Saturday, March 11, 2023

EXCLUSIVE SCOT GOES POP / PANELBASE POLL: Kate Forbes dramatically increases her lead with the general public in a poll conducted almost entirely AFTER the landmark STV debate on Tuesday - she also leads among SNP and Yes voters

Hot on the heels of last night's remarkable seventh Scot Goes Pop opinion poll (and I haven't even finished giving you the results of that one yet), I have an eighth for you.  Don't expect this sequence of events to make any logical sense, because it doesn't make sense, but it's happening anyway.  I commissioned Panelbase to conduct this new poll, and the question I'm releasing today relates to the general public's preferences for First Minister - and by this stage they appear to collectively have an extremely strong preference.

Regardless of which party or parties you intend to vote for in future elections, which of the three candidates do you think would be the best First Minister of Scotland? (Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase, 7th-10th March 2023)

Kate Forbes: 33% (+10)
Humza Yousaf: 18% (+3)
Ash Regan: 10% (+3)
Don't Know: 36% (-13)

(The sample size is 1013, and the percentage changes listed above are from the previous Panelbase poll conducted between 21st and 24th February - but please note that poll used a different question and contained an 'other' option.)

So what's happening here is fairly straightforward - all of the candidates have picked up support since late February, due to the elimination of the 'other' option and a reduction in the number of Don't Knows as the public become more and more exposed to the candidates and their pitches.  But Kate Forbes has taken by far the lion's share of these new converts, allowing her to dramatically increase what was already a significant lead.  If the remaining Don't Knows are stripped out, this is how the state of play looks -

Kate Forbes: 53% (+5)
Humza Yousaf: 30% (-)
Ash Regan: 17% (+3)

Tantalisingly, you'll notice that Panelbase's fieldwork started on Tuesday, and it was on Tuesday night that the landmark STV debate took place.  One of the million dollar questions of this campaign is whether Kate Forbes' bold strategy in that debate will have paid off or backfired - and having checked with Panelbase, I can tell you that almost all of the responses to this poll came in AFTER the debate took place.  Even by Wednesday morning, only 28 of the 1000+ respondents had been interviewed.  So at least as far as the general public is concerned, it appears Forbes' robust approach in debating Humza Yousaf has paid very handsome dividends.

Also of great interest are the views of SNP voters, who of course make up almost half the sample.  Kate Forbes' lead among that group is smaller - but she is in the lead.

Respondents who voted SNP in the 2019 UK general election:

Kate Forbes: 41%
Humza Yousaf: 40%
Ash Regan: 18%

Respondents who voted SNP in 2021 Holyrood constituency ballot:

Kate Forbes: 42%
Humza Yousaf: 38%
Ash Regan: 20%

Forbes is also ahead among people who voted Yes in 2014...

Respondents who voted Yes in 2014 independence referendum:

Kate Forbes: 42%
Humza Yousaf: 37%
Ash Regan: 21%

Incidentally, she also has a mammoth 69% to 19% lead over Yousaf among No voters from 2014, which is arguably even more important, because those are the people we need to win over.

Forbes has a substantial lead over Yousaf among Remain voters from 2016 (47% to 36%), and interestingly a gargantuan lead among Leave voters (77% to 11%).

And there's no surprise at all in the different age brackets - Yousaf has a small advantage among under-35s, but Forbes is ahead among the two older age groups, and is way ahead among over-55s (63% to 19%).  It should never be forgotten that, in general, the older you are, the more likely you are to turn out and vote.

Having browsed through the previous polls conducted during the leadership contest from various firms, it does look like this one has produced Forbes' biggest lead to date among the public.  It seems the more people see of her, the more they like her.

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This is the second Scot Goes Pop poll in as many days - an opportunity to commission a second poll suddenly arose, so I made a snap decision to go ahead.  However, as you'll appreciate, polls are very expensive, so if anyone feels able to make a contribution, here are the options...

The simplest donation method is a direct Paypal payment. My Paypal email address is:

If you wish, you can add a note saying "for the fundraiser", although even if you don't do that, it'll be fairly obvious what the payment is for.

If you don't have a Paypal account, last year's fundraiser is still very much open for donations HERE.

