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.

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.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Panelbase / Sunday Times, 12th-15th June 2023):

Labour 34% (+3)
SNP 34% (-5)
Conservatives 18% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 general election): Labour 26 (+25), SNP 21 (-27), Conservatives 7 (+1), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

Incidentally, the percentage changes above are from a Panelbase poll conducted just after Yousaf became leader in March, so there's no real doubt that the SNP have lost substantial support on his watch.  I know some will argue that any SNP leader would be facing exactly the same problems he is right now, but that doesn't wash for two clear reasons.  Firstly, although the current SNP leadership can't control the fact that Yousaf's predecessor has just been arrested, what they absolutely can control is their own reaction to that news, and in no sane world would that involve sending Nicola Sturgeon flowers or saying that disloyalty to her is incompatible with SNP membership.  Those actions send an unmistakeable message to the public that the current leadership is just a continuation of the Sturgeon leadership in all but name.

And secondly, it's not as if there's isn't a clear alternative to Yousaf who we have good reason to believe the public would be responding to a lot better.  Just like the Savanta poll the other day, Panelbase are showing that Yousaf's narrowly defeated leadership opponent Kate Forbes, who of course unlike him would not be a continuity leader in any shape or form, is now the most popular senior politician in Scotland.

Net approval ratings:

Kate Forbes (SNP): +3
Anas Sarwar (Labour): -2
Humza Yousaf (SNP): -12
Nicola Sturgeon (SNP): -18
Douglas Ross (Conservatives): -34

There is the now-customary silver lining in this poll - on the independence question, Yes support is holding up impressively, which suggests that the constitutional debate has now matured to the point where people can easily separate out their views on independence from their dislike of the SNP leadership of the day.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47% (-1)
No 53% (+1)

With SNP support now 13 points lower than independence support, it looks as if literally the only way the SNP could recover their position without changing leader is by restoring the Sturgeon plan of a de facto referendum, thus giving a reason for Yes-supporting switchers to Labour to return to the SNP fold.

The Holyrood numbers in the poll are almost as bad for the SNP as the Westminster numbers, but not quite -

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot: 

SNP 36% (-1)
Labour 32% (+2)
Conservatives 13% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
Greens 7% (+2)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 30% (-1)
Labour 28% (+1)
Conservatives 17% (-3)
Greens 12% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+2) 
Alba 4% (-1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): SNP 47 (-17), Labour 37 (+15), Conservatives 23 (-8), Greens 14 (+6), Liberal Democrats 8 (+4)

That would leave the SNP with exactly the same number of seats that they won under Alex Salmond in 2007 when they pipped Labour by just one seat to take power for the first time.  As in 2007, there would be no pro-independence majority - the unionist parties in combination would have 68, while the SNP and Greens between them would have only 61.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £1800.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

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.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £1500.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

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):

Kate Forbes (SNP): +2
Anas Sarwar (Labour): -1
Keir Starmer (Labour): -3
Nicola Sturgeon (SNP): -7
Humza Yousaf (SNP): -10

What can you even say about Yousaf's dismal showing here?  He's foolishly hitched his wagon to a yesterday's leader whose popularity has plummeted, and yet he's still more unpopular than her anyway.  It's rare to find yourself in a situation where someone who is dropping like a stone still has the theoretical capacity to drag you upwards (slightly).  And given the extent to which the SNP leadership election boiled down to a two-horse race between Yousaf and Kate Forbes, party members can be in no doubt that they made the wrong choice in March.  If they had picked Forbes, leadership would currently be an asset for the SNP and would give them an advantage over Labour - as it is, the total opposite is true.  They may wish to reverse that mistake before too much damage is done at the general election next year.

Now for the good news: this poll adds further to the already considerable weight of evidence that Yousaf's unpopularity with the public, and the ongoing Sturgeon soap opera, is not damaging support for independence.  If anything, the trend for Yes is slightly upwards.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 49% (+1)
No 51% (-1)

The National have got into the habit of accompanying any front page headline about good polling news for Yes with a photo of Humza Yousaf, as if he was personally responsible for independence support increasing or holding up.  Which is a touch comical in a way, because the evidence is now overwhelming that it's happening in spite of him rather than because of him.  The trend on independence has become completely decoupled from the SNP's own polling fortunes, which as you'll see below look markedly different.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 38% (-1)
Labour 34% (+1)
Conservatives 17% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)

Seats projection (current boundaries, with changes measured from 2019 election result): SNP 27 (-21), Labour 22 (+21), Conservatives 5 (-1), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

