Friday, July 21, 2023

YouGov poll finds the Scottish public want a referendum on independence within the next five years - and reject the idea that London's permission should be required before a vote is held

Slightly to my astonishment, at about the seventh or eighth attempt I've finally managed to track down the data tables from the YouGov Scottish poll that I was becoming increasingly suspicious about, and it turns out that it's a genuine YouGov poll.  However, it's in a part of the website that is insanely difficult to find - whether it was sitting there the whole time, or whether it's been quietly added over the last couple of days, is not entirely clear.

As ever, the results that were reported in the media are not necessarily the most interesting or telling ones.  It transpires that, albeit by the narrow margin of 45% to 42%, the public in Scotland think there should be an independence referendum within the next five years.  That represents a slight one-point increase in support for a referendum since the last YouGov poll. And by the somewhat wider margin of 50% to 40%, voters think the Scottish Government should be able to hold a vote on independence without London's permission.

There's slight opposition to a total ban on new oil and gas development on "British" North Sea territory (ahem), and interestingly that's a sentiment that cuts across the political divide.  Yes voters and No voters are both opposed to the idea of a ban, as are voters for all parties apart from Labour (and presumably the Greens, although the Green figures are not provided).

There's increasing evidence that the police investigation has had a severely negative effect on Nicola Sturgeon's standing and reputation.  By a margin of 50% to 32%, voters think she should be suspended from the SNP.  That's a sharp increase on the margin reported by the previous poll.  Admittedly it's driven mainly by anti-independence voters, but even 26% of SNP voters from 2019, and 30% of Yes voters from 2014, think she should be suspended.  Her personal approval rating, meanwhile, now languishes at minus 16.

The approval ratings from the poll for both Humza Yousaf and Rishi Sunak have already been widely reported, but here they are in a fuller context - 

Net approval ratings on the question of whether each person is doing well or badly at their job:

Anas Sarwar (Labour): -3
Keir Starmer (Labour): -15
Alex Cole-Hamilton (Liberal Democrats): -15
Patrick Harvie / Lorna Slater (Greens): -25
Humza Yousaf (SNP): -27
Douglas Ross (Conservatives): -36
Rishi Sunak (Conservatives): -37

Net approval ratings on the question of whether respondents have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of each person:

Anas Sarwar (Labour): -11
Keir Starmer (Labour): -14
Stephen Flynn (SNP): -15
Nicola Sturgeon (SNP): -16
Ed Davey (Liberal Democrats): -16
Alex Cole-Hamilton (Liberal Democrats): -16
Patrick Harvie (Greens): -20
Humza Yousaf (SNP): -23
Lorna Slater (Greens): -25
Douglas Ross (Conservatives): -37
Rishi Sunak (Conservatives): -41

Net approval ratings for political parties:

"Scottish" Labour: -5
Greens: -11
SNP: -17
"Scottish" Conservatives: -51

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £2100.  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.

Abject humiliation for Keir Starmer in Uxbridge by-election casts doubt over whether Labour's national poll lead has any real substance to it at all

I know Labour and commentators sympathetic to Starmer will attempt to dismiss the shock Uxbridge by-election win for the Tories as a freak outcome caused by local factors (ie. the unpopularity of Sadiq Khan's Ultra Low Emission Zone).  As I write this, the results of the other two by-elections have yet to be announced, but it looks virtually certain that the Tories will lose both, including Selby, which was a much tougher nut for Labour to crack.

But ask yourself this - would Labour have failed in any by-election in a relatively marginal seat like Uxbridge in the mid-90s when Blair was heading for power?  Of course they wouldn't.  No matter what the local difficulties, Labour would have stormed through effortlessly because the public had simply decided that they'd had enough of the Tories, that they liked Labour enough, and that they wanted a change of government.  Something is very different this time, notwithstanding the opinion polls, because somehow the Tories are still able to get a hearing and don't have to scratch too hard to find a way to win in a constituency that Labour should easily have taken on a uniform national swing.

And of course this is also a huge psychological blow for Labour in the here and now, because it will drain away the momentum that Starmer would otherwise have generated from the Selby result. One result offsets (perhaps more than offsets) the impact of the other, and that will perhaps be something of a relief for the SNP and the rest of the Scottish independence movement.  It's also, rather comfortingly, a horrific setback for the Labour Right's behind-the-scenes wannabe Robespierres, most notably the grotesque Luke Akehurst.

Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election result (20th July 2023):

Conservatives 45.2% (-7.4)
Labour 43.6% (+6.0)
Greens 2.9% (+0.7)
Reclaim 2.3% (n/a)
Liberal Democrats 1.7% (-4.6)
SDP 0.8% (n/a)
Independent - Hamilton 0.7% (n/a)
Count Binface 0.6% (+0.5)
Independent - Phaure 0.6% (n/a)
Rejoin EU 0.3% (n/a)
Let London Live 0.3% (n/a)
Independent - Bell 0.3% (n/a)
Christian Peoples Alliance 0.3% (n/a)
UKIP 0.2% (-0.4)
Climate 0.2% (n/a)
Monster Raving Loony 0.1% (-0.2)
Independent - Joseph 0.0% (n/a)

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £2100.  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.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Huztae be a way back from this

Note: This was intended to be my column for the latest issue of iScot, but it didn't make the cut due to constraints of space.  So here it is for your delectation and delight.  Bear in mind it was written several weeks ago, and a few aspects of it have since been overtaken by events (for example the "Schrodinger's De Facto" plan announced at the special conference).

So how was it for you?  It was certainly a very different experience from a typical election or referendum in which you'd have a chance to gradually come to terms with the results as they come in bit by bit.  There wasn't even a wave of rumours to act as a cushion, because the secrecy of the outcome was successfully guarded.  All we had was a minute or two to draw conclusions from the candidates' body language, and by goodness that hit me like a sledgehammer.  

Instantly noticeable was that Ash Regan had a face like thunder, which left no room for doubt that the result was poorer for her than she hoped for or expected.  But did that dismay only relate to her own vote tally, or did it also extend to the Forbes v Yousaf result?  After all, Kate Forbes herself was wearing a beaming smile, so maybe there was still a chance that Humza Yousaf had been beaten after the redistribution of Regan's votes?  But no, wait, Forbes is the sort of person who would smile much more easily as a mark of graciousness, and would be more likely to look very serious if she had just been told that she was about to assume a heavy responsibility.  And Yousaf himself was looking far too happy and relaxed to support the notion that what he had assumed to be his by right had been snatched from him.  The moment I became almost certain he had won was when a close-up from the TV camera caught him shutting his eyes for a couple of seconds with a subtle smile, as if he was inwardly saying "OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!" and savouring what he regarded as the supreme moment of his life.

For me, those couple of minutes were a highly condensed repeat of the emotions of the awful night in September 2014 when the realisation slowly dawned that Scotland had voted against becoming an independent country.  Most people I know share the view that Yousaf's victory was a calamity at least on a par with the 2014 referendum result, or perhaps even worse than that, because the SNP electing a leader committed to indefinitely abandoning all plans to try to win independence is a scenario that leaves all of us in the Yes movement completely snookered.

But I have to recognise that there are people out there who felt, or at least claimed to feel, the complete opposite when Yousaf was declared the winner, and who said there was an intense sense of relief that the SNP had narrowly turned its back on what they alleged to be the "bigotry" represented by Kate Forbes.  I must say I have very little time for the claims that it would have been somehow intolerable for some of our fellow citizens to live in a Scotland led by Forbes.  She had made abundantly clear that she would uphold the law as it stood on abortion and equal marriage, and common sense should have been enough to tell anyone that it would have been politically impossible for her to go back on her word, given the views of the people she would have been relying upon to sustain her in office.  I can only assume that the supposedly intense stress reported by some when they contemplated a Forbes premiership was an affectation.  Or, where it was genuine, people were falling victim to bogus fears whipped up by those with a very cynical agenda.

Either way, it's telling that the people punching the air when Yousaf won were thinking about identity politics issues when they did it, rather than about independence.  Tacitly, there seems to be an acceptance even among some Yousaf supporters that his victory pushes independence further away rather than brings it closer.  It's not that these people don't care about independence - at least some of them do.  But the mood music from them has been along the lines of "well, maybe this won't be quite as bad as we fear", which is a pretty clear indication that they know they've settled for a downgrade in their independence leader, whether for reasons of careerism, or factionalism, or non-independence-related hobby horses.

For my own part, the despair I felt in the days after the result was announced has dissipated to some extent, and that's largely because of the helpful clarity of the situation we now find ourselves in.  Under Nicola Sturgeon, there was always a disorientating ambiguity - she had a stated plan for independence, but it was hard to read whether she had any real intention of ever implementing it, given how the details kept changing and the timetable kept being pushed forever back and back.  An additional complicating factor was Ms Sturgeon's immense talent as a communicator, which meant that if an independence vote did come about, it was likely that she was the ideal person to have in place to lead the Yes campaign.  The simplistic claims of certain bloggers (and politicians) that independence hinged upon Ms Sturgeon being removed from office thus never rang true.

By comparison, the situation with Yousaf is extremely straightforward.  He has no plan for independence ("I'll magically get Yes support to 60% and the barriers will then magically melt away" is not a plan) and he would be completely the wrong front-man even if he did.  What the SNP have just done is not far off the equivalent of the Tories choosing Iain Duncan Smith as their leader in 2001, because they ignored polls showing that Yousaf was the least popular of the credible candidates, and significantly less popular than Labour's Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer.  Not only, then, is Yousaf's departure a prerequisite for winning independence, it's also a prerequisite that can very plausibly be expected to happen, because there must be a high probability that the SNP are heading for electoral defeat under their unpopular new leader, a setback likely to trigger a new leadership contest.

It's important to stress that it's entirely coincidental that Humza is both bad for independence and unpopular with the public. It would be nice (in a sense) to think that any SNP leader who abandoned plans to win independence would automatically get their comeuppance by losing voters' support, but it doesn't work like that, and it's actually not too hard to imagine a charismatic SNP leader getting away with embracing devolutionism.  But Humza is not that person, because voters don't rate his ministerial track record and probably dislike his personal style too.  Just by chance, then, there's a strong possibility that he's unpopular enough that another change at the top could very swiftly get the independence campaign back on track.

But the snag is that it's impossible to wish for the sequence of events most likely to bring that about.  The SNP losing its majority among Scottish seats at Westminster would be a heavy price to pay for bringing Humza down, and indeed it might be a blow his successor would never recover from. The UK Government and unionist commentators would almost certainly start arguing that independence must be off the table until the SNP get their Westminster majority back, which at the very least would take several years, and might never happen.

It would be much better if Yousaf could be brought down before he leads the SNP to defeat at the general election.  But that would require the SNP to suffer some massive pre-election shock, and the only places I can see that shock coming from are poor opinion poll results, or a very heavy defeat at the likely by-election in Rutherglen.  Would either of those be sufficient to dislodge Yousaf?  Frankly, I'm not convinced they would.  But our hopes of independence may rest on me being proved wrong about that.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £2100.  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, July 19, 2023

Memo to Keir Starmer: real Tough Men make the Toughest Choices, which means recognising that feeding kids should be a higher priority for our money than a pointless nuclear status symbol

To some extent Màiri McAllan might be regarded as 'part of the problem', because she played her part in installing, for purely factional reasons, an SNP leader who - even among the initial longer list of potential candidates - stood out as particularly unpopular with the public.  But credit where it's due - Ms McAllan has very handily provided an answer to the question asked in jest by Keir Starmer of what "hard choice" he should be making instead of keeping children locked in poverty if they happen to be born into a larger family.  

If you say to any Blairite, including Starmer, that they need to face up to the tough decision of scrapping Britain's insanely expensive and utterly pointless nuclear weapons system so that children don't have to live in poverty, their answer will invariably be something along the lines of "I will NEVER play fast and loose with the security of our country".  Or, to put it another way, "I don't like that tough choice, give me another, preferably one that involves kids going hungry".

Sorry, Keir, but *real* Tough Men make the Toughest Choices, and that means the Trident issue has to be faced up to.  Part of that involves the UK being brutally honest with itself about its real motivations for spending hundreds of billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction we simply can't afford, when according to Labour "there is no money left".  Is it really about defending these islands, or it just a bizarrely costly way of boosting national status - sort of like Concorde but with genocide attached?

You'd have to say the genesis of Britain's nuclear weapons programme would suggest it's the latter.  Ernest Bevin famously said after the atomic bombings against Japan: "We've got to have this thing over here whatever it costs....We've got to have the bloody Union Jack flying on top of it."  It was all about retaining 'Great Power' status and parity with the US, and in that regard total success technologically was coupled, ironically, with total failure strategically.  Within a few years, the UK had both the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb, making it only the third country to attain both, and yet it had still slipped to being a middle-ranking power while the US and Soviet Union soared ahead to become the sole superpowers.

So the money "invested" in Trident doesn't work as a shortcut to status, but does it work as a "deterrent"?  Well, no, and if you ever doubt that, ask yourself why the UK government doesn't argue or even accept that Germany, Spain or Poland all need their own "independent nuclear deterrents" or would be helpless without them.  The reply would be that all of these countries are members of NATO, that NATO is a nuclear weapons alliance, and therefore they are all "protected" by the American nuclear "deterrent" and thus don't need to duplicate that themselves.  OK, then in that case, why does Britain, which as a NATO member is also automatically "protected" by the American "deterrent", need to duplicate it?  Especially given that the UK possesses only a tiny fraction of the nuclear weapons that the US does.  What does it actually add?

Logically, there are only two possible answers.  Firstly, it could be that the UK thinks there are circumstances in which it might wish to attack a country with nuclear weapons against the wishes of the Americans - although the mind boggles as to what those circumstances could possibly be, or why it could ever be thought to be a good thing.  Or secondly, there could be a fear that one day the US might retreat back into the isolationism of the early 20th Century, and that one or two other NATO countries therefore need to have nuclear weapons as a back-up.  But neither of those explanations make any sense, because unlike France, the UK has not maintained a nuclear weapons system that is genuinely independent and can function without American cooperation.  The weapons are not owned by the UK, they are leased from the US.  Testing occurs in the US.  The submarines themselves have to periodically go to the US for maintenance.

To all intents and purposes, then, Trident is just an outpost of the American nuclear empire, albeit one that we pay through the nose to put the Union Jack on top of.  For as long as the US and UK remain allied, Trident is a pointless duplication.  But if that alliance is broken, Trident essentially ceases to exist anyway.  So whichever way you cut it, Britain is wasting hundreds of billions of pounds on something which is utterly useless.  But is Keir Starmer prepared to make the Tough Choice of redirecting that wasted money into the far more necessary and valuable endeavour of cutting child poverty?  Och, don't be daft.  The theoretical capacity to inflict instant genocide at the push of a button against the people of Russia (or whoever the designated enemy of the day is) will ALWAYS come first for ALL British Prime Ministers of both the Tory and Blairite varieties.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few weeks ago, and the running total has now passed £2000.  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.