VIDEO PREVIEW: Scot Goes Pop poll on SNP leadership election incoming

Friday, March 10, 2023

EXCLUSIVE SCOT GOES POP / FIND OUT NOW POLL: Sensational result finds majority of voters in Scotland would now vote Yes to independence - plus a major boost for Ash Regan's campaign pitch as the vast majority of SNP voters agree that a 50% + 1 victory in a scheduled election would represent a democratic mandate for independence

For the seventh Scot Goes Pop opinion poll of voters in Scotland, I commissioned a different polling company from the two I've commissioned before.  Find Out Now are relative newcomers to political polling, but they're full members of the British Polling Council, and I believe this is already the fourth Scottish independence poll they've conducted.  And given the challenging circumstances we currently find ourselves in, I would suggest the results are just a little bit sensational.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (Scot Goes Pop / Find Out Now, 1st - 9th March 2023)

Yes 52%
No 48%

Before the exclusion of Don't Knows, the results are Yes 50%, No 46%, Don't Know 4%.  The sample is made up of 1266 respondents, and Find Out Now weighted the results to be representative of the Scottish population.  16 and 17 year olds were included in the sample - these were sourced from an external panel, because Find Out Now's own panel is comprised of over-18s.  

There may be a philosophical argument to be had over whether these results are directly comparable with the January poll from Find Out Now, which had Yes on 54% and No 46%, because I believe in the previous poll the political weightings were applied by an external website, whereas on this occasion Find Out Now did them in-house.  However, as far as I know they were done in exactly the same way for both polls, so it shouldn't have made any real difference.  What theoretically could have made a difference is the very slight rewording of the question's preamble - the previous poll referred to a "legally-binding" referendum.  I didn't ask for those words to be included in the new poll, because they're not standard and I doubt if they really add anything.

I don't think this result should be taken as a signal that, against all expectations, the rather lively SNP leadership election has proved to be a boon for the Yes vote - we have to remember that the results of the January poll from Find Out Now were also a bit different from those of other firms at the time, so there may well be methodological factors at play here (ie. a 'house effect').  Nevertheless, the fact that the Yes vote has held up so well between January and March should perhaps cast some doubt over whether polls showing a really big swing to No (such as the recent Redfield & Wilton poll) are leading us astray.  There are certainly now much stronger grounds for hoping or even expecting that if other firms show a No lead in the coming days or weeks, it may be a small No lead rather than a large one.

And, as I always point out, when one or two firms are showing different results from "the pack", it's a great mistake to assume that "the pack" must be the ones who are right.  In fact, quite often the reverse is true.  Remember, for example, that Survation were pointing to a hung parliament in 2017 while the vast majority of firms were forecasting an absolute Tory majority, and almost everyone expected Survation to end up with egg on their faces.  Instead, they ended up being lauded as the only accurate polling firm in the UK.

I can only speculate as to why Find Out Now are showing better results for Yes than many other firms, but one possible explanation is that their political weightings are done in reference to the 2019 general election result and the 2016 EU referendum result.  Those more recent reference-points seem to me to make a hell of a lot more sense than going back nine years and weighting results to how people recollect voting in the 2014 independence referendum, with all the dangers that entails of false recall.  Ipsos, one of the UK's most prestigious polling firms, also do not weight by 2014 vote (partly, I believe, because of the risk of false recall) and they too have a track record in recent years of tending to show better results for Yes than many other firms.  I've said this before and I'll say it again - I would not in any way rule out the possibility that Ipsos (and Find Out Now) are getting it right and other firms are getting it wrong.  It could be the case that we have for years had a totally false impression of the state of play on independence voting intentions due to a dubious shared assumption on the part of most pollsters, and that Yes are actually in a much stronger position than we realise.  That would be concerning given the bizarre new consensus between the UK government and certain SNP politicians such as Humza Yousaf that polls can always be assumed to be super-accurate and that Scotland cannot make a move towards independence until the polls show some sort of stable Yes supermajority (which for all we know may already have existed on the ground for quite some time).

Some people may look at the fieldwork dates for this poll and feel tempted to think they offer reassurance that the recent heat in the leadership contest has not had a harmful effect.  In actual fact, the vast majority of responses came in on 1st March, and the remainder of the fieldwork period was all about filling the quotas for the hard-to-reach demographic groups (such as 16-24 year olds).  One of the really nice bonuses of commissioning Find Out Now is that I was able to watch the raw results come through in real time - I had to treat those early numbers with a heavy dose of salt, of course, because weightings can make a decisive difference, but one insight I did gain was into the type of people who are most likely to respond to this sort of poll (at least as far as the Find Out Now panel is concerned).  SNP voters, women, over-35s, and higher-income people all seemed to come through in disproportionate numbers, and thus will have been downweighted in the final results.

