Saturday, August 26, 2023

My verdict on Alba's decision to sit out the Rutherglen by-election

Alex Salmond has always been the master of surprise, and the Rutherglen episode has proved to be no exception.  It was obvious that the choreography of the last few weeks was preparing the ground for some sort of predetermined outcome.  I had assumed there were two serious possibilities of what that outcome might be - either that Mr Salmond himself would be standing as the Alba candidate in the by-election (which I thought would potentially be a good idea), or that a little-known Alba candidate would be standing for experience (which I thought would be a bad idea).  Instead he's surprised us all by announcing that Alba won't be standing at all.

In the short-term I'd have to say common sense has prevailed, because as I've pointed out repeatedly, if Mr Salmond didn't want to be the candidate for whatever reason, there was nothing to be gained for Alba in standing in Rutherglen.  A lesser known candidate probably would only have taken a small vote, which wouldn't have moved the dial for Alba at all, except in the negative sense that Alba might have been blamed for worsening the SNP's likely defeat at the hands of Labour.

But the flipside of the coin is that Mr Salmond is making clear that Alba are only standing aside to give the SNP "one last chance" to agree a Scotland United electoral pact, and that if they don't, Alba will be making a widespread intervention at the general election.  That worries me greatly.  As I've said for two years, Alba have got to be extraordinarily cautious about standing in first-past-the-post elections.  The irony is that if I had been forced to make a straight choice between an Alba intervention in Rutherglen and a widespread Alba intervention at the general election, I'd have chosen Rutherglen like a shot, because the SNP's chances of winning there are so slim that there's little danger that a split pro-indy vote will do very much harm.  But at a general election in which John Curtice has suggested practically every Scottish seat will be a marginal seat, it's not hard to see what harm a split vote will do.  And remember the harm would not only be to the independence cause - it would extend to Alba themselves, because a mythology would grow that Alba are "the unionists' little helpers", thus undermining the party's chances in the Holyrood list vote in 2026, which is where the real opportunity lies.

So we come back to a modified form of the original question - what is the predetermined outcome in this extended choreography?  Does Alex Salmond just want a pretext to stand lots and lots of Alba candidates at the general election?  "We left no stone unturned, we even stood aside at the Rutherglen by-election when no-one could reasonably have expected us to, yet still the door was slammed in our face, leaving us with no choice."  If that's the plan, then the whole objective is wrong, and Alba are travelling down completely the wrong path.  On the other hand, it could be that Mr Salmond genuinely wants to force the SNP's hand and get them to accept the Scotland United offer, because he recognises the importance of Alba retaining elected representatives and thinks Neale Hanvey and Kenny MacAskill would have a fighting chance of holding their seats with SNP support.  That line of thinking would make much more strategic sense, but I don't see how the moral high ground of standing aside in Rutherglen generates - or even helps to generate - the bargaining power required to get the SNP to seriously consider Scotland United, even if they are demonstrated to have failed hopelessly with a solo campaign.  By contrast, Alex Salmond standing as an Alba candidate in Rutherglen and winning 15-20% of the vote might just have given the SNP some pause for thought for the first time.

So pretty much any way you look at it, today's statement looks like a misstep and possibly a major missed opportunity that will be rued for years to come.  But time will tell.

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My blogpost on Thursday, about the difficulty of keeping Scot Goes Pop going for much longer due to lack of funds, produced a substantial response.  Not all of it is visible on the fundraiser page itself because around half the donations were made directly via Paypal, but over £600 has been raised since I posted.  The fundraiser remains well short of its target, but I'll certainly keep going for as long as I possibly can, and there's still some sort of chance I may be able to keep going indefinitely, depending on what happens over the next few weeks.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated, and if anyone else would like to contribute, the fundraiser page can be found HERE.  Alternatively, direct payments can be made via Paypal - my Paypal email address is:

Edinburgh Fringe mini-reviews: 1984, and Boris III, King of Bulgaria

Before the pandemic, I would typically go to the Fringe anything between four and eight times during August.  Since its return in 2021, I've just made one visit per year to avoid losing touch with it completely.  I had thought about maybe pushing the boat out by going twice this year, but the recent resurgence in Covid cases deterred me.  Even going once felt like a significant risk given that it's next to impossible (unlike in 2021) to find outdoor performances that go beyond the traditional street theatre.  But as with the Eurovision in May, I put on my FFP3 mask, restricted the number of indoor shows I was seeing, and hoped for the best.

I wasn't going to bother with the mini-reviews I used to do on this blog, because with only two or three days left of the Fringe I didn't think they'd be much use to anyone.  But one of the two shows I saw specifically asked people at the end to post reviews online, so I thought I might as well.