So the Humza emergency deepens - if this poll is right, the SNP are on course to relinquish their majority among Scottish seats in the Commons.  They would be left with 27 seats and the unionist parties in combination would have 32.  In practice it would probably be even worse than that, because we've yet to go through the election campaign, which like all Westminster campaigns will be an 'away fixture' for the SNP and a 'home fixture' for Labour and the Tories.  The SNP slipping back into second place is very much on the cards unless appropriate action is taken (by which I mean replacing Yousaf as leader, or restoring the de facto referendum plan, or both).  Individual SNP MPs who stand to lose their seats on these numbers include Anum Qaisar, Tommy Sheppard, Deidre Brock, Alison Thewliss, this week's Question Time star David Linden, Anne McLaughlin, Stewart McDonald and Angela Crawley.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 40% (+1)
Labour 33% (+1)
Conservatives 16% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot: 

SNP 28% (-5)
Labour 28% (-2)
Conservatives 18% (-)
Greens 13% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 11% (+4)

Seats projection (with changes measured from 2021 election): SNP 50 (-14), Labour 34 (+12), Conservatives 21 (-10), Greens 12 (+4), Liberal Democrats 12 (+8)

The pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament would be lost on these numbers, although admittedly it would be a closer-run thing than suggested by some recent polls from other firms.  The SNP and Greens in combination would have 62 seats, and the unionist parties combined would have 67.

It's the drop on the list vote that's really killing the SNP here.  I know there's a perception that the SNP don't need list votes, but that theory goes totally out of the window when their constituency lead over the second-placed party drops to as low as seven points.  In that scenario they need to offset their constituency losses with list seats, and that's obviously not going to happen on 28% of the list vote, especially when that puts them level-pegging with Labour.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £1700.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

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

Just for once, we have a Scottish local by-election result that won't lead the hapless "impartial Liberal Democrat election expert" Mike Smithson to inadvertently reveal his astounding ignorance of the election system his own party is supposed to support, because this is a Labour gain from the SNP in both the literal and genuine sense, ie. Labour have had to overhaul a deficit in the popular vote in the ward in order to fill a vacancy left by a departing SNP councillor.  It's amazing how rarely STV by-elections work out quite as simply as that.

Bellshill by-election result (15th June 2023):

Labour 51.8% (+13.0)
SNP 27.1% (-13.7)
Conservatives 8.5% (-5.1)
British Unionist Party 4.3% (n/a)
Alba 3.9% (+1.7)
Greens 1.6% (n/a)
Liberal Democrats 1.2% (n/a)
Scottish Family Party 1.1% (n/a)
Freedom Alliance 0.3% (n/a)
UKIP 0.3% (n/a)

It's impossible to put a positive gloss on this for the SNP.  This is a ward where they were marginally ahead in May 2022, and Labour have just beaten them by a 2-1 margin.  Bellshill is sufficiently similar territory to Rutherglen to suggest that the SNP are likely to be heading for a heavy defeat in the (probably) forthcoming parliamentary by-election unless something very strange happens - on a similar swing they would lose by around sixteen or seventeen percentage points in Rutherglen.  They desperately need a fresh start under a new, non-continuity leader who has considerably better net personal ratings than Humza Yousaf. 

No-one can accuse the Alba Party of not having thrown the kitchen sink at this by-election - my inbox and Twitter account have been buzzing with it for weeks, if not months.  Will they feel this result is a sufficient return for such a heavy investment?  Probably just about.  You can't dine out on 4% results forever, but when you're a party that has been at times branded as heading for extinction, modest progress that gets you ahead of two major parties is a phase you probably need to go through if you're going to make a genuine breakthrough later.  This is the second time Alba have beaten the Greens in a by-election, and I believe it's the first time they've beaten the Liberal Democrats.  Getting the equivalent of roughly one-seventh of the SNP vote is not too shabby either.

Nevertheless, a vote share of 4% after such a full-blooded campaigning effort would tend to confirm my observation of a couple of weeks ago - Alba can only hope to make a really big impact in Rutherglen if they put forward Alex Salmond as their candidate.  All the door-knocking in the world won't offset the lack of a big name on the ballot paper.

This is a strikingly poor result for the Tories, although they probably suffered more than any other party from the intervention of the British Unionist Party and the three other fringe right-wing candidates.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £1500.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

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

The results of another question have been revealed from the new Find Out Now poll commissioned by the Alba Party.  This time I haven't been emailed the datasets, so I can only tell you what's been published on the Alba website, although the tables will probably appear publicly on the Find Out Now website before too long.  Of those respondents who "expressed a view", 53% think that pro-independence parties should put forward an agreed slate of candidates to seek a mandate to negotiate an independence settlement with the United Kingdom government.  That figure will exclude Don't Knows and anyone who said they preferred not to answer the question, so we'll have to wait for the tables to see how big those two groups are.