Here are a few random nuggets from the data tables - 

* Exactly one-quarter of Labour voters from 2019 would now vote Yes to independence.

* There's no real gender divide anymore, and in fact the Yes lead is very slightly bigger among women (Yes 50%, No 45% before the exclusion of Don't Knows).

* All age groups below 45 show a Yes lead, and the strongest Yes lead of all is among 25-34 year olds (Yes 71%, No 23%).  The tightest result is among 45-54 year olds, who break for No by 53% to 47%.

* All social class groupings show a very similar Yes lead with the sole exception of the highest-earning "ABs", who have No ahead by a whopping 64% to 32%.

* I have a sort of prejudice which means that I never take regional subsamples particularly seriously, but for what it's worth the highest support for independence appears to be in Glasgow: Yes 56%, No 39%.

And I have one other result from the poll for you tonight, which will make good reading for both Ash Regan and those of you who are already nostalgic for Nicola Sturgeon's good sense in planning a de facto independence referendum - a policy that both Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes seemingly want to unceremoniously ditch.

It is unlikely there will be another referendum on Scottish independence soon, because the UK Supreme Court has ruled that the UK Government's permission would be required. Suppose the SNP, and other pro-independence parties, make a commitment in their election manifestos to negotiate a settlement with the UK Government so that Scotland becomes an independent country. If pro-independence parties win more than 50% of the vote in Scotland on that manifesto commitment, do you agree or disagree that they will have a democratic mandate to negotiate an independence settlement with the UK Government?

Agree: 33%
Disagree: 30%
Don't Know / Prefer Not To Say: 37%

With Don't Knows removed, that works out at roughly 52% for 'Agree' and 48% for 'Disagree'.  However, arguably much more to the point are the results among SNP voters.

SNP voters only:

Agree: 69%
Disagree: 5%
Don't Know / Prefer Not To Say: 26%

After Don't Knows are stripped out, that's a whopping 93% for 'Agree' and only 7% for 'Disagree'.  So essentially almost all SNP voters with an opinion agree that it is democratically legitimate for Scotland to become independent in a similar way that Ireland did - ie. by using a scheduled election to organise a democratic event for ourselves, and then by demanding that London respect the outcome.  They do not appear to buy into the Westminster narrative that a democratic decision is only a 'real' democratic decision if the UK government give advance permission for it to be taken, and they may well be somewhat bemused and disturbed that the two frontrunners for the SNP leadership are running up the white flag and embracing that narrative.  It's not really consistent with democratic self-determination, is it?

As for the closeness of the result on this question among the whole population, I have a sneaking suspicion that even if you asked No voters whether a 60% majority for Yes in a legally-binding referendum would constitute a mandate for negotiating an independence settlement, many of them would still angrily resist the idea.  The blame for that must lie at the door of unionist politicians who have spent the last few years undermining public adherence to basic democratic principles, and gradually radicalising supporters by getting them to believe that it is somehow illegitimate to pursue certain political objectives peacefully by means of the ballot box.  More responsible unionist voices need to have a long, hard think about how to repair that damage.

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I've written an analysis piece for The National's website about the poll - it can be read HERE.

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This, believe it or not, is merely the first of TWO Scot Goes Pop polls you'll be seeing over the next day or two - an opportunity to commission a second poll suddenly arose, so I made a snap decision to go ahead.  However, as you'll appreciate, polls are very expensive, so if anyone feels able to make a contribution, here are the options...

The simplest donation method is a direct Paypal payment. My Paypal email address is:

If you wish, you can add a note saying "for the fundraiser", although even if you don't do that, it'll be fairly obvious what the payment is for.

If you don't have a Paypal account, last year's fundraiser is still very much open for donations HERE.

VIDEO PREVIEW of the new Scot Goes Pop opinion poll on independence - results will be released later tonight

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.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

"Neutrality" is in the eye of the beholder

(No, the title of this blogpost isn't about the BBC and Gary Lineker, but it easily could be.)

