Sunday, July 21, 2024

Former independence supporter Stuart Campbell effectively admits trying to "kill" indy at the general election - and he wrongly thinks he's succeeded

I just want to make one simple point.  Although it's an important point, there's nothing complicated about it and it can be explained very briefly.  On polling day, Stuart Campbell broke his word to his readers.  He had previously assured them he would never tell them how to vote, but instead he ended up instructing them to vote Labour: "there’s a job that needs doing...grit your teeth and gird your loins and get it done".  Although this would mean they'd be voting for an avowedly anti-independence party, Campbell tried to make out that they'd somehow be playing a game of five-dimensional chess and bringing independence closer.

So having got the election outcome he wanted (I doubt if many people were stupid enough to follow his advice, but he got the outcome anyway), you might have been forgiven for expecting some kind of guidance from him about where the cunning masterplan goes from here and how precisely independence has been brought closer.  But nope.  Instead, he brazenly asked his readers for suggestions about how he should spend the next two years, because he couldn't see any way forward.  And then on Thursday, he announced that: "Independence is dead as a political issue in Scotland for the next few years. This much should not be in any dispute."

And why is independence dead in his view?  Oh, he is in no doubt whatever about the reason: "A Labour government with a crushing majority sits firmly in Westminster with absolutely no intentions of granting a second referendum". That'll be the Labour government he instructed his readers to elect with as crushing a majority as possible.  In other words, he knowingly gave his readers advice intended to "kill" independence - exactly as I and others pointed out he was doing at the time.  Those who said we were wrong owe us an apology.

Independence is of course not dead, whatever the fantasies of the Brit Nat commetariat and Stuart Campbell (essentially one and the same thing).  The era of "muscular unionism" and "now is not the time" under Theresa May started, seemingly, at a moment of maximum weakness for the Brit Nat side - the SNP had 54 of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster, and were dominant at Holyrood.  It's therefore not at all hard to imagine the pro-indy movement starting a fightback in the current circumstances which are far less unfavourable than anything the Scottish Tories faced in 2016-17.  But it does actually require someone to go out there and make the political weather, rather than just passively accepting the fatalistic nonsense being put about by the likes of Campbell.

I won't give Campbell any advice about how he should spend the next two years, but I'll make a prediction about how he will spend them - he'll campaign for a Labour-led Scottish government under Anas Sarwar, because he thinks independence hasn't been killed quite enough yet.  It would be grand if we could stop pretending this guy is anything other than an anti-independence campaigner at this stage.  If that's what his dwindling band of die-hard fans actually believe in, fine, but if not, they've been brainwashed by a bog-standard cult leader.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

BREAKING: Alba remains a "member-led" party

Scot Goes Pop readers who are members of the Alba Party will have received the weekly party email yesterday, which this time was written by the General Secretary, Chris McEleny. It urges members to attend a meeting on Holyrood election strategy tomorrow, and encouragingly it specifically states that Alba is a "member-led party".  That was a phrase that was used a great deal at the time of the party's founding, and it's fantastic to hear it reiterated now, because I know there had been an alternative view gaining traction that the members should be treated with suspicion and that as much information as possible should be withheld from them because they might be infiltrators.  It obviously isn't feasible for members to lead a party that regards them as suspects, so it's tremendously reassuring that Alba won't be going down that road.

There's also been an alternative view that members shouldn't want or need to lead the party or have any democratic control over it, because they've elected a leader and should just sit back and passively trust that person to make the right decisions on their behalf.  It sounds like that won't be the path Alba goes down either, and I think that's the right call.  If Alba is going to have enough members to survive and thrive, it needs to be able to offer both new recruits and existing members a meaningful say over both policy and direction.  Hopefully now we can move forward, at a minimum, to a National Executive Committee that is elected on a one member, one vote basis, rather than the current system of restricting the franchise to a small subset of members on a sort of "pay-per-vote" basis.  Clearly a party will only be truly member-led once the members are allowed to choose who sits on its governing body.

In the meantime, though, do go along to Perth tomorrow if you're free and express your views on strategy for 2026.

Friday, July 19, 2024

The blackout on reporting of David Davis' revelation tells us a lot about how media bias works in the UK - but we still need to start separating out the Sturgeon v Salmond battles from the internal politics of the independence movement

I note that David Davis has used parliamentary privilege to allege that Liz Lloyd, the former Chief of Staff for Nicola Sturgeon, was the person who unlawfully leaked details of allegations against Alex Salmond to the repugnant Daily Record and its political editor David Clegg.  I also note the weird media blackout on reporting of Davis' allegation - a Google search only turns up a solitary article in The Times, which would suggest the Scottish media is ignoring it completely.  This illustrates again how media bias works - it's often not how they report on things but whether they choose to report them in the first place.  Deciding what members of the public should know and what they should remain in ignorance of is a tremendous power, and it's one that is routinely and cynically abused by the mainstream media.  Because this is a rare example of non-reporting that potentially benefits the independence movement, it's a particularly useful illustration of the process.

Like most people who have looked at the facts as objectively as possible, I was forced to conclude that a small group of people close to Nicola Sturgeon decided for petty-minded factional reasons that Alex Salmond should never be able to return to front-line politics, and to prevent that happening they deliberately set in train a process that they knew might result in him going to jail for crimes he did not commit.  That is a disgraceful state of affairs, and I can only wish Mr Salmond the very best as he seeks long-overdue redress. But that is ultimately a personal matter (or it is now that Mr Salmond or Ms Sturgeon are no longer ministers) and we have got to start separating it out from the politics of the independence movement before it does any more damage.

That is one reason why it is to be greatly regretted that Kate Forbes was not elected SNP leader either last year or this year. Instead we still have a First Minister who was closely associated with the Sturgeon faction, which is making it harder for the warriors of the Salmond v Sturgeon cold war to move on.  And on the Alba side, I can remember saying three years ago that Alex Salmond was far too sensible to allow any antipathy towards Nicola Sturgeon to seep into Alba's campaigning and that instead the party would be making a relentlessly positive case.  I would have to say my confidence on that front was partly misplaced - not during the Holyrood campaign of 2021, but later on, and most especially during the last three months of 2022 and the early part of 2023.  Over that period, not only were senior Alba people sometimes painting the SNP as a party of perverts, they were also demonising Nicola Sturgeon on a personal level, seemingly in an all-out effort to bring her down as First Minister.  That was an entirely counter-productive objective because Sturgeon had intended to fight the general election as a de facto independence referendum, while anyone likely to replace her was going to ditch that strategy.  (And no, I'm not impressed by the argument that the general election outcome shows that the Sturgeon strategy was wrong - the whole campaign would have been different if the SNP had been fighting it as a de facto under Sturgeon's leadership, and no-one can say what the result would have been.)

After 4th July, we do not have the luxury of being able to permit ourselves distractions.  We need a totally committed push over the next two years to save the pro-independence majority at Holyrood and at the very least to ensure that a pro-independence government remains in power. The posture of an individual's legal team should not form part of the ideology of any political party - and I'm not just talking about Alba when I say that.  It was, after all, the SNP that sent Nicola Sturgeon flowers after she faced a round of tough questioning.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Scottish Government should boycott any "Council of the Nations and Regions"

The Nation.Cymru news website has been making the news recently rather than just reporting on it.  It played a key role in the downfall of the Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething, a man so arrogant and entitled that a sitcom could be written about him.  (Having been dragged kicking and screaming from office, his first reaction was - with no apparent sense of irony - to sympathise with the people who would be devastated by his departure!)

Yesterday, Nation.Cymru was fast out of the blocks with an opinion piece blasting Labour's proposed "Council of the Nations and Regions" as an insult to Wales.  It points out that the plan would put the country of Wales on a par with non-national English regions and would drown out the voice of Wales in a body where it would be lost among a sea of English mayors.  Alex Salmond has today made a similar point about how the Scottish Government shouldn't accept being given the same status as devolved English regions.

I personally wouldn't be that bothered about Scotland being treated in the same way as an English region as long as devolution in England was meaningful.  Yorkshire has a similar population to Scotland, and if there was a Yorkshire parliament with similar powers to Holyrood, it would obviously make sense to regard them as having equivalent status.  But that's not the position.  The English metro-mayors are essentially local government figures. They've had very limited powers devolved to them from central government, but those are powers that in any sensible country would have been in the hands of local government long before now.  What the Scottish Government mustn't accept is being treated as a glorified local authority.

