Saturday, April 1, 2023

Continuity just isn't cutting it: within days of Humza Yousaf becoming leader, the SNP's Holyrood lead has dropped in the latest Panelbase poll to just four points - the lowest in any poll for the best part of a decade

Several people mentioned taking a Panelbase poll a few days ago, so I had a fair idea that one was coming either tonight or tomorrow, and I had various theories about what it might show.  What's completely taken me by surprise, though, is that the SNP lead over Labour is proving a bit more resilient at Westminster than at Holyrood, which is where the emergency sirens are unmistakably wailing at full blast now that Humza Yousaf is leader.

Panelbase / Sunday Times poll, 28th-30th March 2023:

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 37% (-2)
Labour 33% (+2)
Conservatives 17% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-)
Greens 5% (-1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 31% (-1)
Labour 27% (-)
Conservatives 20% (+3)
Greens 10% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)
Alba 5% (n/a)

Percentage changes are measured from the Panelbase poll in the first half of March that I commissioned myself for Scot Goes Pop.

Seats projection (changes measured from 2021 election): SNP 48 (-16), Labour 37 (+15), Conservatives 26 (-5), Greens 10 (+2), Liberal Democrats 6 (+2), Alba 2 (+2)

So a few things need to be explained here.  It may seem strange that the seats projection is not quite as bad for the SNP as the projection from yesterday's Savanta poll, but that's because it's calculated using a different method - it looks like the Sunday Times have commissioned John Curtice to do a bespoke projection for this new poll.  And although Alba are polling well enough to win list seats, the health warning is that Panelbase significantly overestimated Alba in the 2021 election - there were several results quite similar to this during the 2021 campaign.  Normally a substantial error of that sort would be resolved after an election by means of past vote weighting - but that may not be the case here, because Panelbase seem to weight by recalled Westminster vote and not by recalled Holyrood vote.  

The pro-independence majority at Holyrood would be lost on these numbers - the SNP, Greens and Alba in combination would have 60 seats, and the unionist parties combined would have 69.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 39% (-1)
Labour 31% (-2)
Conservatives 19% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): SNP 34 (-14), Labour 14 (+13), Conservatives 6 (-), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

These results are obviously sobering, but there may be a silver lining.  My biggest fear was that the collapse in SNP support under Humza Yousaf would be delayed until the next general election campaign was well underway and it was far too late to do anything about it.  That would have mirrored what happened in 2017 when the SNP appeared to be in a commanding position going into the campaign, but their underlying weakness became apparent over the subsequent few weeks and by polling day they were clinging on for dear life, powerless to do much about the relentless swing to Labour.  This time they're getting fair warning that there's a crisis - so there's still an opportunity for them to avert disaster, but it's only an opportunity and none of us can force them to take it.  Now we'll find out whether they're going to act like rabbits caught in the headlights, or whether they'll take one or both of the remedies that are open to them.  The obvious step is to replace the extremely unpopular Humza Yousaf as leader, and the other possibility is to put a mandate for independence back on the short-term agenda, which is the only realistic way in which Yes support can be galvanised behind the SNP in the absence of a popular leader.

One thing that strikes me is that the SNP's Westminster MPs have already played a part in ripping up Nicola Sturgeon's flagship policy of a de facto referendum, because they were scared that it would cost them their seats.  Now that they can see Humza Yousaf's leadership is actually a far, far greater threat to their seats, it would be a bit odd if they shied away from taking similarly drastic action by pushing for him to be removed.  But politicians do not always react rationally or consistently, as we know.

Welcome to the Scot Goes Pop April Fool for 2023

Every year since 2010, with the sole exception of three years ago when the Covid emergency was at its peak, Scot Goes Pop has published an April Fool.  You've fallen for some of them, you haven't fallen for others, but all of them have been suitably outlandish.  Two of my favourites can be read HERE and HERE.

This year, like every other year, I've tried to dream up the most outlandish and improbable thing I can think of.  Here's what I've come up with -

In 2016, the SNP promised the people of Scotland that they would not be dragged out of the EU against their will, and that they would definitely get a vote on whether or not Scotland should become independent to avoid Brexit.

In 2022, after years of humming and hawing and setting dates for referendums and then scrapping them, by which point Scotland had been long since dragged out of the EU against its will, the SNP finally brought matters to a head by asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether a referendum could be held without Westminster's permission.  This was a serious and solemn step, not to be taken lightly, because if the court ruled in the wrong way it would be a crushing setback for the independence cause unless a credible Plan B was in place.  Luckily it was - an integral part of the SNP's plan was that a de facto referendum would automatically follow any court defeat.  This part of the promise was practically signed in blood, and was taken seriously - because having marched their troops to the top of the hill and back down again so many times, it seemed inconceivable that the SNP would do so again when the stakes were so incredibly high.

The Supreme Court then ruled against the Scottish Government, and the SNP naturally indicated that they would press ahead with the second part of the plan by holding a de facto referendum.