I received something very unusual about an hour ago - it was a private message via the Blogger platform, a facility that I wasn't even aware existed.  It was warning me that the Redfield & Wilton poll that I covered last night was not as methodologically robust as it should be, and as evidence linked me to an article in The National entitled "Redfield & Wilton poll needs tightening up after errors, expert says".  Now, without wanting to sound too cynical, I genuinely deduced two things from the title of the article before even clicking the link - a) The National's "expert" would be Mark McGeoghegan, because it always is, almost without exception, and b) he would be hostile to the poll because it shows Kate Forbes is the public's preference for First Minister.  I don't literally know for a fact that Mr McGeoghegan is a Humza Yousaf supporter, because I long ago "removed him from my social media experience" (as the jargon goes) to get some peace from his incessant and infantile trolling.  However, everything I've seen of him in the past suggests that the Yousaf campaign is his only possible home, because his main political motivation is hardcore identity politics zealotry.

My guesses were all but confirmed by the text of the article.  Although he doesn't explicitly identify himself as a Yousaf supporter, he sounds very emotionally engaged with the fact that Redfield & Wilton misspelled Yousaf's name "in every tweet and graphic, every time he's mentioned in their blogpost, and throughout the tables".  The obsession with identity politics isn't far away either, because he blasts Redfield & Wilton for using the word "transgenderism" which he says is "pejorative" and "non-neutral".

Hmmm.  Let me tell you a little story.  Eighteen months ago, I crowdfunded a poll that was partly about independence-related issues and partly about GRA reform.  Although I hadn't raised enough funds to commission Panelbase to conduct the poll, I eventually turned to them in desperation, and plugged the shortfall in the funds with my own money.  Do you know why I went to those lengths?  Because other pollsters I had previously been in touch with had tried to make the GRA-related questions I submitted more "neutral" and "balanced", and one of the ways they did that was by inserting the word "cis" - which 95% of the population do not even know the meaning of, and most of the remaining 5% find deeply offensive.  I was practically in tears trying to explain that the people who had crowdfunded the poll were trusting me to come up with a fairer and more balanced poll than had previously been managed on the subject, and that if I allowed their money to be used to ask questions with ideologically-loaded words like "cis", they would be quite simply flabbergasted.  It would genuinely have been a betrayal and they would never have forgiven me.  

Now, I don't doubt the sincerity of pollsters who truly believe that inserting words like "cis" somehow makes poll questions more "neutral" - but I would just note that the fact they do hold that belief demonstrates powerfully that the concept of neutrality is very much in the eye of the beholder, particularly on the trans issue.

As far as I can see, none of Mr McGeoghegan's quibbles actually cast doubt on the reliability of Redfield & Wilton's results.  I drew attention myself last night to the sloppiness of misspelling the names of both Humza Yousaf and Alister Jack, but it's hard to see how that would make any difference to the way respondents answered the questions.  The absence of a Yes / No crossbreak in the data tables is an unfortunate oversight, but again, that wouldn't actually affect the results of the poll.  The "transgenderism" question was peripheral, and had no impact on the results about leadership preference or voting intentions - although, let's be honest, even if it was possible to come up with a universally-accepted "neutral" word to summarise what the Scottish Government have been doing on the trans issue, it's highly unlikely that respondents would have reacted any more positively than they did.

"We Want Kate!": New Ipsos poll contributes considerably to the cacophony of the public's pro-Kate clamour

Ahead of this evening's Channel 4 debate, the broadcaster has published the results of a new Ipsos poll it has commissioned for the occasion.  Just like every other previous poll across all firms, it shows the public have a clear preference for Kate Forbes as the next First Minister.

Public preferences for next First Minister (Ipsos UK / Channel 4 News, 6th-7th March 2023):

Kate Forbes: 32%
Humza Yousaf: 24%
Ash Regan: 8%

Net approval ratings:

Kate Forbes: +8
Humza Yousaf: -7
Ash Regan: -12

Amazingly, that's the first time in any poll I've seen that Yousaf hasn't been in third place on net approval ratings, but that's not much consolation for him because he's still a long way adrift of Forbes.  The Labour leader Anas Sarwar has an approval rating of +5 in this poll, so the SNP really are at a crossroads - they can choose a leader who is slightly more popular than the man who is in effect the main opposition leader, or they can choose someone who is significantly less popular than Sarwar and thus put themselves at severe risk of losing the 2026 Holyrood election.