The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria (My rating: 4 stars ****)

I was intrigued to go and see this, because it's about the Second World War, but a corner of the war that most people know nothing about, namely the Bulgarian Tsar's half-hearted involvement on the Axis side, and his bureaucratic obstructionism that ultimately prevented several thousand Bulgarian Jews from being murdered in the Nazi extermination camps.  The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, although one or two noted the performance was "camp".  I had interpreted that as meaning a serious production in which one or two characters are portrayed in a slightly camp way, but in fact the campness is far, far more overarching than that - it's essentially an adult pantomime that never takes itself seriously for longer than twenty seconds.  That means there's no depth at all to the story or the characterisations, but the play works on the level of a 'painless history lesson' - you come out feeling you know something you previously didn't, and I'm sure I wasn't the only member of the audience who later did a Google search to find out more about the real events.  

The music is probably the strongest element - it sounds like they used authentic Bulgarian folk songs and even learned the lyrics in Bulgarian (although I'd be interested to know from real Bulgarians how accurate the use of the language was).  There's also a very funny outing for a stereotypical evangelical Christian ditty sung in English.  

The most confusing aspect of the play is a male Nazi officer played by a woman.  You constantly have to remind yourself that she's supposed to be a man because the general effect of her uniform and innuendo-laden dialogue is somewhat reminiscent of Helga in Allo Allo.

1984 (My Rating: 5 stars *****)

I think I'm right in saying the official name of Orwell's novel is "Nineteen Eighty-Four" rather than "1984", so presumably the use of the numerical title is supposed to emphasise that this is a modern retelling. It's possible that I'm 'marking this upwards', because I've seen so little live theatre over the last four years, and I'm therefore a touch more easily impressed than I used to be.  But I do think this is a really impressive production.  My concern about seeing it was that I've read the novel two or three times, I've seen the John Hurt/Suzanna Hamilton film adaptation a couple of times, and I've also seen the legendary BBC TV adaptation from the 50s that was thought to be lost for many decades.  There are some sequences that I feel I could almost recite backwards, so I was worried that sitting through the play would be like watching the same old film for the umpteenth time.  But I was actually struck by how fresh it felt throughout.  The sequences of Winston and Julia rebelling against the Party by meeting in secret are acted very naturalistically and with conviction.  Perhaps being invited to suspend disbelief in the face of a Winston with a strong Irish accent and a Julia with some sort of continental European accent (I initially thought she was eastern European but judging from the name in the credits she might be French) helps the scenes to feel completely novel even if the words are familiar and you already know how it all ends.

I wondered in advance how such a complex story could be satisfactorily condensed into an hour or whatever it was, but in fact it never feels rushed or hyper-edited.  Only a modest proportion of the narrative in the novel is covered, and yet what is selected feels exactly enough to support the version of the story that is actually being told.  If you were going to be picky, you could maybe complain that a large proportion of the play is pre-filmed and presented on a screen (I wasn't keeping track, but it felt like it could have been anything between 25% and 50%), so at times you feel like you're in a small cinema rather than watching a live performance.  However, presumably that's done to create the effect that you're Big Brother and you're spying on people's most intimate moments through a telescreen when they have no idea there are surveillance cameras present.  Julia only ever appears on screen, which is such a consistent pattern that I assumed the actress wasn't even in the building, but in fact she appeared afterwards to take the applause.  I think they may have missed a trick there - it would have had real impact if she had turned up fleetingly on stage before Winston's death.  But perhaps the actress was doubling up with a backstage role and thus wasn't free to do that.

In terms of the Covid risk, the venue for 1984 (Assembly Roxy) felt like the safer of the two.  The air seemed to be relatively fresh, although I was relieved to find at the King of Bulgaria play that I wasn't the only mask-wearer - I counted three others.  Incidentally, in Waverley Station afterwards I thought for a second that I was under some sort of aerial bombing attack - I discovered today on Twitter that it was a low-flying military aircraft.  Absolute madness to allow that sort of thing over a heavily populated area at that time of night (it was well after 9pm). 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The future of Scot Goes Pop: an update

First of all, for those of you who have been asking, the reason blogging has been a bit light during most of August is that I was away on a family staycation last week and the week before.  In fact I may have some photos and videos for you at some point, because there was a slightly unexpected episode right at the start of the trip.