After a few months, the SNP suddenly said "you know what, let's not bother with the second part of the plan, actually, let's do nothing instead".  This instantly transformed a plan that was supposed to have been a means of ensuring Scotland definitely had a vote on independence one way or another into a Scotland-randomly-shooting-itself-in-the-foot exercise.  The only effect of pursuing the first part of the plan was now to remove forever one key strategic option for pursuing independence that the Scottish Government had previously always had in reserve.  Nothing had been gained, and a huge amount had been lost, all because of a loss of nerve and yet another betrayal of trust.

The SNP members then narrowly voted to support this act of abject surrender, mainly because they'd somehow been hypnotised into believing that to do anything else would be "socially conservative" and "transphobic".

So there you go, that's the most unlikely and ridiculous thing I can think of this year.

Unfortunately, it's just happened in real life.

(Luckily, there are still grounds for hope.)

Happy April Fool's Day.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Independence support stands at healthy 48% in new Savanta poll - but concerns grow that Yousaf's leadership is unsustainable as SNP lead in Westminster voting intentions drops to six points

As I said on Monday, if I continue to blog about opinion polling, and if the SNP do suffer as a result of needlessly picking an unpopular leader, it's going to be a minefield to work out which angle to take.  However, I think that the above headline is about the fairest and most balanced summary I could realistically manage in the circumstances.  The independence numbers are genuinely good news here, and just like the Panelbase poll I published the other day, they suggest that independence support and SNP support are not necessarily tightly linked and that a negative trend for the SNP will not automatically translate into a negative trend for Yes.  Which is bloody useful right now, because there is very much a negative trend for the SNP.  What you're about to see is the first poll conducted during Humza Yousaf's leadership.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Savanta / The Scotsman, 28th-31st March 2023)

Yes 48% (-1)
No 52% (+1)

Very slight slippage for Yes, but it's pretty obvious from the figures with Don't Knows left in that the gap is essentially unchanged and that rounding issues are the main reason for the apparent small rise in the No lead.

Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election:

SNP 39% (-3)
Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)

Seats projection (current boundaries, changes measured from 2019 election): SNP 30 (-18), Labour 18 (+17), Conservatives 6  (-), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

So the SNP are still projected to have a majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster - a majority of precisely one.  They would have thirty seats, and unionist parties in combination would have twenty-nine.  

Most leaders enjoy a honeymoon for the first few days or even weeks of their tenure.  If this is what the honeymoon for Humza looks like, the post-honeymoon period could look like an outright Labour lead.  I know this isn't what loyalists in the SNP want to hear less than a week after electing the guy, but they may be faced with a choice between revisiting that decision rapidly, or facing a historic defeat next year that could take a very long time to recover from.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 39% (-4)
Labour 32% (+2)
Conservatives 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 33% (+1)
Labour 30% (+3)
Conservatives 18% (+2)
Greens 10% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-2)

There seems to be some sort of official seats projection on this part of the poll that has the SNP on 46 seats and Labour on 42.  That is absolutely astounding - it means Humza's first poll projects the SNP to be left with fewer seats than Alex Salmond won in 2007 when the SNP were first elected to minority rule.  Labour would be within a whisker of retaking power.

For those of you who have asked about the piece on The National website claiming there is a poll showing an increase in SNP support since Yousaf became leader, that doesn't seem to be true.  They appear to have taken a tiny Scottish subsample from a GB-wide poll and presented it as "a poll".  I winced when I saw that, I hope they don't make a habit of it.

Four plausible ways of getting out of the hole the SNP have just dug us into

On Monday, SNP members narrowly voted to turn their party into a de facto devolutionist party.  In many cases, probably most, they were blissfully unaware of what they were doing, but the salient point is that they did it.  Events since then have confirmed that this was not a drill.  As he indicated that he would, Yousaf has ditched Nicola Sturgeon's de facto referendum and replaced it with...nothing.  For the first time since at least 1942, the SNP are no longer a party actively trying to win independence.  Yes, of course, we'll constantly hear lots of happy-clappy messaging along the lines of "get out there and campaign some more and the barriers to independence will all melt away in some conveniently unspecified manner", but that's just the equivalent of TV evangelism or soap operas or pornography for the masses - it's a way of keeping us distracted and occupied while the SNP leadership get on with the real meat of their careers.

John le Carré's novel A Perfect Spy contains a segment - which apparently is a faithful replication of a real-life episode - in which the main character's conman father somehow finds himself as the Liberal Party's candidate in a 1950s parliamentary by-election in East Anglia.  At a public meeting, he tries to explain the relevance of the Liberal Party as the "party of ideals" given that ideals don't create jobs or put dinner on the table.  "Ideals are like the stars," he says to rapturous applause, "we cannot reach them, but oh HOW WE PROFIT FROM THEIR PRESENCE!".  That's what independence now is under Humza rule - it's not something that we actually try to bring about in real life, it's just a lodestar that gently guides our political lives.