But that seems to be London Labour's plan.  The language from the King's Speech pointed to a deliberate levelling up/levelling down approach - devolution to English mayors is to be strengthened, but all that will be strengthened in Scotland and Wales is the UK Government's relationship with the devolved administrations, which in plain language means that London will be sticking its oar into matters that have been devolved for decades, re-establishing the sort of dependent relationship that exists between the UK Government and English local authorities.  John Swinney shouldn't play along with that.  He should say he wants good relations with the Starmer administration, but that they should be conducted bilaterally, or via the Joint Ministerial Committee, or via the British-Irish Council.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

First post-election poll suggests the Labour honeymoon may be limited in scale

The first GB-wide poll since the general election is out, but it's quite hard to interpret.  There's no sign of the data tables (if anyone finds them, let me know), and I can't see any methodological note confirming that past vote weighting from the election has been introduced.  If by any chance that hasn't happened, the results would be really poor for Labour because they show a decline in support from the last pre-election poll from the same firm.

GB-wide voting intentions for the next general election (WeThink, 11th-12th July 2024):

Labour 39% (-2)
Conservatives 20% (-3)
Reform UK 16% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 11% (-)
Greens 9% (+2)
SNP 2% (-)

More likely, I'd have thought, is that the new weighting has indeed been brought in and has corrected for a massive overstatement of Labour in the pre-election polls.  That would mean Labour's support has actually increased by four points in this poll (not by five because this is a GB rather than UK-wide poll) which would suggest that Starmer is enjoying some sort of honeymoon - and that's entirely to be expected given the fawning media coverage he's been given during his first 10 days in power.  However, bearing in mind that the SNP are ultimately going to need the Labour government to become unpopular before 2026, it's reassuring that this appears to be a pretty limited honeymoon.  In similar situations in the past it wouldn't have been unexpected to see a Labour vote share of 45% or 50% or even higher - albeit only temporarily.

By far the worst take I've seen on this poll is the suggestion that it shows there was a temporary dip in Labour support on election day due to tactical voting and that it's bounced back now.  I mean, I know Starmerites are in shock that they took a smaller popular vote than Jeremy Corbyn did in 2019 (let alone than Corbyn did in 2017), but that's truly desperate.  You can just imagine them in the run-up to polling day in 2028 or 2029: "now, remember, we'll probably have our customary election day dip, but don't worry, we'll be right back in business after the election is over!"

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Monday, July 15, 2024

After a third consecutive election failure, where now for the Alba Party?

It's worth reiterating that Alba did not directly cost the SNP any seats at all at the general election.  There was a huge element of luck in that, because Labour came close to winning both Dundee Central and Aberdeen North, and any very narrow SNP losses in those seats would have been blamed on Alba's intervention.  But it didn't happen and ultimately that's what counts.  I know some people have tried to lump the Alba and Green interventions together and look at the combined effect, but that's stretching it a bit - Alba and the Greens were pretty obviously not acting in concert, and if Alba hadn't stood there would still have been Green candidates.  Moreover, the composition of the Green vote is likely to be very different from Alba's, and it's far from clear it would have predominantly gone to the SNP if the Greens hadn't stood. The case for the Greens having cost the SNP a seat is perhaps most plausible in Dumfries and Galloway, because Green voters might have switched to the best anti-Tory option in the absence of a Green, but even there the gap between Tory and SNP was 2.1%, meaning the vast majority of the Greens' 2.7% vote would have had to go to the SNP to swing the balance.  In practice a significant minority would have gone to Labour or other parties.

There's the wider question of whether Alba may have cost the SNP seats indirectly due to depriving the SNP of some of their best and most experienced and committed former activists.  That's harder to pin down, but my guess is that if activists were disillusioned enough with the SNP to defect to Alba, in 80% of cases they would have been disillusioned enough to withdraw their active support for the SNP even in the absence of Alba.  

So Alba can at least move forward without being burdened with much of the blame for the loss of so many pro-independence MPs.  But nevertheless the party still has to grapple with its purpose in life in the wake of a third successive electoral failure.  If some commentators are to believed, it doesn't even have one.  This is what Robin McAlpine has said

"The Alba failure in this election is pretty startling. I think this is personified by the fact that the only politician who has taken a high-profile interest in saving the Grangemouth refinery (Kenny McAskill) got beaten in that seat by Eva Comrie, someone who resigned from Alba and stood as an independent. It is now hard to see Alba having any future. I don’t know what the cause is – the public perception of Alex Salmond, the public perception of the party, the fact that it is now the leading climate change denial party in Scotland – but it doesn’t look to me like the party is dying, it looks to be electorally dead."

That can't be dismissed totally out of hand, because Robin McAlpine is of course the author of the Wee Alba Book.  I'm not sure on what basis he agreed to do that - perhaps he just saw it as a professional commission, but it's unlikely that he would have taken it on unless he had at least partial sympathy with the Alba cause.

First question: does a party have value if it is "electorally dead"?  Probably not.  OK, there's an argument that it could function as a glorified pressure group, one that carries more bite by being able to deprive the SNP of a small number of votes.  But it's unlikely that's going to shift the dial on independence, so mere continued existence isn't going to cut it for Alba.  They would have to actually prove McAlpine and others wrong by winning list seats in 2026.

Second question: can Alba win list seats?  Nobody could honestly say that's impossible, because small parties have won list seats out of nowhere before, sometimes with very low shares of the national vote. However, Alba do not benefit in the way that, for example, the SSP did in 1999 with geographic concentration of their vote. Alba's vote seems to be very evenly and thinly spread, and that could very well mean that they'll need something in the region of 5% or 6% of the national vote to win any seats at all. That looks challenging.  So far, every time Alba have had contact with the electorate, they've tended to come away with 1.5% to 2% of the vote with a reasonable amount of consistency. What is going to change that unless Alba itself changes?

The good news is that Alba can choose to change.  There's no law against it.  But I think it's going to have to happen - continuity won't cut it, as the saying goes, and that's now true for Alba every bit as much as it is for the SNP.  I'm not going to break a taboo by saying there should be a change of leadership, because I genuinely don't know whether that would help or hinder.  Yes, Alex Salmond carries a lot of baggage as far as the public is concerned, but he also gets the party noticed and brings a lot of credibility to the table as a former First Minister. It's possible media coverage of Alba would disappear overnight with a different leader.  If Joanna Cherry came across it might be worth taking the risk, but even though she has much less to lose now, the mood music suggests she will not be coming across.

The gap in the electoral market that Alba is trying to colonise seems to be narrower than it initially banked on, which makes it all the more important that as much as possible of the radical, impatient end of the independence movement is united under the same banner.  Alba has not given the impression of understanding that in recent months, and instead only seems to want a very niche part of the radical end of the movement.  As I've noted a few times, there's been a creeping authoritarianism from the leadership of the "my way or the highway" variety.  The problem with a narrow sect is that however total your control over it is, it's not going to get you elected to public office.

I've made no secret of the fact that I've been dismayed by some of what I've seen on the inside of Alba - at times it's been authoritarian politics and machine politics and clique politics at its very worst.  Now, I'm not naive - although I never held any elected internal position when I was in the SNP, it was an open secret that much the same sort of stuff went on there. But the difference is that in a party of power it might be felt worth tolerating some of the ugliness.  There really is no rationale for tolerating it in a much smaller party without power or without the prospect of power. Alba has to be able to offer an internal culture of democracy and open debate that is clearly superior to the SNP - otherwise, to be blunt, it can't offer anything at all, except to people who just happen to already agree with every word the leadership says.

But even if Alba can improve its culture and become more welcoming, it's probably burnt its bridges with a significant number of people who have already left the party.  That may mean that if the radical end of the movement is going to put up a united front at the Holyrood election, there will have to be a loose, multi-polar electoral alliance of which Alba is only one component part.  That would also address some of the 'brand' issues that Alba suffers from.

I know the leadership probably don't want to hear that, but they really need to start taking the idea seriously, because it's their best shot of becoming MSPs and actually doing something about independence.  Carrying on as before and ending up with 2% of the list vote in 2026 will achieve the square root of nothing.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

If Stewart McDonald thinks people will vote for the SNP if they promise to remove Trident within five or ten years, but not if they promise to remove it within two, he's living on a different planet

The former SNP MP Stewart McDonald reckons his party has a problem with credibility and seriousness, but the 'solutions' he puts forward to this supposed problem are nothing short of batty.  Most weirdly of all, he claims to believe that the SNP's future in government depends on them abandoning their policy of removing Trident from Scotland within two years of independence, which he doesn't think is achievable.

Now, I defy the self-styled 'realists' in the SNP's ranks to think this through logically and come to a different conclusion from the one I have reached.  It may well be that emphasising that an independent Scotland will be a member of NATO is reassuring enough for people concerned about national security that it gets the SNP some extra votes.  It may even be that, hypothetically, ditching the SNP's commitment to nuclear disarmament would win even more votes, because some voters wrongly believe that the theory of nuclear deterrence is a sound one.  But if the SNP are going to remain somewhere in the middle and be pro-NATO but anti-Trident, it stretches credibility somewhat to suggest that voters who are broadly satisfied with that compromise position are going to be put off because the proposal is to remove Trident within two years rather than five or ten. How many voters does anyone think even have a view on what constitutes a realistic timetable for Trident removal, or have enough information before them to reach such a view?

