Friday, September 15, 2023

Why are Alba not embarrassing Yousaf by claiming credit for his U-turn, rather than attacking him for doing exactly what they asked him to do?

I've written about this before, but it's something that genuinely bewilders me about the Alba Party's current positioning.  When Nicola Sturgeon first announced the de facto referendum plan (unfortunately since semi-abandoned by Yousaf and replaced with a "Schrodinger's de facto"), I felt strongly that it was a step forward.  The Alba leadership were, however, heavily critical, and one of the key points they made was that it was unforgiveable that Ms Sturgeon had unnecessarily specified that only an absolute majority of the popular vote would count as a mandate for independence.  They felt that this represented a kind of pre-surrender on behalf of the independence movement, one that would take effect in the more likely circumstances that a majority of seats was won and not a majority of votes.

I had a lot of sympathy with what the Scottish Government were saying at that point, because in the real world the general public will not accept a mandate won on, say, 35% or 42% of the vote as sufficient for Scotland to become an independent country.  I thought it possibly made sense to make a virtue out of necessity by accepting that reality in advance, so that voters could see that no-one was trying to win independence in a tricksy or underhand manner.  I did add, however, that there was no great harm in Alba continuing to argue the case that a majority of seats should be sufficient for an independence mandate.  I know from having talked to senior Alba people at the time that for many of them it wasn't just a matter of tactical positioning, and that they sincerely and vehemently felt that if it was fine for successive UK governments to do what they liked to Scotland, despite having been elected on well under 50% of the UK-wide popular vote, then the principle should cut both ways.

Since becoming leader, Yousaf has made a number of fundamental modifications to the Sturgeon plan, most of them negative ones which water it down.  But he has undoubtedly done exactly what Alba asked him to do on the question of the mandate threshold - he is now saying that a majority of seats (perhaps even just a plurality of seats) will be a mandate for independence and that a majority of votes is not required.  And yet, bizarrely, Alba are attacking him for doing exactly what they requested, and strongly implying he should go back to the Sturgeon position which they castigated her for.  Here is what Alex Salmond was quoted as saying yesterday in a BBC article: "No-one seriously believes that proposing a majority of seats as an independence mandate is at all credible."  

I haven't been on the Alba NEC since last October, so I'm no longer as plugged-in to the evolution of the leadership's thinking as I used to be, but with the best will in the world, it's impossible to see that statement as anything other than a total contradiction of what Alba were saying last year, when they were not only arguing that a mandate based on a majority of seats was credible, but was in fact the only credible position that any pro-independence party could possibly hold.

Now, I totally understand that small parties need to find wedge issues and differentiate themselves from larger parties they're trying to take votes from.  But in doing so, you surely have to take care to maintain congruity between your 2023 position and your 2022 position.  Rather than attacking and mocking Yousaf for doing exactly what you demanded he should do, it would make far more sense to embarrass him by claiming his U-turn as a massive triumph for Alba's campaigning.  

My own view of this aspect of Yousaf's Schrodinger's de facto plan is that it is indeed nonsensical, but as I said about Alba's similar position last year, there may be no great harm in him publicly putting it forward.  A majority of seats won on a minority of votes will obviously not result in Scottish independence, but by arguing in advance that it ought to, it may be more likely that the media will treat any such election outcome as a score draw, and that the independence movement will live to fight another day.  You can argue the case either way, but for Alba to suddenly turn their attack lines upside down and insist that the target for an independence mandate should be substantially increased (and thus made much harder to reach) seems distinctly odd.

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My recent blogpost, about the difficulty of keeping Scot Goes Pop going for much longer due to lack of funds, produced a significant response.  Not all of it is visible on the fundraiser page itself because some of the donations were made directly via Paypal, but a substantial amount 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:

Thursday, September 14, 2023

One swallow does not make a summer, but give the SNP leadership their due: YouGov have just served up a rare sighting of a relatively good poll for the party

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (YouGov, 8th-13th September 2023):

SNP 38% (+2)
Labour 27% (-5)
Conservatives 16% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 general election): SNP 39 (-9), Labour 11 (+10), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1), Conservatives 4 (-2)

This appears to be the second largest Westminster lead for the SNP in any poll from any firm since Humza Yousaf became First Minister, and it's substantially bigger than any lead they've had since June.

If the above was actually the outcome of the election, the SNP would feel they'd had a major result.  Although they would have lost a significant number of seats, they'd have dodged the main bullet of losing their majority and their leading party status.  Every instinct in my body suggests it's not going to be quite that simple, though.  It's only the blink of an eye since a Redfield & Wilton poll showed them losing their lead altogether.  It may be that normal sampling variation led YouGov to flatter the SNP's position and Redfield & Wilton to understate it.  But even by raising that possibility, the YouGov poll is moderately good news for the SNP because it's a strong signal that things may not be quite as bad as Redfield & Wilton made them look.