All of which creates a formidable barrier for those of us, whether inside or outside the SNP, who see independence as a concrete objective to be achieved in the here and now.  However, barriers are there to be overcome, and we must at least endeavour to do so.  I was initially quite encouraged to see Craig Murray tweeting yesterday about how we should all cheer up because we have a bedrock support for independence of at least 44%, which isn't going to go away.  However, he then ruined it somewhat with the last couple of sentences - 

Any message of hope based on the premise that "all we have to do is destroy the SNP and then everything will be fine" is actually a counsel of despair, because clearly the SNP cannot be destroyed in anything like the foreseeable future, and even if it somehow could be, it's likely that unionist parties (and particularly Labour) would fill the gap left behind. However, on the assumption that the first part of Craig's tweet is correct, let me suggest a few more plausible ways in which it may be possible for us to get back on track within a maximum of three years.

1. The Alba route.

This is what I was suggesting in my post about Alba the other day.  Although Alba cannot replace the SNP as the leading pro-independence party in the short or medium term, the Holyrood electoral system makes it possible for a small party to win a decent number of list seats with as little as 6% of the vote.  Make no mistake, that is still a tall order - most serious commentators all the way up to John Curtice expect us never to win any Holyrood seats, because at best we've been flatlining on the 2% we won in the 2021 Holyrood election and the 2022 local elections.  However, if we get out of our comfort zone of being an inward-looking sect, and make the changes necessary to become a mainstream party that appeals to both the wider independence movement and the general public, 6% is just about achievable, and it could produce a result in the 2026 election that is something like this -

SNP 51
Labour 34
Conservatives 19
Greens 9
Liberal Democrats 9
Alba 7

In that scenario there is a clear pro-independence majority (67 pro-indy seats compared to 62 for unionist parties), but the SNP cannot form a stable government on the basis of that majority without either direct or indirect participation from Alba.  They would therefore have a choice of either cutting a deal with Alba or entering into a 'grand coalition' with Labour.  Although they would probably be tempted to do the latter, it would be fraught with danger for them because their remaining supporters would suddenly see clearly that they have abandoned independence.  So, on balance, I would expect them to go down the indy majority route, and we know that Alba would insist upon a credible strategy for independence as their price for supporting an SNP-led government.  It would be a tricky balancing act, because the Greens would also be needed for the majority, and the Greens would refuse to be part of any formal arrangement with Alba, who they pretend to believe to be "far right bigots".  However, my impression is that the Greens are not actually opposed in principle to a radical independence strategy - they were on board, after all, for the de facto referendum until Yousaf ditched it.  So there probably is a viable three-party arrangement there to be reached as long as it's kept informal, arm's length and above all else deniable.

2) The opinion poll route.

Yousaf's wafer-thin victory was forged almost entirely on careerism - favours called in and promises made.  But supposing it becomes painfully obvious from opinion poll evidence over the next few months that a large number of SNP MPs at Westminster are likely to lose their seats and thus their careers in a general election that is at most eighteen months away.  Supposing also that his own personal approval ratings remain as poor as they currently are or get even worse.  Could those MPs start joining the dots and realising that some of them are only about to lose their jobs because of Yousaf himself?  Could they then start pondering the obvious but drastic remedy?  There are plenty of precedents for parties changing leader pre-emptively to avert an impending defeat rather than waiting until after the defeat has occurred.  A famous example is the Australian Labor Party hurriedly installing Bob Hawke as their leader just weeks before the 1983 general election, which transformed a likely defeat into a historic victory.  

The odds are probably against it in this case, because on a day to day basis Yousaf is surrounded by MSPs rather than the MPs who are most immediately in the firing line.  Nevertheless, it's certainly not impossible, because even those MSPs are unlikely to be totally relaxed about throwing away Nicola Sturgeon's hard-earned SNP majority at Westminster.

3) The life after defeat route.

In this scenario the SNP act like rabbits caught in the headlights - they see Westminster defeat coming but they take no action to avert it.  But they then become angry about what they've so needlessly lost.  If losing 21 seats in 2017 was enough of a shock for the SNP to put independence on the back-burner, it's not too much of a stretch to think losing the majority outright would be enough of a shock to make them realise they need to rectify the mistake of installing Yousaf as leader.  And because those who argued that "continuity won't cut it" had been proved to be on the right side of history, it would be harder - by no means impossible, but harder - for another continuity candidate to secure the succession at that stage.

4) The Humza route.