No, I would submit to you that McDonald plainly cannot be motivated by the SNP's electability, but he's pretending that he is in order to serve another agenda - and that can only be his own pro-nuclear agenda.  On some level, I suspect he yearns to put himself forward to the voters as First Minister one day on a promise to build "a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom with the nuclear deterrent as the cornerstone of our security", and failing that he just wants to get as close as possible.

If anyone doubts that McDonald would be happy enough if the independence issue just vanished, how else can you explain this from him: "I want to see us grow up, I want to see us get serious. I want to see us have a debate where there are no sacred cows, nothing is off the table."  Now, what could he POSSIBLY HAVE IN MIND THERE, given that the SNP are a pro-independence party and saying that there are no sacred cows at all, and that nothing at all is off the table, can only mean that independence should be treated as an expendable policy like any other?  And if he didn't mean to be taken that way, surely he would have said "there are no sacred cows apart from independence itself, and nothing is off the table apart from our unshakeable commitment to independence"?

Another key part of "growing up" on Planet McDonald apparently involves fretting terribly about unionist voters not regarding a de facto referendum as "legitimate" - which basically amounts to a concern that the minority won't like what the majority have voted for and won't think they should get it.  I mean, so what?  Would it have been grown up for Keir Starmer to stop trying to win a majority of seats because many non-Labour voters refused to regard his win as legitimate without proportional representation?  Maybe it would have been, actually, but that's certainly not the way the centrist power politics that McDonald worships at the altar of has ever worked.

I'll tell you what really isn't grown up, serious or credible politics, and that's taking McDonald's advice by presenting yourselves to the public as a pro-independence party which has no intention of actually trying to deliver independence until such time as the UK government randomly decides to voluntarily allow a vote on it, which they will have no conceivable incentive to ever do.  A voter sophisticated enough to think Trident removal is impossible within two years is certainly going to have no difficulty in seeing straight through McDonald's faux independence prospectus.

Labour's win in Scotland was 'loveless' but it certainly wasn't a 'landslide' - their 5.3% margin of victory over the SNP was the smallest margin for a winning party in Scotland since 1974

I can claim an assist from Jackson Carlaw on this post, because I remember him trying to undermine the SNP's 2017 win by saying their margin of victory was the smallest in Scotland for a long time.  As Labour's margin of victory is even smaller than the SNP's in 2017, it was obviously going to look even less impressive by historical standards.  

To avoid the customary objection from pedants, I'm referring to the pre-1965 Tory party by the official names of "Unionist" and "National Liberal", which were organisationally separate parties but to all and intents and purposes functioned as a single party.  In some ways the relationship was analogous to "Labour/Co-op" in the present day.  Note the anomaly that the Tories won the popular vote in 1959, even though it's generally said they last won in Scotland in 1955 (because that's when they last won a majority of seats).

Results of UK general elections in Scotland since 1945:

1945: Labour won by 6.5% over Unionists & National Liberals
1950: Labour won by 1.4% over Unionists & National Liberals
1951: Unionists & National Liberals won by 0.7% over Labour
1955: Unionists & National Liberals won by 3.4% over Labour
1959: Unionists & National Liberals won by 0.5% over Labour
1964: Labour won by 8.1% over Unionists & National Liberals
1966: Labour won by 12.2% over Conservatives
1970: Labour won by 6.5% over Conservatives
February 1974: Labour won by 3.7% over Conservatives
October 1974: Labour won by 5.9% over SNP
1979: Labour won by 10.1% over Conservatives
1983: Labour won by 6.7% over Conservatives
1987: Labour won by 18.4% over Conservatives
1992: Labour won by 13.3% over Conservatives
1997: Labour won by 23.5% over SNP
2001: Labour won by 23.8% over SNP
2005: Labour won by 16.9% over Liberal Democrats
2010: Labour won by 22.1% over SNP
2015: SNP won by 25.7% over Labour
2017: SNP won by 8.3% over Conservatives
2019: SNP won by 19.9% over Conservatives
2024: Labour won by 5.3% over SNP

So Labour's margin is the smallest since February 1974, with there having been twelve elections in the intervening period.  It's also the sixth smallest since the war, although as you can see most of the previous tight margins are heavily concentrated in the immediate post-war period when Scotland was still highly competitive between Labour and the Tories.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

The average support for independence in recent polls is 47.5%

I repeatedly warned that if independence supporters were foolish enough to vote Labour last Thursday (which undoubtedly happened in large numbers, although in the vast majority of cases for "Daily Record" rather than "Stuart Campbell" type reasons), the media and the establishment would leap on the outcome and try to turn it into a generational 1979-style setback that would draw a line under independence for the foreseeable future.  We're seeing those attempts before our eyes right now, for example with Andrew Marr claiming that the 'risk' of the UK breaking up has "vanished" - an objectively ludicrous claim given that Scotland still has a pro-independence government and there is a clear pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.  Nevertheless, independence supporters are only human and it's possible they may be psyched out by this shock-and-awe Hollywood production telling them that independence is dead and that they have to "move on".  It's therefore conceivable that the next few polls will show some movement towards No.

However that certainly didn't happen before the election, and we mustn't allow unionists to rewrite history about that.  A frequent claim on social media in recent days is that it was never true to say that support for independence was "roughly 50%" and that it was actually averaging at 43%.  The technical term for that claim is "complete and utter tripe".  There have been twelve independence polls since John Swinney became First Minister, and here is the average result - 

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47.5%
No 52.5%

I don't think it's outlandish to suggest 47.5% is "roughly 50%" and it's certainly significantly closer to 50% than to 43%.  In fact only one of the twelve polls had Yes as low as 43%, and there was one that had Yes as high as 51%.

Of course the con trick from unionists here is to leave Don't Knows and Won't Votes in the figures and not mention they're doing that, but that's not the normal way of reporting voting intention polls - if it was, Labour across the UK would be below 20% rather than in the low 30s.  It would also bring the average No vote down below 50%.  In fact, if the calculation is done that way, there hasn't been a single poll showing No on 50% or above since early April.

On balance I think John Swinney should step down - but if they replace him with anyone but Kate Forbes, they'll end up wishing they'd stuck with him

So it's beginning - people of note are starting to call for John Swinney's resignation as SNP leader.  I really am conflicted about this.  After Humza Yousaf resigned, I made no secret of the fact that I thought the SNP were making a mistake in installing John Swinney, especially without a contest - and in fact I felt so strongly about it that I publicised Graeme McCormick's push to get nominations in the hope that a contest would take place.  I suppose in a way I should say I feel vindicated by the outcome of the general election, but the reality is that Swinney's personal ratings have been surprisingly OK since he became leader.  They haven't been stellar, but there were polls during the campaign showing him with better net ratings than Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar. He certainly wasn't getting results like that when he was first leader between 2000 and 2004.

So we have to consider the very real danger that the SNP will make a change and end up worse off. We know there are many leading figures in the SNP for whom the interests of the faction matter more than the interests of the party or the country, and they remain so hellbent on stopping Kate Forbes that they're perfectly capable of trying to install someone totally unsuitable as they did with Yousaf.  If you think things can't get any worse than they currently are, just take one second to imagine Jenny Gilruth as First Minister. OK, more likely, perhaps, would be someone like Neil Gray or Màiri McAllan, but that would be almost as bad an outcome.  I actually do rate Ms McAllan, but at this stage in her career I don't think she would command the confidence of the public as leader.  We also have to bear in mind that literally no-one who might become leader, and this includes Kate Forbes herself, has shown any sign of being interested in a more credible independence strategy than the one Yousaf and Swinney pursued.

An additional concern would be a 'Sunak effect' whereby the SNP lose credibility by having too many leaders in quick succession, and it gets to the point where it almost doesn't matter who the leader is or whether they're any good.

On balance, I think it might be worth taking the risk of a leadership change, simply because my gut feeling is that the members would choose Ms Forbes in the current circumstances - they would now see that she was right when she said continuity wouldn't cut it.  And I think she's the one person with a bit of X Factor about her who might be able to get the SNP back on the front foot and generate some optimism.  But if I'm wrong in my guess, and if the SNP choose almost anyone but her, they'll end up wishing they'd stuck with Swinney.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Are Scotland and England still diverging politically, in spite of all the hype?

There's a really interesting Twitter thread by David Clark, a former adviser to Robin Cook at the Foreign Office, in which he argues that the UK is still likely to break up within the next 10-20 years and that last Thursday's election result shows that beneath the headline story of a Labour victory, Scottish electoral trends are still diverging from the rest of the UK.  He points out that Labour has never increased its share of the vote at the end of a full term in power, and that therefore they are at risk of losing at the next election to the second-strongest electoral blocs, which in England is the right-wing vote for the Tories and Reform, and in Scotland is the pro-independence vote for the SNP and to a much lesser extent the Greens.

