Saturday, October 21, 2023

Thoughts on election strategy for the Alba Party

For very technical reasons to do with Alba's internal election rules, I was given an unexpected opportunity today to submit a few lines about my thoughts on the party's general election strategy.  Having done that, I thought I might as well share what I've written with Scot Goes Pop readers, because it will hopefully be of interest to anyone voting in the Membership Support Convener election, and the general NEC ballot that will follow at conference.

"My view on general election strategy is simple: whatever resources Alba commit to the election should be totally concentrated in the two constituencies we are defending, and perhaps also in support of Angus MacNeil in the Western Isles, to the extent he feels that would be helpful.  Success in those three constituencies, whether in the form of outright wins or substantial vote shares, constitutes by far the best opportunity to build Alba's profile and credibility, and to propel us towards a Holyrood breakthrough in 2026.  Putting up Westminster candidates in other constituencies would be a lose/lose, because it would deflect resources (especially human resources) away from the priority seats, and would risk creating a mythology among independence supporters that Alba were responsible for needless Labour and Tory victories due to a widespread split in the pro-indy vote."

I think we all know from the mood music that the above advice is unlikely to be heeded in full, but nevertheless it's my honest view and I believe the reasoning is fairly inescapable.  Alex Salmond has said that Alba's main strategic focus must be on Holyrood 2026 - that's entirely right, and with that in mind I really do struggle to see the logic of spreading our resources too thin with risky interventions in too great a number of seats in Westminster 2024, which of course is a first-past-the-post election.  However, the SNP have made any number of far bigger strategic missteps in recent years, so if Alba make a collective decision I'm dubious about, I'm sure I'll come to terms with it.

It would perhaps be easy to caricature my views as cautious and always veering towards the least belligerent strategy, but the reality is that if I had been on the NEC a few weeks ago I would have been strongly arguing for Alba to stand in the Rutherglen by-election, as long as there had been a big name candidate. And I'm not being Captain Hindsight in saying that, because I repeatedly said so at the time on this blog.  It was a missed opportunity to build Alba's profile and transform Alba's credibility, and again, I don't really understand the thinking behind the decision.

One thing I would add is that if I'm elected to the NEC, I would strive in the same way as I did in 2021-22 to be a voice of realism about where Alba truly stands in respect of public opinion, and the challenge it faces in reaching the level of support required to win a decent number of list seats in 2026.  As long-term readers will remember, I was a bit disturbed last year about an analysis of the local election results that I felt was somewhat divorced from reality.  There was a seductive argument being put around that any voter who had ranked an Alba candidate higher than any party other than the SNP could be counted as a likely Alba list voter, which to be blunt is nonsensical.  In many cases, these were people who had voted SNP 1, SNP 2, Alba 3, or even SNP 1, SNP 2, SNP 3, Alba 4.  The obvious likelihood is that they would have been "both votes SNP" in a Holyrood election, and yet they were being prayed in aid as an indication that Alba's "real" vote was much, much higher than 2%, that very substantial progress had been made since the Holyrood election the previous year, and that the party was already firmly on course for multiple list seats - all of which unfortunately was without foundation.  I believe that list seats
are absolutely attainable, but we're far more likely to get there if we're honest with ourselves about the distance we still need to travel.

Of course I entirely understand that in an attempt to generate momentum, it can sometimes make perfect sense to publicise poll results suggesting 20%+ of voters would consider voting Alba, and to point out the number of list seats that could theoretically translate into.  But the problem kicks in if we start to internalise that messaging and take it too literally ourselves, which I sometimes feel is exactly what is happening.  As I always point out, Archie Stirling commissioned a YouGov poll in 2007 which showed 20%+ of voters would consider voting for his new Scottish Voice party - but on election day a few weeks later, only 0.1% actually did so.  Archie Stirling-type polls count for little in the real world.  I don't want us to get into a groupthink belief that 20 list seats can be easily won through enthusiastic campaigning, and then wake up on the day after the election wondering how on earth we've ended up with zero again.

Six or eight seats, which might be won on around 6% of the national list vote, will be a Herculean effort.  That would be a tripling (in fact almost a quadrupling) of the Alba vote from 2021.  We need to have a hardheaded, rooted-in-reality think about where those extra votes might come from and how they can be won over.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from just over a week ago.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Setback for "Scottish Labour" as first post-Rutherglen poll shows independence support at almost 50%

As I pointed out both before and after the Rutherglen by-election, the problem with any Labour victory was not what it would show us about public opinion, but the effect it would have on public opinion.  What happened was the nightmare scenario because the swing was far greater than expected and gave both the Scottish and London media the excuse they were dreaming of to paint the result as being of biblical significance.  There was a real danger that the early polling after Rutherglen would show a snowball effect with Labour pulling away into a big lead.  That hasn't happened, at least not in the first poll, although the big caveat is that fieldwork opened on the day after the by-election, so although most respondents would have heard about the result, the hysteria of the reporting might not have had its full effect by that point.