As ever, the biggest caveat is that Westminster elections are 'away fixtures' for the SNP, because coverage of the campaign seen by Scottish voters will in the closing weeks be flooded by the London-based media, who for the most part will only be interested in reporting Labour and the Tories.  To overcome that disadvantage, the SNP will need to start the campaign with a 'BBC-proof' lead, and I'm not convinced that even an 11-point lead would quite cut it.

The other important note of caution here is that the SNP's lead has grown largely due to Labour going backwards rather than the SNP themselves going forwards.  The 38% vote share for the SNP is actually pretty similar to their 36% in the previous YouGov poll and their 37% in the one before that.  It's true that in a first-past-the-post election, by far the most important factor is the gap between the most popular party and the second placed party, so in one sense the SNP's own lack of progress doesn't necessarily matter.  But nevertheless it's a reminder that 38% doesn't make them remotely safe if Labour bounce back at the expense of other parties.

On the independence question, the No lead has increased from two points to five since the last YouGov poll, before the exclusion of Don't Knows.  That doesn't worry me in the slightest, because the previous two-point lead was miraculously low by the normal standards of YouGov, who are generally on the No-friendly end of the spectrum.  We're just seeing a modest reversion to the mean, and a five-point deficit for Yes is still pretty healthy in YouGov terms.

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 41% (-)
Labour 28% (-3)
Conservatives 16% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+1)
Greens 3% (-)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 33% (+1)
Labour 25% (-3)
Conservatives 16% (+2)
Greens 11% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-)

Seats projection (with changes from 2021 election): SNP 59 (-5), Labour 32 (+10), Conservatives 20 (-11), Greens 10 (+2), Liberal Democrats 8 (+4)

The Holyrood trend mirrors that of Westminster, with the SNP lead growing by default due to Labour seemingly losing votes to other unionist parties.  I dare say it will be pointed out in some quarters that YouGov are in agreement with Redfield & Wilton in suggesting the pro-independence majority at Holyrood is on course to be maintained, but in fact the two polls could hardly be more different.  The projection of a pro-indy majority from the Redfield & Wilton numbers was really just a statistical quirk that would never have played out in the real world, whereas in YouGov's case it's built on much more solid foundations, with a substantial SNP advantage on both ballots.

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My recent blogpost, about the difficulty of keeping Scot Goes Pop going for much longer due to lack of funds, produced a significant response.  Not all of it is visible on the fundraiser page itself because some of the donations were made directly via Paypal, but a substantial amount 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:

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Sorry, did you just sing about the King being sappy and laborious? I couldn't really hear over all that BOOING.

Remember at this time last year, unionist commentators couldn't contain their rather inappropriate jubilation at the TV pictures of people in Scotland lining the streets to see the Queen's final journey, or queueing up at St Giles' Cathedral to pay their respects? This was, we were excitedly assured, absolute proof that there exists in Scotland a "silent majority" who love Our Precious Union and who quietly seethe away on a daily basis at an SNP government and a wider independence movement that Don't Represent The Real Scotland. It was wishful thinking on steroids, of course - if any such silent majority existed, it would show up in election results and there wouldn't have been a pro-indy government since 2007.  Even silent people are perfectly capable of going to a polling station and using a pen or pencil to mark a cross on a ballot paper.  (Incidentally, I was one of the people who lined the streets last September, but that didn't make me a silent Brit Nat.)

But this unionist infatuation with the idea that anecdotes or things you see happen on the TV somehow trump election results is, I think, the explanation for their weird meltdown over the booing at Hampden last night.  Spontaneous episodes of that sort are supposed to affirm their belief thaf 'The Real Scotland Is Decent And British', but instead it went completely the other way.  That bothers them on a visceral level, and they need to find An Explanation For It.  Naturally they're going for the lazy option of "it's just a tiny minority of idiots whipped up into hatred of the English by the SNP", but not even they really believe that.  It didn't sound much like a tiny minority, did it?  I could barely even hear the tune over the booing (I'm using the word "tune" in the loosest sense).