The main health warning to put on these numbers is that the poll's fieldwork took place before the STV debate, which was dramatic enough that it may have shifted the dial in one direction or the other.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm slightly dreading the debate tonight, because on past form Krishnan Guru-Murthy will regard himself as the most important participant, so we'll just have to see what agenda he's decided to push this time.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The new Redfield & Wilton poll is a big wake-up call for SNP members - they simply cannot afford the luxury of choosing a leader as unpopular as Humza Yousaf

The new full-scale Scottish poll from Redfield & Wilton contains numbers directly relating to the SNP leadership election, which continue with the very familiar pattern of showing that Kate Forbes is the public's preferred choice as First Minister.  I'll come to that in a moment, but first of all let's have a look at the Holyrood numbers from the poll, because although they're far from a disaster, they are perhaps a cause for some concern if SNP members choose the wrong leader this month.

Redfield & Wilton poll (2nd - 5th March 2023):

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 40% 
Labour 29%
Conservatives 20% 
Liberal Democrats 7% 
Greens 2%
Reform UK 2% 

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 29%
Labour 26%
Conservatives 20%
Liberal Democrats 11%
Greens 10%
Reform UK 1%

Incidentally, ignore the apocalyptic-looking percentage changes you may have seen listed on social media, because they're measured from the baseline of the 2021 Holyrood election (since when Labour have recovered quite a bit) rather than any recent Redfield & Wilton poll.  

The most eye-catching part of the above numbers is an SNP lead of only three points on the regional list, but I'm actually not overly worried about that, because we've seen results like it before.  List results in polls are often less reliable than constituency results, and I suspect the way the question is posed has a lot to do with that.

However, an SNP constituency vote of 40% is on the low side by normal standards, as is an 11-point lead over Labour.  We can only speculate as to what's going on here, and before anyone asks, it's got nothing to do with the "yellow on yellow action" in last night's STV debate, because the poll fieldwork was completed before that.  It could simply be the uncertainty caused by a leadership vacancy, it could be that people had faith in Nicola Sturgeon and that advantage for the SNP has now been lost, or it could be that the media presenting Humza Yousaf as the frontrunner means that the drag effect we expect to kick in if Yousaf becomes leader has already started.  Whether or not the latter is the case, one thing is for sure - the SNP simply cannot afford to throw a leader as unpopular as Yousaf into the current mix.  If you think things can't get any worse, you could be in for a very nasty shock.

Once again, this poll confirms the public's disdain for Yousaf.  The preferences for leader show that, as in all previous polls from all firms, Kate Forbes is the public's clear choice.

Preferences for next First Minister:

Kate Forbes: 25%
Humza Yousaf: 18%
Ash Regan: 14%

Now, in a sense that may not look too bad for Yousaf - it's a significant lead for Forbes but not an enormous one (although, on the flip side, the Yousaf campaign will be alarmed to see how close they are to slipping into third place behind Ash Regan).  However, as ever, this is only half the story, because it only shows positive preferences.  The much more damning figures for Yousaf are always the net approval ratings, in which the number of people who don't rate him are subtracted from the number of people who do.  On that measure, Kate Forbes once again has a commanding advantage.

Net approval ratings (on question of whether respondents would support or oppose each candidate becoming First Minister):

Kate Forbes: +6
Ash Regan: -7
Humza Yousaf: -10

The Labour leader Anas Sarwar has a rating of +4 in this poll (on a question with a different wording), which is a drop from the previous poll, but nevertheless there's not much doubt that he remains more popular than Yousaf.  Approval ratings are often highly predictive of election results, so I'm afraid the message to SNP members must be a stark one: if you don't want to risk seeing Labour in an outright lead in Scottish polls before this year is out, you simply cannot afford to elect the unpopular Yousaf as your leader.

Lastly, I must just note a touch of amateurishness on the part of Redfield & Wilton - they've somehow managed in their data tables to misspell the names of both Humza Yousaf and Alister Jack, which I suspect means the wrong spelling was also used when respondents were questioned.

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A week or two ago, the SNP establishment were trying to drive Kate Forbes out of public life completely by saying her religious views made her unfit for high office. These people are not ideally placed to now claim Forbes is being uncollegiate in simply pointing out Humza Yousaf was a Transport Minister who couldn't get the trains to run on time.

The hypocrisy that has been on display on social media in recent hours from the current SNP establishment has been quite staggering.  Taking on Humza Yousaf so directly and scathingly on his poor record in government was a bold and high risk strategic choice by Kate Forbes and her advisers, and we'll have to wait and see whether it pays off or not - presumably the thinking is that they have to get the SNP membership to reluctantly face up to the fact that Yousaf is simply not competent enough to be First Minister, even if that's a bracing message for some.

