As expected, opinion polls since the unpopular Humza Yousaf became First Minister in highly controversial circumstances three months ago have shown voters punishing the SNP for their choice. The party's lead over Labour has dwindled to almost nothing in many cases, and there have even been a few polls that have shown Labour either level or in the lead on the Holyrood list ballot. And yet the denial from Team Humza has been quite simply astounding - anonymous briefings to the press have suggested that the poll results are somehow even heartening in the circumstances. That may simply be because, until now, no conventional poll has shown the SNP quite losing their lead on the Westminster ballot or on the Holyrood constituency ballot, which are regarded (wrongly) as more important votes than the Holyrood list. If so, tonight will bring a shuddering halt to the complacency, and that may be no bad thing.
Saturday, June 17, 2023
Landmark Panelbase poll shows SNP on course for defeat at the general election. This has to be the reality-check that causes denial within the SNP to end. They chose the wrong leader in March and that mistake has to be faced up to.
The growing gap between independence support and SNP support means that a de facto referendum has undoubtedly become the smart strategic call for the SNP at this stage - even when viewed only through the prism of self-interest and careerism
Both The Times and The National are reporting that Humza Yousaf appears to be reverting to Nicola Sturgeon's policy of a de facto independence referendum, based on language he used in an email to SNP members trying to sell the remaining tickets for the special independence conference. I would be only too delighted if that was true, but my strong sense is that it's a fundamental misreading of what he's said, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if The National are invited to publish a "clarification" before the day is out. The language about a vote for the SNP being a vote for independence is pretty much identical to what he was saying a week ago when both he and Jamie Hepburn were being scathing about any route to independence that doesn't involve a Section 30 order, so I can't detect much sign (or any sign at all) of a change of heart. Probably the idea is that SNP votes will be interpreted as evidence of public backing for independence, in the same way that Tory votes can be interpreted as general support for conservatism, and Labour votes under Starmer can be interpreted as general support for some kind of Frankenstein's monster of syncretic authoritarianism. But the sole purpose of demonstrating that support for independence will just be to continue with the endless futility of begging for a Section 30 order.
A true de facto referendum is an election in which the manifesto states "if we and our allies secure an absolute majority of the popular vote, Scotland will have decided to become an independent country and we will then invite the UK government to negotiate an independence settlement with us". There's no mention of a Section 30 order or a referendum, because the election *is* the referendum and no further vote is required. Now, it's true that the unprecedented leverage that we would accrue from Scotland having voted for the first time to become an independent country might well force the UK government into a negotiation that results in a referendum as a compromise. That's fine, we live in the real world and sometimes political obstacles can only be removed by means of dialogue and imperfect trade-offs. But at the point at which you actually seek the mandate, it's important to be crystal-clear about what the intended purpose of the mandate is. If all anyone hears is "what we really want is a Section 30 order", no-one - not the UK Government, not the media, not the voters, no-one - will actually treat a successful outcome as a genuine mandate for independence, and you'll never have the leverage in the first place. You'll also have a much harder job persuading independence supporters to vote for you if they're not convinced they're really voting for independence.
When Nicola Sturgeon first committed the SNP to the de facto referendum policy, it was widely reported that many SNP parliamentarians at Westminster were furious about it. I'm not sure it was ever clearly explained what their problem with it was, but there are two logical explanations. The most charitable one is that they were worried about the effect on the independence cause itself, ie. they thought the 50% + 1 target wouldn't be achieved and that as a result independence would be off the agenda for decades. We can put that worry to rest now, because the penny has dropped even for the formerly arch-plebiscite-election-sceptic Pete Wishart, who now realises that the beauty of using elections to seek an independence mandate is that there's no such thing as a generational defeat. If you fall a few percentage points short in any given election, you can just try again at the next election. There can be as many de facto referendums as there are scheduled elections.
The less charitable explanation is that they were worried for their own careers and were stuck in a scared-of-their-own-shadows 2017-style mindset of thinking that the way to shore up the SNP vote is to talk about independence as little as possible and to make independence seem as distant as possible. Well, if that made any sense at all last year when Nicola Sturgeon first adopted the de facto referendum plan, it certainly doesn't make any sense now. The SNP vote has since dropped sharply while support for independence has held up or possibly even increased. In the Savanta poll yesterday, independence support was at 49% while the SNP were only on 38% in Westminster voting intentions - a gap of eleven points. There are clearly substantial numbers of pro-Yes, ex-SNP votes out there, mostly in the Labour column, which can be won back by giving people the chance to vote directly for independence, and that frankly won't be won back in any other way. The clarity of Labour's message of "vote Labour on Thursday, get rid of the Tory government by Friday afternoon" means that the SNP will only be able to compete if their offer is just as clear and captures people's imaginations even more. "Vote SNP and we'll negotiate independence" will cut it, but "send a message to Westminster", "stronger for Scotland", "standing up for Scotland", "elect a local champion", or any of the other meaningless formulations that have been tried, will not.
And if a de facto referendum only boosts the SNP vote to 43% and not to 51%, so what? We go again at the following election, and in the meantime scores of pro-independence seats have been saved. Even from the most hard-headed, cynical, self-interested, careerist point of view, a de facto referendum is undoubtedly the smart strategic choice for the SNP at this stage.
Friday, June 16, 2023
Familiar pattern in new Savanta poll: independence support up, SNP support down, and Kate Forbes replaces Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland's most popular politician
This is another sobering poll for Humza Yousaf. His ill-judged Interflora moment ("you send the abject subservience, we'll send the flowers"), together with the extraordinary revelation that he told SNP parliamentarians that disloyalty to Sturgeon was incompatible with SNP membership, has put paid to any notion that he'll ever be anything more than Sturgeon's handpicked continuity leader. That ties his fate inextricably to his predecessor's - if she comes out of the current process OK, so might he, but if she doesn't, he could well lose his job before the general election simply because he backed her so unreservedly.