I said on Monday that independence is impossible until Humza is no longer calling the shots, but could that be wrong?  Suppose Humza himself panics because of dire opinion polls, and tries to shore up his leadership by demonstrating to the party and the country that he's listened and learned.  We could see Kate Forbes and Ash Regan (Forbes at the very least) being hurriedly drafted into the Cabinet in senior roles and with a promise of major input into policy.  If real panic sets in, it might even occur to him that pretty much the only way of overcoming his own personal unpopularity is to bring back the de facto referendum from the dead - that's the only means of guaranteeing that the Yes movement will be galvanised into supporting the SNP at an election.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

EXCLUSIVE SCOT GOES POP / PANELBASE POLL: The final Panelbase numbers of the Sturgeon era show the Yes vote unchanged at a very solid 48%, with pro-independence parties still on course for a majority at the next Scottish Parliament election

As promised, here are the final few results from the two polls I commissioned earlier this month, and these are all from the Panelbase poll conducted between the 7th and 10th March.  That's around three weeks ago, which normally would mean the numbers are relatively up to date, although of course in this case the pace of history has been rather accelerated recently.  Since 10th March, it's been discovered that the SNP had been fibbing about its membership numbers, leading to the resignations of Murray Foote, Peter Murrell and Liz Lloyd, and of course Humza Yousaf has been narrowly elected leader of the SNP and has to all intents and purposes sacked his nearest rival Kate Forbes.

So there can be no guarantee - far from it - that the state of play in public opinion three weeks ago still represents the state of play now.  However, the value of these results is twofold.  Firstly, they come from - as far as I'm aware - the final Panelbase poll to be conducted during the Nicola Sturgeon era, and therefore offer us a useful baseline from which to measure progress or decline under Humza Yousaf.  And secondly, they very helpfully give the lie to some disgracefully misleading reporting that appeared in the mainstream media at around the time the poll was conducted about the trend on independence support.

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, 7th-10th March 2023, sample size: 1013

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48% (-)
No 52% (-)

Note: Before Don't Knows were excluded, the figures were: Yes 45% (+1), No 49% (+1), Don't Know 5% (-3)

In the context of the time, those are strikingly good numbers.  They represent a 'statistical tie', meaning that the standard margin of error makes it impossible to be completely sure whether Yes or No are in the lead.  With Don't Knows excluded, they represent no change at all from the previous Panelbase poll conducted in the first half of February on behalf of Believe in Scotland, a fact that is impossible to reconcile with the hysterical claims from many commentators (yes, Malcolm Clark, I'm looking at you), that independence support was in "freefall" a few weeks ago.  With Don't Knows left in, there's even a one-point increase in Yes support.  And the 48% headline number for Yes is only four points lower than Panelbase reported during the peak of the mini-surge in independence support late last year after the Supreme Court ruling.

Incidentally, the "freefall" claims were self-evidently baseless even before this poll is added into the mix.  The YouGov poll that was so misleadingly reported as showing a drop in Yes support to "39%" actually showed an unchanged position since the previous YouGov poll in February of Yes 46%, No 54% with Don't Knows excluded - so exactly the same static trend reported by Panelbase.  The Survation poll showing a drop in Yes support to 45% was a bit disappointing, but it's strongly rumoured that the result was offset only a few days later by another Survation poll for the Scotch Whisky Association showing Yes back up to a very healthy 49%.  (I'm not sure if anyone ever got to the bottom of those rumours.)  And it was within this calendar month that the Find Out Now poll I commissioned for Scot Goes Pop showed an outright Yes lead: Yes 52%, No 48%.  So I'm struggling to detect even the remotest trace of "freefall" in any of that.

The party political voting intentions in this new Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll are somewhat less encouraging, but in a strange way there may be good news baked into that bad news, because it may indicate that SNP support and Yes support are not as tightly linked as we think.  That raises the possibility that independence support may prove fairly resilient even if Humza Yousaf leads the SNP to election defeat next year.

These figures also won't come as a massive surprise to anyone, because they're broadly in line with what other firms were showing at the time the poll was conducted.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 40% (-5)
Labour 33% (+5)
Conservatives 16% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-)

Note: Other parties are on 5% of the vote.  The percentage changes above are not measured from the February poll for Believe in Scotland, which doesn't seem to have had Westminster numbers, but instead from a Panelbase poll just before Christmas for the Sunday Times.

Seats projection (current boundaries, changes measured from 2019 result): SNP 35 (-13), Labour 17 (+16), Liberal Democrats 4 (-), Conservatives 3 (-3)

So the SNP are projected to just about retain their majority position among Scottish MPs at Westminster.  But when the national vote shares are close, first-past-the-post starts to work firmly in Labour's favour, meaning that even the smallest further slippage for the SNP would put them at severe risk of losing their majority or even being overtaken by Labour in terms of seats - hence my major concerns about the potential impact of Humza Yousaf's personal unpopularity.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 39% (-8)
Labour 31% (+7)
Conservatives 14% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)
Greens 6% (+2)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 32% (-7)
Labour 27% (+3)
Conservatives 17% (-)
Greens 12% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)

Note: Other parties are on 2% of the vote on the constituency ballot, and 3% of the vote on the regional list ballot.  The percentage changes are measured from the poll for the Sunday Times before Christmas.