Obviously this is music to my ears, so I've been trying to work it through and see if it stacks up.  One obvious complication is that power in Scotland is not determined solely or even primarily by what happens in Westminster elections.  When the Holyrood election comes around in 2026, it won't be Labour trying to hold its vote at the end of a full term, it'll be the SNP trying to hold on after four full terms, which is a very different dynamic.  In a worst case scenario where the wheels really come off for the SNP, it might destroy their credibility as the main opposition to Labour in the run-up to the next Westminster election.

However, if the SNP can at least remain competitive in 2026, it's true that they would be extremely well placed to benefit from any Labour slippage in 2028 or 2029.  They are second in the vast majority of seats in Scotland.  I would question, though, how confident we can be that Labour will drop back, because although they may not have increased their vote share at the end of any previous full term, they certainly more or less held their ground in 2001 when Tony Blair was re-elected, and in Scotland their vote actually increased in 2010 after three consecutive terms in office - albeit that may have been partly down to a personal vote for Gordon Brown.  Luckily, in spite of the hype, there aren't many Scots at the beating heart of the new Labour government.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Having taunted us for months about the SNP backing off from a de facto referendum, unionist commentators haven't got a leg to stand on in retrospectively declaring that the election was a de facto after all

Given how completely obvious it is that the SNP did not fight the general election as a de facto referendum on independence (however much most of us wanted them to), it seems almost unbelievable that unionist commentators like Alex Massie and Stephen Daisley are even attempting the line "you had your de facto referendum and you lost".  If they want to gain a reputation as Trumpian truth-deniers, they're going the right way about it.  But if it really needs to be pointed out why the election was not a de facto, here are several reasons - 

* The amendment to Humza Yousaf's independence strategy, which was passed at the SNP conference (and I believe was tabled by Tommy Sheppard) makes clear that the earliest election which might be fought as a de facto referendum is the 2026 Holyrood election, not the 2024 Westminster election: "Conference further agrees that should an incoming UK Government continue to refuse the demands of the  Scottish people to decide their own future, consideration should be given to fighting the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026 as a de facto referendum on independence; and that a majority at that election for the SNP – or the SNP and any other party with which we have reached a pro-independence agreement – will be considered a mandate to negotiate independence."

* Stephen Flynn was asked more than once during the election campaign itself about the de facto concept, and not only did he make clear that this election was not a de facto, he even claimed that the de facto was never SNP policy and was just a personal initiative of Nicola Sturgeon.

* The line "Nicola Sturgeon said this election would be fought as a de facto referendum on independence" is dishonest unless you complete it by saying "but shortly afterwards she stepped down and her successor reversed that policy".

* Many SNP leaflets during the campaign did not even mention independence and instead focused on a scattergun list of other policies.  That is plainly not how a de facto referendum would be fought.

* Having given consideration to using the word "independence" in their ballot paper description, the SNP decided against even doing that.

* The SNP's main opponents did not treat the referendum as a vote on independence either. Anas Sarwar directly pitched for votes from independence supporters without asking them to change their views, and when endorsing Labour the Daily Record's first words were "this election is not about independence".

* If anyone is going to argue that the "page 1, line 1" of the SNP manifesto means that anyone who voted against the SNP was voting against independence, they're then going to have to explain how the Tories' election defeats over the last decade were not a vote in favour of Indyref2, because their constant refrain has been "a vote for the Conservatives is a vote to stop Indyref2".

Monday, July 8, 2024

I hope that the SNP see the light, but the independence movement needs a Plan B for 2026 in case they don't

IFS mentioned the latest Wee Ginger Dug post, so I had a look and there is indeed lots to agree with in it. Paul Kavanagh basically argues that the SNP's strategy of moving towards independence by demonstrating competence in government has failed, and that they now need to move towards using the 2026 election as some sort of de facto independence referendum and galvanising Yes support for an all-out push to win a majority at that election and get this done once for all.

However, that starts from the premise that everyone in the SNP agrees that independence is the single-minded objective and that the only disagreement is over the tactics on how to get there.  In the real world it's not really like that. There are other people who see the SNP as a political party like any other, for which the goal is power.  A party pursuing power generally reacts to a defeat by looking at its menu of policies and working out what can be removed and what can be added to maximise its level of support.  Hugh Gaitskell and Neil Kinnock both reacted to Labour defeats (in 1959 and 1987 respectively) by deciding unilateral nuclear disarmament had to be removed as party policy, even though it was a fundamental belief for many members.  Similarly, there will be SNP parliamentarians and ex-parliamentarians who are currently thinking that independence has to be ruthlessly sacrificed in an election-winning push.  They're barking up the wrong tree, because abandoning the SNP's unique selling point would actually be the fast lane to election defeat.  But the fact that they believe it might work and believe it's worth doing is what matters, and that means the genuine independence supporters are going to have to face them down in the months to come.

If they are successfully faced down and if Paul Kavanagh's strategic advice (or something similar) is accepted, there's no problem.  But if the 'endless delay' faction get their way yet again, the independence movement is going to need a Plan B, one that is external to the SNP.  And for the avoidance of doubt, I am not talking about replacing the SNP as the main independence party - that is completely unrealistic, whatever Stuart Campbell's wild fantasies may be.  But what may be possible is an electoral force that wins a modest number of list seats and then lends support to an SNP government on condition that independence is genuinely pursued.

Paul Kavanagh says of the Alba party: "It lost its two MPs and attracted only a handful of votes. It is over as a political project."  Well, I'm on the inside of Alba - I'm certainly not part of the in-group, but I'm an elected member of three of the party's national committees and I've been to branch meetings, so I know how determined Alba members are to see it through. Alex Salmond is the master of surprise, so who knows, maybe he'll stun us all by declaring Thursday was a setback too far and then wind the party up, but I very much doubt it.

There does, however, need to be an injection of realism about just how far Alba currently are from winning list seats, and what will need to change to make that happen.  I presume the leadership must have been expecting better results on Thursday, because Mr Salmond had been confidently predicting throughout the campaign that the results would surprise people, and even on the BBC results show he announced that Alba was going to save two deposits.  By that point, Alloa & Grangemouth and Lothian East had already been declared, so I was really puzzled as to where he thought two saved deposits were going to come from - Cowdenbeath & Kirkcaldy seemed the only realistic possibility, but it didn't come close to happening even there.

On Twitter the other day, Shannon Donoghue reverted to the comfort zone of the "stab in the back" theory by announcing that Alba's poor election results were all the fault of Denise Findlay and "the wee gang".  I mean, come on.  I know Shannon to a small extent because I'm on the Constitution Review Group.  A vacancy on that group came up a few months ago after a prominent member left the party in disgust due to some of the things that had been going on behind the scenes, and Shannon filled his place as a sort of 'lucky loser' from the January election, so I've attended a few meetings with her.  I'll try to be diplomatic here, but the idea that Denise Findlay or anything else to do with Alba internal politics is the explanation for Alba's electoral failures to date is just so many light-years away from reality that heaven help us all if that's the theory that starts to take root within the party.  That would be a party slipping into delusion.

99%+ of the public do not know who Denise Findlay or the so-called "wee gang" are, but they most certainly know who Alex Salmond is, and to a lesser extent they know who Ash Regan, Kenny MacAskill, Neale Hanvey and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh are.  That is their point of reference for the party and that is the basis on which they cast their votes. For whatever reason, and I'm not going to pretend to fully understand why, the Alba brand just doesn't seem to have enough appeal for the electorate.  I'm wondering if one way of squaring the circle might be to build on the 'Scotland United' idea and have Alba as a component part of a much wider electoral alliance standing on the list in 2026.  That alliance's branding and its collective leadership might have much broader appeal and get us to the 5-7% threshold for winning list seats.  It's just a thought, but I do believe we're going to need some blue-sky thinking to get ourselves out of this trap.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

The Inverness result narrowed the national gap between Labour and the SNP even further. The election in Scotland produced a very modest win for Labour, and the media coverage isn't reflecting that.

I was going to put this in a tweet but it just wouldn't fit in.  The belated final result from Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire, in spite of being a bitterly disappointing defeat for the SNP in a seat that had been assumed to be safe (albeit almost certainly due to mass Tory tactical voting for the Lib Dems), has had two positive effects.  Firstly, it has nudged the SNP's national vote share up from 29.9% to 30.0%, which is psychologically helpful, but more importantly it reduces Labour's Scotland-wide vote share to just 35.3% and their lead over the SNP to just 5.3%.  In ordinary speech, the lead will be rounded down to five percentage points, rather than the six we were talking about before Inverness declared.