Scottish voting intentions for the next UK general election (Savanta, 6th-11th October 2023):

SNP 35% (-3)
Labour 35% (+1)
Conservatives 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Seats projection (with changes from 2019 election): Labour 27 (+26), SNP 20 (-28), Conservatives 7 (+1), Liberal Democrats 5 (+1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 37% (-3)
Labour 33% (-)
Conservatives 18% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-2)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

Labour 29% (+1)
SNP 28% (-)
Conservatives 20% (+2)
Greens 13% (-)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-3)

Seats projection: SNP 42 (-22), Labour 39 (+17), Conservatives 24 (-7), Greens 16 (+8), Liberal Democrats 8 (+4)

My view remains that the SNP are in all sorts of trouble as far as the Westminster election is concerned, and that a poll like this may even exacerbate the problem by encouraging a "you know, we're not doing too badly in the circumstances, are we?" mindset, when in fact they really need to be taking drastic action to turn things around.  However, as far as Holyrood is concerned, it probably is fair to suggest that Sarwar's fan club may have got over-excited about the significance of Rutherglen.

And they certainly got over-excited about their belief that Scots were turning their backs on independence in favour of "real change" (a phrase that curiously seems to mean continued right-wing rule from London, ie. no change at all).

Should Scotland be an independent country?

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

We're seeing a continued decoupling between the SNP and the Yes vote, which means by definition that a huge number of current Labour supporters actively support independence (excluding likely abstainers, roughly one-third of Labour voters in this poll would vote Yes). That may not make for the most stable of long-term relationships.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from last Friday.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Lisa Cameron: what a pointless waste

The more I read about Lisa Cameron's thinking about her decision to join the Tory party, the more I think that a) she's extremely muddled, and b) she's thrown away a golden opportunity to advance the causes she really cares about.  On the muddled aspect of it, she can't seem to make up her mind whether she still supports independence or not.  She's given several different versions of that to the media.  I was quite tickled by the version in which she still supports independence in principle but doesn't trust the SNP to run an independent Scotland (rather similar to Stuart Campbell's claimed reasons for drifting towards voting for the Tories and away from supporting independence-in-practice), because that would have technically meant the Tories were stuck with their first ever pro-independence MP.  But presumably her new handlers quickly realised that would never do, and primed her with the new "oh I'm just so exhausted with nationalism" schtick.

The missed opportunity, though, is on her thoughts about intolerance within the SNP towards religion, and anti-abortion views in particular.  My own party Alba is by no means dominated by pro-life Christians, indeed if there's any dominant worldview within the party it's radical feminism.  But its tolerance towards the type of views Lisa Cameron espouses is beyond question - you need look no further than the identity of the Alba General Secretary.  By joining Alba, or even by following Angus MacNeil's example of becoming a non-partisan pro-independence MP, Ms Cameron could have really made a difference and opened some minds among her constituents about how it's possible to vote for independence without necessarily always voting for the SNP or signing up to the SNP leadership's increasingly narrow and intolerant worldview.

But who in East Kilbride will follow her to the Tories?  Who will even give her a hearing now?  All she's done is trash her own reputation, made herself a hate figure, and closed off any chance of a lasting legacy.  I get the impression it was almost wholly an emotional decision based partly on strategic flattery and lovebombing from the Tory side, and partly on a desire to maximise the sting of her own personal revenge against the SNP.  She probably should have followed the old advice to count very slowly to 1000 before finalising her decision.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from last Friday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Yousaf's craven backtracking: when a "vote for independence" somehow means a vote for more devolution or to give "consideration" to doing something later on, but only maybe

I wanted to wait until I had a chance to read through the full text of the SNP's new "strategy for winning independence" before passing comment.  Well, where to start.  Maybe with the sole positive part: Yousaf has not reversed his dramatic announcement from a few months ago that the first line of the SNP's election manifesto will state that a vote for the SNP is a vote for an independent Scotland.  That's important, because whatever the SNP's own views on whether the election is a de facto independence referendum, it at least gives voters the theoretical opportunity to use it as one.  They had no such opportunity in 2019 because the manifesto did not contain that language (which is why people are mistaken in thinking the SNP are asking for a mandate they already have and are not using).

When Yousaf became leader, I noted that it meant the SNP had ceased to be a party actively seeking to win independence for the first time since at least 1942.  His announcement about the content of the first line of the manifesto (which he was almost certainly forced into by circumstance) caused me to tentatively reverse that assessment, and I suppose because that now forms part of the finalised "strategy", I must concede that the SNP do remain an actively pro-independence party.  But it's a finely-balanced call, because almost everything else in the text seems designed to undermine the meaning and clarity of the manifesto's opening words.

How do you signal to voters, the UK Government and the international community that an SNP vote is not really a vote for independence, even though you say it is?  Well, how about by going on to say that a vote for the SNP is actually a vote for certain limited powers to be devolved, which would obviously be unnecessary and impossible if Scotland is already independent.  Or how about by saying that you want the power to hold a referendum transferred to Holyrood, which would be unnecessary if Scotland has already voted for independence in a meaningful way.  Or how about by dropping in the subtext that even if you get the power to hold a referendum, you might not use it any time soon, thus implying the 2024 manifesto is even less of an urgent attempt to win independence than its 2019 counterpart. Or how about by suggesting that if no progress is made as a result of an SNP victory, you might then give 'consideration' to using the 2026 Holyrood election as a de facto referendum, with the implication that - in spite of all appearances - the wording of the manifesto cannot really be construed as making the 2024 election a de facto referendum even if voters wish to use it as one.

That word "consideration" is the most snivelling part of the whole exercise, because at least if there had been a clear statement of intent to use 2026 as the de facto, we'd have a roadmap towards independence.  As it is, we instead have the very real prospect of continuing with election after election of just kicking the can a bit further down the road.

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If you're a member of the Alba Party, and haven't yet voted in the party's internal elections, I'd be grateful if you'd consider giving me your first preference for Membership Support Convener.  The email link to vote should be in your inbox from last Friday.