Seats projection (changes measured from 2021 result): SNP 53 (-11), Labour 35 (+13), Conservatives 21 (-10), Greens 12 (+4), Liberal Democrats 8 (+4) 

Amidst a fair bit of carnage for the SNP, the remarkable fact is that this poll is still pointing to a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, albeit only just.  The SNP and Greens combined reach the magic figure of 65 seats, while the unionist parties in combination have only 64.  In practice, I suspect it might be a touch better than that for the pro-indy side, because the 6% for the Greens on the constituency ballot looks oddly high, and in the real world a chunk of those voters would probably go to the SNP.

*  *  *

Recently I've published results from TWO new Scot Goes Pop opinion polls - 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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Near-suicidal political hubris in plain sight: Team Humza say "the 48% get no representation because the 52% wanted them to have none"

Update about Alba, and VIDEO PREVIEW of the remaining results from this month's Scot Goes Pop polling

First of all, a quick update about one of the points I made in my post yesterday.  I mentioned that my faith in the Alba Party's internal democratic processes took a big knock last month when I put myself forward for a set of internal elections and was not informed of the results, even though I sent a follow-up email to try to find out.  Last night and this morning, I spoke to a couple of senior people in the party, and it turns out that I was in fact on the ballot in February, and I was elected to one of the four committees I stood for (the Appeals Committee).  It's not really clear why I wasn't informed afterwards - it may have been a technical fault, or my email address may have been left off the message by accident, but the important thing is that I now have far more confidence than I did 24 hours ago that Alba members of all shades of opinion still have fair access to the party's internal democracy.  I'm very grateful to the people who helped me resolve the issue.

So I'll be on the Appeals Committee for the next year, and having put myself forward for that position and been elected, I take the responsibility seriously, and I'm therefore fully committed to Alba.  But I would just say this to my own party.  Kate Forbes' mantra was "continuity won't cut it" and in the current circumstances that applies just as much to Alba as it does to the SNP.  I'm not talking about leadership - we're incredibly fortunate to have someone with the immense experience and abilities of Alex Salmond at the helm and he remains the correct person to take us forward.  But in the wake of Humza Yousaf's narrow victory, which sealed the SNP's transition to being a de facto devolutionist party, there are swathes of the independence movement crying out for a credible, mainstream, full-bloodedly pro-independence alternative, and we need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves about the changes we would have to make to be the party that genuinely offers that alternative - because, after all, if we don't do it, it's likely that nobody at all will.

Jo Grimond famously said to the Liberal Party in the 1950s that they needed to "get on, or get out".  That exhortation could also be fairly applied to the Alba Party at present, because I know many people are painfully aware that if Alba didn't exist, the party's members could have been in the SNP voting for Kate Forbes as leader over the last two weeks.  The more I've thought about it, the more convinced I've become that Alba's existence didn't actually swing the balance yesterday - Yousaf's margin of victory was just over 2000 votes, and apparently Alba has a membership of just under 4000, but we have to bear in mind that by no means all of those people would be SNP members in the absence of Alba, and there would also have been many abstentions and people who didn't use their second preferences, or people who used their second preferences for Yousaf. (Perverse though it may seem, I know anecdotally of Alba members who would have voted Regan 1, Yousaf 2.) So when you put all of those factors together, the strong likelihood is that Yousaf would still have won narrowly - but the fact that we're even posing the question points to a key problem.  Alba members are a precious resource who can only be doing good in one party at any one time, and if we're going to justify to ourselves keeping those people away from the good they could be doing inside the SNP, we need to start proving that Alba as a separate party is capable of moving the dial on independence in a way that we have not yet managed.

What could make a difference?  There is a 'silver bullet' scenario which could transform Alba's fortunes overnight, and that would be defections of MSPs who cannot see a future in a Yousaf-led SNP, and the subsequent creation of an Alba parliamentary group at Holyrood.  The party would then have instant credibility and a good chance of retaining a presence in the Scottish Parliament beyond the 2026 election.  But if that doesn't happen, we're going to have to do it the hard way by gradually tripling our support from 2% to 6% over the next three years (enough to win multiple list seats), and the path to that begins with cultivating a greater appeal to committed independence supporters.  I've lost count of the people who have told me over recent months that they'd love to join an alternative to the SNP, but they look at the Alba culture as exhibited on social media and think "that's just not for me".  I speak as someone who was on Alba's National Executive as recently as six months ago, but I sometimes look at the Alba culture and see a very closed world that I do not fully understand or identify with, and that only really speaks to itself.  Through A Scottish Prism is "the Alba BBC" - everybody watches it, and if you don't, you're somehow not "real Alba".  Wings Over Scotland is "the Alba tabloid" - everybody reads it and likes it, and if you don't, you're somehow not "real Alba".  Salvo is "the Alba faith", and if you don't attend church, you're somehow not "real Alba".  All of those things may be fine, but they're not everyone's cup of tea, and they certainly don't represent the centre of gravity in the independence movement, let alone in wider indy-supporting Scotland.  We need a much more pluralistic landscape if Alba is going to be a party that the average independence supporter would feel comfortable joining tomorrow, or voting for tomorrow.