That means several pre-election polls actually overestimated Labour's lead.  As I said yesterday, I can totally understand why the SNP are terrified of saying anything that would appear to be denialism or a minimising of their defeat, but that doesn't stop the rest of us from pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.  This was no landslide victory for Scottish Labour that exceeded expectations - it was a very modest win that was either in line with expectations or that fell slightly short of them. The lopsided result in terms of seats was caused by the quirks of a discredited voting system, not by anything the voters themselves did.

Final result of the 2024 general election in Scotland:

Labour 35.3%
SNP 30.0%
Conservatives 12.7%
Liberal Democrats 9.7%
Reform UK 7.0%
Greens 3.8%
Alba 0.5%

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Memo to Stewart McDonald: you've had your "pause" on independence for the best part of the last decade. It didn't work and we can now see what the consequences were. The excuses have run out: it's time to press the "play" button and move ahead to a de facto referendum in 2026

Very, very long-term readers of this blog may recall that several years ago I used to be a columnist for a couple of UK-wide news websites, and without naming names or specifying which site it was, I've got this vivid recollection of sending in my column the day after one of Nicola Sturgeon's landslide election triumphs.  Whoever was on duty wrote back and said: "Thanks James - and congratulations.  I just wish we in England could have escaped from Conservative rule in the same way."  The point was that he just took it as read that because the SNP had such an overwhelming mandate, they would be pushing forward towards independence as promised.  The idea that what you do with mandates is collect them, and then twiddle your thumbs for a few years and let them expire, is a good deal more odd than some people on the 'delay' wing of the SNP would have us believe.

So I have no time whatever for the utterly predictable suggestion of Stewart McDonald, former MP for Glasgow South and the SNP's leading enthusiast for British militarism, that Thursday's defeat means the time is now ripe for yet another "pause" on independence.  How many would this make now?  Five?  Six?  He has reacted to just about every previous victory by calling for delay, so he's got very little credibility in now saying that the reaction to defeat should be exactly the same.  It was always obvious, and I can remember writing posts on this blog pointing this out years ago, that if you let mandate after mandate expire while waiting for the "perfect moment" that will never actually arise, eventually your luck is going to run out and voters will stop giving you a mandate, either because they can see you were never serious about delivering or because they get tired of you for another reason.  Anyone on the gradualist wing who didn't foresee that their own tactics would guarantee that a defeat like the one on Thursday would happen before independence did was guilty of astounding political naivety or self-deception.

In one sense, though, the SNP have been fortunate, because when the defeat eventually came it was at Westminster, where they were in opposition, rather than at Holyrood, where they are in power.  They are still a party of government today every bit as much as they were on Wednesday.  They still have the ball at their feet and there is absolutely nothing to stop them moving ahead with a de facto referendum in 2026.  They promised in 2016 that the changed circumstances of Brexit meant that Scotland would definitely be given a choice on independence.  Ian Blackford boomed every week that Scotland's voice MUST and WILL be heard.  Well, eight years on that still hasn't happened and it's about bloody time that it did.  Frankly, the excuses have run out.  Covid wasn't a valid excuse because by the time that happened in 2020 they had already let mandates from 2016 and 2017 run out.  The loss of twenty seats in 2017 wasn't a valid excuse because that still left them with a practically identical type of mandate to the one Labour won in Scotland on Thursday - one that the SNP themselves seem to be in awe of.  If they're so impressed by Labour's mandate, why on earth weren't they impressed by their own mandate in 2017 and why in God's name didn't they make use of it?

I'm not remotely swayed by the argument that you can no longer use a Holyrood election as a de facto referendum in circumstances where there is no longer a pro-independence majority among Scottish MPs at Westminster.  In fact, if you think about it for more than a few seconds that argument falls apart completely, because we've been told that the reason the 2021 Holyrood election no longer provides a mandate is because it has since been superseded by a more recent mandate for Labour.  It therefore inevitably follows that if you win a pro-independence majority at the 2026 election, that supersedes what happened on Thursday and then becomes the operative mandate.

And what happens, you might ask, if the UK Government then turns around and says they're not going to respect that mandate until and unless there is also a pro-independence majority among Scottish MPs once again?  In that case, you then fight the 2028 or 2029 general election on a simple message to independence supporters: "Are you going to stand for your democratic decision being ignored?"  You might actually win the general election that way, and what's more, it might be the only way in which it's even possible to win the general election.  I'm actually pretty optimistic about the SNP's chances in Holyrood 2026, but I'm not at all optimistic about their chances of winning Westminster 2028/9 if they try to do it against the odds on bread-and-butter issues when everyone knows they can't form a government in London.  The "stop the Tories" pitch from Labour would still work - unless it was a special sort of election in which the SNP were seeking to seal the deal after a de facto triumph in 2026.

As for any suggestion that Thursday's defeat means that 2026 is not a suitable time to be trying to win a majority for independence, frankly that's complete rubbish.  Electoral politics is a pendulum and often the best chance to prosper is on the rebound, because a new situation has been created and voters are looking at you afresh.  Think back to 2015 when the Scottish Tories suffered their lowest ever share of the vote.  Was that their worst possible moment to try to mount a major comeback?  No, it turned out to be their ideal opportunity, and they made huge unexpected gains in the elections of both 2016 and 2017.

As I said in my article in The National today, it's perfectly conceivable that the SNP could remain the largest party at Holyrood in 2026 with a dull managerial campaign that takes advantage of the fact that John Swinney and/or Kate Forbes are seen as more competent than Anas Sarwar.  But I think that would be a narrow result and there might well be a unionist majority in the parliament, possibly leading to Sarwar becoming First Minister from second place with Tory support.  So even from the point of view of the gradualist wing's bottom line (ie. staying in power), aiming higher and trying to win a majority for independence actually makes perfect strategic sense.  Otherwise it's just managed decline which has only one destination sooner or later: the opposition benches.

The words "de facto referendum" mean different things to different people, so let me be clear about what I mean by them - I'm talking about an election in which the SNP and other pro-indy parties state in their manifestos that a majority for them would constitute an outright mandate for independence (and not for a referendum, which is a concept that some people seem incapable of wrapping their heads around).  It wouldn't necessarily have to be a single-issue manifesto and nor would it be a one-off event you couldn't afford to risk - if you didn't get the mandate in one election you could then try again five years later.

Some thoughts on how the voting system severely distorted the election outcome in Scotland

If the UK really is going to ludicrously persist with first-past-the-post in an increasingly multi-party system and with increasingly perverse outcomes, I would suggest there's a special responsibility on the media to explain to viewers, listeners and readers that there is a disconnect between how people actually vote and the election results that are produced, and also to explain the reason that is happening.  Robert McKenzie, who was one of the resident psephologists along with David Butler for the BBC's election results shows between the 1950s and 1979, was extremely good at doing that - he would just bluntly say "these results are nothing like how people voted, here is what the result would have been if we had a proportional system like every other country in western Europe".  Nobody is really filling that role now, except maybe for John Curtice, but he only appeared very sparingly on the results show.  

As you know, I wrote constituency profiles for The National over the course of the campaign, and almost on a daily basis I would sit down, look at another central belt constituency, and say to myself "ah, it's yet another one of those", in other words a constituency where the SNP were around twenty points ahead of Labour in 2019 and thus would lose the seat this time even if Labour were a few points behind the SNP nationally.  If Labour were a few points ahead of the SNP, which is what was actually happening, all of those seats would go, and by quite some distance, and it would look like a bloodbath even though that didn't reflect how people actually voted.  

If there have been a few half-hearted attempts in the media to explain this inbuilt advantage for Labour and to put the result in its proper perspective, they haven't been anything like sufficient.  So that's partly the topic for my piece in The National analysing the election outcome, and entitled "For every six Scottish Labour voters, there were five for SNP".  I'm not sure if it's on the main part of the website, but you can certainly find it in the print edition or in the digital edition (page 26) if you're a subscriber.

When I wrote it, I was trying to squeeze in a few introductory points about the wider UK result, but if I'd left those points in I wouldn't have had much room left for anything else, so once again, as a sort of "DVD extra", here is the part I cut out...

"The one-third of UK voters who actually voted Labour in this general election must be congratulated on getting the government they voted for.  The two-thirds of people who did not vote Labour were, however, not quite so fortunate.  This is a familiar objection to the legitimacy of first-past-the-post election results that has been heard since the 1970s when the share of the vote for the winning party typically started drifting well below 50%, so we know from past precedent that the problem will be shoved under the carpet by the new government, the official opposition and much of the media.  

But nevertheless 34% is yet another new all-time low for the winning vote share, and it must raise the question of where the cut-off point lies, beyond which it would not be possible to maintain the fiction that the will of the people is being enacted.  Commentators presumably wouldn't be able to claim with a straight face that Starmer had an overwhelming landslide mandate if he'd won it on 25% of the vote, so there must be a magic figure somewhere in the narrow band between 25% and 34% where the perverse effects of the electoral system become acceptable in polite society.

Another fiction that is skating on very thin ice is the notion that the changes Keir Starmer made to the Labour party, and his ruthless treatment of MPs and candidates who had ideological disagreements with him, were necessary to rebuild the trust and support of voters.  In fact, although Labour has undoubtedly changed out of all recognition since Jeremy Corbyn's period as leader, that hasn't happened in a way that has made the party any more popular.  Starmer's 34% vote share is six percentage points lower than the one achieved by Corbyn in his first general election in 2017, and is very similar to the 32% result in 2019 that was supposedly so intolerable that it was used to justify Corbyn's expulsion from the party.  As Professor John Curtice has been at pains to point out, Labour's support actually fell in Wales and remained more or less static in England, with the modest GB-wide boost being caused only by the recovery in Scotland.  Starmer's apologists have accordingly shifted their ground, arguing that Labour's shift to the right was never intended to increase vote share, but was instead aimed at playing the voting system and ensuring the most efficient geographical distribution of support.  But that just makes clear to voters that it was never actually about them, and that they were mere bystanders in the process of government selection."

So what happens from here?

One of the reasons why I suggested that independence supporters would be crazy to abstain or vote Labour on Thursday was that it would not just be business as usual afterwards - the media would try to turn any defeat into a 1979-style setback that would put independence off the agenda for a generation.  That is the process we're now seeing, and I'm troubled that the SNP are - just as in 2017 - not doing enough to resist the media narrative, in fact they may be fuelling it.  OK, in one sense it's a statement of the obvious to say that independence is off the imminent agenda because there is no practical way of achieving it between now and the Holyrood election - but there certainly is a practical way of achieving it at the Holyrood election itself, and if the SNP start denying that, that's when the alarm bells should start ringing. 

Most incoming governments enjoy a honeymoon, so when the next opinion polls are published (which may not be for quite some time), it's likely that Labour will have a large lead over the SNP, possibly even at Holyrood level.  Nobody should panic about that because the honeymoon effect wears off with time, possibly even within six months or so.  But the important question is whether the honeymoon will also affect the numbers on the independence question and produce a boost for No.  That's why it's so dangerous for the SNP to be bending the knee to the "defeat for independence" narrative - Yes supporters could take their cue from that and drift away, resulting in bad polls for Yes, which will just further embolden commentators to inform the public that independence is dead.  It could be a vicious circle.  However, even if Yes does take a knock, I would expect that to recover once the Labour government becomes unpopular.

For all that we used to say that a Tory government was the best recruiting sergeant for independence, it should never be forgotten that Tony Blair was still Prime Minister when the SNP first came to power in 2007, and that the Iraq War played a big role in that breakthrough.  If Starmer makes a mis-step on that scale, which can't be totally ruled out given his obscene comments on Gaza in October, it could be the decisive moment in moving Scotland towards independence.

*  *  *

Now that Stuart Campbell has got the unionist victory he campaigned for, you might be wondering what he thinks comes next.  Thrillingly he's given us an insight into his thinking, although it doesn't make a lot of sense.  Firstly he claims that the SNP is "stone-cold dead in the water". Er, really?  This is the result in the popular vote on Thursday (which will only change minimally once the Inverness result is announced) - 

Labour 36%
SNP 30%
Conservatives 13%
Liberal Democrats 9%
Reform UK 7%
Greens 4%
Alba 0.5%

Objectively, does that look "dead in the water" to you, or does it look like a party that is firmly in a duopoly with Labour, is not very far behind Labour, and is well placed to profit if Labour become unpopular?

Secondly, now that the election is over Campbell is suddenly making a show of being interested in Alba again and wanting them to overtake the supposedly "dead in the water" SNP.  Er, Stu, if that was what you had in mind, don't you think it might have been an idea to urge your readers to vote Alba on Thursday rather than Labour?  And given that you backed Labour instead, how in God's name do you now expect Alba to totally replace the SNP from 29.5 percentage points behind?

Friday, July 5, 2024

The SNP's result in historical context

I said last night that the SNP would have been hoping to outperform the exit poll just slightly, so that they would do better than in October 1974, when they won 11 seats and 30.4% of the vote.  That would have made it their fourth best general election result in history, and better than any result prior to 2015.  Obviously that didn't happen, and they only took nine seats (barring a turnaround in Inverness tomorrow), and it looks like they'll be just a smidgeon short of 30.4% too.  

But I've been doing some sums and found to my surprise than in one specific sense the SNP did actually outperform October 1974 and get their fourth best result.  Because there were 71 Scottish seats in 1974, winning 11 only gave the SNP 15.5% of the seats, whereas winning 9 out of 57 last night gives them 15.8% of the seats.

*  *  *

From an Alba point of view, I think it's worth drawing attention to the Alloa & Grangemouth result - 

Labour 43.8%
SNP 28.9%
Reform UK 9.2%
Conservatives 7.6%
Greens 3.4%
Liberal Democrats 2.8%
Independent - Comrie 2.1%
Alba 1.5%
Workers Party 0.5%

The big controversy for Alba in the run up to the general election was the departure from the party of Eva Comrie, who had been Equalities Convener and would have been an obvious possibility to stand in Alloa & Grangemouth, because it's her home constituency.  Not long after she left, she announced that she would be standing as an independent instead, and many Alba members felt that the party should have got behind her on a 'Scotland United' basis in the same way they had done with Angus MacNeil in the Western Isles.  Instead, the opposite happened, and Alba not only stood against her but put up just about the most prominent candidate possible in the former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.  That led to the sub-optimal scenario of no fewer than four pro-independence candidates standing against each other in a winnable seat for Labour.

To be perfectly honest, with Mr MacAskill's greater national profile and with more resources behind him, I had expected him to outpoll Eva Comrie, but as you can see he didn't.  He finished eighth, and ironically the only candidate he was ahead of came from Craig Murray's 'other' party, the anti-independence Workers Party.  You'd have to say that Ms Comrie has proved her point, and that if Alba were going to target Alloa and Grangemouth it looks like they'd have been better off doing it with the local advantages she would have brought to the table.

Even though a number of Alba's nineteen candidates were very well known for one reason or another, the only one who showed any real sign of receiving a personal vote was Neale Hanvey, and even in his case it was limited (he took 2.8% of the vote in Cowdenbeath & Kirkcaldy and finished seventh).

The real result mirrors the exit poll but feels worse somehow - and there are good reasons for that, although the scale of Labour's victory is still being wildly overstated

The exit poll showed the SNP on 10 seats, and the real result will be very similar to that - it'll be 9, or in theory it could still be 10, but the mood music suggests that the Lib Dems will very narrowly win the final seat after a recount tomorrow.  And yet somehow the reality of 9 seats feels much worse than the anticipation of 10.  Why is that?  

It's partly because living through the individual results drives the reality of them home, but I think it's more because the exit poll was actually wrong in a couple of key respects. It predicted that the SNP would do worse than they did against the Tories in rural and coastal seats, but better than they did against Labour in the central belt.  The battle against Labour in the central belt is always considered the meat in the sandwich, and suffering the losses there makes the situation seem a lot graver.  It would have been easier to dismiss the predicted Tory gains in Perth and Argyll (which didn't happen) as irrelevant results caused by unionist voters ganging up on the SNP.

The paradox is, though, that Labour haven't done any better in popular vote terms than the opinion polls predicted.  They have a lead of less than six points over the SNP, in line with several of the polls - the only thing that wasn't expected was the exact geographical distribution of their support which made their vote more efficient.  But in terms of number of seats, vote share, lead over the second-placed party, etc, etc, Labour's result is strikingly similar to the SNP's in 2017.  The media refused to accept 2017 as a good result for the SNP, let alone as a landslide or as a mandate for anything, and yet basically the same result for Labour in 2024 is being painted as an astonishing triumph. Once the dust has settled, it may be worth drawing attention to that blatant contradiction.

But the consequences of this result may hinge on whether the SNP themselves interpret it as "disappointing" or "disastrous", and in spite of all the caveats I've listed above, they seem to be veering more towards the "disastrous" interpretation.  That could yet lead to another change of leader, which I thought was unlikely last night. That would be no bad thing as long as the successor is Kate Forbes.  But what would be a very bad thing is if the SNP convince themselves, as Stephen Flynn seemed to be hinting at last night, that the solution to their problems is to backpedal on independence even more furiously.  Nicola Sturgeon herself seems to understand that if you run away from your unique selling point, you're not going to win elections, and hopefully her voice will carry more sway than Flynn's on that subject.

If it doesn't though, and if the SNP cease to be a genuine party of independence, the only hope for advancing the cause at the 2026 Holyrood election will lie with Alba and other similar parties. That makes Alba's strategic mis-steps in this election all the more frustrating.  A lot of what I've been saying about how Alba stood in too many seats and spread their resources too thin has been borne out by the results.  However in one sense they've got out of jail, because having quickly scrolled through the results I can't find any examples of Alba costing the SNP a seat.  It came very close to happening in both Aberdeen North and Dundee Central, but in both cases the SNP narrowly clung on.  So through sheer luck Alba may have avoided the worst of any recriminations about contributing to the scale of a unionist victory - and believe me, that will matter a lot.

How bad was Alba's result?  Gerry Hassan will of course post a million tweets pointing out that Alba took only 1 in 200 votes in Scotland, but that will be misleading - their real vote share in the seats they contested was around 1.5%.  That's in line with the 2021 Holyrood election and 2022 local elections, and might suggest their support has remained static.  However it's generally harder to win votes in first-past-the-post elections than on the Holyrood list, so pound-for-pound this might be a slightly better result than it appears - but I do think if a Holyrood election was held right now, Alba would probably fall short of winning list seats, so a hard-headed think about the way forward is required. In my opinion Alba needs to become a broader church, which means moving in pretty much the opposite direction of the last few months.  Being an exclusive sect and trying to impose suffocating discipline on rank and file members simply doesn't work, in my view, for a small party with the stated aim of getting up to 15% support.

Incidentally, the real result is better for the SNP than the exit poll in one respect - they're the fourth largest party in the UK in terms of seats, rather than fifth behind Reform UK.  That's cold comfort at the moment, but may make it marginally easier to win arguments for a fair share of broadcast coverage over the coming years.

And it's going to be slightly comical when the media eventually remember that the Scottish Parliament still exists, the SNP are still dominant there, and their hero Anas Sarwar is still but a mere opposition leader.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Exit Poll analysis

I've produced a lightning quick analysis piece about the exit poll for The National.  Basically the gist is that it's disappointing but not the absolute worst case scenario.  I've been saying all day that I wouldn't be at all surprised if "SNP 3 seats" flashed up on the screen, because with the exit poll all the pre-expectations tend to go completely out of the window.  At least it's not quite as bad as that.  You can read my full article HERE.

EXIT POLL: SNP projected to win 10 seats

Exit Poll results (number of seats for each party): 

Labour 410
Conservatives 131
Liberal Democrats 61
Reform UK 13
SNP 10
Plaid Cymru 4
Greens 2

Keir Starmer supported the illegal starvation of the innocent civilian population of Gaza. He is not fit to run a parish council, let alone the UK government. Don't vote Labour this evening, vote for a pro-independence party that cares about human life.

Stuart Campbell has not only turned against independence, he's turned against the rights of women and girls. If anyone is crazy enough to follow his advice today, make sure you hold him accountable for the long-term consequences.

To save you having to directly experience the final descent of Wings Over Scotland into either hell or Narnia (delete as appropriate), I'll summarise his latest post for you.

* He's telling people that the way to get independence is to vote against independence.

* He wants his readers to help inflict the most crushing defeat possible on the cause of independence, and to deliver the most overwhelming supermajority possible for a unionist government in London.

* Despite claiming only ten days ago that "Wings has never told its readers how to vote and we’re not going to start now", he is now instructing his readers to vote Labour.  He says "there’s a job that needs doing...grit your teeth and gird your loins and get it done".

* In spite of having urged Alex Salmond to set up his own party in 2021, and in spite of having then demanded that Alba adopt the most radical and potentially reckless tactics at every turn, and in spite of having partly got his way with Alba putting up nineteen candidates against the SNP in a first-past-the-post election at a moment of maximum danger for the independence cause, and in spite of - to be blunt - the sycophancy that senior Alba figures have poured on this abusive bully over the last three years, he's telling his readers to vote for the anti-independence Labour party, and not for Alba.

* Despite having lectured SNP loyalists for years that they can't use independence as a form of blackmail to get feminists to vote for a party that wouldn't respect the rights of women and girls, he's now brazenly telling people to vote Labour, the party that JK Rowling says has abandoned women, because apparently trampling on the rights of women and girls is suddenly loads of fun as long as it's done to get revenge against the SNP.

* He's inviting his readers to believe that when they vote Labour, they'll be doing the opposite of what Keir Starmer wants, because apparently Starmer has only been pretending to support Labour candidates and he actually wants the SNP to win in Scotland, not Labour. (I'm not making this up - this is literally what Campbell is claiming.)

* Despite all of the above being self-evidently bats**t crazy, one of the priceless first reactions of his readers in the comments section is: "Perfectly put, Rev, not one thing in there that anyone could argue with."

We all know that the hardcore of Wings fans are so brainwashed by their bog-standard Pied Piper that - crazy though it may seem - some of them probably will go out today and vote Labour, and then have a little chuckle to themselves about how they've screwed up the masterplan of the pro-SNP Keir Starmer.  But sometimes people who are under the influence of a cult leader eventually have an epiphany, so what I would say to those people is just remember this moment.  If in five or ten years' time you realise that voting against independence killed independence rather than saved it, if you realise that voting for the British establishment helped the British establishment rather than harmed it, if you realise that you were not in fact playing 5D chess but were just having your strings pulled by a man with a petty and destructive agenda, then for pity's sake hold that man accountable for the damage he has caused to your country and the way he has exploited you.

A few years ago, I wrote an iScot column that was critical of Campbell's proposal for a Wings political party led by himself.  Because the editor of iScot generally allows his columnists to express their personal views freely (unless that causes legal problems or whatever), he published the column as normal without that constituting any sort of editorial endorsement of what I had said.  Campbell wasn't just angry. He effectively tried to put iScot - one of only two pro-independence print magazines in existence - out of business as an act of revenge.  He published a list of supposed "backstabbers" and included iScot on it, as a result of which some people cancelled their subscriptions and put the future of the publication in peril.  Thankfully it survived in spite of Campbell's best efforts, as it thoroughly deserved to, because it's a great magazine.  But if after today anyone is vindictive enough to draw up a list of backstabbers or betrayers of the independence movement, we all know there's only one man who can possibly have pride of place at the top of the list, and that'll be the man who backed Starmer and Sarwar at the 2024 general election.

I have very few political regrets, but I'd have to say that one of the exceptions is that until a few years ago I used to defend Campbell to the hilt against the radical left, who I thought were insufferable purists for trying to exclude the most popular and persuasive advocate for independence from our movement. In my defence I'd point out that Campbell was extremely consistent in his support of independence until a certain point and it would have been almost impossible to predict that he would eventually turn against us. I would also maintain that the radical left were right about Campbell for the wrong reasons.  But nevertheless they were right about him in the sense that we'd always have been better off without him, because all he's done is build up a following and used it to try to kill independence.

What exactly is his motivation?  Until yesterday I'd have said that he prioritises the trans issue over everything else, but an endorsement of Labour rules that out as an explanation.  It must boil down to a personal vendetta against the SNP.  A number of people have traced his loss of the plot to his defeat in his vanity legal action against Kezia Dugdale, during which the SNP did not support him, and perhaps he's just never going to forgive them for that.

But for people who care more about independence than about Campbell's bruised ego, here's some rather more sensible election advice - 

Please vote today

Please remember to take your photo ID with you

Please vote for a pro-independence party

Please vote SNP if you live in one of the thirty-seven constituencies where Alba or Angus MacNeil are not standing

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My final batch of constituency profiles is in The National today - West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Stirling & Strathallan and West Dunbartonshire.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

The Scot Goes Pop recommendation for Election 2024: please vote, and please vote for a pro-independence party (and yes, the SNP are a pro-independence party)

Apologies if the title sounds a bit self-important, but with so much irresponsible advice flying around at a moment of maximum danger for our movement, I want there to be no doubt at all about what I'm saying.  If you want independence, you have to vote for it.  And even just to keep hopes of independence alive, you have to vote for it. There is no five-dimensional chess available that allows you to get independence by voting against it or by abstaining.  If enough people vote against pro-independence parties tomorrow, no matter what their motivation for doing so, the cause could suffer a 1979-style setback that would take fifteen or twenty years to recover from.

I've spent the last few weeks looking closely at individual constituency races, but even if I hadn't done that, it would be a statement of the obvious that in 56 out of 57 constituencies, the SNP will have the pro-independence candidate with by far the largest number of votes.  Not all of those 56 seats are winnable for the SNP but a lot of them are, and a lot of them appear to be on a knife-edge right now.  Under the first-past-the-post voting system, that's inevitably something that has to be taken into account when deciding whether to vote for the SNP or for another pro-indy candidate who can't realistically win. The same logic applies in the Western Isles, but in reverse, because it appears that Angus MacNeil is in with a shout there and the SNP aren't.

There's also the issue of the national popular vote. If by any chance the SNP were to beat Labour in the popular vote, which may be odds against but after last night's Savanta poll can't be totally ruled out, it would be a tremendous boost for the independence cause and would be recognised as such by the media.  It would be frustrating to fall short of that by only a few votes.

Nevertheless, there are Alba candidates in nineteen constituencies. As a member of the Alba party I am required to support those candidates, and I of course do so, in spite of my misgivings about a party that billed itself when it was founded as a "list only party" now making a widescale intervention in a first-past-the-post Westminster election. That's something that no reasonable person could have anticipated when they joined the party in 2021 based on the statements the leadership was making at that time, and with the best will in the world it may risk splitting the Yes vote and help unionist parties to win a few seats they otherwise wouldn't. I stick to what I've been consistently saying since I was on the Alba NEC myself in 2021-22 - the strategy should have been to stand in only two or three seats, and commit all available resources into those seats to create a bubble-like by-election atmosphere.  There would still have been risks, but that would have been the closest thing to a win/win, because it would have kept Alba in the public eye in the build-up to 2026 but wouldn't have caused a widespread split Yes vote.  There also might just have been an outside chance of getting Neale Hanvey re-elected in Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy, but I suspect resources have been spread too thin for that to be realistically possible now.

Barring any mishaps with the photo ID, I will be voting SNP tomorrow, because I live in Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch which has no Alba candidate.  I have no hesitation in urging anyone who lives in one of the thirty-seven constituencies where Alba or Angus MacNeil are not standing to join me in voting SNP.  The future of our country depends on it.  

Incidentally, I'd draw your attention to a long letter in The National from a few days ago by Andy Anderson, who was a member of Alba but left in horror when he realised that the party was planning to put up candidates in a first-past-the-post election.  I don't agree with everything in the letter, in fact there are several points I strongly dispute.  But it does illustate that there are people out there who are basically in tune with Alba's thinking about how to use the 2026 election to win independence, but feel excluded from supporting that effort because they disagree with the party's Westminster election strategy. In fact the problem goes further than that, because Alba itself has told members who do not, for example, totally disavow the candidacy of Eva Comrie in Alloa and Grangemouth that they are no longer welcome in the party.  

If people who want to support Alba on the list in 2026 are told they can't because Alba has turned itself into an exclusive club with draconian rules about how you had to think and act during the 2024 Westminster election, where are those people going to go in 2026? The answer is I don't know, but they're going to go somewhere, and it's likely to duplicate whatever Alba are doing in 2026 in a way that will not be helpful.  I really do think Alba needs to mature as a party and become a broad church for anyone who wants to use the list vote in 2026 to bring independence closer.  There needs to be room for those people to agree to disagree on the wisdom of what was done in the current campaign, otherwise Alba will be cutting off its nose to spite its face.  2026 is the opportunity for Alba, not this election, and it needs as many people on board for 2026 as possible.

Please vote tomorrow

Please remember to take your photo ID with you

Please vote for a pro-independence party

Please vote SNP if you live in one of the thirty-seven constituencies where Alba or Angus MacNeil are not standing

The SNP won't be too unhappy with the final YouGov seats projection

After last night's poor seats projection for the SNP from Survation, I've been nervously waiting for the final projection from YouGov, who are the most experienced firm with MRP.  It's kind of middling - they have the SNP on eighteen seats, which if you think about it isn't that much fewer than the 24 projected from last night's Savanta poll that had an outright SNP lead in the popular vote.  The important thing is that it's in line with the previous two YouGov projections of 17 and 20 seats respectively, which means there is absolutely no corroboration for Survation's view that there has been a big swing against the SNP over the campaign.  Survation look increasingly like an outlier on that point.

The individual seat projections predictably show a sea of red in the central belt, but it's broken by SNP wins in Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock, Edinburgh East & Musselburgh, North Ayrshire & Arran and also in two symbolically important seats - Paisley & Renfrewshire South (formerly held by Mhairi Black) and Mid Dunbartonshire (held by Jo Swinson until 2019).  The SNP are also on course to defeat Douglas Ross in Aberdeenshire North & Moray East but are falling short in three notionally Tory-held seats: Gordon & Buchan, Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale.  All three of those are tight, though (the SNP are within five points).  The two Aberdeen seats and the two Dundee seats are all in the SNP column, although Aberdeen North is pretty close.

Fans of Joanna Cherry (which includes me) will be heartened to know that although she's nominally behind Labour, her seat is classed as a toss-up.  Deidre Brock is similarly very close to holding on in Edinburgh North & Leith, as is Alan Brown in Kilmarnock & Loudoun.  There are a handful of other central belt seats where the SNP still look to be in contention, including East Renfrewshire, which would be a very satisfying hold because the Labour candidate is Blair McDougall.

In the Western Isles, Labour are supposedly on course to defeat the SNP by 40% to 31%, with Angus MacNeil on a maximum of 7%, which demonstrates the severe limitations of MRP projections in atypical constituency races.  All of the indications from the ground are that MacNeil is likely to be in the top two alongside Labour. 

Jamie Stone is holding on for the Lib Dems in Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross, but only just - Lucy Beattie is estimated to be only two points behind him for the SNP.  I know many people will be sceptical about that, but with the boundary changes being so radical you just never know.

The lower bound for SNP seats is 8, and the upper bound is 34, meaning that YouGov are saying an SNP overall majority is still just about possible.

Incidentally, YouGov have made a really odd factual error in their write-up.  They say their projection of 32 seats for Labour in Scotland would return the party to roughly their level of strength from the 2005 and 2010 elections, when they had "27".  In fact, Labour won 41 seats in Scotland in both of those elections, so they'd be falling a fair bit short of that.

Meanwhile, the new More In Common projection has the SNP on sixteen seats, which is also fairly stable since the last update.

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I've previewed the constituency races in Perth & Kinross-shire and Rutherglen for The National - you can read the articles HERE and HERE.

The bombshell hits: the SNP *take the lead* in sensational eve-of-election Savanta poll

I've been wondering for weeks if there might be one poll, just one poll over the course of the campaign that would put the SNP in the outright lead.  It was beginning to look very unlikely, but it's happened on the very last day.  Obviously we have to be cautious about this, because we've already had poor polling data for the SNP from Survation earlier this evening, and who knows, perhaps there'll be one or two disappointing polls from other firms over the course of the next 24 hours.  But I'd much rather go into election day with uncertainty in the air rather than sure knowledge that it's going to be a bad result, and it looks like uncertainty is exactly what we're going to have.

Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election (Savanta, 28th June - 2nd July 2024):

SNP 34% (-)
Labour 31% (-3)
Conservatives 15% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+2)
Reform UK 6% (-)
Greens 3% (+1)

Seats projection: SNP 24, Labour 22, Conservatives 6, Liberal Democrats 5

The one disappointment here is that the Tory vote does seem to be solidifying just slightly as polling day approaches - there's been evidence of that in the GB-wide polls too.  That doesn't matter so much if the SNP really are ahead of Labour, but if other firms are correct and if Labour have a small-to-middling lead, the SNP are going to be fairly reliant for seats on the SNP-Tory battleground areas, mainly in the north-east and the south.  In the worst case scenario they might be totally reliant on those areas, as they often used to be prior to the 2015 breakthrough.  Even in this poll's seats projection, Professor Curtice once again has the Tories holding their six current seats, which is intuitively hard to accept given that 15% of the vote is less than they had when they were completely wiped out in 1997.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Thoughts on the penultimate Survation seats projection

I'm not sure the latest Survation MRP update is as significant as people are assuming, because if the fieldwork dates are anything to go by, it's based on about 80% of the same interviews as the previous update.  The top-up of new data hasn't made the situation better for the SNP but it hasn't made it dramatically worse either.  And as an anonymous commenter pointed out on the previous thread, the credibility of the projection that the SNP will get only 10 seats hinges on whether you believe the popular vote figures, which show Labour 11 points ahead of the SNP.  That's possible, but it's significantly out of step with the conventional polling (so far).  If you think the SNP are a bit closer to Labour than that, it would mean they'd probably end up with more than 10 seats.  

The most recent batch of conventional polls show...

Savanta: SNP level with Labour
Ipsos: SNP level with Labour
Norstat: SNP 4 points behind
More In Common: SNP 5 points behind
Redfield & Wilton: SNP 6 points behind
YouGov: SNP 6 points behind
Survation: SNP 6 points behind

The Ipsos poll was less recent than the others but I've included it because it was conducted by telephone.

Aaaaaaargh! Is there ANY way of saving Our Precious Union in Aberdeen North?

UPDATE: A few hours later, the Tory candidate for Aberdeen North turned up and joined in the chat too.  Lesson: if you want to grab the attention of our imperial masters, just mention the words "pro-UK tactical voting" to them.  Works every time.  The Lib Dem will be along shortly.

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I've written three more constituency profiles for The National - Orkney & Shetland, Paisley & Renfrewshire North and Paisley & Renfrewshire South.