgeon team are such an unmitigated disaster area and that independence will only be possible once they're totally destroyed, why would you want them to lead a decisive independence campaign in just eight months' time?  Unless I'm missing something, there's just no joined-up thinking here.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

It's time for the independence movement to unite behind the Angus MacNeil amendment calling for an October 2023 Holyrood plebiscite election - the option that gives us by far the best chance of successfully winning an independence mandate

I've no idea whether this will be a help or a hindrance, but I'm more than happy to give my 100% endorsement to Angus MacNeil MP's amendment for the forthcoming SNP emergency conference, which would have the effect of bringing about an early Scottish Parliament election in October of this year (or thereabouts), and using it as a de facto referendum on independence.  The exquisite beauty of the amendment is that it sets out in crystal-clear fashion the legal mechanism by which an early election can be called.  In arguing against the option of a 2023 plebiscite election, the SNP leadership have put all their eggs in the basket of claiming that it isn't legally possible to hold such an election, but now that we know that there is a legal mechanism they weren't aware of and an expert has confirmed that it's watertight, the case for 2023 is left looking extraordinarily compelling.  The leadership will undoubtedly still urge delegates to reject it, but in doing so they'll be relying on unthinking loyalty rather than sound arguments.  

(In reality, of course, even if it hadn't turned out that an early election can be triggered without a two-thirds majority simply by changing the standing orders, there would still have been a perfectly straightforward method by which an early election could have been engineered.  The First Minister would merely have needed to resign, and if no replacement had been elected, an election would automatically have followed.  Although there's a bug in the system that allows an opposition leader to be elected First Minister on a minority vote, that supposed obstacle is a red herring because any government formed in that way would have been ejected on a confidence vote within days.  Excluding the Presiding Officer, the SNP have exactly half the seats at Holyrood, so no government is viable without them, let alone without both them and the Greens.)

When faced with strategic dilemmas over recent years about how to bring independence about, the SNP have got stuck in the one-dimensional thinking that the solution is always to delay.  The default assumption is that the longer you delay, the better the chances of success.  Conference delegates now need to urgently start thinking outside that box, because straightforward logic should tell them that in the circumstances we find ourselves in, going to the people early gives us by far the best chance of winning an independence mandate.  Tory rule from London is the finest recruiting sergeant for independence, and in October of this year it'll still be easy to frame the choice as being a straight one between independence and Tory rule.  That will not be possible at a Westminster election in 2024, when Labour will be seducing independence supporters with the line that if you vote Labour on Thursday, you can end Tory rule by Friday lunchtime.  And if we wait until the scheduled Holyrood election in 2026, the likelihood is a Starmer government will have been in office for two years.  It might be suffering from mid-term blues by then, but there seems little chance that it will be anything like as unpopular in Scotland as the Tory government currently is.

As has been well-rehearsed, there are other numerous advantages that make the use of a 2023 Holyrood election superior to a 2024 Westminster election.  EU citizens and 16-17 year olds would have the vote, there would be no photo ID rules (which would disproportionately target younger voters who are more likely to be pro-indy), and pro-indy party leaders would not be excluded from flagship TV leaders' debates.

By the way, before anyone suggests that I'm singing from the same hymn sheet as Stuart "UKOK" Campbell on this, let me just point out the obvious - or what ought to be the obvious.  Campbell is being intellectually dishonest in his stance on the MacNeil amendment, because he's arguing in favour of something that he doesn't want to happen.  He would be utterly horrified if the people of Scotland are given a choice on independence this year while Nicola Sturgeon is still SNP leader, and by his own admission his "conscience" would prevent him from campaigning for a pro-indy vote in a de facto referendum.  He is, and I quote, "the least Yes he has ever been".  Presumably on the constituency vote in particular, he'd be urging his readers to reject independence "for now" by either voting Tory or abstaining in any 2023 plebiscite election - which makes a complete nonsense of him calling for one to be held.  

However, in spite of the blatant hypocrisy of Campbell's stance, I can only hope that he still has some lingering influence with a non-trivial minority of SNP conference delegates, and that his endorsement of the MacNeil amendment might just make a difference.  I frankly don't care how we reach the right outcome, just so long as we reach it.

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