(Incidentally, I've got nothing at all against Salvo, who have plenty of good ideas to offer, but meditating upon the text of the Claim of Right Act 1689 isn't really my thing, just personally.  I tried to read it a few weeks ago and only got as far as the word "papist" in the second sentence.  I somehow don't think it was written with an Irish-ancestry Roman Catholic audience in mind.)

I think we could also entice people away from the SNP by offering them a much more vibrant, participatory internal democracy than exists in their current party.  At the moment Alba is very slightly more democratic than the SNP, but that's an exceedingly low bar and I think we should be aiming a lot higher.  None of the current members of the Alba NEC were elected by a vote of the whole membership - the national office bearers were declared elected without a vote because there was only one candidate for each position, and the ordinary NEC members were elected by only the relatively small minority of members who paid for a conference pass.  My view is that the case for having the entire ruling body of a party elected by that party's whole membership is close to unarguable, and I also think in an era of easy and quick online voting there's a very strong case that every single elected national position should be elected by the whole membership, rather than by a selectorate at National Council.

To put this as delicately as I can, I think we need to find a way to spend a much greater percentage of our time talking about subjects other than the trans issue.  I'm as opposed to self-ID legislation as anyone (long-term readers will remember I commissioned a poll in 2021 that showed overwhelming public opposition to the proposed law), but we've won that argument comprehensively - so comprehensively, in fact, that even Labour has effectively reversed course, which would have seemed impossible even a few months ago.  It now looks almost certain that there will be no self-ID even under a Starmer government.  There comes a point where you just have to take yes for an answer and turn your focus to other things.

Above all else, we need to stop being driven by naked revenge against the SNP and certain people within it.  If we find ourselves pondering a political intervention on the basis that "it won't help Alba, it won't help independence, but it might TURF OUT THOSE SNP TROUGHERS AT WESTMINSTER SO LET'S BLOODY DO IT", our reasoning is going very badly wrong somewhere.  We need to have a laser-like focus on what will actually help bring independence forward - and number one on that list is winning Alba list seats in 2026.  Why?  Because if there's a narrow pro-indy majority in Holyrood after 2026, and if Alba are a non-trivial part of that majority (big ifs, I admit), we will have an insane amount of leverage to coax the Scottish Government into a much more radical independence strategy.  The option of a unilateral Referendum Bill has been removed by the Supreme Court, but there are plenty of other options that an elected government could pursue.

Last but not least, we need to start talking independence support up rather than down.  I've pointed this out a number of times recently, but Alba seem to be picking up the awful Wings habit of "celebrating" poor polls for Yes and even exaggerating how bad they are.  To me, that speaks to a lack of confidence - it's as if we see independence as a project currently owned by the SNP and not part-owned by ourselves.  We are one of the largest pro-independence parties, like the Greens, and we need to start claiming our stake in good or decent poll showings for Yes.  And on that note, here is a video preview of the remaining results from the Scot Goes Pop polling conducted this month...

I've got an idea (and it's only a vague idea at this stage) that when the autumn comes around, I might try to stand for one of the Alba national office bearer positions, because those are the only positions elected by the whole membership.  It would not be in any great expectation of actually being elected - the purpose would be simply to try to start a debate among the membership about the ideas I've raised above.  Or if someone more telegenic decides to take the task on, I'd get behind them instead, but I do think it's a debate that needs to happen, and sooner rather than later.  Maybe that can be my pet project for this year, to try to stop myself spending too much time repetitively blogging about the opinion poll evidence that Yousaf appears to be leading us all to calamity.  I think ultimately we're all going to have to get on with campaigning for independence in our own way, and give the SNP the space to find out for themselves that they've selected the wrong leader.  And make no mistake, that painful but necessary moment will arrive, even if I can't predict exactly how or when.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

"Give Humza a chance!" they said. "It's only the guy's first day!" they said. Day 2: Humza tries to demote Kate Forbes after she's just won 48% of the vote. Seen enough yet?

There are two iron laws of elections that the SNP are in severe danger of becoming all too familiar with.  The first is that parties with highly unpopular leaders don't win elections.  The second is that seriously divided parties don't win elections.  It takes quite some talent to lumber yourself with the first problem on the Monday and then the second problem on the Tuesday.  The Bible tells us that the Lord rested after six days, but the way things are going we'd better all hope the SNP stop doing things after only two.

The constructive dismissal of Kate Forbes after she's just won 48% of the vote is the sort of thing you can only get away with if you're in an exceptionally strong position as a leader - for example if you're immensely popular with the public, and if therefore it doesn't matter if people on your own side start squealing because you know the voters will always back you.  Humza is not in that sort of enviable position - he's on unusually weak ground with both his own party and the public, and in fact he needed Kate Forbes far more than she needed him, because co-opting her as a deputy or close ally would have offset some of his own unpopularity.  She was almost inspiringly gracious in defeat yesterday - people both inside and outside the SNP will have looked at the way she conducted herself, and thought "gosh, what a genuinely lovely and kind person she is".  Throwing that back in her face within 24 hours is going to have consequences, the most immediate of which is that people can now see with absolute clarity what the Humza campaign has been about from the start - not about the best interests of the SNP or of the independence cause, but about safeguarding the power and privileges of a faction within the SNP, and at absolutely any price.  