But the idea that there was anything illegitimate or disreputable about what Forbes said last night is pretty rich coming from people who were essentially trying to drive Forbes out of public life completely only a week or two ago, and who were certainly saying she was unfit to be First Minister, on the basis of nothing more than a purely hypothetical vote that she never actually cast because she wasn't even an MSP at the time.  It also ignores the fact that Yousaf made some astonishingly hurtful and uncollegiate comments about both Forbes and Ash Regan last night, for example his suggestion that neither of them would protect the rights of all the people they represent.  Pointing out on the basis of sound evidence that Yousaf has not performed well enough on his day-to-day ministerial responsibilities seems like a fairly above-the-belt line of attack by comparison.

The feeling I get is that some people started to believe their own propaganda and thought that Kate Forbes had no place in the leadership contest, and that she would inevitably either drop out or get out the sackcloth and ashes for the remainder of the campaign.  They're struggling to come to terms with the fact that she's still there and that she's there so unapologetically.

Incidentally, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the end of the STV debate when Bernard Ponsonby parroted the Humza narrative that there's no point seeking an outright mandate for independence, because if the UK government can ignore a mandate for a referendum, they can just as easily ignore a mandate for independence itself.  The point of the exercise, chaps, is that you would then have a mandate for independence and not just for a referendum.  The 2014 mandate to remain in the United Kingdom would, for the first time, no longer be uncontested.  If you truly can't see how that would move us forward and give the independence movement more leverage and put the UK Government in a tougher position, then you're beyond all help.  A mandate for independence is an absolute prerequisite for independence.  A mandate for a referendum, ironically, is not.

Ultimately, Humza's pitch of "there's no point in trying to win an independence mandate because the UK government will ignore it" is not the wizard argument for further years of delay that he seems to think it is.  It's actually an argument for giving up on independence and dissolving the SNP.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Past precedent suggests the vast majority of Ash Regan's voters will transfer to another candidate on the final count - which is good news for Kate Forbes

You might remember that I calculated at the end of last week that if the Savanta poll of SNP members happened to be bang-on accurate, Kate Forbes would need exactly 76% of Ash Regan's second preferences to become First Minister.  Intuitively that would seem attainable for her, given that - almost by definition - Ash Regan supporters tend to be extremely unenthusiastic about Humza Yousaf.  However, the 76% figure assumes that every Regan supporter will use their second preference, which in the real world will not be the case.  The percentage of second preferences required by Forbes will effectively creep up and up with every Regan voter who does not transfer at all.

So the key to the puzzle of this leadership election may be the percentage of SNP members who can be expected to use more than one preference.  And it struck me that a strong pointer might be found in the detailed results of previous SNP internal elections.  But then I ran into a snag, because as far as I can see there have only been five all-membership SNP internal elections in this century (and quite possibly ever).  The 2004 leadership election is no use at all, because Alex Salmond won an absolute majority of votes and therefore no second preferences needed to be taken into account.  Nicola Sturgeon also won an absolute majority in the depute leadership election in the same year, and it's maddeningly difficult to find full results from any of the three depute leadership elections over the last decade - the most details are available for 2014, and seem to imply that the vast majority of Angela Constance's votes did transfer on the final round, but I couldn't find any certainty of that.

But then it occurred to me that leadership elections from other parties might be just as useful, because there's no obvious reason why Labour members would be any more or less likely to use second preferences than SNP members.  However, since Labour scrapped the electoral college and introduced one person, one vote, there hasn't been a single Labour leadership election which wasn't won by an absolute majority on the first count.  So the best and most recent example I could find was actually the 2006 Liberal Democrat leadership election, which had three candidates, none of whom won a majority on the first count.

52036 valid votes were cast in the first round, of which 12081 votes were for Simon Hughes, the candidate who finished third and last.  (As you may remember, Hughes at one point had been the outright favourite to win, but faded after a controversy about the dishonesty of some historical comments about his sexual orientation.)  Once Hughes was eliminated and his votes were redistributed according to second preferences, there were 51325 votes left in play for the second and final count, in which the leadership was won by Sir Menzies Campbell.  That implies only 711 of Hughes' voters did not transfer to one of the other candidates - which amount to less than 6% of the total Hughes support.  That's a strikingly low figure, and if that can be assumed to be typical of a ballot of any political party's members, it's good news for Kate Forbes.  If only around one in twenty of Regan's voters are likely to drop out on the final count, it means the target for Forbes to win does increase from 76%, but not by all that much.

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