To be clear, I do not approve of the Hampden crowd booing other countries' anthems.  I was there in person in 2021 when the Czech anthem was booed, and I said at the time how much I didn't like it.  Exactly the same principle applies to the English anthem.  But by the same token, I'm realistic enough to know that Scottish football supporters booing the English anthem is an unstoppable force of nature, and getting overly worried about the fact you can't stop it is about as daft as worrying about the fact that you can't stop pantomime audiences from booing the Evil Stepmother.  Unionists are incapable of putting it in that proper perspective because they didn't hear the English football anthem being booed, they instead heard the British political anthem about the British King being booed, and according to unionist ideology Scots are supposed to secretly adore Britain and His Majesty.

BBC unionist propagandist Nick "he didn't answer" Robinson got so frantic about the whole problem that he suggested England should stop using God Save The King as their football anthem because it's an "invitation for the Tartan Army to boo in order to demonstrate that they are loyal to Scotland".  That was a somewhat puzzling comment, but I think what it's supposed to mean is that the Tartan Army would boo any anthem England come up with, but that wouldn't actually bother Robinson one jot as long as it's not God Save The King - the booing of which is apparently intolerable to his dignity as a Brit and thus must be stopped by any means.  Why is it intolerable? Robinson's official version is that it needlessly creates a false impression that Scottish football fans dislike the UK, whereas in fact they adore the UK and would never boo anything British unless they were forced into it.  The unofficial version is that he's worried the fans were booing God Save The King precisely because it's the UK anthem and he would rather not be confronted ever again with that disquieting possibility.

It reminds me of one of the lowest points in the history of BBC Sport, when political impartiality was completely tossed aside to allow the Belfast-born (ahem) football commentator Alan Green to launch into a lengthy ranting monologue about Scottish supporters booing God Save The Queen at the Scotland v England Euro 2000 qualification play-off in late 1999.  He made clear that he was only angry about the incident because "the last time I checked, that's still the anthem of the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is a part".  So in other words, he wasn't bothered about Scots booing the anthem of another country, but expected the English anthem to be an exception to the general rule because it doubles up as the political anthem of the sovereign state Scotland is part of, even though it wasn't being used in that context.  As it happens, Alan and Nick, Scots are quite capable of booing the United Kingdom anthem when it's actually being used as the United Kingdom anthem, because at least half of us don't want Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom.  But I must say that as special pleading goes, saying that Scots still have to treat GSTK with reverence even in the context of England nicking it and using it as their anthem alone, really takes the biscuit.  That arrogance would in itself probably warrant at least a few jeers.

The supreme example of this double standard is Ally McCoist blasting Scotland supporters as "SNP fans" for booing the English anthem (a nakedly political comment that undoubtedly oversteps the mark for any sports broadcaster) and then openly admitting that he lustily sang along with the English anthem "because I'm British".  I mean, it's one thing treating the opposing side's anthem with the appropriate respect, but singing it yourself and believing you're somehow singing for your own country in doing so? It's just bizarre.  Let's hope people don't react by calling him a "Tory fan", but he wouldn't have much credibility in complaining if they do, because they'd just be following his own logic to its inexorable conclusion.

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I have an article on The National's website about the new Find Out Now poll which shows a pro-independence majority - you can read the article HERE.

It's the settled will: yet another new poll confirms Scotland wants to become an independent country

Many thanks to Paul Kirkwood, who has just pointed out to me that a new Find Out Now poll on Scottish independence was released last night on Twitter.  Two versions of the result are given, both with a Yes lead - one is weighted by recalled 2014 indyref vote, and the other is not.  Judging by what happened last time, Find Out Now will probably specify the former as the headline numbers, in which case it's...

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Find Out Now / Independent Voices, 5th-12th September 2023)

Yes 49.4%
No 46.2%

A rough recalculation suggests that if Don't Knows are stripped out, and if rounding to the nearest whole number is done, the result is - 

Yes 52%
No 48%

This continues the long-running pattern that every single Find Out Now poll that has ever been conducted on the subject shows a pro-independence majority.  In other words, if Find Out Now's methodology is accurate, independence is undeniably the settled will of the people of Scotland.

This poll hasn't been widely reported yet - if it's even on The National's website I can't spot it.  [UPDATE: The National posted a report on the poll literally ten minutes after I published this blogpost!]  But there's no real doubt that the poll is genuine, because the Twitter account that revealed the numbers is run by a person who commissioned a previous Find Out Now poll a few months ago.

What makes the result particularly significant is that Find Out Now is of course the pollster of choice for a number of unionists - the Daily Express once commissioned a Find Out Now poll on independence, and Blair McDougall of Better Together fame recently commissioned a Find Out Now poll which was intended (ironically) to shore up Humza Yousaf's position, due to Labour's fear that the far more popular Kate Forbes could soon take over as SNP leader.  So unionists are certainly in no position to try to question the credibility of the Yes lead.

I'll update this post with more details if I can find any.