It's the rough equivalent of Tony Blair doing on Day 1 what he didn't dare to do even after ten years - sacking Gordon Brown as Chancellor. It will create fault-lines, and fault-lines create earthquakes.  Exactly how it will play out is impossible to tell, but there is one consolation - the more Humza overplays his hand, the quicker the crisis will come and the quicker he may be deposed, thus getting the SNP out of the hole they've just dug for themselves.  So perhaps this kind of hubris from him should be positively encouraged.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Huztae be the absolute worst case scenario for the SNP and the cause of independence

Let's not mince words - this is an unmitigated disaster.  The SNP have replaced a popular leader with a deeply unpopular leader.  They have done so needlessly, because there was a popular alternative on offer.  And given that Yousaf has won so narrowly, there's going to be little doubt that the only reason he prevailed is because the process was so tightly 'managed' by the Sturgeon faction, with favours being called in left, right and centre.  Rightly or wrongly, there will probably even be allegations of outright ballot rigging.  He will command very little authority.  The Sturgeon team have let their party and their country down appallingly badly by not allowing this process to run its course naturally, which would clearly have resulted in a win for Forbes and a brighter future for our cause.

I suppose questions also have to be asked of those of us who defected to Alba in 2021, because the current Alba membership is (I think) just about big enough that it could have swung the balance for Forbes if we were all still SNP members - although I suspect if Alba didn't exist a lot of those people would now belong to no party at all, so perhaps it wouldn't have made any difference.  

For the second time in six months, I have to say I find myself at a political crossroads, and I'm sure others feel the same.  There is no way forward while Humza is SNP leader.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded - independence has no chance of happening until he is deposed, whether that be in six months or ten years.  However, I don't want to fall into the Stuart Campbell trap of talking down the SNP and talking down independence on this blog on a daily basis in the hope of hastening Yousaf's removal, because that could make matters worse.  There has to be something left of the SNP for Yousaf's successor to inherit. The least worst outcome would be for Yousaf to see the writing on the wall from opinion poll results and then resign to prevent an election defeat, rather than in reaction to an election defeat, but knowing what we know about the stubbornness of the man and those who have put him where he is, that seems unlikely.  He could very easily take us all down with him.

From a personal point of view, how do I contribute in this impossible situation?  I can't in all good conscience cheerlead for an SNP that I now realise needs to fail to at least some extent before it can succeed by being shocked into ditching Yousaf.  But neither can I in good conscience do a Campbell by spending every waking moment trying to turn a heavy SNP defeat in 2024 into a self-fulfilling prophecy, because that could kill off independence forever.  So perhaps I need to step away from the blog, or turn the blog's focus completely away from polling and election analysis.

I know some will redouble their efforts to build up the Alba Party as a genuinely pro-independence alternative to the devolutionist SNP, but as you know, I feel really strongly that Alba needs to become more mainstream and ditch some of the anger and the wilder impulses if it's ever to become electorally successful.  I would be quite happy to fight for change within Alba for however long that takes - but, to be perfectly candid, I recently put myself forward for Alba internal elections and was never even informed of the results, even though I sent a follow-up email to try to find out.  That genuinely astonished me given how we've been rightly castigating the SNP for a lack of transparency and due process in their own internal elections.  I don't mind banging my head against a brick wall in Alba for years to come as long as the process is open and fair, but if that's not the case...? Are we a democratic party or are we, like the SNP under Sturgeon and Yousaf, a 'managed' party?  Where is the home for the scunnered middle now?  Is there one?

I have a great deal to mull over, as I'm sure every true independence supporter in the land does.  I'll get back to you if and when I reach any conclusions, although in the meantime there'll be the loose ends of some remaining opinion poll results.

EXCLUSIVE SCOT GOES POP / FIND OUT NOW POLL: The Greens leaving government in protest would have very little net effect on public support for the SNP

The SNP leadership ballot is closing right now, so it's high time for me to rush out one particular finding from the Scot Goes Pop / Find Out Now poll, because a Humza win will render it totally academic in the blink of an eye.

Scot Goes Pop / Find Out Now poll (1st-9th March 2023, sample size 1266):

Imagine that either Ash Regan or Kate Forbes win the SNP leadership election, and as a result the SNP stop trying to change the law to allow people to change their legal gender by self-declaration. Imagine also that the Scottish Green Party's ministers then resign from the Scottish Government in protest. In those circumstances, do you think you would be more likely or less likely to vote SNP in future elections?