However, in one sense the damage is already done for Nicola Sturgeon. You live by the sword and you die by the sword - she and her allies directed Yes supporters and the public to regard Alex Salmond's acquittal as a meaningless technicality, and to view the process against him as sufficient reason for him to lose his reputation and his political career. Judging from the personal ratings in the new Savanta poll, she's starting to suffer from the same brutal principle herself. Earlier polling suggested her popularity was holding up astonishingly well during the police investigation, but the fact that she has now been personally arrested, rather than just people close to her, may have made the decisive difference. (In fact, only some of Savanta's fieldwork took place after the news of her arrest broke, so future polling could be even worse for her.)
Net personal ratings of senior politicians (Savanta / The Scotsman, 9th-14th June 2023):
By the way, if you're an SNP member who wants a de facto referendum, why not register for the special conference and vote for it? What have you got to lose? One weekend out of your life, even if it's a leadership stitch-up.— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) June 16, 2023
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Bellshill by-election result: Sirens are now screaming at full blast about the consequences of keeping Humza as leader after big drop in the SNP's vote
Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Poll shows most voters who express a view want pro-indy parties to put forward a united slate of election candidates to win independence for Scotland
Monday, June 12, 2023
Yet another BOMBSHELL Find Out Now poll confirms that independence is the consistent, settled will of the Scottish people - contradicting the claim made by Humza Yousaf only yesterday, and piling colossal pressure on him to reverse course and restore the Sturgeon policy of a de facto referendum
Well, well, well. Just 24 hours since Humza Yousaf sold the jersey to some extent by telling the BBC (under no pressure at all from the interviewer, incidentally) that it was "obvious" that independence is "not the settled will of the Scottish people", along comes a poll to prove him totally wrong.
Should Scotland be an independent country? (Find Out Now / Alba Party, 7th-12th June 2023)
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Should the SNP suspend Nicola Sturgeon? It can't be one rule for the party's dominant faction and another rule for all other members.
For obvious legal reasons, there's a limit to what any of us can say about Nicola Sturgeon's arrest yesterday, although we can certainly note the unintentional hilarity of the unionist media - of both nominally 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' varieties, not that it's easy to tell the difference these days - claiming that the episode has killed the independence cause, which they've been claiming for years was already dead. Let's face it, if John Swinney burnt his toast tomorrow morning, Paul Hutcheon would take the cue to write yet another breathless editorial about the end of independence.
The other point that can reasonably be made is about Nicola Sturgeon's non-suspension from the SNP in circumstances in which it is surely unthinkable that any parliamentarian from outwith the SNP's ruling faction would not be swiftly suspended. Senior people in the Alba Party are often accused of an excessive level of personalised vitriol against Nicola Sturgeon, and at times I've agreed with those accusations, but it must never be forgotten that the anger against her is not some mysterious, inexplicable phenomenon that appeared out of thin air - many within Alba had previously, as SNP members of long standing, suffered grievous injustices at the hands of the Sturgeon leadership. Denise Findlay, as I recall, was informed of some trumped-up accusation of antisemitism (all she had done was criticise the State of Israel in a tweet) and bullied into an instant, public resignation from the SNP within the same phone call. Neale Hanvey was summarily suspended in the middle of a general election campaign without any due process, also on the grounds of highly dubious claims of antisemitism, which meant that all SNP support for his candidacy in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath was instantly withdrawn. I was still an SNP member at the time, and I recall blogging about how furious I was, not just about the personal injustice done to Mr Hanvey, but also about the strategic stupidity of gift-wrapping a crucial constituency and attempting to hand it to Labour, all in the name of virtue-signalling. And Grouse Beater was of course notoriously expelled from the party simply for an ambiguous line in a blogpost that had in an ultra-contrived way been 'interpreted' as antisemitism. No sign of any 'benefit of the doubt' principle there.
And yet Nicola Sturgeon most certainly seems to want a 'benefit of the doubt' principle to apply to her, judging from the statement she put out last night which accorded less priority to the integrity of the process than to her own personal feelings of innocence. Well, Denise Findlay, Neale Hanvey, Grouse Beater and Michelle Thomson doubtless knew in their own hearts that they were innocent, and yet they were all still subject to a very harsh process by the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon. It would be against natural justice for Ms Sturgeon to be suspended now, but it was also against natural justice that all the previous suspensions took place when she was leader. To avoid charges of hypocrisy and special treatment, the right and proper thing for her to do would probably be to voluntarily resign from the party until the police investigation is concluded, in line with the precedent set by Alex Salmond.
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Sunday, June 11, 2023
Hepburn interview confirms yet again that the Yousaf leadership have ditched all plans to win independence. The SNP special conference may be allowed to *discuss* the Sturgeon plan of a de facto referendum, but delegates will not be permitted to vote in favour of it.
"This is totally unsustainable! Scotland's voice CAN and WILL be heard!" seems to have been replaced with "There's no easy path forward, I'm a bit stumped to be honest, but some magic pixie dust might fall from the sky, and we must be ready to take partial advantage of it."— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) June 10, 2023
Incidentally, I've just seen a clip of Yousaf on the Kuenssberg show this morning, and he was asked a question based on the false premise that independence support is falling back in the polls. Instead of challenging that false premise and pointing out that two of the last three polls have shown an increase in Yes support, and that the other one showed a clear Yes majority anyway, he went along with it by launching into his well-rehearsed monologue about how independence support isn't high enough, and gratuitously added "independence is clearly not the consistent settled will of the Scottish people" (his own deputy Keith Brown repeatedly used to say it was, by the way). Why the hell would you voluntarily say that sort of thing?
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