Since I got back home at the weekend, I've been doing some sums in my head based on the state of my bank balance and the current trajectory of the fundraiser, and I've been coming to the regrettable conclusion that we may be inching closer to the end of the road with Scot Goes Pop.  When I launched the 2023 fundraiser in May, I said that if the target was reached or even if we got well over halfway there, I'd be able to continue indefinitely, and that if nothing or almost nothing was raised I'd pretty much have to stop straight away, and that if the fundraiser was partially successful I'd keep going for however many months the funds allowed and then stop.  It's that third scenario we've ended up with - the fundraiser is over one-quarter of the way towards its target, and that has allowed me to keep going for the last three months and may allow me to keep going for a few weeks more.  But I can't keep lurching from mini-crisis to mini-crisis, so if substantial progress isn't made there'll come a point in the near future where I'll have to draw a line and start devoting far more time to other activities that will probably leave much less space for blogging, although I dare say you'd still see me pop up with an occasional blogpost every few weeks when I feel the urgent need to sound off about something!

Just to explain briefly how we've ended up at this point, until two or three years ago I was in an enviable position whereby the annual fundraiser was almost always hitting its target and I also had several other income streams from political writing that were essentially spin-offs from the blogging itself.  The combined funds from all of those income streams made it reasonably easy for me to devote huge amounts of time to the blog, especially during election periods and at other times of high political drama.  It also gave me the flexibility to just drop everything whenever a new poll came out and blog about it as quickly as possible.  I used to earn quite a bit by writing extensively for The National - in some years I was literally writing dozens of articles for them, but that more or less dried up after I joined the Alba Party in 2021, which I assume is not a coincidence (although admittedly no-one has said that to me directly).  For many years I was also earning from regular columns for the International Business Times, but that fizzled out gradually due to changes in the editorial team.  (One of them eventually ended up at the Talk Radio website and took me on again as a columnist there, although that time he wasn't able to offer payment.)  And in my early years as an iScot columnist, I was earning from that, but as many of you will know Ken has been walking an impossible tightrope recently trying to keep iScot financially viable, so for around the last three years or so I've been contributing my monthly column for free.  Basically what used to be an enviable position has become a perfect storm, with all of the income streams closing off more or less at the same time.  And even the part of my income that has nothing to do with politics or writing has taken a big hit over the last three years due to the pandemic - that's just a coincidence, but obviously it doesn't help.

I'm not quite ready to give up just yet, though, because I know from past experience that sometimes fundraisers follow odd patterns - they can appear to run out of steam and then there'll be a sudden spurt for no apparent reason.  So I'll make one final push via this post, and also at the bottom of every blogpost over the next few weeks, to see if I can raise enough to just about keep Scot Goes Pop going until next year, or at least to postpone the final decision for a bit longer.  Also if anyone has any brilliant suggestions that I may not have thought of about how I can find alternative income streams from the blog or from other forms of political writing, by all means let me know.  People always suggest a subscription model like Patreon, but my strong suspicion is that if there isn't the money out there to fund the blog by one crowdfunding method, it wouldn't be there to fund the blog by any other crowdfunding method either.  My guess is that Yessers are currently looking to fund blogs that tack to one of the two extremes, for want of a better word - either they want blogs that say the SNP leadership are saintly figures who can do no wrong, or they want blogs that say the SNP have stabbed the independence movement in the back and thus must be totally destroyed in an act of crazed revenge, even if that means installing unionist MPs and MSPs.  Scot Goes Pop has a nuanced position somewhere in between those two extremes, and I suspect that's why it's no longer attracting the scale of support that is still enjoyed by certain other websites.  I make no complaints about that - it's a form of market forces in action, and ultimately independence supporters will end up with whatever alternative media landscape that they think is worth having.

Once again, thank you to the dozens of people who have donated to the 2023 fundraiser so far, and if you're one of them please just ignore my ongoing crowdfunding efforts.  If you haven't donated so far and would like to do so (and please don't feel under any pressure to do it - I know most people are feeling the pinch right now), the preferable method is direct payment by Paypal.  That cuts out the middle man, which helps a lot because the payment usually comes through instantly and fees can be eliminated completely depending on which option you select.

For direct payments by Paypal, my Paypal email address is:

If you don't have a Paypal account, payments can be made by card via the fundraiser page HERE.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Jubilation in Yes camp as support for independence grows in new Survation poll - but it's another horror show for Humza on personal approval ratings, suggesting the SNP will have to address the leadership crisis *before* the general election

I'm probably not alone in being thoroughly confused by the reporting of Survation polls these days, but today took the problem to a new extreme.  I went to the Survation website to find out more about the poll for True North that is being widely reported, and sure enough the top headline was about a poll for True North...but it turned out it had been conducted in June.  I started to wonder if the poll had been withheld for two months for some reason, but I think the mystery has been solved by John Curtice's site, which lists a brand new Survation poll for True North conducted between the 15th and 18th of this month.  That's good news, because it means support for independence has actually increased since the last comparable poll.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation / True North, 15th - 18th August 2023)

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

A one-point swing is of course statistically insignificant, but for what it's worth the direction of travel is in line with the recent YouGov poll which showed a much more significant three-point jump for Yes.  George Foulkes seemed to reckon on Twitter earlier that the poll suggests "support for independence is fading fast", which may mean he's looking at the wrong poll, or possibly that he was indulging in liquid refreshment a tad too early in the day.