More likely: 13%
Less likely: 17%
No difference: 54%

The remaining 16% of the sample didn't offer an answer.  So if by any chance Kate Forbes wins, these numbers would offer considerable reassurance that any subsequent Green flounce out of government would not bring the roof down on SNP support - it would make no difference at all to the voting choices of a substantial majority of the public, and among the minority of voters whose thinking might be influenced, the 17% who would be less likely to vote SNP would be largely offset by the 13% who would be more likely to vote SNP.  And, in any case, the four-point gap between 17% and 13% does not quite reach the level of statistical significance, given the standard margin of error in any poll.

Asking voters whether they prefer Kate Forbes to Humza Yousaf, or simply whether they'd be more likely to vote SNP if the gender reforms were ditched, would have been 'motherhood and apple pie' questions - it's fairly obvious what the results would have been.  But Yousaf  backers could have pointed out that such questions don't take account of the real world consequences of a Forbes win - and, after all, the SNP-Green coalition was extremely popular among independence supporters when it was first sealed.  So the question asked in this poll was an attempt at being fairer by getting respondents to consider all the relevant points in the round. Even when they do that, it appears that support for the SNP is almost unaffected (on a net basis).

As I've pointed out myself in the past, there is a health warning that has to be placed on 'more likely'/'less likely' results, because there are respondents out there who hate the SNP enough that they'll always want to give the most negative answer, and so will say X or Y hypothesis would make them "less likely to vote SNP" even though there would have been a 100% chance of them voting against the SNP anyway.  In this poll, we also have to take account of the fact that Green supporters will have had a good reason to be rather animated about the scenario painted in the question, and they'll therefore account for a non-trivial part of the small gap between "more likely" and "less likely".  But among people who actually voted SNP in the 2019 general election, the results are broadly in line with the wider public - 14% say "more likely", 20% say "less likely" and 55% say "no difference".  The 15% of Tory voters who say they would be more likely to vote SNP after a Green flounce slightly outcount the 13% who say they would be less likely, and interestingly there's a 15%-15% split among Liberal Democrat voters, which arguably adds to the weight of evidence from other polls that Lib Dem voters are not as keen on gender self-ID as the Lib Dem leadership are.

There's a significant divide between the age groups, as you'd probably expect on a question like this, with every age group from 45 upwards showing slightly more people choosing the "more likely" option than the "less likely" option.

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Thoughts on Yousaf's status as heavy favourite on the betting markets

I've forbidden discussion in the comments section of this blog about movements in betting prices while the ballot was underway, just in case the Yousaf campaign were trying to manipulate our perception of the race by getting large bets placed, but I'll now give my thoughts on the subject.  I always wince when I hear people trot out the cliché that "the bookies rarely get it wrong, they know exactly what's going on", because at least as far as politics is concerned, I've lost count of the number of times that both conventional betting odds and the betting markets have got it hopelessly wrong.  The classic example was the 2007 Holyrood election, when the markets over-reacted to Labour's better-than-expected showing in the early results.  During the closing hours of the count, Labour were overwhelming favourites on the markets to win most seats, even though you'd only have had to turn on a TV set in Scotland to hear Brian Taylor explain that informal tallies at the count showed the SNP were likely to end up with a one seat advantage, which is exactly what transpired.  So that gives the lie to the idea - as someone tried to post here the other day - that if there was free money available to people who knew Humza was likely to lose, they'd have been bound to take it and thus shift the odds in Forbes' favour.  Not everyone is this world thinks like a gambler or a 'sports trader' - there are situations where the truth is hidden in plain sight and yet the markets are oblivious to it.

Nevertheless, the timing of some of the moves towards Humza on the markets did worry me to some extent.  There was a really sharp move towards him on the day the ballot opened, which had the feel of people who had live access to the early data cashing in.  I did see a betting expert claim that the movement was probably due to Humza being endorsed by Stephen Flynn and John Swinney, but that didn't ring true to me, because those events occurred 24-48 hours before the price started to shift.  Additionally, just after we heard there was a YouGov poll of SNP members in the field, there was another sudden tightening in Humza's odds, and that trend was never reversed.  That pattern could have been consistent with the employees of a polling company taking advantage of special knowledge, although of course it could also have been caused by something entirely different with the timing being just a coincidence.  There's also a phenomenon that I've observed before, whereby clueless punters see large bets being placed and assume wrongly that the people placing them 'must' have inside knowledge, so follow their example and a snowball effect is created out of thin air.  Cynical actors can also engineer that snowball effect to create the impression that their candidate is winning - backers of Chris Huhne famously managed to install him as betting favourite when he was standing against Menzies Campbell for the Lib Dem leadership, even though in retrospect it's obvious that the much better known Campbell should have been favourite all along.

There's been another big move towards Humza on the markets this morning and he's now the heaviest favourite he's ever been, which is hard to square with the publicly available information.  Is that genuine inside knowledge, or one of the other possibilities I've just described?  We'll soon find out.

UPDATE, 12.55pm: Since I wrote the above, Yousaf's odds have lengthened somewhat and Forbes' odds have come in a bit, and I can't see any obvious explanation for that either.  Is everybody just guessing?

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Recently I've published results from TWO new Scot Goes Pop opinion polls - 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.