Anybody rational would agree that the so-called "Scotland United" plan is the optimal one, but the snag is that we know the SNP and Green leaderships will never agree to it (barring a pre-election change in the SNP leadership, which admittedly is not impossible).  So what concerns me is what Alba are planning to do once they accept the plan is ruled out due to Humza Yousaf's intransigence.  Do they say "we'll be the grown-up in the room and avoid any risk of splitting the pro-indy vote in a crucial first-past-the-post election"?  That would be the strategically wise thing to do, both in the interests of the independence cause and in the self-interest of the Alba Party.  Brownie points would be earned with the Yes-supporting electorate that could prove to be very valuable on the Holyrood list vote in 2026.  It would avoid Alba needlessly becoming the bogeyman Yousaf uses to escape the blame (or to attempt to escape the blame) for catastrophic seat losses, if the worst happens at the general election next year.

Or will Alba say to the SNP: "we tried to reach out to you and you've reacted with contempt, so to hell with you, we'll stand against you in a significant number of Westminster constituencies"?  Lashing out in that way would be strategically foolish in my view, both for independence and for Alba.  I genuinely don't know what the plan is, but you can guarantee the leadership will already privately know - Alex Salmond won't have put forward the 'Scotland United' idea without knowing exactly what it and its near-inevitable rejection is really preparing the ground for.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £1500.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

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)

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

The significant point here is that Find Out Now have conducted five polls on Scottish independence since they first entered the fray.  The five have been well spaced out, and each one has been commissioned by a different client.  There was one in March 2021 commissioned by the Daily Express, one in December 2022 which if I recall was commissioned by an independence supporter acting as an individual (although he crowdfunded for it retrospectively), one in January 2023 commissioned by The National, one in March 2023 commissioned by myself for Scot Goes Pop, and now one in June 2023 commissioned by the Alba Party.  All five have shown a majority in favour of independence, which suggests strongly that there has been a consistent Yes majority throughout the period Find Out Now have been polling - in other words, the polar opposite of the claim Yousaf made yesterday to justify indefinitely dropping all plans to win independence.

Now, of course, there have been many polls from other firms during the same period which have shown Yes below 50%.  But here's the thing: the consistency of Find Out Now's results suggests that the differences between polls have not been caused by Yes support on the ground bobbing up and down (as Yousaf misleadingly suggested yesterday) but instead by methodological differences between polling companies.  The two firms that have consistently shown Yes majorities in recent times are Find Out Now and Ipsos, and they differ from other firms in that they do not weight their results by recalled referendum vote from 2014.  The head of Ipsos explained a few months ago that they take that approach for a very sound reason, namely that there is a high probability of some respondents falsely recalling how they voted in 2014, especially after almost a decade.

It's about time Yousaf started speaking up for the cause he's supposed to believe in by forcibly pointing out the evidence that there already is a settled will in favour of independence, and challenging the questionable methodology of pollsters who show No leads, rather than eagerly buying into a unionist narrative to try to get himself off the hook of having to do anything to actually deliver independence.

A couple of technical notes about the poll - Alba in their press release have taken a leaf out of the Express / IPSO book by rounding the results to one decimal place, and not to a whole number, so they can say Yes are on 52.5% rather than 52%.  But at least, unlike the Express and IPSO, they've made an arithmetically accurate claim.  I've already received the datasets by email, and I can tell you that Yes are on 52.49%, so that number has been accurately rounded to 52.5%.

And Alba have also pointed out that the fieldwork covers the period of Nicola Sturgeon's arrest.  That's technically true, but I know from my own experience of commissioning a Find Out Now poll that the vast majority of responses will probably have come through on the first day of fieldwork, meaning last Wednesday.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £1500.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

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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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £1500.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

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.

Jamie Hepburn is my local MSP and I've met him twice - he came to my front door on referendum day in 2014, and then the following year I was one of a group of local SNP members he arranged to go to FMQs.  He seems like a very friendly, decent, diligent person, but if he was quoted accurately in the Daily Record yesterday (always a big question mark in Scotland's most disreputable newspaper) his role as "Minister for Independence" seems to be to prevent independence by all means available.  And he's making a fine fist of it.

A few weeks ago, The National reported that the Yousaf leadership had completely changed the purpose of the special independence conference to become solely about "securing a legally-binding referendum".  That by definition excludes all discussion of Nicola Sturgeon's de facto referendum plan, which the conference had originally been called to thrash out the details of.  Within hours, the leadership were rowing back on the briefing they had quite plainly given to The National, saying that "of course" the conference could discuss a de facto referendum because that was a perfectly legal option.  Whether this was a pre-planned "good cop, bad cop" routine to get SNP members used to the idea that independence was slipping off the agenda, while still leaving them with a measure of false hope for now, or whether the leadership were genuinely shocked by the reaction to the ditching of the de facto referendum and felt they had to repair some of the damage, is not clear.  But either way, there's now little doubt that the leadership allowing discussion of a de facto referendum at the conference is a sham.  They're only allowing it so they can instruct (sorry, "advise") delegates to reject the option.  Hepburn in his Record interview spoke about the de facto referendum firmly in the past tense, as if it was something he had unenthusiastically gone along with under the previous leadership but was now relieved to have put behind him.

“I thought it was a plausible course of action,” he said, without much enthusiasm.

So naturally if Yousaf and Hepburn thought the de facto referendum plan was so God-awful, they'll have a ready-made and cunningly brilliant plan for winning independence to replace it?  Er, no.  What they're replaced the Sturgeon plan with is a string of public lamentations about how regrettable it is that they don't have a plan, and are struggling to think of a plan.  "Oh, wouldn't it be lovely if we had a plan?  Wouldn't it be lovely if we had a plan that could work?  Oh, wouldn't it be simply splendid if the world worked that way!"  If you think I'm exaggerating, here's the relevant section of the interview - 

Hepburn appears wedded to a referendum strategy, but does not having the answer on how one can be secured:

“A referendum would certainly, I think by anyone's estimation, be the most straightforward manner in which we could determine this.”

He added: “There isn't an easy or straightforward process. I wish there were, but whatever path we take to achieve independence, it's going to be based and predicated on an electoral process. And that, for me, the next national election is going to be the general election.”

So we have to go back to begging for a Section 30 order because that's the "straightforward" way of doing it, but we also have to accept it isn't going to work because it's not "easy or straightforward".  Yup, that makes perfect sense, Jamie.

The one glimmer of hope Hepburn offers the independence movement is that if Labour need SNP support to form a government, the SNP will use that leverage to try to get....a Devo Max referendum.   You know, that Devo Max referendum we've all been dreaming of for so many long years.  And just to emphasise that he wants a Devo Max referendum for the purpose of actually getting Devo Max, he starts waxing lyrical about how Devo Max would be such a step forward for Scotland.

Here's a wild thought, Jamie - if you envisage being in negotiations with Labour, why not start by demanding the thing you're supposed to want, ie. independence or an independence referendum?  Yes, Labour might then negotiate you down to a multi-option referendum featuring a Devo Max option, but let them do that work, don't do it for them a year in advance.  Otherwise Labour will quite understandably say "well, it's Devo Max and a Devo Max referendum the SNP really want, we don't want to give you that, so let's compromise on Devo Nano".  You certainly wouldn't want Hepburn playing poker with your money, would you?  Unless, of course, he's a brilliant poker player and the opponent he's currently trying to hoodwink is the SNP's own membership.

But the much bigger problem is that it's extremely unlikely that the SNP will actually have any leverage over Labour after the general election, so if this is literally the only plan the SNP have for winning Devo Max, let alone independence, they're betting the house on a long-shot.  There have been twenty-one UK general elections since the end of the Second World War, and only three of them have resulted in hung parliaments - that's a strike rate of just 14%.  But it's even worse than that, because not any old hung parliament will do - you need one in which no government is arithmetically possible without SNP support.  That was not the case in the hung parliaments of 2010 and 2017, when the Tories were able to form a two-party majority excluding the SNP with the help of the Lib Dems and the DUP respectively.  In the real world, the chances of the SNP holding the balance of power are probably no better than around 5%.  So Hepburn is inviting us to put our faith in a one-in-twenty chance, and even if he wins that lottery, he's already thrown away his negotiating position.  Doesn't sound too promising, does it?

I've got a better idea.  The SNP should replace Yousaf with a new leader who is actually interested in winning independence.  Let the mistake of March be just a blip, a stupid error that was swiftly corrected with no harm done.  Don't let it be the end of the SNP's proud 80-year history as a genuinely pro-independence party.

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?

It's barely four months since I criticised my own party, the Alba Party, for using an Ashcroft poll to talk down independence support ("it's been set back a generation" was the line) as a weapon in a partisan fight against the SNP, thus missing the bigger picture that it's independence we're supposed to be fighting for.  Well, here we have the leader of the SNP going on a flagship UK-wide politics show to talk down independence support.  Yousaf has no larger pro-indy rival party to chip away against, so what possible motivation can he have for doing this?  There's only one plausible explanation: he's talking down independence support 'because he doesn't want to deliver independence - or more accurately, because he doesn't want any pressure on him to take action to deliver independence, which he has already decided not to do for however long he remains leader.  To which the only rational reaction can be: "Yousaf's time in office must be as short as possible".

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