However, there's the by now familiar divergence in the poll between independence numbers and party political voting intention numbers, which are not especially favourable for the SNP - although at least there's no sign of things worsening much further for the time being.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election:

SNP 37% (-)
Labour 35% (+1)
Conservatives 17% (-)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-3)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): SNP 24 (-24), Labour 24 (+23), Conservatives 6 (-), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

Scottish Parliament constituency voting intentions:

SNP 39% (+1)
Labour 34% (+1)
Conservatives 16% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 30% (-)
Labour 30% (+1)
Conservatives 15% (-3)
Greens 9% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): SNP 49 (-15), Labour 42 (+20), Conservatives 17 (-14), Liberal Democrats 11 (+7), Greens 10 (+2)

Net personal ratings:

Anas Sarwar (Labour): -3
Humza Yousaf (SNP): -22
Douglas Ross (Conservatives): -26

Those are horrible personal numbers for Yousaf, and contradict the suggestion in the YouGov poll that his unpopularity might be easing off slightly.  To be twenty or so points behind Sarwar, and essentially level with Ross, is a desperate position to find himself in just five months after being installed as First Minister.

I remain of the view that the SNP have got to be brutally honest with themselves that the polling evidence suggests they are heading for defeat in next year's Westminster election and also that Humza Yousaf's unpopularity is a significant part of the problem.  They could move on from a lot of their travails fairly quickly, certainly in time for the general election, if they simply face up to the leadership issue.  But will they?

In the absence of the data tables (if they're out there I haven't found them yet) the only other point that can be made about the poll at this stage relates to the numbers on support or opposition to the SNP's coalition with the Greens.  There's something in there for everyone - a plurality of the overall electorate oppose the coalition, while an overall majority of SNP voters support it, as do a plurality (but not a majority) of Yes voters from 2014.  You can spin that pretty much any way you want to, although I would make the point that even if only a small minority of SNP voters are deserting them specifically because of the relationship with the Greens, that could be more than enough to do heavy damage in terms of seat losses.

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SCOT GOES FUNDRAISER 2023: Three months in, the fundraiser is just over one-quarter of the way to its target, and on that trajectory it may not be viable to continue with a full service on Scot Goes Pop beyond this autumn.  So please bear with me as I continue to plug away at promoting the fundraiser at the bottom of every blogpost, and a million thanks to everyone who has donated so far.  If you'd like to donate, and if you have a Paypal account, direct payments can be made (eliminating fees) via Paypal.  My Paypal email address is:

If you don't have a Paypal account, payments can be made via card on the fundraiser page HERE.

Monday, August 21, 2023

The crucial point about Alba 'faking it until it's real' is that eventually it has to become real

I see that Ipsos UK's resident identity politics zealot Mark McGeoghegan has penned an opinion piece for the Herald in which he suggests, rather uncharacteristically, that the Alba Party may well have a future in Scottish politics - but only if they "deal with the Salmond problem", ie. replace Alex Salmond as leader.  Let's be blunt about this: it's intellectual dishonesty on stilts.  McGeoghegan has a visceral loathing of Mr Salmond and the traditional form of civic nationalism and social democracy that he stands for, and is hellbent on seeing him permanently removed from the Scottish political scene - every bit as much as the clique around Nicola Sturgeon was.  McGeoghegan thinks he's playing it smarter than before by trying to convince Alba members that it's in their own rational self-interest to put pressure on Mr Salmond to go, but I'm afraid they aren't daft enough to fall for the ruse.

My own view is close to the polar opposite of the one that McGeoghegan is pretending to hold.  It's perfectly true that Mr Salmond has really poor net approval ratings in the polls (to the limited extent that polling companies still put the matter to the test), and that this would be an insurmountable obstacle if Alba were seriously attempting to win an election outright, or to overhaul the SNP as the main pro-independence force.  But that's not even close to where Alba are at just now, despite the fantasises we occasionally hear on social media.  A good outcome for Alba in 2026 would be to win a handful of list seats and to gain some leverage, which could be done on as little as 5-6% of the national vote.  A bad outcome would be to barely register with the voters and thus essentially cease to exist as an electoral force.  The danger for a party with prospects of that sort is not to be disliked or even distrusted by the public at large.  The danger is to be ignored or forgotten about.  By far the best protection against that fate is to have a heavyweight leader like Alex Salmond, who notwithstanding his poor approval ratings remains recognised as one of the towering figures of Scottish politics over the last three decades.

I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility that there may be a way in the future of squaring the circle - ie. of having a new leader who still commands sufficient fascination from the media but lacks Mr Salmond's baggage.  If, for example, Joanna Cherry or Ash Regan were ever to defect to Alba, there would suddenly be viable alternative leaders.  But even with those individuals, it would be a throw of the dice.  There would still be a major risk that Alba would just quietly fade from public attention.  No, Alex Salmond is not the millstone around Alba's neck - he is in fact by far their greatest asset.  And in my view they should be making even bigger use of that asset, by which I mean that they should only stand a candidate in the Rutherglen by-election if that candidate is Alex Salmond himself.

There's clearly a choreography being worked through at the moment, with Alba asking potential candidates for Rutherglen to express their interest while the party awaits Humza Yousaf's inevitable failure to meet a deadline for agreeing a joint "Scotland United" candidate.  I have no idea whether that choreography ends with Alex Salmond eventually emerging as the candidate, or whether the intention is to put forward a little-known candidate "for experience" even though that person would probably only take a negligible vote.  But what I will say is that if it turns out to be the latter, it will achieve nothing.  Indeed it would be the worst of all worlds - it would just lead to Alba being blamed for worsening the scale of the SNP's likely defeat at the hands of Labour.

There are an awful lot of people in Alba who claim to be furious with the SNP for rejecting the "Scotland United" overtures.  For some, that fury may even be genuinely felt, but let me pose the inconvenient question - do you think it would have been harder for the SNP to say no to a joint slate of candidates if Alba had won five list seats at the 2021 Holyrood election?  Or if some of the Alba councillors had been re-elected in 2022?  Or even if Angus MacNeil was planning to bring his sizeable personal vote across to Alba rather than standing as an independent?  Of course it would, because Alba would have been bringing something solid to the table to bargain with.  At the moment, the Alba leadership are essentially trying to 'fake it until its real', a tactic that Alex Salmond is a past master of and that has served him well throughout his career.  But there comes a point where the faking has to stop and the bargaining power Alba are posing as if they already have must become real.

I've tried as much as anyone to play the game of finding the positives in Alba's electoral performances to date - most obviously 8% of the vote in the local elections in Mhairi Hunter's old ward (a feat that was tarnished by the Alba candidate's defection to the SNP just a few days later), and 4% of the vote in the Bellshill by-election, which saw Alba outpoll both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats.  But more than two years after Alba was founded, that's pretty thin material to work with.  Even if the 4% from Bellshill could be replicated more widely, it wouldn't quite win Holyrood list seats and it wouldn't quite save deposits in Westminster contests.

Whereas if Alex Salmond stands in Rutherglen and finishes a strong third, with perhaps 15-20% of the vote, it could lead to a snowball effect in the polls and Alba might finally be onto something with the "Scotland United" proposal.  It's a lot easier to knit a woolly jumper if you've actually got some wool in your hands.  OK, there's always the chance of the tactic backfiring if Alba are seen to play their trump card and get nowhere - but it may actually be better to find out one way or the other, now rather than later.

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SCOT GOES POP FUNDRAISER 2023: This year's fundraiser has now been running for well over two months, and it's been partially successful - it's around a quarter of the way towards its target figure of £8500.  Please bear with me as I plug away at continuing to promote it at the bottom of every blogpost, because there's very little point in leaving the job half-done - that would mean continuing with the current service for maybe two or three more months and then more or less stopping.  We wouldn't necessarily need to hit the full target figure to avoid that outcome, but substantial progress would need to be made.  Why is it a bit harder to raise money these days than it used to be?  Obviously it's partly because of the cost of living crisis, but I think the bigger issue is that it's far easier for a pro-indy blog to inspire people to donate if it's pumping out a "purist" message that appeals to one of the two opposite ends of the spectrum - ie. either that the SNP leadership can do no wrong and deserve our unquestioning support, or that the SNP is unremittingly evil and must be totally destroyed.  Scot Goes Pop has a much more nuanced analysis that is pretty much bang in the middle between those two extremes.  But the glass-half-full way of looking at it is that £2000+ raised means that people still think nuance and independent thinking (alternatively known as "being in the scunnered middle") have their place.  A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and anyone wishing to make a donation can do so HERE.  Alternatively, direct donations can be made via Paypal (in many ways this is preferable because it cuts out the middle man).  My Paypal email address is: